The Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
1 1/16 miles, dirt, 2-year-olds
Santa Anita, Race 9 | Friday, Nov. 1, 4:03 p.m. PT
This Breeders’ Cup Juvenile shapes up as a classic duel between two standout colts, Dennis’ Moment and Eight Rings. The third major contender, Maxfield, would have added further intrigue, but he has been withdrawn due to a soundness issue.
In a bizarre coincidence, both the Midwest-based Dennis’ Moment and the Californian Eight Rings would be advancing into this Juvenile with unblemished records if not for each colt losing his rider in one of his three starts. Yet when both runners have had the opportunity to complete their races, they have been independently brilliant.
The Pace Projector is predicting Eight Rings (#6) will be clearly in front after a half-mile. While this is not a scenario that is predicted to favor horses on or near the lead, it is worth pointing out Eight Rings is the only runner in this field with a running style of “Speed” or “Leader” in TimeformUS PPs, whereas those likely to be chasing him, notably Storm the Court (#4) and Dennis’ Moment (#1), are merely “Trackers.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Dennis’ Moment will be compromised by the pace scenario, Eight Rings does seem destined to work out a favorable trip as long as he breaks cleanly.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, DENNIS’ MOMENT (8-5): Robbed of the opportunity to deliver on the substantial hype surrounding him prior to his debut, this colt was sent on a mission in his second outing at Ellis Park. Seven furlongs is a demanding distance for any 2-year-old in July, yet Dennis’ Moment handled it like a seasoned professional, opening up a colossal margin on his eleven rivals through the lane, stopping the timer in a clocking that was just a few ticks off the track record. Having been justified in touting this colt prior to that run, Dale Romans mapped out a path designed to ensure he would be bringing a fresh contender to this championship event, and all has gone accordingly.
While the Iroquois victory wasn’t nearly as dazzling as his maiden romp, Dennis’ Moment nevertheless passed a crucial test and checked off some key boxes. He proved that he could handle a route distance, doesn’t need the lead to win, and is comfortable over the Churchill Downs surface – the last point expected to become relevant in six months’ time. Dennis’ Moment crossed the wire just 1 3/4 lengths ahead of today’s rival Scabbard, but that margin is somewhat deceptive, as he shot clear of the field, under pressure, by about four lengths passing the eighth pole before being geared down in the closing strides. While not suggesting he would have surpassed his top TimeformUS Speed Figure of 117, earned at Ellis, it’s possible he could have run a couple of points faster if ridden out to the wire.
Dennis’ Moment has come to California in search of a divisional championship and he made the trip early, having arrived last week to get in a workout over the track. While I wouldn’t be overly concerned with the fast time of that Oct. 25 drill, since light-weight exercise rider Tammy Fox was aboard, the colt appeared to float over this sometimes quirky Santa Anita dirt surface with ease. He’s obviously coming into this race in top form. The only outstanding question is the trip, since he’s drawn the rail and figures to get outrun to the lead by Eight Rings. While Dennis’ Moment rated in the Iroquois, he was never put into a position where he had to deal with significant kickback or race inside of horses. I don’t anticipate either of those hurdles will significantly affect him, but I also acknowledge that he will need to bring his very best effort to run down his main rival. The horse to beat.
#2, WRECKING CREW (20-1): While he’s yet to live up to the high expectations implied by that $875,000 purchase price, this ridgling hasn’t done much wrong in the afternoons, finishing second in a pair of graded stakes following his debut effort. However, it must be noted that he was aided by the gate antics of Eight Rings in the Del Mar Futurity, as there was not a great deal of quality in that field beyond the favorite. Now he’s attempting to stretch out for the first time and his pedigree gives mixed signals. His sire Sky Kingdom was a graded-stakes winner going 1 1/2 miles on dirt, but his dam hails from a more sprint-oriented family. With Paco Lopez named to ride, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him ridden into a forward position from the start. Others offer greater appeal.
#3, SHOPLIFTED (20-1): The Grade 1 Hopeful runner-up was ineffective in his first attempt around two turns, never posing a threat to Eight Rings in the American Pharoah. Steve Asmussen accomplished the goal of getting him a race over the track, though that effort might lead you to believe he’s not a fan of this surface. I tend to think it’s more of a stamina issue, as the son of Into Mischief has yet to recapture the brilliance that was on display in his 5 1/2 furlong debut. A turn-back should be in his future. Pass.
