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After a lot of hard-luck races where he could only do second at best, Moreno went wire-to-wire in the G1 Whitney Handicap (I) at 10-1 odds to earn an expenses-paid guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I).

I’m willing to share with a few of you losers when I win that million dollars.

I’m willing to share with a few of you losers when I win that million dollars.

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #13: Last Gunfighter

Basics:

(First Samurai x Saratoga Cat, by Sir Cat)

  • Trainer: Chad Brown
  • Jockey: Javier Castellano
  • Owned by: John Gunther
  • Career Record: 13:7-3-2
  • Earnings: $665,405

Vital Stats:

  • 2013 Record: 6:4-1-0
  • 2013 accomplishments: G2-placed, multiple G3 wins
  • Santa Anita record: 0:0-0-0
  • TrueNicks rating: A+ Variant 5.33
  • Dosage Index: 1.29
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2013: 120 (no change from last year)
  • Lost last prep - 5th, Jockey Club Gold Cup (I) by 10 1/4 lengths

Summary: A staple in New York winner’s circles this year and one of the most consistent horses in this race, Last Gunfighter ships to the west coast for the first time after a strong 2013 season which featured a 6-race win streak that started in October 2012 and lasted through to a win in the historic Pimlico Special (III).

Prep Schedule: Wasting little time, Last Gunfighter kept his win streak from 2012 going strong in January, winning Aqueduct’s Evening Attire Stakes over 1 1/16 miles, drawing off to win by an easy 1 1/2 lengths over a tidy field. He stepped things up two months later in his graded stakes debut, in the G3 Excelsior at Aqueduct going 9 furlongs, which he won easily despite a bumpy break, coming from off the pace to win by 2 lengths. He took his win streak on the road in May to Pimlico, winning the historic Pimlico Special (III) in a wild two-horse race against Eighttoofasttocatch, catching the Maryland standout in the stretch and drawing off to win by 4 1/2 lengths. In July, he stepped up in the Suburban Handicap (II), but could not catch winner Flat Out and was bested by 2 1/2 lengths while running gamely. He turned things around in August, winning Monmouth’s Philip H. Iselin Stakes (III) by a head over the stubborn San Pablo. Shipping back north for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (I), he stepped awkwardly at the start and slipped and from there things only got worse as he suffered a wide and rocky trip from there, ultimately finishing 5th, beaten 10 1/4 lengths.

Physique: Long-bodied with a good reach, Last Gunfighter has a nice hind end for late kicking power coupled with a set of nice back legs. Arguably one of the better hind ends in the field.

Pedigree: By accomplished juvenile and “early bird” sire First Samurai, who won 2 G1s at 2 before winning the Fountain of Youth (II) at 3, Last Gunfighter is among one of the best of his sire’s lot, which features a strong gene pool of classic-type runners. First Samurai is by classic sire Giant’s Causeway, who ran 2nd in this event, out of a stakes-winning Dixieland Band mare. Dam Saratoga Cat is a daughter of G2 turf horse Sir Cat, and goes back not once but twice to the great La Troienne. Up close, Last Gunfighter has two traces to Storm Cat and three to Northern Dancer.

Running Style: Off the pace

Pros: Consistency can be key, and Last Gunfighter has rarely had an off day— and certainly none due to a poor attitude— since he began racing. I’m 98% positive he is better than his collection of G3 wins have to suggest from a consistency and numbers angle.

Cons: He hasn’t beaten much yet, and has yet to show he can hold his own against super serious G1 horses. Can he ship, too? Can Chad Brown train a Breeders’ Cup dirt horse?

Final Word: If Last Gunfighter can carry his east coast form with him and gain a good trip, he’s got an excellent shot to hit the top 4 at tremendous value. Javier Castellano is an excellent rider and has a great rapport with Chad Brown already, and this is one of the most consistent horses in the field. Use him!

