McLean Digs Into Breeders’ Cup: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint

(Strike Silver gets an escort on the way to the winner’s circle at Keeneland after capturing the Indian Summer Stakes / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

We will begin to take a look at the Breeders’ Cup races, with a snapshot at each of the “Championship Races” that will make up the 2-day racing extravagancy at Churchill Downs — beginning this coming Friday.

The first of the Stakes in the magnificent sequence will be the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint — a new race added to the series this year, and on a day dedicated to promoting “Tomorrow’s Stars.” All the Breeders’ Cup races on Friday will be for the 2YO divisions — both fillies and colts; both grass and dirt.

This event will be contested at 5.5 furlongs over the brilliant green, green grass of Churchill Downs’ home, and post time is estimated to be 3:21 p.m. ET. A full field is expected. Here’s our snap shot.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint:

  1. Top Pick: Uncle Benny — This son of Declaration of War — who just so happens to be by one of the world’s top grass stallions in War Front — has the pedigree to become a grass star in these United States. A star, in fact, who could develop into a serious contender, and one would could possibly will match strides with some of Europe’s finest. In addition to being by a welcome addition to the U.S. stallion colony, Uncle Benny is out of a Storm Cat mare by the name of Celebrity Cat. She has already thrown two turf winners now from the first three starters, and this youngster has now become her first Stakes winner. So far in his brief racing career, Uncle Benny is a perfect 2-for-2. The January foal ran off to an easy, front-running win going 5 furlongs on the dirt at Monmouth Park back in late August for trainer Jason Servis. About six weeks later, he was switched to the grass and the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park. He broke absolutely last that day in the field of 11 and was still last through about half of the 6-furlong event. But when he turned it on, he went from last to first with an impressive burst of speed under the expert guidance of jockey Jose Ortiz. He won’t pulling away at the end — even though he went 8-wide. Impressive. Eye-popping. Just take a look at the video. Wow.
  2. Interesting Factoid — If you are a fan of Ed DeRosa, a handicapping guru and a great friend of mine, you can avail yourself to some interesting statistics. As the director of marketing at, and a great fan of horse racing (and betting), Ed sometimes digs a little deeper into trends and statistics that can assist you in your handicapping. One of the most interesting statistics that Ed has recently unearthed is how woefully unsuccessful the Storm Cat sire line has been in producing Breeders’ Cup winners at Churchill Downs.  But not to worry here. Interesting to note is that this one has no Storm Cat influence on the stallion side. Only on the dam side. And, that seems to be OK. The sire was 7-1-2 in 13 lifetime starts, and a tremendous runner, in his own right.
  3. European Invasion — Like most every year in the past when the Breeders’ Cup is hosted at Churchill Downs, the Europeans come to town with more than a passing fancy. This year figures to be no different. They love the weather, which is cooler than other venues where the Breeders’ Cup is hosted. They love the grass — which is greener, deeper, softer and kinder than the West Coast sod courses, and much more like the surface that they find in the European venues. And, they have done well here, too. The two Euros that I find most intriguing are Soldier’s Call and So Perfect. While we will not know if the connections will enter either one of them in this particular race until later in the week, both of these individuals give me a lot of reasons to support them at the window. The former, Soldier’s Call, is a son of the Oasis Dream stallion Showcasing. So far this year, this one has raced 7 times for trainer Archie Watson, and he has hit the board in all — with a record of 4-1-2. He has raced and won in Great Britain and France. He has a Group 2 race, and most recently ran third and beaten just a neck in a Group 1. And, he appears to have some speed. But he has never been past 5 furlongs. On Friday, he will have to go another 1/2 furlong. The latter, So Perfect, has been out 6 times already and has amassed a nice record of 2-1-1. Since winning the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh in Ireland, he has been a tough customer, and most recently ran third in the Group 1 Juddmonte Cheveley Park in Newmarket. Over the last three outs, this one has not been worse than third, or beaten by a length. By Scat Daddy, So Perfect was purchased for $400,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September Sale and is trained by the famed conditioner Aidan O’Brien, who is accustomed to shipping to the U.S. In my analysis, both of these figure to have a shot.
  4. Live Long Shot — I don’t know how long the price will be, but I will definitely be using a bit of money on Strike Silver. The son of Violence was very impressive in his first two career starts — both on the dirt. He beat the highly-regarded Nitrous on debut here in June, going 5 furlongs gate-to-wire. He followed that up with a nice effort in the G3 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, also on the dirt. Gassed it all the way in front until the shadow of the wire before being passed by Somebayay. But the race that really impressed me was his first effort over the grass in the Indian Summer Stakes at Keeneland. At the break of that 5.5 furlong event, he was nearly bumped off his feet, and the would-be speedster was left at the absolute back of a field of 12. Eleven others were in front. Not to worry. Jockey Julien Leparoux simply took hold, guided him to an opening, and, despite being bothered in the upper stretch, managed to get the colt steady and flying on his feet late. He got up in the final strides to catch the highly-regarded filly Chelsea Cloisters just a few feet from the lights, camera and action of the wire. Impressive. A new dimension. Gritty and determined. All characteristics you look for on Breeders’ Cup Day.
  5. Filly Power — There appears to be a number of fillies that will try their hooves in this grass sprint, too. Most of them will be saddled and sent by trainer Wesley Ward, who has never been shy in running his gals against the colts. We have already mentioned the talented Chelsea Cloisters, who has run three seconds in a row in Stakes Company — including a Group 3 in France back in July. But if I’m looking to spread out and include one of the girls in this spot, I might be inclined to use another one of Ward’s youngsters — Stillwater Cove. This daughter of Quality Road ran in the G1 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine last time out, and looked to be a winner heading into the midstretch. But she tired late in that 1-mile event, and faded to fifth — beaten just 4 lengths. Now, she may be turned back to this sprint distance. If so, she certainly would have the stamina coming off that last run. Plus, she was ultra impressive in winning at 5.5 furlongs on the grass up at Saratoga this summer. By the way? She beat Chelsea Cloisters in that one, too.
  6. How Do I Play It: Still in the development stage right now, and I will not formalize officially until I see the full entries and the post position order. But…I plan to use America’s own Uncle Benny and Strike Silver and key those two with the two Europeans that I like the best — Soldier’s Call and So Perfect.
  7. How Do You Play It: We welcome your insights and handicapping tips. Let us know. Email me at After all, to win at the Breeders’ Cup? It takes a village.

Tuesday: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at 1 Mile

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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