Let me begin by taking a brief moment to address the final race of Frankel’s career this morning. As most know by now, he will retire undefeated after successfully winning his fourteenth race in the mile and a quarter, Group I Champion Stakes:
Cirrus des Aigles proved to be a worthy opponent over this distance and boggy going for Frankel and, for that reason, some could argue this was the most important race of his life. Even though Frankel’s perennial bridesmaid, Excelebration, left little doubt as to his quality when taking apart a good field in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes just one race earlier, Frankel had yet to face a middle distance horse of the quality of either Cirrus des Aigles or Nathaniel (excluding his debut run versus the latter foe). Cirrus des Aigles proved once again today that he is top class and perhaps the second best in the world over 10 furlongs, but Frankel was comfortably better.
There is nothing more for Frankel to prove after today and his retirement is completely appropriate. He should go down in history as one of the greatest of all time and by that I mean that he is in the same class as Man O’ War, Secretariat, Nijinsky, Sea Bird, and whoever else you’d like to name. Anyone who does not recognize that either has not been paying attention or has some bias against modern day horses. Frankel beat every horse who challenged him and often did more than he was required to do in victory. Some of the fractional splits he posted are nearly unbelievable, throwing down consecutive sub-11 second eighths when Tom Queally would ask him to quicken. And, in his final start, he showed his versatility and stamina by beating a horse who could deservedly be called the “French John Henry” over ground that is surely not his preference. What else can you ask for?
Perhaps people are still debating Frankel’s greatness because we’re not quite sure how to fathom a horse of his quality anymore. His pedigree is certainly common enough; he’s one of many top class horses in Europe bred on that tried and true Sadler’s Wells-Danehill cross. Yet it never felt like Frankel was of this time period. It’s as if he was plucked out of the middle of the last century and given as a gift to us today. Horses don’t go undefeated without ever suffering an anxious moment or a serious setback anymore. We have been conditioned to think that something should eventually go wrong, but nothing ever did with Frankel.
Personally, reflecting on the career of this horse gives me hope for the future. Truly great horses may still come along. We may yet see another Triple Crown winner in the United States. I know it feels like the breed has been weakened and racing these days has more that its fair share of problems, but if horses like Frankel still exist, I know that I can never stop loving this sport.
Anyway, onto New York Bred Showcase Day at Belmont:
Race 1: NY-bred Maiden Special Weight at six furlongs
Miss Rubycubes (#8) should be a good barometer by which to measure some of the other fillies coming out of those Finger Lakes stakes races int he Joseph A. Gimma later. As for this race, I’m going to gamble that she is faster than these early and gets a clear lead. I don’t know if she has the quality to hang on late since there appear to be some well meant New York bred fillies in this field, but the price should be right to find out. It also doesn’t hurt that she is switched to Jeremiah Englehart’s barn, a move that has worked at a 35% clip over the past two years.
$10 Win 8
Race 4: NY-bred Maiden Special Weight at one mile on the main track
I was looking forward to betting “Horse to Watch” As Well in this spot, but now that she is scratched, I will turn to a horse coming out of the same race as that filly who was compromised for similar reasons. On September 8th, both courses at Belmont were playing strongly towards speed due to high winds in the home stretch. Ah Gaga (#6) was taken far back early in her debut that day, a race in which the top three finishers ran 1-2-3 all the way around the track. It’s also noteworthy that the second place finisher came back to break her maiden at 50-1 in a stakes race. As an added positive, Ah Gaga is actually better bred for dirt than turf. All of her dam’s seven wins came over the main track and I expect Ah Gaga to take a big step forward in her second start today.
$20 Win 6
Race 9: The Empire Classic at 1 1/8 miles
This is being billed as matchup between Lunar Victory (#8) and the younger Saratoga Snacks, but for me it is a one horse race. Lunar Victory has proved time and again that he is capable of running Beyers in the high 90s at this distance of 1 1/8 miles. Saratoga Snacks, meanwhile, only shows one race, his last, which would make him competitive here and he got to run up close to a relatively slow pace that day before putting away a good field of allowance horses. Still, there is the significant question of the extra furlong and he will likely have to improve again to beat Lunar Victory. I think that is unlikely and will be looking to others to complete the exacta. Sailmate (#3) is a consistent closer and seems likely to be picking up pieces late and Bigger Is Bettor (#5), although a bit slower than some others, loves 9 furlongs and usually picks up a check. I’ll key on the two of them under Lunar Victory.
$6 Exacta 8-3
$4 Exacta 8-5
Race 10: The Mohawk Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
I admit that Lubash (#5), and to a lesser extent, Street Game (#4), are the most likely winners of this race now that Compliance Officer has come out. But sometimes wacky things can happen when turf courses take a lot of rain and I’m going to take a small shot with massive longshot. Sky Blue Pink (#6) at first glance does not seem to class up with this field. But keep in mind that at this time last year, he beat Majestic Raffy handily at a time of the year when that horse was in excellent form. I give Majestic Raffy a shot in this race, so why not take a closer look at Sky Blue Pink? He was claimed out of that race by owner/trainer Brad Baker, who, despite keeping a very small stable, wins at a high percentage. After running another solid race on the turf at Aqueduct, he ended last year with a disastrous run on the dirt and was put away. He did not return until last month when entered in a seven furlong optional claiming race that had the looks of a prep race. After being held up early, he was unleashed in the stretch and was coming with a good run before having to be steadied off horses heels at the eighth pole. I don’t think he would have won, but probably would have finished second at a distance that is far too short for him. Now he stretches out and is a likely candidate to take a big step forward. Whether that is good enough to land him in the winner’s circle remains to be seen, but at odds around his 30-1 morning line, I’ll take my chances.
$5 Win 6
$2 Exacta Box 6 with 4-5