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #12: Paynter

Basics:

(Awesome Again x Tizso, by Cee’s Tizzy)

  • Trainer: Bob Baffert
  • Jockey: Martin Garcia
  • Owned by: Zayat Stables
  • Career Record: 10:4-4-0
  • Earnings: $1,101,924

Vital Stats:

  • 2013 Record: 4:1-2-0
  • 2013 accomplishments: G1-placed Awesome Again Stakes
  • Santa Anita record: 3:1-1-0
  • TrueNicks rating: A++ Variant 36.14
  • Dosage Index: 2.75
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2013: 119 (down from last year’s 123)
  • Lost last prep - Awesome Again Stakes by 4 1/4 lengths

Summary: One of the best stories to emerge from horse racing, Paynter made a dramatic recovery from his bout of severe, nearly-fatal sickness following his awesome Haskell (I) win last year to return to the winner’s circle this year. Since that point of return, things have been dodgy for the horse that Bob Baffert declared was even better than Bodemeister as he prepares for the biggest race of his life against other horses.

Prep Schedule: After a long recuperation period, Paynter returned a big favorite to Hollywood Park in a June allowance race, rolling from wire-to-wire to win the 7-furlong warmup by 4 1/2 lengths. Six weeks later, he went straight into the 1 1/16 mile San Diego Handicap (II) at Del Mar, where he fell victim to a pressured pace and tried to come on again late but fell short to Kettle Corn, who bested him by a short half length. He picked a bad day to ship to Saratoga for the Woodward (I), arriving on a simply ghastly rainy day on a sloppy-sealed course, where he lunged, hit the gate, stalked from 3-wide all around, and then faded in the mud, 4th by 7 1/4 lengths. Shipping back to Santa Anita, Paynter found his footing again, stalking the leaders before going 5-wide into the Awesome Again Stakes (I), but was outgamed by a better-tripped Mucho Macho Man, who defeated him by 4 1/4 lengths.

Physique: Another textbook Awesome Again boy, Paynter is long-bodied, sturdy, and with a reaching, efficient stride. His shoulder is nice and strong to match that huge heart of his.

Pedigree: Easily one of the best pedigrees in the field, Paynter is by 1998 winner Awesome Again, who himself is one of the best dirt route sires around and featuring five-star lineage himself. Paynter’s dam Tizso is a full sister to 2000 & 2001 Classic winner Tiznow— another dynamite classic distance sire— and a half sibling to the dam of Preakness winner Oxbow, who is a 3/4 brother to Paynter. Tizso also produced G3 winner Tiz West.

Running Style: Pacesetter or just behind the pace

Pros: Potential monster in the making and a past monster the more ground he was handed, Paynter has the potential to improve off that Awesome Again prep— which actually wasn’t a horrible race for him!— and with another furlong he could unveil his true potential. The pace may also setup favorably for him as a horse who comes from behind the speed.

Cons: He has yet to show quite the same electricity he had as a three-year-old and may even be somewhat ill-prepared for this specific race given his non-race in the Woodward two races back. Classic contenders usually display some pizazz leading in.

Final Word: It’s no question that the horse to beat this year is Paynter’s stablemate Game On Dude, and Paynter is currently about a light year away from being on even terms with Dude in terms of form and fitness. I won’t completely dismiss— I think he’s a very good horse— but probably not ready for this race right now. I think it would take a really badass workout to change my mind at this point.

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #11: Palace Malice

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Basics:

(Curlin x Palace Rumor, by Royal Academy)

  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher
  • Jockey: John Velazquez
  • Owned by: Dogwood Stables
  • Career Record: 11:3-4-1
  • Earnings: $1,481,135

Vital Stats:

  • 2013 Record: 9:2-3-1
  • 2013 accomplishments: G1 classic winner (Belmont Stakes)
  • Santa Anita record: 0:0-0-0
  • TrueNicks rating: “A+” Variant 4.66
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2013: 115 (unchanged from last year)
  • Sire Curlin won this race in 2007, was 4th* in 2008.
  • Lost last prep [2nd, Jockey Club Gold Cup (I), by 6 3/4 lengths]
  • Trainer has yet to win the Classic
  • Loses regular jockey Mike Smith to Game On Dude
  • Aims to be the first 3-year-old to win the Classic since Raven’s Pass in 2008

Summary: A bizarre success story in what was one of the most testing Belmont runnings in years, Palace Malice unexpectedly triumphed in the Triple Crown’s third leg after trying time after time to win past his maiden break. Part of the first foal crop to race by the mighty Curlin, Palace Malice has already fulfilled some great expectations, but was often the victim of many poor trips and outer post draws. While he’ll be out of his “comfort zone,” New York, he’s quite possibly the most menacing of the three-year-olds.

