We always hear about the so-called “wise guy” horse in the week or two leading up to the Kentucky Derby (G1). That is, a mid-priced contender or longshot who, for a variety of reasons, pundits begin to publicly latch on to as a potential value selection.
It seems it wouldn’t be a big race at Churchill Downs without the existence of a “wise guy” horse. Who fits that bill this week and why does he?
In the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Yoshida has been generating plenty of buzz. The Bill Mott-trained colt has been primarily a turf runner, registering his signature victory on this year’s Kentucky Derby undercard in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) over soft ground.
However, after a solid fifth in the Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot and a disappointing run in the Fourstardave H. (G1), both over a mile, the dice was rolled to find out how well the son of Heart’s Cry would adapt to dirt. The scene was the 1 1/8-mile Woodward (G1) at Saratoga on Labor Day weekend, and Yoshida passed the test with flying colors, surging past 13 rivals to win by two lengths.
From a pedigree perspective, Yoshida’s transition to dirt shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Though bred in Japan and by a champion who raced exclusively on turf, Yoshida’s paternal grandsire was the Hall of Famer Sunday Silence, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1989. Yoshida’s dam is Hilda’s Passion, a Grade 1-winning sprinter who missed the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) due to an untimely, career-ending setback.
Yoshida earned a good but not great BRIS Speed rating of 101 for his Woodward win. He’ll need to improve to win the most competitive weight-for-age race in the country.
Yoshida’s connections have had plenty of success under the Twin Spires. He’s owned by a partnership that includes WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, who campaigned Triple Crown winner Justify. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott saddled WinStar color-bearer Drosselmeyer to a 14-1 upset in the Classic the last time it was held at Churchill in 2011.
Speaking of Churchill Downs, its main track has long had a reputation of being one those without dirt experience could most easily adapt to. Think of Animal Kingdom, who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby, and European warhorse Giant’s Causeway, who narrowly missed in the 2000 Classic to Tiznow.
All indications suggest Yoshida has taken well to the Churchill surface in preparation for the Classic. On Monday, he recorded his final workout, a half-mile in :49.60.
“It was very good,” Mott said.
There’s no question that Yoshida has been attracting attention from some quarters due to the questions surrounding the more fancied contenders. For example, Accelerate is the horse to beat based on his current-year form, but hasn’t yet proven he can re-produce his best outside his Southern California home base. Distance questions still surround Mind Your Biscuits, while West Coast hasn’t won in three starts since finishing third in last year’s Classic.
Meanwhile, the three-year-old class left after Justify’s departure to the paddocks lacks a true leader. Catholic Boy and McKinzie both come off sterling victories in the Travers (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G1), respectively, but will that form translate against a older horses? Can European star Roaring Lion adapt well enough to dirt to pull off the surprise in his dirt debut?
In some ways, Yoshida backers are viewing this Classic as a potential repeat of 2011, when double-digit longshots dominated after the betting market lukewarmly settled on Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Flat Out, the filly Havre de Grace, Australian/European star So You Think, and the distance-challenged Uncle Mo, all of whom finished off the board.
We’ll find out Saturday afternoon whether the wise guys are right about Yoshida.