Smile Politely

Super Saturday, indeed!

One look at any stakes race this Saturday would make you think all the big horses are being prepared for some ultimate showdown in November or something… Wait, is it October already? How did that happen? Well then, it’s probably time to straighten up and pay attention, because this weekend marks the last start for several stars before they take the ultimate plunge in the Breeders’ Cup.

Havre de GraceNo matter where you turn the page of your Daily Racing Form, you’re going to find a big horse running in a stakes race somewhere in the country. In New York, Jockey Club Gold Cup Day will be featuring the likes of Havre de Grace, Stay Thirsty, Uncle Mo, Jackson Bend, Royal Delta, Big Drama, Trappe Shot, Cape Blanco, and Winchester; Pennsylvania will see yet another rematch between It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty; in Indiana, it’s Shackleford and Caleb’s Posse; in California, headliners include Blind Luck, Acclamation, Game On Dude, and Awesome Gem. The results of these respected races will give us an idea of how ready these horses are to move on to the championships; while some, like Uncle Mo, are trying to put an exclamation point in their comeback, others are in danger of burning out, such as in the case of Preakness winner Shackleford. In a year plagued with inconsistencies, these races will also help better shape the Horse of the Year picture; with the exception of Tizway, all of the top candidates for this most prestigious honor are running this weekend, and all must win to prove their argument for HOTY. Luckily for them, they’re not actually coming face-to-face this weekend.

Belmont’s super Saturday features five grade I races, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Beldame, Flower Bowl, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Vosburgh, as well as the Grade II Kelso, which looks like a grade I when you look at the field. Here’s the scoop on three of these races:

  • After beating the boys in the Woodward, Havre de Grace will run against females once more in the Beldame as her last prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Even with a small field of five to contend with, the race will not be a cakewalk—it could be argued that 3-year-old filly Royal Delta will be a testier rival than any of her foes in the Woodward. Winner of the Grade I Alabama, Royal Delta has been running at the top of her division and stands a chance to make the upset here, though she’ll have to be at her peak to beat the red-hot Larry Jones trainee.
  • Uncle Mo will also take the unconventional route to the Breeders’ Cup: he will use the 1-mile Kelso as his last prep for the 1 ¼-mile Classic. After finishing second to Caleb’s Posse in the 7-furlong King’s Bishop, Mo has been turning in sizzling works in preparation for this race. But he will have to steamroll the Little Engine That Could, A.K.A. Jackson Bend, if he wants to make his first graded stakes win of the year. The newly-minted Grade I winner is on a two-race win streak after getting a new pilot in Corey Nakatani, who will ride him here; last time out, Nakatani patiently rode Jackson Bend to victory in a contentious edition of the Forego. Jersey Town, winner of the Grade I Cigar Mile, finished 2nd in the Forego and is also entered in the Kelso.
  • The Jockey Club Gold Cup became a little less interesting when Tizway opted out, but the angle of Stay Thirsty going against older horses for the first time is still worth mentioning. The Travers winner will face Flat Out, a 5-year-old horse still seeking his first grade I. After winning the Grade II Suburban Handicap, Flat Out finished second in the Woodward and Whitney. With the older horse division on shaky terms, it seems Stay Thirsty has the perfect chance to toss in a last-minute bid for Horse of the Year with a victory in this race. This field of seven really doesn’t offer up much of a challenge to Stay Thirsty, and so it’s possible this 3-year-old could clean house while the cat’s away.

The Grade II $500,000 Indiana Derby has brought out Grade I winners Caleb’s Posse and Shackleford to Hoosier country. Shackleford will try to emulate last year’s winner, Lookin at Lucky, as the Preakness winner who went on to take his first derby in Indiana. The big chestnut colt is entering off a disappointing finish in the Travers, where he came in 8th after tiring badly in the 1 ¼-th mile race. Caleb’s Posse, meanwhile, is on fire and looks like the one to beat. The Ohio Derby winner shocked Uncle Mo last time out, and seems unstoppable in this spot if Shackleford fails to be at his peak, which is likely the case. Other interesting entrants include Wilburn, Little Drama, and Decisive Moment.

Blind LuckIn California, Blind Luck is poised to follow in the footsteps of Zenyatta by taking both the Vanity and the Lady’s Secret Stakes. She will face six other fillies, including grade I winners Ask the Moon, Zazu, Ultra Blend, and Champagne d’Oro, but will likely go off as the overwhelming favorite. Presently, she is being targeted toward the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, though her connections have stated their goal is to win Horse of the Year with this filly. As she stands, Blind Luck is arguably the best horse in training, but she has yet to face males. If her connections really want her to have a serious shot at Horse of the Year, Blind Luck will be forced to eventually face males, just as Zenyatta was, to be seriously considered for this ultimate award.

Depending on where Acclamation goes, either the Grade I Goodwood on Saturday or the Grade II Clement L. Hirsch Turf on Sunday, his Horse of the Year bid will be on the line. Though Acclamation has won four races in a row, including three grade Is, none of them have come over traditional dirt. In his last try over dirt, the 5-year-old horse finished 10th in this year’s Charles Town Classic; in other words, dirt is not really his thing, and expect him to run on Sunday. It would be a noble try to enter Acclamation against Game On Dude in the Goodwood, and a necessary one for a HOTY chance, should he skip the Classic in November. The last grass horse to win Horse of the Year was John Henry in 1984, but old John was a special horse that could win Grade I races on any surface.


For a list of all this weekend’s post times and TV coverage information, check out the racing schedule at


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