Prep Schedule: Debuting to much fanfare in January at Gulfstream Park, P.M. struggled on the speed-favoring, sloppy-sealed going to run second-fiddle to the speed demon Majestic Hussar in his sophomore debut, beaten a fair 2 1/4 lengths. A month later, he shipped to Fair Grounds to try the 1 1/16 mile Risen Star (II), getting stuck with a bad outer post and went 2-3 wide the entire time and 4-wide entering the straight, racing a respectable 3rd beaten just a half-length. In March, he went to the Louisiana Derby (II), this time breaking from the 2-hole and making a strong middle move only to get blocked in traffic, placing 7th overall beaten just as many lengths. Switching to poly for the Blue Grass (I), blinkerless Palace Malice looked home free taking the lead in the stretch only to be passed late by Java’s War, beaten a frustrating neck. In the Kentucky Derby (I), he put the blinkers back on and took off, setting a sizzling pace in the sloppy/sealed going only to fade late to 12th. Taking a breather, he composed himself in time for the Belmont (I), and made a dramatic middle move while going 4-wide on the turns to win going away by 3 1/4 lengths over both Orb and Oxbow. He kept the water boiling next out in the Jim Dandy (II), sitting pretty off the pace before seizing the lead in the stretch to win by a comfortable length. Unfortunately in the Travers, post position luck came back to haunt P.M., and the colt broke very poorly and lingered way back until late, where he was able to make a good move in the stretch to brush up for 4th, beaten 3 1/4 lengths. Going against older horses for the first time, he seemed to have sealed the deal in a rating game, circling around the outside only to be ousted by a clever rail trip by Ron the Greek, the only horse who beat him that day.

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Physique: Looking better than ever, Palace Malice has developed into a good-looking three-year-old who could probably spread his abilities across multiple distances and could probably try turf if he really wanted to. His body reads what he’s already proven: a speedy horse who is able to stay all day, with good definition across all fronts.

Running Style: Mid-pack or just off the pace

Pros: He’s shown he can be fast as well as stay 12 furlongs and he is bred to be a Classic horse. Unlike a lot of other three-year-olds at this time, he is probably raring to go in time for the fall championships, and he showed he’s more than ready to counter older horses following the Jockey Club Gold Cup (I), which he could have won had the inside track not been so biased. His off-the-pace style will also help a lot in this speedy race.

Cons: Todd Pletcher does not have a very good championship record, this is a fact. Had the Breeders’ Cup been in New York, I would readily have Palace Malice on speed dial to win this gig.

Final Word: Palace Malice looks better than he ever has, and he actually had one of the more impressive Travers performances; not many horses can recover like that after a poor break and make up that much ground to miss the board by less than 2 lengths. However, it’s hard to dodge the Pletcher albatross, the poor trip record, and lack of wins outside of New York. He’s a toss-up between a legitimate win candidate and a possibly bad bet when you consider both sides of the coin.

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #10: Declaration of War

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Basics:

(War Front x Tempo West, by Rahy)

  • Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
  • Jockey: Joseph O’Brien
  • Owned by: Mrs.J. Magnier/M. Tabor/D. Smith/J. Allen
  • Career Record: 12:7-1-1
  • Earnings: $1,347,489

Vital Stats:

  • 2013 Record: 7:3-1-1
  • 2013 accomplishments: G1 winner at Royal Ascot
  • Santa Anita record: 0:0-0-0
  • TrueNicks rating: A Variant 3.69
  • Dosage Index: 2.27
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2013: N/A
  • Won last prep - Juddmonte International (I) on turf by about 1 1/2 lengths

Summary: American-bred and Euro trained and raced, Declaration of War isn’t a true “invader” but possibly the most dangerous one to have shipped into the Breeders’ Cup Classic in some time. While lightly raced heading in, he has been dynamite in tackling top-tier fields overseas and while a turf horse, he has the genetic makeup to race over dirt. Possibly. The O’Briens team up for another go at the Classic, a race they long to win and nearly had it with Giant’s Causeway in 2000.

