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Santa Anita 5 Nov 2016 – 1 1/16 miles dirt

CLASSIC EMPIRE / M Casse / J Leparoux


GORMLEY / J Shirreffs / V Espinoza

KLIMT / B Baffert / R Bejarano

NOT THIS TIME / D Romans / R Albarado

PRACTICAL JOKE / C Brown / tba

SYNDERGAARD / T Pletcher / J Velazquez

THEORY / T Pletcher / J Castellano (Photo above: Coglianese / NYRA)

THREE RULES / J Pinchin / C Velasquez


CLASSIC EMPIRE, who won a maiden and the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs on his first two starts, had been heavily backed to win again when he veered out and dumped his rider as the stalls opened for the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in September. The 7-furlong event thus went without him, and it was won by PRACTICAL JOKE, who captured the Champagne at Belmont next time out. Classic Empire was sent to Keeneland for his next task, the 8.5-furlong Breeders Futurity on October 8. Fitted with blinkers, and once more dealt an outside stall, he made no mistakes this time and won by 3 lengths from LOOKIN AT LEE (an 8 3/4-length second to NOT THIS TIME in the Iroquois at Churchill on his previous outing).

Classic Empire came from off the pace when tacking 6 furlongs in the Bashford Manor but raced in the first three throughout in the Breeders Futurity.

A $475,000 Keeneland graduate, Classic Empire is a son of American Pharoah's sire Pioneerof the Nile out of Sambuca Classica (Cat Thief). His dam never won (placed over 8.5fur on Polytrack at Woodbine as a 3yo) but she has also produced Lost in The Fog Stakes winner Anytime Magic (Fusaichi Pegasus) and she is a daughter of the smart filly In Her Glory (6 wins, third in Acorn Stakes and Gazelle Handicap).

FAVORABLE OUTCOME, like the winner trained by Chad Brown, had to settle for third, 6 ½ lengths behind PRACTICAL JOKE in the one-mile Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park in early October. The son of Flatter raced in third spot all the way and ran an honest race but he was never a threat to the top two, as Practical Joke pipped Syndergaard to win by a nose. This was only his second start, and Favorable Outcome must be open to plenty of improvement. He raced quite prominently also when winning by 6 lengths on his debut at Saratoga in August, when he proved far too good for Condo Prince (beaten favorite, Belmont maiden on next outing).

Favorable Outcome was purchased for $300,000 at the Oacala March Sale. A May foal, he is out of Shananies Song, who is a daughter of BC Juvenile runner-up Eltish. Shananies Song won 5 races for trainer Ned Allard, including the 6-furlong Finger Lakes Juvenile Fillies Stakes. Prior to Favorable Outcome, she produced the filly Bellamentary (Bellamy Road), who thus far has won the 7-furlong Angel Flight at Santa Anita and been placed in Graded stakes over 8-8.5 furlongs at Santa Anita and Del Mar,

GORMLEY produced a remarkable performance when landing the FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita on only his second start. Coming off a visually impressive maiden win over 6.5 furlongs at Del Mar (where he slammed Baffert's 15-1 firster Red Kite by over four lengths), he made all in the FrontRunner, staged over the same distance as the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Odds-on favorite KLIMT did not have the best of trips and did stay on for second, but Gormley had him 3 lengths behind passing the winning post and must be fancied to uphold the form. He has shown plenty of speed in both of his races though a glance at his pedigree makes it no surprise that he lasted so well over 1 1/16 miles. A son of Orb's sire Malibu Moon, he is out of Race to Urga (Bernstein). She had a fine 5-for-8 career with four wins over 1 1/16 miles, including in the Wait a While Stakes at Gulfstream Park (here she won four times on the bounce at the 2012 meet). Gormley's second dam, Miss Mambo (Kingmambo), won over a mile in France and Ireland at three, when she also ran third in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches / French 1,000 Guineas over the same distance.

KLIMT was slow from the start and found himself chasing the game throughout the 8.5-furlong trip when runner-up to GORMLEY in the FrontRunner, a race he was 1/3 favorite to win. Disappointing? Yes it was, but it may also have been both informative and educational. Most likely, we will see him ridden close to the pace in the Juvenile. Klimt had looked an absolute star at Del Mar in the summer, taking the Best Pal / Del Mar Futurity double in great style. He beat Big League (impressive winner on his previous start) easily by 2 3/4-lengths in the Best Pal, run over 6.5 furlongs, and upset the favorite Straight Fire (even more impressive in his maiden win) to the tune of 4 ¼ lengths when stepping up to 7 furlongs in the Futurity.

