The Week In Review: Breeders' Cup Berths Not All About Speed Numbers

More Than Looks | Sarah Andrew


Going into Saturday's wiring of the GI Awesome Again S., Slow Down Andy (Nyquist) hadn't won a dirt race in 1 1/2 years, and he still has the same habit of swishing his tail in the stretch when lifelong riding partner Mario Gutierrez implores him for run. But this Reddam Racing homebred trained by Doug O'Neill had been finishing respectably behind some A-list names in his company lines, so bettors made him favored for the first time in 15 months, and at 2-1 odds Slow Down Andy rewarded that confidence by doubling their money en route to his first Grade I victory.

The 4-year-old led at every call (101 Beyer Speed Figure) in a “Win and You're In” chance for the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, and this year that nine-furlong prep carries extra emphasis because it was run over the same Santa Anita Park surface that will host the Breeders' Cup championships Nov. 3-4.

“He's becoming better with age. You can see it on his record. His last few races he's just given us his all. Right now, he's fit, he's ready to run in the Breeders' Cup,” Gutierrez said.

Slow Down Andy's win also shifts the balance of power in the Classic division ever so slightly more toward the Left Coast.

A pair of Grade I-winning sophomores, 'TDN Rising Star' Arabian Knight (Uncle Mo) and Geaux Rocket Ride (Candy Ride {Arg}), the one-two finishers from the GI Pacific Classic (in which Slow Down Andy ran third), already call Santa Anita home. And even though their campaigns this year were not based in California, two other top Classic contenders-the GI Belmont S. and GI Travers S. winner Arcangelo (Arrogate) and MGISW White Abarrio (Race Day)-have already shipped to Santa Anita well in advance of other Eastern-based divisional rivals.

Winning a race over the track theoretically should have a little more significance for Slow Down Andy. But the obvious question moving forward for him (and other possible Breeders' Cup starters who raced on the Sept. 30 Santa Anita card) is whether or not the “wet-fast” main track from that afternoon will be a useful barometer in trying to prognosticate the championships.

Friday's opening day at Santa Anita produced fairly uniform results on a dirt surface labeled “fast.” Of four main-track races, one was won in wire-to-wire fashion, one by a speed horse who pressed the pace, one by a stalker, and one by an off-pace closer.

Rain prior to Saturday produced the wet-fast designation. In eight main track races, four horses wired their fields and four others scored by forcing the issue close up to the frontrunners. Stalkers and closers got completely shut out.

More Than…Impressive

While a triple-digit Beyer performance in a stakes at this stage of the season usually invokes aspirations of running in the Breeders' Cup, the connections of More Than Looks (More Than Ready) indicated they'll likely stay on a late-season course that bypasses Santa Anita and the championships, even after the 3-year-old son of More Than Ready uncorked a devastating late kick and a 101 Beyer when dismantling the field in Saturday's $200,000 Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs.

Ridden by Cristian Torres and trained by Cherie DeVaux for owner Anthony Bartolo's Victory Racing Partners, More Than Looks rated three wide at the back of the pack into the clubhouse turn and had one horse beaten turning for home as the 1.63-1 favorite in the mile turfer over “firm” ground.

Tipping widest into the lane under a full head of steam out in the seven path, More Than Looks inhaled his eight rivals while responding to rousing between the quarter and sixteenth poles, eventually drawing off by his lonesome late in the lane to score by 2 3/4 lengths

As Churchill announcer Travis Stone articulated with admiration in his call, the colt “looked hopeless with three furlongs to go” before out-torqueing the field in a visually impressive effort.

Now 4-1-1 from seven starts, More Than looks won the GIII Manila S. at Belmont Park on July 7 and ran third in the GII Hall of Fame S. at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 11.

“This was one of the first times he really put his head down and ran through the wire,” De Vaux said. “Sometimes he got a little green and would hang a little bit once he got in front.”

DeVaux said More Than Looks would likely be aimed at the GIII Bryan Station S. at Keeneland Race Course Oct. 28 and could then attempt the GI Hollywood Derby (GI) at Del Mar Dec. 2.

Landing Spot TBD

Numbers aren't everything when considering the Breeders' Cup, especially when it comes to younger horses.

A case in point is Air Recruit (Air Force Blue), who won the $150,000 Laurel Futurity on Saturday over 1 1/16 miles on a “good” turf course at Laurel Park.

His win only registered a 67 on the Beyer scale. But the 2-year-old colt caught the eye by breaking well, conceding the lead, and rating midpack at the fence while covered up before tipping his big, white blaze out to the three path and wearing down the frontrunners with a determined effort.

Jockey Charlie Marquez rode for trainer Arnaud Delacour and owner Mark Grier.

Air Recruit won his Aug. 5 debut over 5 1/2 furlongs at Colonial Downs, beating a pair of next-out winners. He then finished third behind three-time stakes winner No Nay Mets (Ire) (No Nay Never) over the same course and distance in the $125,000 Rosie's S. Sept. 9.

“He went short the first two times out and the first time he really surprised us. We sat right behind the speed [in the colt's debut] and came flying and [were] able to win,” Marquez said. “We put him back in the stake at Colonial and he ran a huge race [behind a] very nice horse. We knew that he wanted to go longer so we stretched him out today and you guys saw what he did.”

Added Delacour: “He always showed a lot of speed. His first breeze from the gate he went like 47 [seconds] in hand, so we knew we had something. I didn't know about the distance, to be honest. That was kind of an experiment, but it was the right time to do it after two races.”

The GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf is a possible option, but it's annually a race that gets oversubscribed.

“We'll look at our options,” Delacour said. “Depending on how he comes back, if we can get in the Breeders' Cup it could be an option. He did it impressively enough that we could give him a shot-if we get in.”

Maryland Dates Reduction?

Craig Fravel, the chief executive officer for 1/ST Racing, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, told the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority on Friday that a reduced racing schedule is one option that could be considered as the circuit grapples with numerous near- and longer-term issues related to viability and relevancy.

Frank Vespe of The Racing Biz broke the story, reporting that when Authority member and Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (MTHA) general counsel Alan Foreman asked 1/ST Racing executives to better define what the company meant by an allusion to “realigning the racing calendar,” Fravel responded this way:

“We've made a proposal [to the MTHA] about taking a break in the calendar and shifting racing, the focus of racing, to Colonial during the summer months because they're paying $600,000 or $700,000 today in purse money.”

Vespe reported that 1/ST Racing's analysis “envisions a much shorter Maryland racing season,” but that “fewer days of racing would mean larger per-race purses,” noting that Maryland hosted 175 days of live racing in 2022 and has hosted as many as 187 days in recent years.

“We think that 80 to 90 days can be a very viable racing calendar,” Fravel said. “Even with that, though, operationally there needs to be some reconsideration of the distribution of revenues. But we also think that those days can be run with purses in excess of $500,000, maybe even $600,000 a day, which is highly competitive in the local, regional marketplace.”

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