BREEDERS CUP PREVIEW 2009 (FRIDAY)

THE MARATHON (1 ¾ miles, Pro-ride; 3:35 p.m. ET)

A sophomore race at a brand new distance (run over 1 ½ miles last year) kicks off the festivities and the in-form Godolphin stables will most likely start favourite as surprise St Leger winner, Mastery, looks to translate his very smart turf form to the Pro-ride. His one run on a synthetic surface was a disappointment for all that it came on his seasonal reappearance at Kempton (1/2 length 4th of 14 to Mafaaz in the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes).  The winner of that race was subsequently blown away in the Blue Grass Stakes; the second, Spring of Fame, has been since successful in only a couple of minor events and the third, Sohcahtoa, has placed only once from 11 subsequent tries, so he has something to prove.  He is at a stage of rapid improvement and can’t be ignored but, at such a short price, it is just not worth taking the chance on his form translating to the Pro-ride tomorrow.  This is definitely one to Lay.

The two to concentrate on are:

(1) NITE LIGHT, one for one on synthetics (could not have been more impressive in drawing clear final furlong to win the Grade 3 Turfway Park Fall Challenge on his penultimate start); 1 1/2l 2nd in the Grade 2 Hawthorn Gold Cup, dropped back to 1 ¼ miles (keeping on); was a creditable runner-up over 2 miles at Saratoga on only his third career start; has the sort of inside pace that works so well on these synthetic tracks and stays forever; and

(2) Ireland’s Man of Iron, bred in the purple (a half brother, by Giant’s Causeway, to Belmont Stakes winners Rags to Riches and Jazil) who had been laid out for this having his last 3 races on the polytrack at Dundalk (10.7f) winning 2.  In between, he was 7l 4th of 11 to Master craftsman (who himself had finished 1l 2nd to Sea The Stars at York) in the Group 3 Diamond Stakes, a race that last year’s winner, Muhannak (defends his Title tomorrow) won before coming to Santa Anita.

If there is a contest for the lead, then Man of Iron could prove the fly in the late ointment but he must contend with a poor draw and John Velasquez is no dummy so it’s the class and proven stamina of NITE LIGHT that we will prefer to give Todd Fletcher (3 for 56 at the Breeders Cup) a rare winner at this meet.

THE JUVENILE FILLIES TURF (1 Mile; Turf; 4:08 p.m. ET)

A most intriguing race in which any number can truly play.  Once again the ante-post fav comes from Europe in the shape of the hotly touted Lillie Langtry but she has always appeared over-rated to me and her brilliant trainer has had no luck at this meeting (3 for 52 overall and 0 for his last 23 foreign shippers the last 3 years including hot-pots like Dylan Thomas in the ’07 Turf and Soldier of Fortune in the ’08 Turf).  She has ability, yes, but she has not looked unbeatable by any means and faces some high class opposition here including the unbeaten and improving House of Grace (by Limehouse out of a Known Fact mare) who could not have been more impressive on debut at Belmont over all of 8.5 furlongs before switching to polytrack and showing plenty of courage to pip Smart Seattle (re-opposes today) in a valuable non-graded Stakes race at Keeneland; Junia Tepzia (a half sister to 2000 Guineas winner Footstepsinthesand) by Rock of Gibraltar out of a Peintre Celebre mare also unbeaten in two lifetime starts (in Italy) the first of which was over a mile – Keiren Fallon rides; and Rose Catherine who looked like a different filly switching to turf on last and demolishing a field of maidens at Belmont (the second was a first time runner) over 6 furlongs.

It’s always impressive when a two year old wins on debut over a mile or more like House of Grace and Junia Tepzia but this is a competitive race and, from poor draws, they might just be wanting for experience at this level.  The one I like here is an outsider named JUNGLE TALE the lone Breeders Cup entry from the Steve Asmussen stable to be ridden by local boy Sean Bridgmohan.  Her profile is not as high as some of her more hyped colleagues but she has quietly shown on her three runs on turf (after flopping on polytrack at 5f on debut) that there’s a lot more to come and she’s in a perfect spot here.  She had traffic trouble at a key point on her turf debut just as the winner got first run and she dug in and nearly reeled that one back (failed by a nose; 6f); and on her most recent start (Grade 3 Natalma, 1 mile); she was shuffled back to last at the top of the stretch before flying final furlong to be 3/4l second to one who had the run of the race as the lone speed.  She has raced solely at Woodbine so patriotic Americans are going to send her to the post at a whopping price.  Get in early and often!!

THE JUVENILE FILLIES (8.5f; Pro-Ride; 4:45 p.m. ET)

Another fascinating contest which only a close study of the form will unravel. The favourite will be Blind Luck and, on the face of it, why not?  She won the local prep (Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes) over two turns defeating several who run today including Bob Baffert’s Always a Princess (will improve for the experience and working brilliantly).  She is the proven class; proven at the distance; proven on Pro-ride; and coming out of a solid prep (last year’s Juvenile Fillies winner, Stardom Bound, won the Oak Leaf) so whoever beats her should win.  But I have a nagging doubt whether this year’s Oak Leaf was of last year’s standard and I prefer to use Keeneland’s Grade 1 Alcibiades, whose winner, Negligee (by Northern Afleet out of a Relaunch mare) produced a slightly slower time but a slightly higher Beyer Speed Figure than Blind Luck as the key race.  Why?  Well, Oak Leaf 3rd, Bickersons (re-opposes today), beaten only 2 1/2l and a neck, was all of 10 1/2l behind the year’s best 2yo filly, Hot Dixie Chick, in the Grade 1 Spinaway.  The key to the form comparison is that my selection to win this,  BEAUTICIAN, was 1 3/4l 2nd in that race.  Next time out she finished 3 1/2l 5th in the Alcibiades behind Negligee but got a nightmare trip (blocked and steadied) and so I am confident that she will turn the tables today.  Negligee and the improved Always a Princess should fight it out to fill the Exacta spot.

