Breeders’ Cup: Grass Stars Worried About Turf Course Conditions

by | 11.01.2018 | 3:50pm
Javier Castellano pilots Paved, outside, in her final Breeders' Cup workout before the Filly & Mare Turf

Breeders' Cup Turf Notes

Arklow – Trainer Brad Cox knows it's a tall order asking his 4-year-old Arch colt Arklow to take on the likes of Enable in the $4 million Longines Breeders' Cup Turf on Saturday at Churchill Downs, but he feels like he has earned his place in the race. He enters the 1 1/2-mile race off a second in the Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland and before that he had won back-to-back stakes at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park.

“It's not ideal to run back this quick, but he ran a good race in the Sycamore,” Cox said. “Of course we wanted him to win, but it was a good effort. I talked to (owner) Jerry (Crawford of Donegal Racing) and we agreed he deserved the opportunity. He's won nearly a million dollars. We're asking a lot of him, but he'll be getting a break after this race.”

Channel Maker – Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber and partners' Channel Maker will look to maintain the career-best form that rendered a 4½-length, visually impressive victory last out in Belmont's Turf Classic Invitational on Sept. 29.

Trained by Bill Mott, the son of 2007 Breeders' Cup Turf winner English Channel has two wins and a second from four tries at the Breeders' Cup Turf's 12f distance, including victories in the Canadian classic Breeders' Stakes. Last out, he showed an affinity—much like his sire—for wet grass for the third time in his career, following victories in the Bowling Green over soft ground on July 28 and a win as a juvenile on yielding ground in the Vandal Stakes in August 2016.

“Yes, he doesn't mind it, but I just hope it's not too soft for any of them running in the race,” Mott said. “He's worked his way up the ladder, for sure, and has become a really good horse.”

Mott has a record of 2-2-1 from 15 starters in the Turf, including wins by Fraise (1992) and Theatrical (1987). Channel Maker must take on overwhelming favorite and last-out Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Enable, but Mott has conquered such before. Fraise defeated Subotica and Theatrical out-battled Trempolino.

Glorious Empire – The 7-year-old son of Holy Roman Emperor galloped about 1 ½ miles Thursday morning.

“He picked it up a bit down the stretch, a good open gallop,” trainer James “Chuck” Lawrence II said. “He is in a good frame of mind.”

Glorious Empire arrived at Churchill Downs about 2 a.m. on Wednesday from his base at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. Lawrence and his family were close behind on the trip in a separate vehicle. Lawrence said he was able to sleep for a few hours before returning to oversee Glorious Empire's jog and gallop with regular exercise rider Selvin Hernandez aboard.

“We just wanted to give him a spin of the racetrack,” Lawrence said of that initial training routine. “My job is to get him settled for Saturday. He is a focused horse.”

Lawrence said the Irish-born gelding would train on the track both Friday and Saturday.

Glorious Empire comes to the Turf with a three-race winning streak capped by the Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 25.

Hi Happy – The 6-year-old son of Pure Prize has been consistent when the grass course is firm or good, but he was sixth in soft going in the Bowling Green at Saratoga in July.

“My biggest concern is what condition we will have on the turf course,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “I am a little concerned with the condition of the ground.”

Liam the Charmer – Trainer Mike McCarthy's turf specialist took his usual 1 1/4-mile tour of the main track Thursday morning but the trainer knew the exercise wasn't likely to have much impact on Saturday's Turf, which likely will turn up soft after an overnight deluge in Louisville.

Being based in Southern California does not bode well for a horse that's used to running on firm ground to handle soft ground.

Robert Bruce – He has done little wrong, but somehow Robert Bruce has lost a little of the shine that enveloped him after closing like a rocket in the Arlington Million and earning his way into the Breeders' Cup Turf. The son of Fast Company was subsequently second in the Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park on Sept. 29 over soft turf, but boasts a record of 8-1-0 from 10 starts and five G1 wins. His versatility has been of note, winning from six furlongs to 12 furlongs and often simply out-accelerating his foes when it counted most. Trainer Chad Brown saddles the Convento Viejo LLC-owned charge.

“The distance I think he can get,” Brown said. “The (soft) ground concerns me. I think he's better on firmer ground, but he's training particularly well.”

In the Turf Classic, the 4yo Chilean-bred was settled nicely in fourth and then moved up to second approaching the final turn, chasing eventual winner and Turf entrant Channel Maker. Tipping out at the top of the stretch for his customary kick, he failed to menace when it mattered.

