Breeders’ Cup Classic: Baffert’s Duo En Route, Thunder Snow Should ‘Improve Again’

by | 10.30.2018 | 2:01pm
Accelerate on-track at Churchill Downs

Accelerate – Trainer John Sadler's morning-line favorite Accelerate galloped 1 1/2 miles Tuesday morning and stood in the gate as the 5-year-old colt moved toward Saturday's $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

Javier Meza, Accelerate's regular exercise rider was in the saddle.

Sadler reiterated his position on Accelerate far outside post in the 14-horse field by saying, “It's a perfect spot for him. He shouldn't be bothered out there and he'll be able to move into whatever slot best works for him going into the first turn.”

Axelrod – Tuesday morning brought a jogging assignment for trainer Michael McCarthy's Classic prospect, with exercise rider Nikki Diodoro taking him once around Churchill Downs' mile oval.

McCarthy is hoping for “a clean break and a good spot” heading into the first turn of the 1 1/4-mile Classic.

“The way we do things, means he'll most likely be forwardly placed at that point,” the trainer added.

Catholic Boy– The 3yo son of More Than Ready walked the shedrow Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs.

“He had breakfast, went for a walk, and then we gave him a second breakfast,” trainer Jonathan Thomas said. “Today was a walk day. It's normal for us two days after a breeze. We breeze, jog and walk.”

Thomas is confident in Catholic Boy's ability to handle the Churchill Downs surface, over which he breezed five furlongs in 1:01 Sunday and jogged Monday. A common belief that turf horses perform better on Churchill's dirt surface than other dirt tracks certainly doesn't diminish his trainer's confidence in his chances in Saturday's Classic.

“Personally, I haven't had an ah-ha moment here where it's like – 'Oh, this makes sense why these horses handle it.' I'm more leaning on horses that have been successful in the past. Obviously, Animal Kingdom would come to mind. I felt like Dullahan and Paddy O'Prado both ran super in placing in major races,” said Thomas, referring to the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, as well as the 2012 and 2010 Derby third-place finishers, respectively. “That certainly is the reputation this track has had, but I haven't witnessed anything to make me understand why that's the case.”

Catholic Boy is a Grade 1 stakes winner on both turf and dirt, having captured the Belmont Derby on turf and Travers Stakes over Saratoga's main track back to back.

“He's obviously very adept on the turf. After the Travers, I'm kind of reluctant to call him a turf horse anymore,” Thomas said.

Discreet Lover – Owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis and the 5yo Breeders' Cup Classic contender Discreet Lover both got their first taste of the Churchill Downs training routine Tuesday. The son of Repent galloped 1 ½m and jogged 1 ½m, a routine that will continue through Friday.

“It really hit me this morning when I came in at 5:45,” St. Lewis said. “It was dark, but all the lights were on and horses were on the track. Where I am stabled at Parx Racing, we have to wait for daylight to train.”

St. Lewis said Discreet Lover, who comes into the Classic off his 45-1 upset in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 29 at Belmont Park, is “fantastic” in his training.

With an abundance of speed horses in the field, St. Lewis expects Discreet Lover to make his customary late rally.

“I think the race will set up the same as the Jockey Club Gold Cup,” he said. “I love the post (post 13) we drew. We just have to break and get position and make one run.”

A trainer since 1988, Uriah and his wife Amanda own all of the 28 horses stabled at his Parx Racing base. Their son Uriah Jr. serves as an assistant.

Gunnevera – The 4yo son of Dialed In galloped once around the Churchill Downs track Tuesday morning under exercise rider Victor O'Farrel in preparation for a start in Saturday's Classic.

“He had a slow gallop. Tomorrow he will pick it up,” trainer Antonio Sano said.

The second alternate in the pre-entries, Gunnevera drew into the field when City of Light and Bravazo were entered in the Dirt Mile Monday.

“Never in my life did I think my horse wouldn't be in the field. When the Breeders' Cup called me that he was in, I was so happy,” Sano said. “The mile and a quarter will be good for my horse.”

Gunnevera raced once over the Churchill track, finishing seventh of 20 horses in last year's Kentucky Derby.