Comparing his time (1:21.8) to older horses winning that weekend made Klimt seem close to the two previous winners of the Grade 1; American Pharoah and Nyquist. He has three lengths to make up on Gormely but perhaps we should call that 'a couple of lengths'. Klimt has most experience, while Gormley should be the one open to most improvement. It will be fascinating to see them clash again on November 5.

Klimt made $435,000 at the Ocala March Sale. He is a son of Woodward Stakes winner Quality Road, whose son Hootenanny won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf two years ago and may also be in action at this year's Breeders' Cup. Klimt's dam, Inventive (Dixie Union), a miler who won 3 races at two and three and ran third in a restricted stakes event at Pimlico. She is also the dam of Nick Zito's three-time sprint winner West Coast Chick (Malibu Moon); second to Paulassilverlining in this year's Vagrancy Handicap (6.5 fur. Belmont), and Sweet Invention (Twirling Candy), who has been placed twice to date (6-furlong maiden claimers at Del Mar and Santa Anita). Further back, Klimt comes from the same family at Breeders' Cup Classic winner Concern. Klimt was foaled on April 14.

NOT THIS TIME went off favorite for his debut at Churchill Downs in late June but things didn't work out as planned. He broke a bit slowly and never really got into the 6-furlong race, eventually finishing fifth of eight, over ten lengths behind Bitumen. So many champions have lost first time out, and he could well turn out to be one of those. The imposing son of Giant's Causeway has done nothing wrong since. He broke his maiden by 10 lengths over a mile at Ellis Park in August, and powered home by almost nine lengths in the Iroquois Stakes over 8.5 furlongs back at Churchill in September. Not This Time messed it up a bit at the start again, but was soon in touch and he drew right away in the home stretch. It was an impressive win. LOOKIN AT LEE was second (beaten a lot further than he was when second to Classic Empire on his next start). Recruiting Ready filled third, Honor Thy Father fourth and Thirstforlife fifth. Recruiting Ready was coming off runner-up efforts in the Bashford Manor (¾ length behind Classic Empire) and Saratoga Special (a length behind Gunnevera), whie Honor Thy Father had been third to Lookin At Lee in the Ellis Park Juvenile and Thirstforlife had run third, beaten 6 lengths, behind KLIMT in the Best Pal. Thirstforlife also won a decent allowance race on his subsequent start.

The Iroquois form looks very solid – but it was achieved over a muddy track so we can't be 100% certain of its value. Still, with such sound formlines it is easy to suspect that Not This Time is top class. The quality of his maiden win has also been well advertised, with runner-up Society Beau and third placed Derecho Warrior both winning next time out. Not This Time is certainly bred to be good. His sire was a champion miler in Europe and it took a stubborn Tiznow to deny him when he went for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Not This Time is a half-brother to last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam's Map (Unbridled's Song), who also captured the Woodward Stakes over 9 furlongs at Saratoga. Their dam, the Trippi daughter Miss Macy Sue, was a tough and durable runner. She gained 11 wins from two to five years of age, the best one being the Winning Colors over 6 furlongs at Churchill Downs when she was four. She is also the dam of Taylor S (Medaglia d'Oro), winner of the 6-furlong Any Limit Stakes and third in the 7-furlong Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Miss Macy Sue's 2015 colt by Bodemeiser failed to make his reserve at the Keeneland September Sales (highest bid was $450,000).

PRACTICAL JOKE outstayed the favorite SYNDERGAARD, and got lucky too, when he beat that rival by a nose in the Champagne Stakes over a mile at Belmont Park on October 8. Syndergaard, who had won the restricted Funny Cide Stakes by over ten lengths on his previous start, lost his unbeaten record on the nod. He was in front a stride before the line, and again a stride after the line. Tough beat, but he probably lost the race a long time before reaching for the line – as he went way too fast early on in the contest. Cutting fractions of 22.6, 44.6 and 1.08.6, he ran the first 6 furlongs ten lengths faster than the pace set in the Frizette Stakes on the same day. The final time was 1.34.6, compared to Yellow Agate's 1.35.4 in the Frizette. The last quarter of the Frizette took 25.2 seconds. Syndergaard ran his last quarter in 26.0 seconds. Practical Joke covered the final quarter much quicker of course, as he was coming from off the pace, as was Yellow Agate in the Frizette.