“He was traveling well up the fence where the ground was definitely firmer that day, in hindsight,” Brown recalled. “When he moved out in the stretch to pass the leader, it looked like he was well in hand. He hit heavier ground and lost his action and actually took a bad step at the eight pole. He just couldn't quicken on it and the winner ran a huge race with the conditions the way they were.”

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf Notes

Chad Brown – Trainer Chad Brown's quintet of Maker's Mark Filly & Mare Turf runners—Sistercharlie, Thais, Fourstar Crook, A Raving Beauty, Santa Monica—went through the motions on Thursday morning in good fashion, all jogging, except for Fourstar Crook, who galloped on the main track.

Of the five, Santa Monica will enter the 11-furlong test on the shortest rest, having raced three weeks prior in the E. P. Taylor at Woodbine. That day she finished a hard-charging second after a traffic-heavy trip.

“She's entered in a sale this week and in her last start at Woodbine (in the E. P. Taylor), she had a troubled trip and was boxed in most of the way and didn't have any clear running until late,” Brown said. “We felt because of that, we didn't really get to the bottom of her in that race. She really only ran the last part of the race, she came out of it on her toes and the ownership group wanted to take a shot. She'll appreciate the distance.”

The daughter of Mastercraftsman has made five starts for Brown since being purchased at auction last year. Her best effort was a victory in the Dance Smartly at Woodbine three back. In her two attempts at the 11-furlong distance of the Filly & Mare Turf, she has done well to finish a good third, beaten a half-length, in the Sheepshead Bay at Belmont and a respectable second in the Glen Falls at Saratoga.

She will seek her fifth victory in what will be her 28th start during a useful career. The bay 5-year-old mare is owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Madaket Stables and Deron Pearson.

Mom's On Strike – Carl Moore Management and Brad Grady's Mom on Strike's recent form and demeanor have her connections pumped for Saturday. “Mom's On Strike installs a lot of confidence, just by showing up every time we lead her over,” said trainer Joe Sharp.

The 5-year-old daughter of First Dude put together a four-race win streak that started late last year at Churchill, and continued through the spring at the Fair Grounds. Two of those were black-type stakes.

“She's had a great year,” said Sharp. “She won her first level allowance about this time last year, and it's been a great ride since. She's really come into herself as the year has gone on, and gained more confidence.”

She notched her first graded stakes victory at Keeneland in April when she captured the Bewitch. The Bewitch was also her first score at 1 1/2 miles, and gave British rider Adam Beschizza his first graded-stakes win.

Beschizza, making his Breeders' Cup debut this year, has been aboard Mom's On Strike in her last eight starts.

“Everything suggested she would go a mile and a half based on her running style and we entered her in the Bewitch,” said Sharp. “She ran so well, and it opened up a whole new door.

“We feel like we definitely benefit from the mile and three-eighths on Saturday,” he said. “She likes here at Churchill Downs, the distance is going to help her and she can handle soft turf – all those are positives. “

Sharp said they are adding blinkers for the Breeders' Cup. “She seemed to get a little lost in the stretch her last couple of races. I don't expect to change her comfort zone of coming from out of it, but with blinkers and an outside post (11) she might be used a little bit to get over and get a position. So she may be a little more forwardly placed than she is sometimes.”

This will be Sharp's second Breeders' Cup starter. He sent out Sapphire Kitten, who ran fourth in Juvenile Fillies Turf at Keeneland in 2015. “She was a really nice filly and was getting good at the right time,” he said. “Mom's On Strike has shown more consistency over a longer period of time, being older, and that gives you a little more confidence going in.”

Paved – With the rainy weather giving the Churchill Downs turf course a huge dousing, Paved's prospects for Saturday's Filly & Mare Turf became a “here's mud in your eye” matter.

With no experience on soft ground, due to being headquartered with trainer Mike McCarthy in Southern California, any prediction on how Paved might handle the soft going is strictly in the haphazard category.

Even so, exercise rider Nikki Diodoro took the 3-year-old filly to the sodden main track for a 1 1/4-mile gallop as a way to move preparation along for Saturday's running of the F&M Turf race.

McCarthy said later, “It's all up to whether or not she can handle the turf.”

Smart Choice — The 5-year-old daughter of Grand Reward is adjusting well to North America after arriving from her native Argentina this past summer.