“It rained that day. The track was very sloppy. My horse likes a sloppy track, but I think the speed (horses) didn't show speed,” said Sano, noting the pace scenario didn't benefit the deep-closing Gunnevera. “I thought he ran very good.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. is scheduled to ride Gunnevera for the first time in the Classic.

“There is speed in the race. I told the jockey there's no need to rush my horse. His best chance to win the race is to close,” Sano said.

Lone Sailor – G M B Racing's Lone Sailor visited the paddock and galloped Tuesday morning under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez for trainer Tom Amoss.

Winner of the Oklahoma Derby in his most recent start, Lone Sailor drew post position five for the 14-horse Classic.

“I am satisfied with it,” Amoss said. “He is going to tuck in and save ground and make one run.”

Classic favorite Accelerate drew the 14 hole of which Amoss observed, “I don't think that will be a problem for him.”

McKinzie/West Coast – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's Classic entrants had not arrived at Churchill Downs from California, but were en route Tuesday morning.

“My big guns are in the air right now,” he said – Tuesday morning as he talked about the Breeders' Cup outside his barn with a bunch of empty stalls.

The flight with Baffert's stock aboard landed in Louisville at 10:50 a.m. ET

Baffert, 65, has won the Classic a record three times and his 14 Breeders' Cup wins are second to the 20 won by D. Wayne Lukas. His two horses, 3-year-old McKinzie and 4-year-old West Coast, both returned from lengthy layoffs with a race in September. McKinzie, after recovering from a hock injury he suffered on March 10, won the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 22. West Coast, third in the 2017 Classic, did not race after his runner-up finish in the Dubai World Cup on March 31 until Sept. 29, when he was second to Accelerate in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita.

When the hock injury put McKinzie on the shelf, Baffert turned to exciting but unproven Justify, who went on to sweep the Triple Crown and retired with a 6-0 record.

“McKinzie is a horse that I always felt at the beginning of the year was going to be my Derby horse,” Baffert said. “He got hurt and fortunately I had that little red horse come along, Justify, that picked up the slack. I think it was a blessing in disguise that he hurt his hock and didn't have to run against Justify. Now he's come back and run unbelievable off the layoff in the Pennsylvania Derby.

“We know he's a fast horse, but he's still a little bit lightly raced. The way he's been training – we'll see how he goes over the track here – he looks great. We're looking forward to him.”

West Coast was a late-developer in 2017, who did not make the Triple Crown races. He put together a five-race winning streak, punctuated by victories in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, finished second to Gun Runner in the Classic and won the 3yo male division Eclipse Award.

This year, he was second to Gun Runner in the Pegasus World Cup and followed up with the third to Thunder Snow in Dubai before the six-month break between starts. Baffert said West Coast won't be overlooked in the Classic.

“I think he's going to get a lot of action,” Baffert said. “He looks good. I really like him coming into this race. He's doing really, really well. I expect a big race from him.”

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, 53, has ridden both colts this year and selected McKinzie for the Classic, Baffert said, because he will continue his career in 2019. Baffert selected another Hall of Fame rider, John Velazquez, 47, to be aboard West Coast.

“I wanted someone younger on him,” Baffert quipped.

McKinzie drew post six, just to the inside of West Coast in seven.

Mendelssohn – Mendelssohn's flight arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday evening, and he will make his first appearance on the track on Thursday morning, with the rest of the Aidan O'Brien trainees.

Mind Your Biscuits – Two-time Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Mind Your Biscuits went out first thing Tuesday morning for trainer Chad Summers, blowing out two furlongs down the lane toward what will be his third consecutive Breeders' Cup try. The richest New York-bred of all time was third in the past two editions of the Sprint, but will stretch out to the 10f trip of Classic on Saturday.

Unlike his previous attempts at the world championships, the son of Posse will have a home court advantage in 2018, having been stabled at the Louisville oval since mid-September. In the process, he has won the Lukas Classic over the local dirt surface, successfully stretching out to 9 furlongs.

“We thought we were in a good position, being here at Churchill Downs,” Summers said. “We wouldn't have to ship and could come out of our own stall and we think that's a huge advantage this time around.

