If 3-year-old humans got as much public attention as 3-year-old horses, Dream Kardashian would be more famous than Blac Chyna.
Well, maybe she is. But for the pool of readers that made it this far into this column, Authentic and Tiz The Law are more famous than both of them. And unless there is already a presidential election prop for 2052, there has been more money bet on them already for the Breeders’ Cup Classic than any other 3-year-old in the world.
While we wait for domestic futures to be posted we have a guideline from foreign markets that started opening in April. In spite of his Kentucky Derby disqualification and his transfer from an indicted trainer, 4-year-old Maximum Security rose above the maelstrom to open as a favorite at 6-1. That is still his best price when comparing his global and European odds.
Even though he has won his last six starts – including a pair of Grade 1s and the richest race in the world – Maximum Security has been passed in the marketplace by the 3-year-olds that won the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. It is not a consensus, but Belmont Stakes winner Tiz The Law is best priced at 5-1 to win the Classic on Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Since he won the Kentucky Derby to reverse the thinking about whether he can go 1¼ miles, Authentic is 11-2.
History offers conflicting messages about whether it is a good idea to back a 3-year-old in the Classic. The last three winners – Gun Runner, Accelerate and Vino Rosso – were older horses when they reached the winner’s circle. Of the first 36 winners of the Classic, 12 were 3 years old, 15 were 4, and nine were 5.
Only three times in the last 11 runnings have 3-year-olds won America’s richest race that is now worth $7 million. All three – Bayern, American Pharoah and Arrogate – were trained by Bob Baffert.
So that is it, right? Just back Baffert by betting on Authentic, and wait for the cash to roll in.
Wait just a second. Since Jason Servis was busted by the feds in March on suspicion of illegally doping his horses, Maximum Security races now for Baffert. The last time one trainer had different horses that were considered the best in the 3-year-old and the older divisions was, of course, Baffert. That was two years ago, when he briefly had Justify and West Coast at the top of their games simultaneously – and at the top of National Thoroughbred Racing Association surveys.
That got me looking to find the last time the annual champion in each category had the same trainer. That would be 1907, when James Rowe was training Colin to become horse of the year at age 2 and Peter Pan to a 3-year-old title. Dubious? Sure, especially since those awards were decided decades after the fact by the Blood-Horse magazine.
In the moment, then, this is uncharted territory as has been pretty much everything else this racing year. If Tiz The Law showed his vulnerability in the Derby, then the handicapping might come down to reading between Baffert’s lines in the build-up to the Classic. Not just his talk but also the way he trains Maximum Security and Authentic.
Let’s not forget the “other” Bafferts, either. Bucking paddock bronco Thousand Words (33-1) may be a bargain now, especially if he were to pull off an upset in two weeks against Authentic, et al., in the Preakness Stakes. Charlatan (14-1) might yet be ready after recovering from his ankle injury. And don’t forget 4-year-old Improbable (16-1), a Grade 1 winner in his last two starts.
Tiz The Law may still be best positioned if he trains up to the Classic rather than running in the Preakness. His second-place finish in the Derby came off the shortest break of his career, and he is undefeated at tracks not named Churchill Downs. Bettors fade him at their own risk.
I am certainly willing to take that chance, especially as one horse looms very quietly on the autumn horizon. The 7-year-old millionaire Tom’s d’Etat produced the ultimate draw-a-line-through-it performance last month when he stumbled out of the gate in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga. He still recovered to finish third, missing second by just a half-length.
His winning streak snapped at four, Tom’s d’Etat is sitting at 12-1, according to Oddschecker.com, at European shops that are booking the Classic. He has never raced 1¼ miles, and he has mixed results when carrying common weight with the rest of the field. But he had a win over the track at Keeneland in last year’s Grade 2 Fayette Stakes, and he owns a victory over Improbable that should inform the analysis of the race.
I may not land finally on Tom’s d’Etat in eight weeks, but it is safe to say that I am trying to march against the wave of momentum that the 3-year-old class is carrying. If for no other reason, it is a chance to get out and breathe some different air than the Triple Crown trail has recycled since, oh, I don’t know, the Big Ten and Pac-12 were playing football. (Make that just the Big Ten; that was not football that the Pac-12 played last year.)
No horse older than 5 has ever won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so this is a leap of unprecedented faith. But it will come with a nice price. Who knows? Maybe Tom’s d’Etat can be as famous as Prince George.