Prep Schedule: After a pretty nice three-year-old year, Declaration of War got his four-year-old season kickstarted nicely with a win in a Leopardstown stake in April, storming home late under a vigorous hand ride to win by about 2 1/2 lengths. A month later, he stalled in Newbury’s JLT Lockinge Stakes against high-class company and cutting back in distance, finishing a distant 5th to Farhh. Stretching back out for the Queen Anne (I) at Ascot, DoW made a sterling run against top company again (including Animal Kingdom) and prevailed, winning by about a length while displaying a great turn of foot. He fell short of a win in the Coral Eclipse (I) at Sandown next out, finishing 2nd to Al Kazeem by 2 lengths. Again cutting back for the Sussex (I), he finished 3rd behind Toronado and Dawn Approach before being 4th in the Prix du Haras. Regaining form, he closed summer out with a bang, turning back 10 days after his Prix du Haras defeat to win the Juddmonte International (I), exacting revenge on Al Kazeem and other top horses.

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Physique: Do handsome horses win big races? DoW doesn’t have the characteristic spread-eagle way of running like many good turf horses do, and appears to dig downward when making his late move in the stretch of his grass races. Paired with a great shoulder and really magnificent build, he could be a dirt horse after all.

Pedigree: Mr. Prospector, Nijinsky, and Northern Dancer are all mentioned twice in the first 4 generations in a well-balanced pedigree marked by speed on top and proven distance on the bottom. Sire War Front has been on fire this year in particular, siring fleet-footed horses, many of whom are able to stay a ways either on grass or dirt. Dam Tempo West, also the dam of G2-placed turf runner Vertiformer, is a half sister to Belmont winner Union Rags.

Running Style: Pacesetter or just behind the pace

Pros: He has the pedigree to potentially switch to dirt and is reportedly receiving very similar training to that of Giant’s Causeway— also trained by O’Brien— by getting a workout in at Southwell before shipping. A G1 winner in Europe, he’s beaten some real classy horses there, many of whom are better than some in this field.

Cons: Can a first-timer dirt horse beat some really tough foes on their home surface? How can he do off a layoff since August 21. The Euro shipper record isn’t that great, even for grass races. Even if this race was on Santa Anita’s old poly, it might still present a test.

Final Word: The most intriguing “longshot” of the field, Declaration of War is playable from a class perspective, and my overall opinion of his chances rest on how he moves on the dirt. His grandsire is Giant’s Causeway, who could do dirt and almost won this race, and War Front has been able to throw some good dirt horses. With that in mind, he moves into at least the upper half of the field.

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #9: Graydar

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EDIT: Of course Pletcher puts him in the Dirt Mile— which I always felt was more sensible— AFTER I write all this up. I’m publishing it anyway!

Basics:

(Unbridled’s Song x Sweetest Smile, by Dehere)

  • Trainer: Todd Pletcher
  • Jockey: John Velazquez
  • Owned by: Twin Creeks Racing Stable
  • Career Record: 6:5-0-1
  • Earnings: $841,560

Vital Stats:

  • 2013 Record: 3:3-0-0
  • 2013 accomplishments: G1 winner at 9 furlongs (Donn Handicap)
  • TrueNicks rating: N/A
  • Dosage Index: 3.36
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2013: 121 (unchanged from last year)
  • Won last prep [1st, Kelso Handicap (II), by 3/4 length]

Summary: A gray blur on a fast dirt track, I profiled Graydar very early in the year when he was on the comeback trail, but little did I know how good this horse was going to be, racing beyond my expectations as a capable miler. After his win in the 9-furlong Donn and New Orleans Handicaps, it became apparent that this might not be an entirely one-dimensional speedball after all.

Prep Schedule: Lightly campaigned this year after recovering from minor injury, the 4-year-old Graydar kicked things off in a big way in the Donn Handicap (I) in February, taking the illustrious race from wire-to-wire to win by 3 lengths. He put any track bias questions to rest next out in the New Orleans Handicap (II) 6 weeks later, sneaking up from behind the pace to win by 1 3/4 lengths in a somewhat wide rally. Injured again, Graydar took time off and then returned to get another Win and You’re In for the Dirt Mile through the Kelso Handicap (II), which he wired to win by 3/4 lengths.

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Physique: Sleek, long-bodied, and muscled, Graydar looks like he could do a number of things in an awesome way. He has a nice and effortless way of running— which he does very quickly— and has a really nice shoulder.