#4, STORM THE COURT (20-1): He was wiped out by Eight Rings when that one took a left-hand turn at the start of the Del Mar Futurity. Storm the Court subsequently got his chance to compete against that rival in the American Pharoah, and the results were only marginally better. He picked up a Grade 1 placing, but never loomed a serious threat. That said, he was finishing off the race with greater energy than some others, suggesting stamina isn’t an issue. However, the fact remains he’s yet to earn a speed figure that makes him remotely competitive. Using underneath.
#5, SCABBARD (8-1): Up to this point, it seems as if there’s been greater interest in the saga surrounding this colt’s name than his actual merits as a racehorse, but that could change on Friday. Scabbard didn’t set the teletimer on fire in his debut at Churchill Downs over the summer, but he finished off that race like a horse who was crying out for more ground. Therefore, it shouldn’t be any surprise that he has improved with each start as the distances have progressively increased. While it’s true Dennis’ Moment was geared down in the last sixteenth of the Iroquois, Scabbard’s relentless stretch run is still deserving of praise. This colt encountered minor traffic on the far turn and was forced to lose momentum at a critical point in the race. Most 2-year-olds would have been discouraged by such an incident, but Scabbard quickly regathered himself to continue his steady advance into the lane. He was never in danger of defeating Dennis’ Moment, but he was running through the wire with superior energy. It doesn’t hurt that he’s getting a rider switch to Mike Smith, who has a way of delivering winners on days like this. However, the problem with this colt is the expected flow of this race, as the pace may not develop in a fashion that suits his strengths. That said, he merely needs to repeat his Iroquois performance to earn third place. And if he were to take another step forward – well, anything’s possible. Don’t underestimate.
#6, EIGHT RINGS (2-1): This son of Empire Maker has yet to run quite as fast as Dennis’ Moment, but he’s been no less promising in his two victories to date. The word was out prior to his debut at Del Mar, and he did not disappoint, running off to an impressive score.
While we can dismiss his aborted effort in the Del Mar Futurity, there is one aspect of that race that shouldn’t be glossed over. Whereas Dennis’ Moment was the victim of other riders’ negligence when he clipped heels and lost his rider in his debut, Eight Rings caused his own problems at Del Mar, and we again saw some of that unpredictable behavior bubbling under the surface in his commanding American Pharoah score. Eight Rings was never in danger of losing that race, but he still showed some signs of greenness, ducking out a bit as Velazquez attempt to steer him into the clubhouse turn, and then shying from the whip while awkwardly changing leads in deep stretch.
Some have suggested his behavior in the late stages of the American Pharoah reveals a lack of stamina, but those optics are a bit deceiving. Two of the TimeformUS Pace Figures for that race are color-coded red, indicating he was setting a fast pace. Yet he still drew off with authority in the lane, even as he weaved his way through the final sixteenth. This is obviously a talented runner, and I think it’s fair to argue he has more upside than Dennis’ Moment, who already presents himself as a finished product. Eight Rings is likely to enjoy a fairly comfortable early lead in this spot, and he also appears to be training exceptionally well coming into this race. Bob Baffert sounds confident and he certainly knows how to train a juvenile champion. I’m giving this guy the slight nod in what should be a stirring match-up. The selection.
#7, ANNEAU D’OR (15-1): He demolished a field at Golden Gate in his debut a few weeks ago. However, that was on the grass and he’s clearly bred to prefer that surface, being a son of Grade 3 turf winner Walk Close, who never competed over dirt. He was originally intended for the Juvenile Turf, and would only be worth a look when entered back on that surface. Pass.
#8, FULL FLAT (30-1): The wild card in this field has won one of three starts in Japan, but he sports a decidedly American pedigree, being a son of champion sprinter Speightstown. Like the runner to his inside, he was originally intended for a turf event – the Juvenile Turf Sprint – and is running here as his second preference. His dam is a half-sister to top European sprinter Stravinsky, calling into question this runner’s dirt ability and his stamina. Pass.
#9, MAXFIELD (–): Scratched.