By Ed McNamara
Exhibit A: Godolphin LLC.
Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum’s international superpower has ruled the world in 2021. For three months, Godolphin has been hotter than a lava flow, starting with Mystic Guide’s romp in the $12 million Dubai Cup. Its only major disappointment was finishing fourth with favored Essential Quality in the Kentucky Derby, when he missed by only a length despite a rough start and wide trip.
That’s been the only bump in Godolphin’s golden road. On Belmont Stakes day, taking the “Test of the Champion” with Essential Quality was far from Sheikh Mo’s only highlight. Adarya and Hurricane Run ran first and third, respectively, for trainer Charles Appleby in England’s Epsom Derby. A few hours before Essential Quality redeemed himself, Appleby ran 1-2 for Godolphin with 8-1 shot Althiqa and 6-1 Summer Romance in Belmont’s Grade 1 Just a Game.
Three Grade 1 trophies in eight hours on tracks 3,500 miles apart, and the streak of “The Boys in Blue” didn’t end there. Two weeks later, Godolphin was the leading owner at the world’s most prestigious meeting, Royal Ascot. Last Saturday, Hurricane Run won the Irish Derby and heavily favored Maxfield dominated the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
The latest NTRA poll ranks Mystic Guide first and Maxfield third. Can you say embarrassment of riches?
Which brings us to Saturday’s Suburban Stakes. If you believe in riding streaks — and few, if any, ever approached this one — you won’t try to beat Mystic Guide in Belmont Park’s Grade 2, 1 1/4-mile feature. He’s had a nice break since ruling at Meydan, and he’s working well at trainer Michael Stidham’s Fair Hill base. All signs point to Godolphin’s unprecedented roll continuing.
“He’s doing fantastic,” Stidham said. “We’ve given him plenty of time to bounce back from that race. Looking at him train and his weight and his coat, he’s an absolute picture right now.”
Mystic Guide will be looking for payback against Todd Pletcher’s undefeated Happy Saver, who beat him by three-quarters of a length last fall in the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. The rail opened late for Happy Saver, while Mystic Guide’s trip was less than ideal.
Rarely is a 5-for-5 Grade 1 winner not the favorite but beating Mystic Guide again will be tough. Seeds of doubt: He’s 0-for-2 (both seconds) at Belmont, where Happy Saver is 3-for-3.
“Happy Saver always performs well, and he’s really filled out and matured,” Pletcher said. “The way he ran in the Jockey Club, you know he likes that distance.”
I’ll play Happy Saver underneath Mystic Guide in a $10 straight exacta in a race that will be more fun to watch than to bet.
Last week: Sometimes it’s wise to spread a lot in a Pick 3, even when you expect a 2-5 shot to win the middle leg. It worked out fine for my suggested $56 investment at Churchill. If you played it, you nearly doubled your money.
Even though favorites Set Piece ($5.40) and Maxfield ($2.80) took the first two races, the bet returned $107 after Navratilova ($20.80) went wire to wire. She was one of seven horses I used after going with four in the opener and standing alone with Maxfield.
Chad Brown trains Viadera, who’s 5-for-5 at the distance and won three in a row to finish a strong 4-year-old season. She has grit, because those wins were by a neck, a neck and a nose, but two came over stablemate Blowout, a stakes-winner who likes to run second. The seven-month layoff is not a concern for a Brown runner.
Stidham will run Princess Grace, who was 3-for-4 last year for owners Susan and John Moore. “She’s coming off a layoff, but she’s been training well,” Stidham said. Sounds familiar. Viadera’s numbers are better than those of Princess Grace, who has yet to face a top-class horse.
Yes This Time should be favored off his 5-for-6 record on grass and four-race winning streak. His figures are good but not great and he’s never gone 9 furlongs, so I’ll try to beat him.
I’m torn between Wesley Ward’s Like the King and Stidham’s Gershwin. Like the King followed a 12th-place dud in the Derby by finishing fifth as the 2-1 favorite in a non-graded stakes at Churchill. I think he’ll be overbet again, as Ward usually is, so I’ll pass on him.
I’ll take the regally bred Gershwin, a Godolphin product who happens to be a half-brother to Mystic Guide. He comes off an easy victory in the Penn Mile, the third time Stidham tried to get him on grass but was rained off. He’s been working well at Fair Hill and should be a decent price in his turf debut. He’s 5-for-5 in the money on dirt (four races on wet tracks), and his dam, Music Note, won five Grade 1 races.
Godolphin, Godolphin, Godolphin.
Crazy Beautiful (7) will be odds-on, for good reason, for Ken McPeek. Her easy win in the Grade 2 Summer Oaks at Santa Anita made her 3-for-5 lifetime everywhere but in Grade 1 stakes (0-for-3). Mike Smith travels from California to keep the mount, and she gets Lasix for the first time. She can stalk and finish big, so what’s not to like?
No win bet, but I’ll play Crazy Beautiful on top in exactas with Orbs Baby Girl, Hybrid Eclipse and Leader of the Band, any of whom could set the pace.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.