Getting to know Breeders’ Cup Classic hopeful Tom’s d’Etat

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Many of the top Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders through the years have come out of the Triple Crown races and proven themselves to be elite 1 ¼-mile racehorses either as 3-year-olds or sometimes not until they are 4 or 5. Others, like Tom’s d’Etat, require a little more patience.

Now 7 years old, the bay horse by leading sire Smart Strike had shown promise early in his career with several runaway victories, but in the last eight months Tom’s d’Etat has emerged as a truly elite older male.

Race Résumé

Unplaced in his career debut in a one-mile turf race, Tom’s d’Etat has raced exclusively on dirt since that inauspicious start and has finished in the top three in 14 of 17 subsequent races.

He earned his first win by four lengths in August 2016 at Saratoga but did not race again for 7 ½ months when he won again by 3 ¾ lengths March 20, 2017 at Fair Grounds. After a fourth at Churchill Downs in May of that year, he paired allowance wins by 2 ¼ lengths and nine lengths before another extended break. This time, he did not return to the races for more than 15 months.

The flashes of brilliance continued upon his return, however, as he won a November 2018 allowance-optional claiming race at Churchill Downs and followed with a 3 ¼-length victory in the Tenacious Stakes in December at Fair Grounds in his stakes debut.

After a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes, Tom’s d’Etat again went to the sidelines for a few months, but since then he has strung together eight quality races in the last 14 months for trainer Al Stall Jr.

Included in the stretch were back-to-back wins to close his 6-year-old campaign in the Grade 2 Hagyard Fayette Stakes at Keeneland in October by 4 ¼ lengths for his first graded stakes score and a breakthrough Grade 1 win in the 2019 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare in November at Churchill Downs.

Tom’s d’Etat’s powerful 3 ¼-length runaway in the Clark proved he could duplicate a top effort against strong competition. While he had shown he was capable of putting up big speed figures earlier in his career, the 116 Equibase Speed Figure he earned for the Fayette and 113 for the Clark were promising, as were the 105 and 104 Beyer Speed Figures he earned for those races respectively.

The success has continued in 2020 as Tom’s d’Etat won the Oaklawn Mile Stakes at Oaklawn Park with an explosive late rally on April 11 in his season debut and then romped by 4 ¼ lengths in the prestigious Stephen Foster Stakes June 27 at Churchill to extend his stakes winning streak to four.

“It was just an unbelievable day on Saturday,” Stall said. “To draw off like that, and almost break the track record, was unreal. He ran a sub 36-second final three-eighths. You don’t see many route horses in the country that are able to do that, especially as geared down as he was in the final stages.”

Indeed, Tom’s d’Etat ran a heck of a race that looked as good on the screen as it did on paper with a 109 Beyer Speed Figure, 116 Equibase Speed Figure, 112 BrisNet rating, and eye-catching 129 TimeForm US speed rating. Those are serious racehorse speed figures.

“I think the most important thing is he’s had the chance to get in form by being in steady training for about 18 months and get a bunch of races strung together,” Stall said after the Stephen Foster victory. “He enjoyed his freshening at the Fair Grounds this winter, and he couldn’t have done any better. Oaklawn couldn’t have been any better, so I feel like we’re in good shape going forward into the rest of this year. He’s in pretty good shape, and this race is only the second race back.”

Tom’s d’Etat is versatile enough to press the pace, stalk the pace, or close from farther back depending upon the circumstances as we’ve seen in just his two starts this year for Gayle Benson’s G M B Racing. Benson is the principal owner of the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and New Orleans Pelicans of the NBA.

In the Oaklawn Mile, the pace was swift through a half-mile in :46.09 and Tom’s d’Etat was more than seven lengths back at that juncture, but he had plenty of late punch to reel in Grade 1 winner Improbable late. In the Stephen Foster, Tom’s d’Etat raced within a length of an easy half-mile in :48.13 and just powered clear in the stretch with a final eighth of a mile in 12 seconds flat to live up to his 13-10 favoritism. A final furlong that fast rarely occurs in two-turn dirt races like the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster, and runner-up By My Standards was coming off a strong win in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap.

“He’s a great athlete. If he needs to be close, he breaks running, and if the pace is fast, he can back off and listen to the rider,” Stall said. “He’s a smart horse, he’s an athletic horse, and he’s what a Grade 1 horse is supposed to be.”

The only question Tom’s d’Etat still needs to answer is whether he can deliver an elite race at 1 ¼ miles, a distance he has not competed at since the second race of his career. I’m not especially concerned about that given he has won six of nine starts at 1 1/8 miles and seemed to have plenty of gas in the tank late in the Stephen Foster.

It seems rare to see a racehorse hitting his peak stride during his 7-year-old season in 2020, but such is the case with Tom’s d’Etat who looks like a rising star on the road to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Pedigree

Tom’s d’Etat is by two-time leading sire Smart Strike, whose offspring have thrived on turf, dirt, and synthetic surfaces as evidenced by his 145 lifetime stakes winners and 73 group or graded stakes winners through June 29. Smart Strike is the sire of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin as well as 2007 champion turf male English Channel, two-time champion Lookin At Lucky, 2011 champion 2-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia, and Canadian Horse of the Year winners Soaring Free and Never Retreat.

Bred by SF Bloodstock, Tom’s d’Etat is out of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Julia Tuttle, by leading sire Giant’s Causeway. Julia Tuttle was a stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles and her dam (mother) – Tom’s d’Etat’s grandam (maternal grandmother) – Candy Cane is a full-sibling (same dam, same sire) to unbeaten and record-setting 2003 Pacific Classic Stakes winner Candy Ride, now a successful sire himself.

Royal silks return as King Charles III’s horse finishes 2nd

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SALISBURY, England – The famous royal silks returned to British horse racing with the first runner under the ownership of King Charles III finishing a distant second at Salisbury.

Educator was the first horse to wear the purple, red and gold silks since the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 8.

Her oldest son and heir, Charles, has taken on the royal stable and Educator was sent off as the 11-10 favorite under jockey Tom Marquand for the Radcliffe & Co Handicap.

Okeechobee won by 4 \ lengths in the four-horse race.

The queen’s last runner was Improvise, who was beaten narrowly at Epsom on the day the monarch died at her Balmoral estate in Scotland.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

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Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

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Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

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Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!