Pedigree: Something I noticed: Graydar is a 3/4 brother to Travers winner Will Take Charge. But on to the evaluation, Graydar is by G1 winner and hot producer Unbridled’s Song, who throws plenty of speed and early ability which Graydar seems to have received. Dam Sweetest Smile is by G1 juvenile winner Dehere, who is known to throw some speed as well, but has distance lineage through sire Deputy Minister and damsire Secretariat to produce a very Nasrullah heavy bottom side. Unbridled’s Song is by 1990 Classic & Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, and won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in ‘95.

Running Style: Pacesetter or behind the pace

Pros: Few are as quick as Graydar, who showed that layoffs are not a problem. His early speed will give him a good advantage in this race which favors that sort of strategy, and if he can draw off again as he did in the Donn, there are few who could catch him.

Cons: His Kelso win was not an auspicious performance, and it’s obvious this is an injury-prone horse. Who is to say he won’t be pulled up or that he won’t be 100% in his second start off the layoff, going 10 furlongs for the first time?

Final Word: Graydar is a great horse. Fragile, but brilliant. However, I do not extend that definition to distance limitations, because most horses have a particular preference as to how far they’ll carry their speed, and I am adamant that while there are many fine 9-furlong horses, only a fraction of them are *good* 10-furlong horses capable of winning a race like this. Graydar is a dangerous miler who could be a threat in this race… up until probably mid-stretch. I simply don’t think he’s ready for this one, which sets up better for his stablemate anyway.

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #8: Moreno

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Basics:

(Ghostzapper x Danceinthesunlight, by A.P. Indy)

  • Trainer: Eric Guillot
  • Jockey: Joe Talamo
  • Owned by: Southern Equine Stable
  • Career Record: 14:2-5-2
  • Earnings: $669,440

Vital Stats:

  • 2013 Record: 11:2-5-1
  • 2013 accomplishments: G1-placed (2nd, Travers Stakes), G2 winner (Dwyer Stakes)
  • Santa Anita record: 5:0-2-0
  • TrueNicks rating: C Variant 0.78
  • Dosage Index: 3.25
  • Sire Ghostzapper won this race in 2004
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2013: 114 (Unchanged from last year)
  • Lost last prep (2nd in Pennsylvania Derby by 2 1/4 lengths)
  • Aims to be the first 3-year-old to win the Classic since Raven’s Pass in 2008

Summary: Certainly one of my most beloved heart picks of the year and favorite three-year-old Moreno started the summer as a longshot maiden and ended it nearly winning the Midsummer Derby at Saratoga. A late bloomer, his connections have insisted that the wiry little gelding has been getting better and better each time out, and it’s not hard to see why with the results he’s been getting.

Prep Schedule: One of the most seasoned horses in the race with 11 starts, Moreno raced in maiden special weights unsuccessfully 6 times before shipping to Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day, where he finally broke through and won by daylight in a nice big field. Truly showing he dug the dirt, he won the Dwyer Stakes (II) a month later, coasting from wire-to-wire to win by 7 lengths. Taking a step up in class company, he set the pace next out in the Jim Dandy (II), being collared late by Palace Malice whom he fought tooth and nail and was eventually 3rd to Will Take Charge by 3 1/4 lengths. He nearly tricked the field next out in the Travers, setting an easy pace early on to just fall short in the closing strides to Will Take Charge, losing that race by a nose. He went toe-to-toe again with Will Take Charge in the Pennsylvania Derby, once again being bested in the stretch to lose by 2 1/4 lengths.

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Physique: I was disappointed when I saw Moreno in person after following him around on paper and online for months beforehand, and even though he ran beyond that impression, he definitely explains to onlookers why he’s probably a gelding. He’s small and a little rangey, but is long-bodied and an easy strider.

Pedigree: One of the best of the bunch: Moreno is sired by impressive 2004 winner Ghostzapper, who himself is a son of 1998 winner and routing sire Awesome Again and out of blue hen Baby Zip. Moreno’s dam is Danceinthesunlight, an unraced daughter of super sire A.P. Indy and G1 winner Dancethruthedawn, who is a daughter of Danzig and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Dance Smartly, who is a half sister to super sire Smart Strike. Need I go on?