“The way he ran in the Lukas Classic, he did everything we needed him to do in that race,” he continued. “We feel like he's fit already and we aren't going to overdo it with him. We had Tyler (Gaffalione, jockey) fly out to work him a couple times since the race, including a (6f) work in company with (multiple Grade II winner) Imperative, who's a good horse in his own right. They worked really well together and finished up and galloped out really well. After that, we decided we were good with him. As far as the blowout, it's something that has worked well for him before. We did it in Dubai and we did it before the Lukas Classic.”

Mind Your Biscuits will retire at the end of the year to take up 2019 stud duty at Japan's Shadai Farm, which owns him in partnership with Summers, J Stables LLC, Head of Plains Partners LLC, M. Scott Summers, Daniel Summers and Michael Kisber.

Imperative is entered in Friday's Marathon Stakes presented by TAA at Churchill Downs.

Pavel – Mention of Pavel's solid victory in Churchill Downs' Stephen Foster in June brings a smile to trainer Doug O'Neill's face, leading him to say: “Well, that victory looks good and says he likes this racetrack.”

Pavel's win puts owner Reddam Racing's routine of naming horses after some of his favorite hockey players in the spotlight, as well.

Nyquist, named for another of J. Paul Reddam's hockey heroes, of course, won the 2015 Kentucky Derby for the owner.

Pavel galloped 1 1/4m Tuesday morning with O'Neill, who arrived Monday from his Southern California base, watching closely. Exercise rider Amir Cedeno was in the irons.

Thunder Snow – Trainer Saeed bin Suroor was on hand once again to watch Godolphin's multi-surface multiple Grade/Group 1 winner Thunder Snow go through the motions, including an easy blowout down the lane. The son of English-bred son of Australian star miler Helmet is attempting to improve upon a neck loss in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 29 at Belmont Park.

“The horse is ready and in good form,” bin Suroor said. “He came back well from his last race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. Thunder Snow, he's looking very good mentally and physically looking really good and heavy. He's fresh and today he did a little exercise and looked in good shape. He's ready to go.”

Thunder Snow drew the unenviable rail post for the Classic. Jockey Christophe Soumillon, who has ridden him in 14 of his 20 lifetime starts and in all but one of his seven wins, will be aboard once again.

“I wanted to see him in a draw on the inside and I just saw that he drew one,” Soumillon said. “I just want him to jump well, because if he jumps slowly you can have big trouble from the jockeys coming from the outside. I hope he jumps quicker than last time, where he unfortunately didn't jump well. He hit his head on the side when the gate opened and we were completely on the outside, but finally after a few strides he was good in the race. I think if I can have him in third, fourth or fifth position early in the race, that will be perfect. I was quite happy last time when he was able to come back to horses with (after taking) a bit of kickback. I'm sure we will have a little bit more in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but I don't really worry about that. I think he'll improve again (handling kickback) and the better position we can get, the happier with that I will be.”

The Dubai World Cup winner is scheduled to leave for the UAE within a week of the Classic to return to Godolphin's Al Quoz Stables in Dubai, where he will prepare for a defense of the $12 million Grade I fixture on March 30. In his gate-to-wire Dubai World Cup win, he defeated fellow Classic entrants West Coast, Pavel and Gunnevera.

Yoshida – WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club International Ltd, SF Racing LLC and Head of Plains Partners LLC's Yoshida continued his preparation for the Classic by jogging a lap on Tuesday morning for two-time Classic-winning conditioner Bill Mott. The son of Japanese champion Heart's Cry and grandson of Classic winner Sunday Silence breezed the day prior.

“He came out well,” Mott said. “He was back on the track jogging this morning.”

In 11 career starts, the bay 4yo colt five wins and three seconds. His four 2018 starts include a rousing victory in the Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day, an excellent fifth (beaten 1¼ lengths) in Royal Ascot's prestigious Queen Anne Stakes and a two-length win in his dirt debut last out in the Woodward on Sept 1. Despite the light season, Mott decided to skip the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 29 and train up to the Classic.

“We just didn't want to overdo it,” he said. “We wanted to save a little gas for this race. It would have been shoving two tough races very close together.”

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