Now that the final major prep races for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) have been run, we can start analyzing the prospective field and rank the top contenders with significantly greater knowledge and information than we would have possessed even a week ago.
So I’ll kick off the new week by sharing my Top 10 contenders for the much-anticipated Churchill Downs championship….
Unbeaten in three starts? Check. Two-time Grade 1 winner? Check. Fastest Beyer speed figures? Check. Conditioned by the three-time Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-winning trainer Bob Baffert? Check again. It’s hard not to have a lot of confidence in Game Winner, a beautifully-bred son of Candy Ride who unleashed relentless rallies from just off the pace to win both the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) and the American Pharoah Stakes (gr. I) last month. He’s got some versatility in terms of running style and looms as the fastest horse on paper; with any racing luck, he’ll surely be tough to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
If you want to see the definition of a tour-de-force performance, just check out Complexity’s victory in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I), in which he sprinted his rivals off their feet through fast fractions and just kept going to win by three lengths. Only time will tell if he can carry his abundant speed around two turns, but if he can, Complexity will be a significant front-running threat in the Juvenile.
Code of Honor
After winning his debut at Saratoga in gate-to-wire fashion, Code of Honor stumbled badly at the start of the Champagne Stakes and wound up in last place early on. That would have spelled disaster for many young horses, but Code of Honor wasn’t so quick to give up, slowly working his way back into the race before rallying wide on the far turn to pass most of his rivals and finish clearly second-best. It’s not yet clear whether he will proceed on to the Breeders’ Cup, but if he does, he can’t be counted out.
This son of Exchange Rate was no match for Game Winner in the American Pharoah Stakes, but he did stay on gamely through the homestretch to edge the talented Rowayton for second place, earning a 90 Beyer that was a slight improvement from the 89 he received in his maiden win. Those figures stamp Gunmetal Gray as one of the fastest Breeders’ Cup Juvenile contenders, and he’s already got two good runs going two turns under his belt.
Whether it was the addition of Lasix, the stretch-out in distance, the benefit of an easy lead, all three of those together, or something else entirely… there’s no doubt that Knicks Go took a huge step forward while winning the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at odds of 70-1! The race didn’t come back particularly fast on the Beyer scale (81), but Knicks Go was tons the best while winning in gate-to-wire fashion and never gave his rivals a chance to catch up.
He had a pretty troubled run around the far turn of the Breeders’ Futurity, having to steady hard when bounced around in traffic, but he shrugged off the incident like a pro and re-rallied to finish second. That was a solid effort for his first start around two turns, and it might be something he can build on in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
He couldn’t quite hold on in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) after carving out the early pace, but that effort was still a nice step in the right direction for Tight Ten, who had raced very greenly in his first two starts. Tight Ten has kept good company and is now a multiple graded stakes-placed runner, so we know he has class.
It’s fair to question the caliber of competition he beat, and the fractions he set weren’t all that fast, but Well Defined was tons the best in the 1 1/16-mile Florida Sire In Reality Stakes at Gulfstream Park, powering clear of his rivals to win by 7 ½ lengths with a 91 Beyer. That was a nice step forward off his close runner-up effort in the seven-furlong Florida Sire Affirmed Stakes two starts back, so Well Defined seems to be getting good at the right time.
Unfortunately, Mind Control missed a scheduled start in the Breeders’ Futurity due to illness, but assuming that he bounces back quickly, his determined victory in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) will assure him of a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile starting gate while stamping him as a front-running challenger in his first start around two turns.
After beating Mind Control and Tight Ten in his first two starts, which included a victory in the Saratoga Special (gr. II), Call Paul attempted to stretch his speed to a mile in the Champagne Stakes. He wasn’t able to match strides with Complexity early on, or with Code of Honor late in the race, but he did fight on to finish third in a very respectable performance.