Saturday, June 20, 2009

Colonial Turf Cup: Battle of Hastings and an absent long-shot

An intriguing field of 10 horses will go to post today in the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup-G2, first leg of the Grand Slam of Grass -- a challenge I wish some top horse's connections will legitimately try to attain someday.

Battle of Hastings(GB), pictured stepping onto Colonial's main track upon shipping in, is a gelded son of Royal Applause out of the blacktype Night Shift mare Subya, and leads the field in the morning line at 2/1. The Jeff Mullins trainee comes in off a near-miss in the American Turf S.-G3 at Churchill on Derby weekend, plus a series of sharp drills. Tyler Baze gets the call in his only scheduled ride at Colonial Downs this weekend, and though the New Kent, Va., turf course isn't the trickiest oval in America, I'd rather see Baze ride something early on the card to sharpen his skills over the course.

Also given a big chance by track oddsmakers are Take The Points (3/1 for trainer Todd Pletcher and jock Garrett Gomez) and Lime Rickey (7/2 for Frank Alexander and Julien Leparoux).

Only one other horse -- trainer Shug McGaughey's Rescue Squad, with Edgar Prado named -- is at single-digit odds, 6/1. And that makes this both an interesting betting race and a strange contest for a Grade 2, $500,000 event.

Where are the proven turf horses?

Giant Oak is sticking to Arlington Park and the $500,000-bonus "Mid-America Triple" of the Arlington Classic, American Derby and Secretariat Stakes. I don't know the health of all the non-winners of the ungraded May 23 Arlington Classic (who now stand no chance of the bonus), but the Turf Cup didn't draw even an Orothodox and Jon Court, surprise 45/1 winners of the American Turf who stumbled in the Classic, nor Arlington Classic placers and showers No Inflation (who went for Churchill's G2 Jefferson Cup last weekend at less than half the purse, finishing third) and El Crespo (Palm Beach S.-G3 winner), nor Classic-favored Golden Mexico(IRE), all of whom are out of the running for the Arlington bonus but could position themselves to run for the Grand Slam with a win in the Colonial Turf Cup, a much-higher-graded and richer race than they just ran with no greater competition.

The G3 Hill Prince at Belmont June 5 was taken off the turf and ended up a five-horse race. But of the four scratches whose connections wanted grass, only Lime Rickey ships south for a chance a G2 turf race and essentially five times the money.

Aside from the 2/1 ML favorite, Battle of Hastings, who is a Grade 3 winner in California sprinting on grass in the Baldwin Stakes and a listed winner at a mile in the La Puente, there's a wealth of unfulfilled potential from this group, no other stakes wins, and very little blacktype for a Grade 2 field.

Second in the morning line at 3/1 is a horse in Take The Points that likewise has no blacktype win, and in his case is also making the transition from the main track (where he placed in the G2 Sham on synthetic in California) to the lawn. After a trio of second-places, Lime Rickey is hoping to break through to the winner's circle in a stakes race, and Rescue Squad is 2-for-5 lifetime with no blacktype at all, and just 6/1.

Let's check the other six in the field for a potential bomb at the window.

At 10/1 are Straight Story (Giant's Causeway), two wins from four non-blacktype starts and $57,350 for trainer Alan Goldberg and rider C.C. Lopez, and Mark S The Cooler (a Johar gelding with earnings grossly wrong at that link), a Doug O'Neill trainee with Corey Nakatani aboard who has won two of nine for about $90K. Both come in off allowance wins on grass and Brisnet speed figures of 93 and 92, respectively.

Clocking in at 12/1 on the morning line is Final Count (Smart Strike), making just his fourth lifetime start (two wins) for trainer P.J. Oliver, with Corey Lanerie up. His maiden-breaking Brisnet speed figure of 93 on Polytrack at Keeneland is consistent with the prior two and he followed that with a turf win at Churchill in his last out.

At 20/1 is a second Pletcher trainee, Al Khali (Medaglia D'Oro), with a curious past. Sent to Peru as a yearling, he placed, then broke maiden, then collected an allowance win at Hipodromo de Monterrico as a 2-year-old. Returned to the States, he won in allowance company at Gulfstream, but was well-beaten in both the Illinois Derby-G2 and Peter Pan-G2. Now he tries grass under Kent Desormeaux.

Co-30/1 shots are Winning Vow (Broken Vow), stakes-placed on grass at Turf Paradise but neither as fast as this field nor consistent, and Dover Street Art(IRE), by Alhaarth, who has the least earnings ($13,687) of a graded-stakes entry that I can remember seeing in a very long time. And I'm was going to pick him. Not so much to beat Battle of Hastings -- for now I think we can see why he's 2/1 and I'm not sure why that isn't even money -- but to potentially, maybe, be that "bomb."

Trouble is, I just noticed at that he's a morning scratch. But you still get to read my reasoning.

Dover Street Art's earnings are held down a bit because he started his career in Britain, where fans of U.S. racing might be shocked to know that the purses for maidens and others in the lower conditions can be paltry. But Dover Street Art was second in his debut at Lingfield at 2, then won at Great Leighs next out over Tartan Gunna, a horse who has since won three times outside of stakes company. Speed figures are available from Brisnet for neither, but says his Timeform mark for the 2-year-old win was an 83.

Shipped not only to the States, but way out West, he resurfaced in the La Puente, where he was rank early, got a wide trip, surely needed the race from a four-month layoff, and lost to Battle of Hastings by 7 1/2. But his next two efforts, both on synthetic, were a 90 speed figure placing fourth in an optional $80K claimer and an 84 digging in on the rail for third in an allowance.

I liked that he, like Mark S The Cooler, is trained by Doug O'Neill, who I doubt would've considered hauling him cross-country if he didn't think the colt could figure. He wasn't getting a marquee jock, and SoCal staple Agapito Delgadillo would've had a lot of work to do aboard a colt who has been described as "pulling" at the jockey in more than one race. But I think the horse will appreciate his eventual return to turf, and is perhaps bred for more distance than he's been getting; dam Santa Sophia (Linamix) made only seven starts, but one a stakes win in the Lingfield Oaks Trial at 11 1/2 furlongs.

And in this group that has done little to prove themselves in stakes company, Dover Street Art just might have been near the front at the end, and at considerable odds.

Now, back to my question about when someone will truly pursue the Grand Slam of Grass: What's it gonna take?

Colonial this season would seem to be the place to start for a 3-year-old turf router. The Turf Cup is now a Grade 2 with a $500,000 purse. The Virginia Derby in July is likewise a G2 that I think is destined for Grade 1 status, and you can't quarrel with a $750,000 pot for 3-year-old restricted competition. Then, take a shot at Arlington's Secretariat (still amid 3-year-olds only) and three of the four legs could be yours.

Clearly Arlington has struck back with its $500,000 bonus to any horse that can win its Mid-America Triple, but the purses of those first to races are smaller (the third is the Secretariat Stakes that is also part of the "Slam") and the graded-blacktype is lighter.

And obviously the final race of the Grand Slam is the toughest: The Breeders' Cup Turf at 12 furlongs among older horses. But it's been won by a 3-year-old before (three of the last seven, in fact, with Conduit last year, Red Rocks in 2006 and High Chaparral's first of two in 2002). The task isn't impossible.

Of course, all of those 3-year-old winners were Euros. And they have plenty of their own races to run at all summer.

But I'm still waiting for the year when American connections take a colt -- maybe European-bred -- and sweep the trio of 3-year-old legs of the Slam (by then probably a G2 Turf Cup, G1 Va. Derby and G1 Secretariat), at least giving their charge a chance at the Slam and its $5 million in combined purses and bonuses.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.