With only two weeks to go until the 37th Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland on November 6-7, Nicholas Godfrey casts his eye over the five two-year-old contests on Future Stars Friday.
BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE TURF
With eight wins in 13 runnings, no other Breeders’ Cup race has been as kind to transatlantic visitors – with specific reference to Aidan O’Brien (four wins and four seconds). Charlie Appleby and John Gosden also have two apiece.
Even here, though, O’Brien’s patchy Breeders’ Cup record rears its ugly head – Ballydoyle has seen a pair of favourites in Anthony Van Dyck and Arizona fail to hit the board since Mendelssohn became O’Brien’s most recent winner at this meeting in 2017. For the record, the habitually mob-handed stable’s overall Breeders’ Cup record now stands at 12 wins from 147 runners, or just over 8%.
So we get to Royal Ascot winner Battleground, who stands at the head of a muddled market for next year’s 2,000 Guineas. He will come here fresher than some of his Ballydoyle predecessors, the son of War Front not having not raced since the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood owing to the bout of coughing that forced him out of the National Stakes.
Other leading lights among a typically strong raiding party are headed by Royal Lodge Stakes winner New Mandate – potentially a serious player for Ralph Beckett and Frankie Dettori – Dewhurst fifth Cadillac (Jessica Harrington) and The Lir Jet, stepping up in trip to become Michael Bell’s first-ever Breeders’ Cup representative.
Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere winner Sealiway (Frederic Rossi) is also a possible – though he’d be lucky (and everyone else unlucky) to encounter such extreme conditions in Kentucky.
With all that in mind, the home team might struggle. Sheikh Hamdan’s Mutasaabeq (Todd Pletcher) was undeniably impressive on his switch to turf in G2 company at Keeneland, where he circled eight wide after a slow start to run down the leaders. He can expect another favourable pace set-up in a double-figure field.
Gretzky The Great (Mark Casse) was a clear-cut Summer Stakes winner at Woodbine but that was surely a soft G1 for the status. Outadore (Wesley Ward) may stretch out after a couple of sprint wins, while Chad Brown, who repelled the Euros last year with Structor, will field Public Sector. Although he was a beaten favourite last time at Belmont, the winner (Fire At Will) got a freebie up front.
BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
The European record here is nowhere near as good as might be imagined, with only two winners in 13 runnings so far (French-trained Flotilla in 2012 and Charlie Hills’s Chriselliam a year later). Despite a plethora of runners, Aidan O’Brien has never got closer than Heart Shaped, edged out by Maram in the first running in 2008.
What is more, the likely complexion of the transatlantic team is far from clear, with the likes of Pretty Gorgeous and Shale not conclusively ruled out. Chances are they won’t run, though, and neither will Tiger Tanaka, who won at the Arc meeting. They are joined by Oh So Sharp Stakes winner Saffron Beach, who was nominated for this but has been sidelined with an injury.
That could leave Cheveley Park Stakes runner-up MIss Amulet as the leading European hope for the race. Ken Condon's filly brings plenty of experience to the table, she's won three of her seven races including the Group 2 Lowther Stakes at York's Ebor meeting, but will her stamina stretch out to a mile given she has done all her racing at six furlongs or shorter?
Generally speaking, this is usually one for the home team – although high on the list of suspects for 2020 is a horse well known in Europe for a trainer requiring no introduction. Step forward Wesley Ward, who describes flying Queen Mary Stakes winner Campanelle as a “special filly” who has “grown up a lot”. Given that she beat the colts on soft ground in the Prix Morny, the unbeaten daughter of Kodiac has a lot going for her.
Although G1 winner Lady Speightspeare misses out with a knee injury, in truth the US team looks pretty formidable altogether. Aunt Pearl (Brad Cox) won from her dominant front-end score at Keeneland in the G2 Jessamine earlier this month and even shades favouritism in most lists; several US pundits make her a solid choice.
Plum Ali (Christophe Clement) is also unbeaten, winning her third race in the G2 Miss Grillo at Belmont, a race responsible for four previous winners of this race.
Oh, and while he doesn’t seem to have his usual firepower, Chad Brown’s name has to be mentioned. He’s won this five times, including four of the last six.
BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE TURF SPRINT
Before we go any further, a warning notice must be issued regarding any European contenders; there have been only two previous runnings of the newest race at the Breeders’ Cup but it hasn’t been pretty.
In 2018, a strong-looking European team were largely run of their feet at Churchill Downs, where nothing was able to land a blow behind all-the-way winner Bulletin; the Euros ended up finishing 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11.
Last year was even worse at Santa Anita, where Europe again saddled half the field – US horses took five of the first six places, whereas the Euros took five of the last six. On the plus side, a similar race on the undercard at Del Mar in 2017 had resulted in a 1-2-3-4 for the visitors, so where there’s life, there’s hope. Maybe.
Anyway, Gi-winning pair Lucky Vega (Jessica Harrington) and Supremacy (Clive Cox) are both quoted in ante-post betting but it makes sense to concentrate on the domestic presence. And let’s face it, this is a turf sprint for two-year-olds at Wesley Ward’s home track, Keeneland, so who else you gonna call?
Though he was beaten at Royal Ascot (by the ground as much as anything else, probably), Golden Pal went back home and blew his rivals away in a black-type race at Saratoga for a Beyer speed figure of 92, the best juvenile number on grass so far this year.
Many will see him as banker material – and his chief rivals may even come from his own barn in a race where Ward saddled first and fourth with Four Wheel Drive and Kimari in 2019. Dual winner Outadore may come here rather than going up in trip, while Wink won two at home before getting run down in the soft at Deauville.
Looking elsewhere, Bodenheimer (Valerie Lund) won the local prep on the lead, while Second Of July (Phil Gleaves) has been unfancied in winning his two. Representing unfashionable connections, he’ll probably be overlooked again.
BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE FILLIES
This year the Juvenile Fillies has a very competitive feel. Surprisingly, and despite a number of fancied horses, Bob Baffert has won this only twice. He saddles $1.35m filly Princess Noor, unbeaten in three starts on the west coast by a combined 17 1/4 lengths, more than eight of them added last time when she slammed her rivals in the Chandelier, the main Breeders’ Cup prep at Santa Anita.
But it’s time for the old saw: what has she been beating? All three wide-margin wins have come at odds-on; she has never posted a really fast time. Her Beyers haven’t progressed – 76-78-79 – well below some of her east-coast rivals, notably Dayoutoftheoffice (Timothy Hamm), whose Frizette victory over previously unbeaten G1 winner Vequist (Butch Reid) looks stronger form. Vequist closed nicely that day and shouldn’t be discarded over an extra sixteenth.
Front-running Simply Ravishing (Kenny McPeek) also brings persuasive credentials after her runaway course-and-distance G1 score by 6 1/4 lengths in the Alcibiades on October 2 while dual winner Girl Daddy (Dale Romans) is set to return after a nine-week layoff with some sharp workouts in recent weeks.
BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE
While there has been more than one moment of European triumph down the years in America’s senior race for two-year-old males – think Arazi, Johannesburg, Wilko – there isn’t an obvious runner this time.
What there is, though, is a potential superstar among the home team in the shape of Jackie’s Warrior (Steve Asmussen), who took his unbeaten record to four with his second G1 success in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont. In second place that day was Reinvestment Risk (Chad Brown), who had chased home the same rival in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga; the difference here was the winning margin, extended to the small matter of 5 1/2 lengths with no effort from winning jockey Joel Rosario.
The winner’s Beyer speed figure of 100 is the only three-digit number this year by a two-year-old, while his task at Keeneland is made easier by the absence of Dr. Schivel, pro tem leader of the Californian crowd who has been put away for the winter.
But if you’re looking to pick holes, here they are: speed is the most potent weapon ofJackie’s Warrior and he’s never raced at two turns, he’s never run at Keeneland and he’s never seen a wet track. The same, though, can be said of most of his rivals – but not Godolphin’s Essential Quality, a son of Tapit, also forwardly placed when winning the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at this venue on his most recent outing. It was an authoritative display over course and distance, and he’s trained by Kentucky-based Brad Cox, sure to have a number of fancied runners over the weekend.
Future Stars Friday, featuring five Breeders' Cup races for two-year-olds, will be live on Sky Sports Racing on Friday 6th November.