It’s been far too long since I updated this little spot but the racing season goes through a bit of a lull between the start of the Belmont meet and the beginning of the final Breeders’ Cup prep season. Between Saturday and the 11th of October there will be a staggering 20 Grade I races run at three different racetracks (Belmont, Oak Tree, Keeneland).
Things get started this Saturday at Belmont with the $400,000 Vosburgh (6 furlongs), $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational (10 furlongs – Turf), Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (12 furlongs – Turf), Beldame (9 furlongs), and $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (10 furlongs). The fields are gradually coming together so let’s take a look at who’s being talked about for each.
This will be the opportunity for Fabulous Strike to avenge a narrow defeat at the hands of Black Seventeen in this race a year ago. He hasn’t been seen since a game victory in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga but is working steadily and excels at the Vosburgh distance of six furlongs with 11 wins from 16 tries.
The only other horse being mentioned for the Vosburgh, though of course it’ll be more than a two-horse race, is Munnings. A multiple graded stakes winner over this racetrack, he is coming off a distant third-place finish in the King’s Bishop behind Capt. Candyman Can, another potential Vosburgh entrant. The son of Speightstown has not been on a fast track since a score in the Tom Fool.
Dynaforce was winless in three starts between last year’s Flower Bowl and this year’s Beverly D. She scored nicely at Arlington in early August but certainly had the benefit of a wet turf course. She’s made it clear in eight North American turf starts that she prefers some cut in the ground and with no rain in the forecast until a minor chance on Saturday, she may be up against it.
Criticism was towards the top of this division earlier in the year after her Sheepshead Bay victory but was somewhat de-railed when the New York Handicap was moved to the main track and she stayed in to finish a distant second. Trainer Tom Albertrani shortened her up to try the Grade I Diana at Saratoga on opening weekend and she tracked the pace before tiring badly. She should be wound much tighter for this try and is always a huge danger when able to get free on an easy lead.
Even though Grand Couturier will be looking for back-to-back Hirsch victories, he will not be the story as Gio Ponti searching for his fifth consecutive Grade I win is sure to dominate the headlines. If the ground is firm enough we might get the treat of seeing the runaway speed of Presious Passion, a two-time winner of the United Nations Handicap.
If I asked you who the best female horse east of the Mississippi not named Rachel Alexandra was, would you say Icon Project? You should as she completed her ascent to the top of the east coast distaffers with a spectacular win in the Personal Ensign. She’s set to try Grade I company for the 2nd time and the sledding seems as if it might be a little tougher this time around as she will face Music Note, recent winner of the Ballerina.
There’s no Rachel, Zenyatta, Curlin, or any other recent superstar but the Jockey Club Gold Cup is shaping up as one of the most competitive races on the entire card. The 1-3 finishers in the Travers, Summer Bird and Quality Road, are back and will meet Stephen Foster winner and Whitney and Woodward runner-up Macho Again.
There will certainly be many questions answered on Saturday and the picture for the Breeders’ Cup in November will be much clearer.
I’ll be back Saturday with stakes analysis, Sunday with a bit more and some opening week thoughts on both Oak Tree this week and Keeneland next week.