Running Style: On or very near the pace

Pros: Yes he’s been improving, but possibly Moreno’s greatest weapon is his longshot status as a front runner on fast, speed-favoring dirt. He’s nearly gotten away with things before, who’s to say they might not immediately go after him and his typical slow fractions early? Add to this he is a very game horse who runs very effortlessly with a knockout classic pedigree.

Cons: He could never break his maiden at Santa Anita, so who is to say Moreno just likes running in New York like a *lot* of horses do? Will Take Charge is a questionable Classic competitor, and that horse clearly beat him in the Pennsylvania Derby. Moreno also takes a class hike as he runs against older horses for the first time.

Final Word: Prime for longshot status once again, sweet baby Moreno has some pretty stacked odds in a race full of forwardly-placed horses. If he can somehow slow things down, he has a shot to hit the board. I do not consider him a win candidate… although I will not-so-secretly be the happiest person in an American living room if he does pull it off.

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #7: Planteur [IRE]

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Basics:

(Danehill Dancer [IRE] x Plante Rare [IRE], by Giant’s Causeway)

  • Trainer: Marco Botti
  • Jockey: Ryan Moore
  • Owned by: Mohammed Hamad J Al Thani
  • Career Record: 23:7-6-2
  • Earnings: £2,258,663 (France, UK, Dubai)

Vital Stats:

  • 2013 Record: 5:2-1-1
  • 2013 accomplishments: Twice G1-placed (3rd Dubai World Cup, 2nd Prix d’Ispahan)
  • Santa Anita record: 0:0-0-0
  • TrueNicks rating: A Variant 3.83
  • Dosage Index: 1.89
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2013: N/A
  • Lost last prep (12th Qatar Prix Dollar (II), by 5+ lengths)
  • Aims to be the oldest horse to win the Classic at age 6

Summary: One of my favorites the past couple of years in Dubai and one of my preferred Euros (besides Cirrus des Aigles), Planteur has long been a staple on Europe’s poly and turf courses, and at the age of 6 is apparently taking a big shot trying dirt in America’s biggest race. On and off again form-wise, Planteur has raced with the best of the lot and hopes to transfer that form to the soil.

Prep Schedule: Planteur kicked off the year with a win in the Blue Square Bet Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield in a weight-for-age stake run on polytrack, going wire-to-wire to win by a half-length. He then shipped to Dubai for another run at the World Cup (I) on Tapeta, racing well to finish 3rd well behind winner Animal Kingdom. From there, he shipped to France’s Longchamps course for the Prix D’Isphan (I) on grass, making a mild rally from just off the pacesetter to miss the win by a short head to Maxios. From there, he made a start at Royal Windsor’s turf course in the Winter Hill Stakes (III), which he won easily after being eager to go very early and taking off to win by 1. Unfortunately, his next start in the Prix Dollar (I) was fruitless; he was sent to his usual leading spot but could not hang on and finished 12th.

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Physique: Lean, long-legged, and long-bodied, Planteur has a big engine attached to his physique, and just by watching his races he has a very efficient sweeping stride characteristic of a nice turf horse. His body suggests he could have a nice kick in the end, but questions arise as to how well he could possibly do squandering in the dirt.

Pedigree: Sired by one of the premier Euro stallions in Danehill Dancer, Planteur’s family features a mix of American and European breeding with leading turf influencer Danzig and multiple references to Native Dancer and Natalma. Damsire Giant’s Causeway was one of the best Euros to transfer his grass form to dirt, with two traces to top turf sire Roberto on the bottom.

Running Style: Pacesetter or just off the pace

Pros: He’ll be at great odds and his on-again, off-again form cycle places him in an “on position” right now to do well in this race. He’s been fairly consistent this year with just one off-the-board start, and his running style should adhere well to the speed bias of Santa Anita’s dirt.

Cons: Will Planteur do dirt? It’s tough figuring out whether he will or not as a horse who has done well on grass, poly, and Dubai’s nefarious Tapeta. Can he go one more and run away with the race, which is already full of speed?

Final Word: He had a lot of doubters heading into the Dubai World Cup, including Timeform which ranked him far below other runners. I for one had other ideas at the time about Planteur, and he wound up running third for the second straight year. He is TOUGH… now to answer whether or not he’ll do dirt. I’ll jump on board if I hear his workouts at the track are incredible, but other than that, he remains a fitting longshot.

