Week In Review: Horse Versus Man in Classic?

By Bill Finley

Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}) has earned the right to be called the best horse in the U.S. and he will come into the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic riding a streak of three straight Grade I wins, all of them impressive ones. Trainer Steve Asmussen and his owners, Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, have no reason to fear any horse. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be afraid. Bob Baffert is lying in wait.

Baffert seems uber-focused on winning the Classic again and he has the ammunition to do so. That’s a dangerous combination. We already knew that Baffert had three outstanding candidates for the Classic in Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song), West Coast (Flatter) and Collected (City Zip). It looked like Cupid (Tapit) would be the fourth bullet in his chamber, but that may no longer be the case. He ran fourth in Saturday’s GI Awesome Again S. at Santa Anita. But just as one Baffert- trained horse might have exited the door when it comes to the Classic, another one smashed the door down.

Mubtaahij (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) had been one of those good horses who was never quite good enough. Coming into the Awesome Again, he had lost 10 straight and had not visited the winner’s circle since the March 28, 2015 G2 UAE Derby. Yet, the 5-year-old is good enough to have won the UAE Derby and finish second in the GI Woodward and the G1 Dubai World Cup.

Mubtaahij is not a horse without talent. Prior to the Awesome Again, he had been trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and Mike de Kock, two of the best horsemen in the world. But this is Baffert’s year. He has the mojo and it seems that every older male horse in his barn has been sprinkled with some sort of magic dust.

Is Mubtaahij good enough to win the Classic? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not the point. The question is whether or not a trainer who has won three straight Breeders’ Cup Classics, is in the midst of a sensational run and will possibly saddle the second, third, fourth and fifth choices in the Classic, can be stopped? By Gun Runner? By anyone?

Should Baffert win the Classic for the fourth straight time, it would go down as one of the great training feats in racing history. There appears to be only one thing standing in his way–Gun Runner.

Let the showdown begin.

Phil Serpe Takes a Stand

Talking to the Daily Racing Form‘s David Grening, Phil Serpe issued some of most explosive quotes you will ever see uttered by a trainer, a group that collectively shies away from saying anything controversial. The subject was El Deal (Munnings), the GI Vosburgh S. and trainer Jorge Navarro. Serpe was reluctant to run against Navarro’s horse.

Here’s what he had to say: “Allowing Navarro to run is a slap in the face to the honest guys,” Serpe told the DRF. “They say there’s a level playing field; it’s not a level playing field. There are guys that cheat here and something needs to be done about it. I don’t think they should let that guy participate here. If [management] wants to make a stand or a level playing field, then they need to make a stand.”

Serpe relented and ran Weekend Hideaway (Speightstown) in the Vosburgh. He finished fifth. El Deal was second, beaten by Takaful (Bernardini).

Serpe is an honest, hard-working trainer who doesn’t win a ton of races and is probably very fed up with what he views as an unfair playing field. It’s a shame more of the honest guys don’t speak up.

Michael Dickinson, King of the Quick Turnaround

In his first go-round as a U.S.-based trainer, Michael Dickinson had a reputation of never seeing a horse he couldn’t see fit to lay off for two years. Dickinson’s ability to win with horses off long layoffs was remarkable, but, at the same time, it probably did not help his career. Patience is one thing, but no owner wants to see his horse run three times over two years.

Dickinson left the training profession for nine years in order to peddle his Tapeta synthetic racing surface. When he un-retired in 2016, he vowed that he would make an attempt to run horses more often and not go so far overboard when it came to spacing their races.

Apparently, he was serious. Dickinson won yesterday’s GIII Grey S. at Woodbine with Archaggelos (Temple City). That’s the same Archaggelos who had run one week earlier, in a maiden race at Laurel. In terms of purse monies, it was the biggest win for Dickinson since his return. He seems like a perfect fit for next Sunday’s Cup and Saucer S. at Woodbine. Go for it, Mad Genius.

Archaggelos is, by the way, a half-brother to Big Brown.

Paradise Woods is Back

Aside from Baffert winning the Awesome Again, perhaps the most interesting development over the weekend when it comes to Breeders’ Cup-bound horses was the re-emergence of Paradise Woods (Union Rags) winning the GI Zenyatta S. at Santa Anita.

Coming into the race, she looked like a one-race wonder, but what a race it was. The Richard Mandella-trained 3-year-old filly won the GI Santa Anita Oaks by 11 3/4 lengths while earning a 107 Beyer and rave reviews. Her steep fall began with an 11th-place finish in the GI Kentucky Oaks followed by a sixth-place showing in the GIII Torrey Pines S. at Del Mar. It was the latter race which was particularly puzzling. Though she stumbled at the start, she was 3-10 and had lined up against a field that she appeared to have over a barrel.

Mandella brought her back for the Zenaytta, her first test against older fillies and mares and she made it abundantly clear that whatever may have been bothering her was a thing of the past. Though she faced just three others, she recorded an impressive win that signaled that she will be a horse to be reckoned with in the GI Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Grey Power

Woodbine had a little fun with yesterday’s card, topped by the aforementioned Grey S. It carded a race restricted to grey and roan horses. There’s just something magnificent about watching a full field of these uniquely colored and charismatic horses facing off against one another. Adding to the “coolness” of the race, it attracted a field of 10 and was a terrific betting event. Sure it’s gimmicky, but it’s something more tracks should do.

One suggestion: run the race during one of Woodbine’s nighttime cards. When it had a more traditional Thoroughbred meet, the Meadowlands used to run a race it called the Grey Ghost every year on Halloween. To see 10, 11, 12 greys charging through the stretch under the lights is even better than watching the same scene unfold in the daylight.

Watch Out For Mick Ruis Sr.

There are four or five trainers that dominate the Southern California racing scene, leaving everyone else to fight over crumbs. That might be about to change.

Mick Ruis, Sr. is a fascinating story. He was a trainer for years, but flew under the radar. He left the business and made a lot of money with a construction company that repaired Navy ships. Now having the ammunition to acquire good horses, Ruis came back to racing and got aggressive at the sales. It appears that he is intent on becoming a force.

After Ruis’s Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) won Saturday’s GI FrontRunner at Santa Anita, there’s no doubt the colt is the real deal. He should be the favorite in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and, if he wins that, he’s not only an Eclipse Award winner, but the main horse to watch on the road to the GI Kentucky Derby.

It was quite a weekend at Santa Anita for Ruis, who won three races Friday and came back a day later to win a Grade I.

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.

This entry was posted in Racing News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.