Keying Longshot Holding Gold in the Highlander Stakes
Thanks to the creation of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. I) in 2008, the turf sprint division of North America’s racing scene has been gaining in prestige over the last ten years.There’s no greater evidence of this than Saturdays $250,000 Highland Stakes (gr. I) at Woodbine, a six-furlong “Win and You’re In” prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint that will boast a Grade 1 rating for the first time this year.
The Highlander has drawn a quality field to match, with ten talented turf sprinters set to face the starter. #6 Long On Value is among the most consistently fast horses in the field, at least in terms of speed figures, and he recently returned from a layoff to win the five-furlong Might Beau Stakes at Churchill Downs in decisive fashion. You can make a case that five furlongs is actually too short for him, since he’s also an accomplished miler and finished third with a troubled trip in the Woodbine Mile (gr. I) over this course last September. The six-furlong distance of the Highlander could be pretty much perfect for Long On Value, especially considering that he was beaten just a nose over this distance in the 2017 Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-I) in Dubai.
The mare #8 Belvoir Bay has gone 3-for-3 over the downhill turf course at Santa Anita this year, including an easy two-length score against males in the San Simeon Stakes (gr. III), stamping her as another logical contender. Then there’s #2 Imprimis, unbeaten and unchallenged in four career starts, all going five furlongs on turf. The four-year-old son of Broken Vow crushed a quality field by 5 ½ lengths in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint Stakes at Pimlico last month, and the way he handled a very slow and soft turf course that day suggests that he won’t have an issue with the extra furlong of the Highlander.
Those three are the clear favorites on the morning line, but I’m actually tempted to take a shot with #4 Holding Gold. He might not be the most frequent winner in the field, but he has picked up a couple of memorable wins throughout his career, including a victory over the talented Green Mask in the 2017 Shakertown Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland and a similarly eye-catching score over the future graded stakes winner Will Call in the Colonel Power Stakes at Fair Grounds.
But more noteworthy than Holding Gold’s wins might be his game defeats in the last two renewals of the six-furlong Jaipur Stakes (gr. II) over the large, fast turf course at Belmont, which is similar to the course at Woodbine. In 2017, Holding Gold was beaten just a length in the Jaipur (which was run in a North American record time), and earlier this month he finished just 1 ¼ lengths back in the Jaipur despite a very wide trip.
In both cases, Holding Gold was competing against some of the very best turf sprinters in North America, including Disco Partner, Conquest Tsunami, Green Mask, and Pure Sensation. Form lines like those suggest that Holding Gold can be very competitive at a nice price in the Highlander, especially over this six-furlong distance.
Here’s how I would play the race:
$12 to win on #4 Holding Gold $3 exacta: 4 with 2,6,8 ($9) $3 exacta: 2,6,8 with 4 ($9)