Lookin At Lucky: he looks the one most suited to the race conditionsPICTURE: Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos
Lucky emerges as serious Breeders' Cup candidate
WORLD CLASS: an analysis of the best performances of last week according to Racing Post Ratings
A DEFEAT for dirt leader Quality Road and a sub-par success for all-weather leader Zenyatta were two further indications that Bob Baffert may be about to get lucky in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
The first clue came last week, when his stable star ran away with the Haskell Invitational, posting the best performance by an American three-year-old this year.
But with the leading older horses having the chinks in their armour exposed on the weekend, it now looks increasingly likely that the elite division could be set for a changing of the guards in November.
Lookin At Lucky is already ranked close to Quality Road and Zenyatta on RPRs, with a peak of 129+, and of the trio (Rachel Alexandra can be ignored after her latest 109) he looks the one most suited to the race conditions of 1m2f on dirt - particularly if it got sloppy.
Baffert's charge is the perfect example of an autumn improver, a subject which was discussed in World Class a couple of weeks ago after Harbinger's King George romp.
Though he was highly successful earlier inthe year, and unlucky not to have gone unbeaten, he never won by far and was unable to produce an RPR higher than 121.
After a summer break he returned with a huge career best at Monmouth, posting a four length success over a top field, and he finally looked the finished article.
Of course, it can never be recommended to back a horse with a fever ante-post, but when the most obvious winner ranks third or fourth best in the market it is hard not to take an interest.
His price is partly to do with the air of immortality which follows the likes of the Gulfstream Cyclone and Herself, but racing is a numbers game, and one of momentum, and on both counts, it's the Haskell hero who looks set to come good.
There are parallels to be drawn between this Classic and the 2006 Arc, which saw another progressive sophomore (Rail Link) come good against some of the highest rated horses on the planet, including Deep Impact, Hurricane Run, Pride and Shirocco.
One similarity with that race will be that Zenyatta, much like Deep Impact, may well take out half of the market due to her immense popularity, and with that in mind it may be wise holding off backing Lookin At Lucky until the day.
Anyway, back to this weekend and why Quality Road and Zenyatta are two to be against at Churchill Downs.
Todd Pletcher's world leading dirt horse is all about speed. He hadthe pace to break the Saratoga track record over 6.5f and has been defeated on both starts over 1m2f, albeit on sloppy tracks.
Though he still ranks as the best older male in America after three world class performances, he is not unbeatable, as Blame proved in the Whitney Handicap on Saturday.
Overhauled in the final strides, the dirt leader still came out best on the ratings with an RPR of 130, with Blame, who scored by a head, coming out on 125.
Quality Road had been handed quite a test by the handicapper, having had 2lb added to his comparative weight with Musket Man from their previous meeting in the Met Mile, and he actually defeated that rival by further on the weekend, giving the indication he might have actually improved again.
Given the way the race was run, however, with Quality Road and Musket Man separated by much the same distance throughout, it is pertinent to rate the race around the runner-up, with Musket Man rated just below his best on 118.
Blame had a 5lb advantage over Quality Road here and caught the runner-up napping to some degree, so this performance does not yet put him up with the superstars on the world top ten, though he is heading in the right direction and is clearly a smart horse.
This was his second Grade 1 success and he now ranks as the second best older male in America, third on the dirt list.
Leading all-weather performer Zenyatta was also in action on Saturday and, while she came home in front, this was her worst performance on the ratings front for over two years.
When the customary feminine cheer rose from the grandstand, Zenyatta had only just managed to scrape home from a vastly inferior rival. This is what happens when records get close to being broken -human error creeps in.
Zenyatta was going for 18-straight and Mike Smith was edgier than normal. He sat closer to the pace than usual and struck on earlier than he normally does, seemingly desperate to get the race over with, althoughperhaps he was trying to get her to go on and win by a huge margin.
Either way, this was not what we have become accustomed to. She was rated at least 21lb ahead of each of her four rivals in the Clement L Hirsch Stakes on pre-race adjusted RPRs, meaning she might have won by over ten lengths, but could manage only a neck.
Perhaps it was the less-than-patient tactics, or maybe this was the key piece of evidence which proves that she only ever runs to the level of her competition, but a winning RPR of 113 shows this was far from her finest performance.
As far as the Classic is concerned, 1m2f on dirt is not ideal for the girl who has remained perfect for three full years and if it came up sloppy at Churchill Downs connects should probably consider their options, as it will be harder for her to deploy that deep closing stretch run.
They don't seem like the sort of connections to shirk a challenge, however, and will probably line up and take any potential defeat on the chin.
If she did manage to win the Classic she could be considered one level above a global superstar, whatever that is, but Lookin At Lucky looks set to provide the California colossus with what will be the biggest test of her entire career - and under conditions which will suit he more than she.
TOP OF THE CLASS: Quality Road 130
Trainer: Todd Pletcher (US)
Whitney Handicap, Saratoga, 1m1f, Aug 7
|1.||Harbinger (GB)||King George||135T|
|2.||Canford Cliffs (GB)||Sussex Stakes||130T|
|Quality Road (US)
|4.||Lookin At Lucky (US)||Haskell Invitational||129D|
|Rip Van Winkle (GB)||Sussex Stakes||129T|
|7.||Paco Boy (GB)
|8.||Fame And Glory (IRE)
|9.||Byword (FR)||Prix D'Ispahan||126T|
D = dirt, A = all-weather, T = turf
|1.||Quality Road (US)||Whitney Handicap
|2.||Lookin At Lucky (US)||Haskell Invitational||129|
|4.||Rachel Alexandra (US)
||Fleur De Lis Handicap||124|
|Super Saver (US)
|6.||Eskendereya (US)||Fountain Of Youth||123|
|Espoir City (JAP)
|9.||Battle Plan (US)
||Stephen Foster Handicap||122|
||Big Drama (US)
|Blind Luck (US)
|Musket Man (US)||Carter Handicap||120|
|2.||Canford Cliffs (GB)||Sussex Stakes||130|
|3.||Rip Van Winkle (IRE)||Sussex Stakes||129|
|5.||Paco Boy (GB)
|6.||Fame And Glory (IRE)
|Goldikova (FR)||Queen Anne||126|
|9.||Starspangledbanner (IRE)||Golden Jubilee/July Cup||125|
|10.||Behkabad (FR)||Grand Prix de Paris||124|
|Dick Turpin (GB)
||Prix Jean Prat||124|
|Equiano (GB)||July Cup||124|
|Lope De Vega (FR)||Prix du Jockey Club
|1.||Kinsale King (US)
|Zenyatta (US)||Santa Margarita Invitational||124|
|3.||Bob Black Jack (US)
||San Carlos Handicap
|Gloria De Campeao (FR)||Dubai World Cup
|Lizard's Desire (SA)||Dubai World Cup||122|
|Rail Trip (US)
||Hollywood Gold Cup
|Rocket Man (SIN)||Goldene Shaheen||122|
|Smiling Tiger (US)||Bing Crosby||122|
|10.||Allybar (UAE)||Dubai World Cup
||Santa Anita Handicap||121|
|Neko Bay (US)
||Santa Anita Handicap||121|