“She has done fine and is doing better all the time,” Trainer Todd Pletcher said. “She has put on a little bit of weight since she has been here. In an ideal world, we would have a little more time but I think she is steadily making progress. “

Smart Choice earned her way to the Filly& Mare Turf when she won at Peru's Hipodromo de Monterrico, where she has made all but one of her 14 career starts. That victory in the Gran Premio Pamplona includes travel expenses as part of the international Breeders' Cup Challenge “Win and You're In” Series.

Breeders' Cup Mile Notes

Catapult – The big question for turf horses following continued rain at Churchill Downs, naturally, is how will Southern California-based horses fare on the soft turf? That thought was not lost on trainer John Sadler Thursday morning after his prospect for the Breeders' Cup Mile galloped 1 1/4-mile on the main track.

“He's been doing great,” Sadler said, “And he's coming off two wins at Del Mar this summer. But for him [in the Mile on the turf] it comes down to how well he'll handle the soft turf. He used to running in Southern California where it's firm.

“I think he'll handle it, but you just never know.”

Chad Brown (Mile) – If the rain and expected soft course were not a factor, Chad Brown would be considered to be in an enviable position heading into the Breeders' Cup Mile with bonafide G1-level charges Almanaar and Analyze It, owned by Shadwell Stable and William H. Lawrence, respectively. As it stands, the weather gods have not been kind to the two-time champion trainer and he will have some decisions to make Thursday following routine main track jogs by each of his aforementioned candidates.

“Almanaar is doing really well,” Brown said. “As far as the soft turf, I have to speak to Rick Nichols about (whether we would scratch). We definitely would prefer firmer ground for him.”

Almanaar, a G3 winner in France and G1 winner earlier this year in Florida, has drawn favourably in post six and will carry Joel Rosario. Three-year-old Analyze It, who has placed twice in G1 company this year and been highly regarded since this time last year, drew the 12 hole and will be piloted by Irad Ortiz Jr. for the first time. Analyze It and Almanaar finished fourth and eighth, respectively, last out in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland over good ground.

“I'm OK with the post,” Brown said. “He has good speed. He should break out of there and move over in time before the turn. I don't mind the trip he had in the Shadwell, I just think he didn't fire. I can't make an excuse. His trip was OK and the turf was a little soft under him and peeling away from him the jockey reported to me, so I just drew a line through it. I think he's probably better on firm (turf), but it is what it is and we'll just have to evaluate the turf condition the day of the race to see if it makes sense to still run.”

Shockingly, considering his turf-heavy barn, 10-time Breeders' Cup-winning trainer Brown has not had one starter in the Mile from his 71 to go to post.

Next Shares – Michael and Jules Iavarone, Jerry McClanahan, Christopher Dunn, William Marasa, Richie Robershaw and Mark Taylor's Next Shares has spent nearly the past two months in Kentucky and picked up two fat checks along the way for trainer Richard Baltas.

Baltas, who arrived from his Southern California base Tuesday night, was trackside watching Next Shares as he galloped over the sloppy track in preparation for Saturday's Mile.

Was he thinking of an extended Kentucky stay when he shipped Next Shares to Kentucky Downs for the $250,000 Old Friends on Sept. 6?

“Not really, but then he won a Grade 1 'Win and You're In' at Keeneland in a million-dollar race,” Baltas said of the Shadwell Turf Mile Oct. 6. “That was probably my biggest win.”

Next Shares remained at Keeneland following the victory and vanned to Churchill Downs Monday.

“I think the Breeders' Cup is a Grade 1 times three,” said Baltas, who is seeking an initial victory in the World Championships. “A lot of those Grade 1 races have horses that have won a Grade 2 or 3, but not here.”

Oscar Performance – Amerman Racing's four-time Grade 1 winner Oscar Performance jogged over a sloppy main track Thursday morning under exercise rider Arnoldo Orellano for trainer Brian Lynch.

“We went out a little early because it looked like there was going to be a little dry period so we took advantage of it,” Lynch said of going before the designated 7:30-7:45 training window for Breeders' Cup entrants.

Lynch is keeping a wary eye on the weather that has produced steady rain in the Louisville area for more than 24 hours with more forecast on the way for Thursday afternoon.

“My weather app says we are in for heavy rain with wind around 1 this afternoon,” said Lynch, who would prefer not to run Oscar Performance on a soft turf course.

Scratch time for the Friday and Saturday Breeders' Cup races is 8 a.m. ET Friday.

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