Though this year’s will only be the eighth iteration of the Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes (GII), it has fast become an important date on the calendar for filly and mare sprinters. First graded in 2009, the winners of the race since that time have all been champions. The last two were won by Groupie Doll, who won the Eclipse Award for champion female sprinter in both 2012 and 2013. Musical Romance won in 2011, her championship year. Informed Decision, the champion female sprinter of 2009, won this race in both 2009 and 2010. This year’s edition looks to be no different. Though elite sprinter Judy the Beauty (third last year) does not return, the field features twelve fillies and mares looking to make their mark among the top female sprinters.
Selections: Disco Barbie (5), Master the Blues (11), Living the Life (7)
The field is as tough and competitive as could be, and the pace scenario looks likely to be very balanced. It’s not screaming out for a pace meltdown, but it won’t crawl along, either. There are very few horses for whom there isn’t a reasonable case. Youcan’tcatchme seems a one-way speed in a race with much better on the front end. Capella Dancer looks outmatched; her third-place finish in the local prep was a nice surprise, but this honest, hard-knocking Finger Lakes runner is not as fast as a graded stakes sprinter should be. Sushi Empire has yet to find her her stride as a racehorse, and it seems a tall order to ask her to do so against this field. Aside from these three, though? Arguments can be made.
In 2009 and 2010, Informed Decision won the Chicago Handicap (GIII) at Arlington Park on the way to winning the Masters. This year, Illinois-bred My Option attempts the same double. As a fan, I want nothing more than to see her run away with this race. From a handicapping perspective, though, I cannot back her. Six and a half furlongs seems too short for her. Though she does have a victory at six furlongs in state-bred company, her better races against better company have been at longer. Furthermore, she just is not consistent. She won a lot at two and earlier in her three year old year, but has only seen the winner’s circle once in her last eight races. That win was a romp in the seven-furlong Chicago Handicap. However, the second-place horse in that race was Flower Spell: a runner who, while ultra-game, does not want a step past six furlongs. She could have handled a stiffer challenge given the way she ran, but she is so on-and-off that one cannot depend on her to run a top effort while trying a new surface against tougher company better suited to this distance than she is.
However, there is one horse from that Chicago Handicap who looks to have a great shot in the Masters, and that’s the third-place runner from that race: Disco Barbie. Disco Barbie did not handle the polytrack at Arlington as well as hoped, but she has been brilliant this season over the Tapeta at Presque Isle. After racing solidly enough in mid-Atlantic dirt stakes earlier in her career, she has crushed three allowances there at the same distance as this race. Her speeds put her right in the mix with this group. She has seen success stalking very close to the pace or being a few off early, which should keep her right in contention no matter who gets sent. At the very least, Disco Barbie is a horse for the course at Presque Isle, and she may well be more than that. She stands a good chance for a breakout performance here, and is the top selection.
Master the Blues comes into this race off a win in the Daisycutter Handicap at Del Mar. That was on polytrack, but she has already proven herself to be no slouch on Tapeta. She has started at Presque ten times in her career, with three wins, two seconds, and a third. Two of those wins were earlier this summer, before she moved to the barn of Robert Hess at Del Mar. Those races at Presque were against easier, but she has taken the recent steps up in class at Del Mar very well. She returns to Erie a better racemare. Master the Blues also stands to be the speed of the early speed in this field, but has also shown herself to be ratable: a great bag of tricks to have in a sprint. She is working extremely well coming into this race, and looks to be in the best form of her career. Finally, Master the Blues maintains the services of jockey Kent Desormeaux. Desormeaux has seen nothing short of a renaissance this summer, and there are few better hands she could be in. He got her home last out in the Daisycutter, and a shrewd ride here could get her home at very nice odds.
One other horse who deserves a very long look here is the British invader Living The Life. She wasn’t Group-level across the pond. She had found a niche as a handicap-level seven-furlong specialist over polytrack, mainly at Lingfield and Wolverhampton. (Though Wolverhampton now has Tapeta, she raced there when Wolverhampton had polytrack, or at least whatever adulterated, vaguely polytrack-based compound covered their racing surface last year.) Living The Life was sharp in an allowance win at Del Mar, overcoming a slow start to clearly win her first race off the ship. The distance of the allowance win spoke well: though she focused on seven furlongs across the pond, the allowance win was at six. It answered the question as to whether she could shorten up in the affirmative. Mike Smith rode her to that win last out, and the fact that he ships out to stick with her here says a lot. Knowing that she is a seven-furlong specialist, and knowing how the year often ends for the winner of the Presque Isle Masters, it does seem like she is being pointed to a certain seven-furlong race at Santa Anita on Halloween weekend. If Living The Life progresses here second off the lay, a shot at the Breeders’ Cup is within her grasp.
Ageless will likely be the chalk of the field, and as such, is worth taking a swing against. She took off the blinkers starting in November of last year, and has been on a tear ever since. In six races with blinkers off, she has five wins and a third, including her first graded stakes triumph in the Royal North (GIII – CAN) at Woodbine last out, on July 27. She has been working strongly and steadily at Fair Hill since that last race. Still, she has two big questions over her head: surface and distance. Surface is the lesser of the two questions; she has never run on a synthetic before. However, she is in good enough form, and has done well enough on turf and on dirt, that the surface question alone would not outweigh her form. However, she has not won at six and a half furlongs since her maiden win. Since then she has prevailed at longer, and she has not even tried longer since before a July 2012-July 2013 layoff. She is a game mare in the prime of her career, and she has a real chance. However, there are too many questions surrounding her to make a short price in this field attractive.
Longshot: Cactus Kris (12) is 12/1 on the morning line. If she stays around that, there is a lot to recommend her for the price. She is well familiar with the course at Presque Isle; she has three wins, three seconds, and a third in seven starts over the oval. Most intriguing among her allowance runs was her win three back, her most recent at Presque, where she dispatched with older in her first attempt in mixed-age company. Her better races at Presque had been at five and a half or six furlongs, but she tried a couple of longer races at Woodbine. Two back in the listed Duchess stakes, she made the promising filly Pirates Trove work like she had never worked before, missing victory there by only a nose. In that Duchess she finished a length and a half ahead of Hillhouse High. Hillhouse High, in turn, followed that run up with a close third in the Tenski Stakes at the Spa, in which her late run made promising turf filly Miss Frost sweat. After a try at a mile last out, she turns back to a sprint here. This three-year-old filly has not necessarily shown yet that she belongs in the ranks of elite filly and mare sprinters, but there is enough upside to make her a good value, especially in intra-race exotics.