BLIND LUCK is the LAY OF THE DAY!!

THE FILLY AND MARE TURF (10f; Turf; 5:23 p.m. ET)

Only eight starters including defending Champion and likely favourite, Forever Together, but a complete muddle.  The first thing that leaps out at you is that there is absolutely no pace at all as almost everyone is a hold-up type of horse.  It’s true that the likes of Forever Together (held up off a 51.83 split, won the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley); Rutherienne (1 length 2nd same race);  Magical Fantasy (rallied after held up/tracked 50.03 pace in the Grade 2 La Canada here); Pure Clan (creditable 1 1/2l 3rd off a muddling 50.67 pace in the Beverly D on “good to soft”) and Dynaforce (won the Beverly D; tracking the pace) have run well in slowly run races but they remain “hold-up” horses who would rather have a stronger pace or softer ground.  Mid-day would normally attract attention but she has had a long season; appears best on a switchback track; and looked gone in her coat at Longchamp on last.

So the thing to do is to put your faith in the great John Velasquez to put VISIT straight to the front from the plum number one hole and make every inch of the running.  She was just touched off in this race last year (trained by Sir Michael Stoute; held up in the rear by Ryan Moore and quickened to lead a furlong out; caught well inside final furlong).  She will relish the additional 2 furlongs of this race and it was intriguing to see her trying new tactics on last (ridden much more prominently than usual in the Yellow Ribbon) to end up 1/2l 2nd to Magical Fantasy at level weights, a 5 lbs improvement on her last run against that one (nk 2nd, receiving 6 lbs, in the 9f Grade 1 Gamely at Hollywood Park; late bid between horses) and I suspect this eye-catching change of pace was just the prep she needed for today’s required tactics.  She is going to prove very hard to pass in the final furlong.

THE FILLY AND MARE SPRINT (7f; Pro-ride; 6:02 p.m.)

A different type of race to all the others because of the long run to the lone turn from the 7f start making this a course where a high number draw will be favoured.  So, it makes this all the easier that the defending Champion VENTURA (BANKER BET) is drawn on the outside of the 8 filly/mare-field.  Last year she slaughtered the sublime Indian Blessing by 4 lengths.  She has run only 4 times this year (off 5 ½ months after her third start) winning the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap over course and distance on reappearance before looking as if something was amiss both in her nose second to Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile (edged left staying on late); and head second in the 7f Grade 1 Madison to main rival today Informed Decision (5 wide into the sharp Keeneland turn; bold late bid just denied).  She gave 2 lbs to Informed Decision that day and was not seen again until September 20 when she won the Woodbine Mile by one length.  She is fresh, fit, top class and seeks revenge against Informed Decision who has won 7 of her last 8 starts (all on dirt or polytrack) but who has not run at Santa Anita before where the selection is a perfect 2 for 2.

THE LADIES’ CLASSIC (9f; Pro-ride; 6:45 p.m. ET)

The defection of the brilliant Zenyatta to tilt at the Classic on Saturday has taken some of the lustre off this race but there is still an intriguing contest between Europe (Cocoa Beach; Music Note representing Godolphin; and Rainbow View from John Gosden) and America (Zenyatta’s stable companion, Life is Sweet; Proviso for the Bobby Frankel/John Velasquez combo; and speedball CARELESS JEWEL) which we can anticipate.

This looks like another false pace and so the improving 3yo CARELESS JEWEL (nap), 5 for 6 lifetime and showed marked progress switched to dirt her last 3, is taken to go all the way.  She won comfortably her only run on a synthetic track (an Allowance on the polytrack at Woodbine) but has really taken off on the East Coast on dirt winning the Grade 1 Alabama by 11 lengths and the Grade 2 Fitz Dixon Cotillon (at 3/10 odds-on) by 3 1/2l from Bon Jovi Girl.  She has the perfect post and her opposition all have queries as last year’s second and third (Cocoa Beach/Music Note) are both drawn wide and have stamina and ground questions to answer respectively.  Music Note, the likely favourite, did stay on late last year into third but was never really a factor and has been so much better on dirt.  Rainbow View has the car park draw and will be running on the Pro-ride for the first time after a creditable synthetics debut at Woodbine (1 3/4l 2nd; led straight; in the 1 1.4m Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes) but is coming on at the right time and can be the Exacta.

SELECTIONS

(1) THE MARATHON – NITE LIGHT

(2) THE JUVENILE FILLIES TURF – JUNGLE TALE

(3) THE JUVENILE FILLIES – BEAUTICIAN

(4) THE FILLY AND MARE TURF – VISIT

(5) THE FILLY AND MARE SPRINT – VENTURA (BANKER BET)

(6) THE LADIES CLASSIC – CARELESS JEWEL (nap)

LAY OF THE DAY – BLIND LUCK (Juvenile Fillies)

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