Breeders’ Cup Classic Profile #6: Will Take Charge

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Basics:

(Unbridled’s Song x Take Charge Lady, by Dehere)

  • Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
  • Jockey: Luis Saez
  • Owned by: Eaton
  • Career Record: 13:5-2-1
  • Earnings: $1,827,371

Vital Stats:

  • 2013 Record: 9:4-1-0
  • 2013 accomplishments: G1 winner at 10 furlongs (Travers Stakes)
  • Santa Anita record: 0:0-0-0
  • TrueNicks rating: N/A
  • Dosage Index: 3.33
  • Highest Equibase Speed Figure of 2013: 114 (unchanged from last year)
  • Won last prep [1st, Pennsylvania Derby, by 2 1/4 lengths]
  • Aims to be the first 3-year-old to win the Classic since Raven’s Pass in 2008

Summary: It seemed almost too easy to dismiss Will Take Charge as a competitive horse, even after narrowly defeating stablemate and eventual Preakness winner Oxbow in the G2 Rebel Stakes in the spring. Unbridled’s Song progeny are traditionally “early bird” talents, and the big hunky chestnut was taking a while to find his stride as well as his class. But, he was a true late bloomer for his late sire, who is having an impeccable year of big winners, grabbing the Travers Stakes and then the Pennsylvania Derby in a way that suggested he was going to keep on getting better with age.

Prep Schedule: Like many Lukas horses, Will Take Charge has raced unfettered every month. Forwardly-placed and wide as a barrel the whole race, Will Take Charge took control in his first start as a three-year-old, winning the Smarty Jones Stakes at a mile, defeating Texas Bling by a neck. He hung around the back of the field upon stepping up in class— the Southwest Stakes (II) for three-year-olds— until late, where he passed a few horses to finish a distant 6th. In March, he showed his game sneaking up to stablemate Oxbow to win the Rebel (II) by a nose to prove himself a contender. However, he was pinched back and well-beaten, racing 8th in the Kentucky Derby (I). Hoping it was just a minor glitch due to mud and field size, he was entered back in the Preakness (I), where he showed little ambition to finish 7th. Even less ambitiously, the added ground of the Belmont (I) did not help, and he finished 10th after going a bit wide and had a bumpy break. He was a seemingly new horse by the end of July, however, reigniting late to just miss the Jim Dandy (II) to Palace Malice by just a length. Reinvigorated, he made a similar late rush from off-the-pace again in the Travers (I), winning that 10-furlong beast by a head over Moreno. Again facing Moreno and others in the Pennsylvania Derby (II), he seemed to improve using the same strategy, this time winning by 2 1/4 lengths.

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Physique: Very chunky and heavyset, paired with the chrome WTC reminds me of a Clydesdale rather than a Thoroughbred. He’s a smooth and relaxed sort of mover as I observed and liked leading up to the Belmont, and doesn’t look like he’s regressed at all physically. Big muscle equals big powerful movements, the key to his late kick.

Pedigree: Unbridled’s Song is a hot sire for distances both short and long, and he has been particularly razor-hot this year with WTC, Graydar, Cross Traffic, and others winning big races. Take Charge Lady needs little intro as well as a G1 winning distance mare and the dam of G1 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy. Inbreeding up close is light with two crosses to Fappiano, who has been a super influence among graded winners as of late.

Running Style: Mid-pack stretch runner

Pros: He just keeps getting better and better as a late-blooming horse, and the taxing Lukas style campaign has appeared to improved him rather than tired him. He is probably the smartest and smarmiest of the three-year-old entries and features the most upside as an improver who won’t get sucked into the fast pace. Oh did I mention he has run pretty well no matter where he’s shipped?

Cons: He has yet to have that defining race that keys him as a top three-year-old, never mind a top Classic contender. This will be his first start against older horses, and in the Travers he defeated many questionable horses— ability and fitness-wise— and wasn’t resolutely challenged by anything new in the PA Derby.

Final Word: His pedigree is top-notch. He’s on the improve. He’ll be sitting off what will likely be a boiling pace to pounce late. Dare I say, I like Will Take Charge the best of the three-year-olds, but I’m still on the fence as to whether or not he has enough to win.

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Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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