There was a little something for everyone in Saturday's eight Grade 1 events (and Breeders' Cup preps) at Santa Anita and Belmont. But I'm a fool for an exciting 2-year-old, so for me (and for many others, I'm sure), Bolt d'Oro's sensational victory in the FrontRunner Stakes carried the day.
I suppose you never really know if a 2-year-old will stretch out successfully until he actually does it, but there didn't seem any reason to think Bolt d'Oro would not relish two turns. In fact, given that he is a son of Medaglia d'Oro and an A. P Indy mare, I took Bolt d'Oro's success in his first two starts sprinting at Del Mar - a decisive maiden win at first asking and a determined score from well off the pace in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity - as evidence of just how special a colt he is. I mean, if he was that good at distances shorter than what he was cut out for, just imagine what he might do once he got the ground he wanted.
Yet even with that in mind, what Bolt d'Oro did in the FrontRunner was an eye-opener. After breaking well for the first time in his career, Bolt d'Oro stalked an honest pace, took over turning for home, and then left his opposition for dead, racking up a 7 3/4-length victory in what was easily the most impressive performance by a 2-year-old in North America so far this year.
But as impressive as Bolt d'Oro was visually, he was just as impressive against the clock, if not more so. On a day at Santa Anita where weather couldn't have effected any change in the relative speed of the main track, Bolt d'Oro covered the 1 1/6 miles in 1:43.54. That was a staggering 2.78 seconds faster than the undefeated and now two-time Grade 1 stakes winner Moonshine Memories went in her decisive, 2 3/4-length score in the Chandelier one race earlier after very comparable early paces.
More surprising was the fact that Bolt d'Oro went .80 seconds faster than Paradise Woods in her Zenyatta romp three races earlier, also after comparable early paces. Paradise Woods is a more mature 3-year-old who earned a 107 Beyer Figure when she beat three-time Grade 1 stakes winner and divisional leader Abel Tasman by almost 12 lengths in the Santa Anita Oaks last April. Paradise Woods got completely loose early in the Zenyatta on three completely overmatched opponents. In other words, Paradise Woods had optimal conditions Saturday to produce a giant Beyer, and while she wasn't completely extended in the late stages of her 5 1/4-length romp, it is still stunning that Bolt d'Oro ran that much faster than Paradise Woods did.
It's okay to get excited. Bolt d'Oro is worth it.
* The 3-year-old filly division looks much more open Sunday morning thanks to Paradise Woods's aforementioned score in the Zenyatta, and Elate's dominating, 8 1/4-length victory in the Beldame at Belmont.
Despite her loss in the Cotillion a week before, Abel Tasman still ranks as the most accomplished 3-year-old filly in the country on the strength of consecutive Grade 1 victories in the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn, and CCA Oaks. But you can now clearly see paths to a divisional championship for Elate and Paradise Woods.
Elate notched her first graded stakes win of the year in mid-August with a romp in the Grade 1 Alabama. But Elate now has two Grade 1 scores, and if she won the Breeders' Cup Distaff, she would have the same number of Grade 1 wins as Abel Tasman, and she would have a comparable if not slightly better resume. It would also spotlight how there was little between Elate and Abel Tasman when they met in the CCA Oaks. Elate was beaten just a head by Abel Tasman that day, but easily could have been placed first on a disqualification that at least some feel should have happened after Abel Tasman put Elate in tight on the rail in the stretch.
Paradise Woods, who traded drubbings with Abel Tasman in the Santa Anita Oaks and Kentucky Oaks, has a virtually identical path to a potential divisional title.
Of course, this all hinges on either winning the Distaff. But it is certainly plausible, especially in Elate's case, considering how she has improved so dramatically.
* I'm not sure the "win and you're in" perk attached to the Awesome Again for the Breeders' Cup Classic is such a bonus this year, not with Arrogate, Gun Runner, Collected, and West Coast waiting for you. But give Mubtaahij credit for winning the Awesome Again in his first start for trainer Bob Baffert off a six-month layoff. Although Mubtaahij has consistently kept top company and last year finished second to California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup and turned in two particularly good efforts in Grade 1 races in New York, Mubtaahij had not actually won a race since the 2015 UAE Derby. Blinkers on got him over the hump. Still, going from the Awesome Again to the Breeders' Cup Classic is like going from the frying pan into the fire.
* Beach Patrol ran by far the best race of his life winning the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic by five lengths, the sort of win margin you don't often see in high-class turf events unless the winning performance is special. And his Joe Hirsch in combination with his Arlington Million victory puts Beach Patrol back on top in the male turf division after being briefly displaced by Woodbine Mile and Fourtstardave winner World Approval.
It should be noted that again this year, a European shipper failed in the Joe Hirsch. Okay, granted, The Grey Gatsby is far, far past his peak and was not expected to be competitive in the Hirsch. Still, as has been documented here in recent weeks, the overall lack of success this year by European shippers in the male turf division -- a division that seemed ripe for the taking -- has been downright shocking.
* Avenge arose from the dead to win the Rodeo Drive for a second straight year. If you didn't like the way Avenge was looking for a place to lay down in the late stages of the 10-furlong Rodeo Drive, you're not alone. I didn't either. But do note that, because of the configuration of Del Mar, the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf this year will be run at 1 1/8 miles.
* Takaful winning the Vosburgh was not a surprise in the sense that almost everyone knew he had the talent to win a race like that. What was a surprise was Takaful won it after rating, and avoiding a speed duel that seemed on paper to be unavoidable. And El Deal's second without excuse in the Vosburgh as the favorite was also not a surprise. His loss only underscored how strongly bias-aided his big win in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga really was.