Racing notes and opinions
The turf north of the border at Woodbine hosts three single-turn, one-mile Breeders’ Cup qualifiers this weekend. Last year’s Preakness winner War Of Will (2-1 morning line) is the most familiar name in the $758,470 Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on Saturday at 5:39 p.m. EDT. He was on a five-race losing streak and winless in five turf starts before he broke through two months ago against a weak field in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. He adds eight pounds with a new jockey, Rafael Hernández, as trainer Mark Casse tries to win this race for the third time in the last five runnings. I will play against War Of Will. Instead I will put 2-for-2 Shirl’s Speight (8-1), 7-year-old mare Starship Jubilee (4-1) and blinkers-off gelding Armistice Day (20-1) in an exacta box with course horse March To The Arch (5-2) thrown in – the latter only because I was talked into it on my podcast. The winner gets an invitation to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, in which two-time European Group 1 winner Pinatubo is the 7-2 favorite in foreign futures.
Sunday’s Woodbine card showcases 2-year-olds. After winning a sprint stakes on the same course last month, Gretzky The Great seeks a third consecutive victory for Casse in the $189,617 Grade 1 Summer Stakes at 4:29 p.m. EDT. Trained by Chad Brown, the $475,000 Into Mischief colt Secret Potion may try to lead all the way around. He was not on Lasix last month when he finished second in his debut at Saratoga; he will be Sunday. The most expensive horse in the race, Dolder Grand, is the other Casse. The $800,000 Candy Ride colt closed to finish a troubled third in his sprint debut last month on the same track. As much as I want to back the Casses, this looks like the prototypical case of Brown using a first race to prep for a bigger target in a second start. Count me in on Secret Potion to get the ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
Are the first two finishers in an August sprint stakes better bets than a less accomplished pair of expensive fillies? That is the question handicappers face Sunday at 5:35 p.m. EDT in the $189,617 Grade 1 Natalma Stakes, a win-and-your-in for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Trained by Graham Motion, the deep closer Alda won last month’s $75,847 Catch A Glimpse over 6½ furlongs at Woodbine, nosing out Dreaming Of Drew. Horseplayers following the breeding and sales money, though, may look to $335,000 closer Sleek Lynx, a War Front that was second in her debut at Gulfstream Park for Casse, and Seasons, a $200,000 Tapit that led the whole way in a slowly run 8½-furlong debut at Saratoga. Trained by Jimmy Toner, Seasons looks like the one to key with frontrunner Lady Speightspeare, a debut winner for Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield.
Add Woodbine: The weather is forecast to be dry and crisp around Toronto this weekend. Environment Canada, the dominion’s answer to our National Weather Service, predicted a sunny sky both days with the high 57 on Saturday and 61 on Sunday.
The expiration date for Arlington Park has been set. The Illinois Racing Board approved a 68-day calendar for 2021 and a closing date of Sept. 25 – with an emphasis on “closing.” Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Arlington Park, has committed to racing only through 2021 before selling the suburban Chicago land on which the track is built. The 2020 season that ends next Saturday was cut to only 30 racing days. That was less for the coronavirus and more because of contentious negotiations between track management and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. Both factors led to the cancellation of all stakes races this year. They are penciled in for a return next year, including the renamed Arlington Million. It what may be its final running, it will be known as the Mister D. Stakes, in honor of track patriarch Richard Duchossois. The bottom line is that Arlington Park deserves a better fate. Any racing fan who has never been there ought to go. And fast.
Red tape delayed Preakness futures that were going to be posted here in Las Vegas by Circa Sports this week. Actually, they were up for about 20 minutes Tuesday before one of those undotted I’s or uncrossed T’s came back to rear its ugly head. So down they came. Details may eventually be forthcoming, but it really boils down to one word. Nevada. For all the chest-thumping that this state does about keeping sports-gambling dollars out of unregulated hands, it works twice as hard to push them right back out to sea.
We lost Irish jockey Pat Smullen on Tuesday. At 43 he was way too young to die. At 42 he was way too young to retire. At 41 he was way too young to hear that he had pancreatic cancer. Smullen’s nine riding titles in Ireland were the headline on a career that included two notable wins in the U.S., on Dress To Thrill in the 2002 Grade 1 Matriarch at Del Mar and on Muhannak in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Santa Anita. I dealt with Smullen a few times when I was still working for an Australian radio station, mostly when he rode for trainer Dermot Weld. Not flashy, he was like so many hard-working people in this game. Weld said it best when he told the BBC that Smullen was “the professionals’ professional. His loyalty and integrity shone out.”
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Jason Portuondo of Woodbine TV previews the three Breeders’ Cup qualifiers Saturday and Sunday in Canada. Breeder Peter Blum discusses what led to the foaling of Kentucky Derby winner Authentic. Johnny Avello of DraftKings Sportsbook handicaps weekend races at Belmont Park and Woodbine. The RFRP is available at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.