The speed favoring Santa Anita oval will suit Syndergaard but the extra half-furlong should be very much a plus for Practical Joke, who might get the better of him again in the Juvenile.

PRACTICAL JOKE's dam, Halo Humor (Distorted Humor), won twice as a juvenile, when she was also fourth in the Matron Stakes over 7 furlongs at Belmont Park. Dam of two previous winners (over 5 to 8 furlongs), she is a half-sister to Louisiana Futurity Stakes winner Cubera. Practical Joke was knocked down for $240,000 at the Keeneland September Sales.

SYNDERGAARD, purchased for $450,000 at the Oacala April Sale, is a son of four-time winner Magic Belle (Gold Case), a versatile filly who won from 5.5 furlongs to a mile (turf allowance race at Belmont). A sister to minor 7-furlong stakes winner Pirate's Outlook, she has also produced Nick Nack (Temple City), an ordinary sprint winner at three.

THEORY is an interesting juvenile from the Pletcher barn – probably every bit as good as Syndergaard. This son of Geomologist was at one point thought to be done for the year – after an impressive debut win at Saratoga – and sent to WinStar to recuperate. It was discovered that his problem was just a bruised foot, however, and after less than two weeks he was back with Pletcher, who set his sights on the Futurity Stakes over 6 furlongs at Belmont Park in mid-October, two and a half months after his win at the Spa. Theory covered six panels also on his racecourse bow, and slammed subsequent winner Reckling by 5 ½ lengths. It was one of the best maiden races at the meet. Theory took a nice step forward in the Hopeful, which he won by 3 ½ lengths from Star Empire (a troubled third to Wellabled in the Arlington-Washington Futurity on his preceding start). Moves Like Ali, another smart looking Saratoga maiden winner, finished third and The Walk took third. The Walk was sixth in Theory's maiden race and won a Belmont maiden in September. Reckling came home last of five in the Hopeful. It's worth noting that Mo Town, who Reckling beat after chasing Theory at Saratoga, also came back to win impressively. Theory's form has been working out beautifully.

His Hopeful win was gained in a manner suggesting the sprint distance was much too sharp for him, and Javier Castellano kept him busy for a good 'gallop out' after the line. A May foal, Theory cost $335,000 at the Ocala April Sale. His dam, Gem Sleuth (Officer), won three times and finished third in the 6-furlong Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs. She is also the dam of Roman Officer (Roman Ruler), a five-time winner efficient from 6 to 8 furlongs.

THREE RULES will be taking a step up in class as he goes for the Juvenile but it's never wise to dismiss an unbeaten contender. No horse can beat more than what's put in front of him and this sharp son of Gone Astray hasn't just beaten his rivals, in his five straight wins, he has humiliated them. All his wins have been at Gulfstream Park, where he was an even money favorite when taking a 5-furlong maiden in the slop back in June. He went up half a furlong to take the Birdonthewire three weeks later, and has since swept the Florida Sire Series, winning by 7 lengths over 6 furlongs, by 5 ½ lengths over 7 furlongs and, most recently the 8.5-furlong In Reality Stakes by 10 lengths. Odds-on for all of these races, he really hasn't been tested and it's anybody's guess quite how good he is. Thegreatcollection was second in the In Reality, having beaten two subsquent winners on his debut at Gulfstream and won a minor stakes at Evangelina Downs previously.

Comparing his formlines to those of Gormley, Klimt, Not This Time and Practical Joke isn't easy – and Three Rules is a truly fascinating contender. His little known sire, as son of Dixie Union, is standing for just $4,500, and his dam, Joy Rules (Full Mandate), was a twice raced maiden claiming winner over 6 furlongs at Woodbine as a three-year-old. She is a half-sister to Roy's Ruckus, a winner of 10 races who was placed five times in minor stakes company. Can a thoroughbred with such a low profile pedigree become a champion? Ask the connections of California Chrome!

Winner 2015: Nyquist / Globeform 118p

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