PUSH comes to shove this weekend for any number of potential Breeders’ Cup contenders this weekend with a series of major trials split between Santa Anita and Belmont Park – all of them due to be shown live on Sky Sports Racing.
Super Saturday has been transformed into a wonderful weekend after the sensible decision to spread out the various Grade 1s instead of shoehorning them all into a five-hour burst across both coasts.
There are seven Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge’ races this weekend (plus another batch coming up next weekend) featuring a cast of equine luminaries headed by McKinzie and Code Of Honor, first and second in ante-post betting for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, plus Distaff favourite Midnight Bisou.
The action starts with Santa Anita’s premier two-year-old races – important races in Baffertworld – on Friday’s card as the track kicks off its 23-day autumn season ahead of the Breeders’ Cup, which it hosts for a record tenth time on November 1-2.
An enhanced veterinary team and the most stringent medication policies and pre-race safety checks in America will be in place after the track’s troubled winter/spring meet with its distressing spate of equine fatalities. The famous 6 1/2-furlong downhill turf chute will not be used for sprints, however, with the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint set to be run at 5f around a bend.
What follows here is a quick run through of this weekend’s main events. Part 2 next week with another raft of Breeders’ Cup trials as Keeneland (also on Sky Sports Racing) gets in on the act with its blockbuster Fall Stars Weekend programme.
I’m in the Sky Sports Racing studio on Friday for the Stateside late shift covering Santa Anita.
Watch the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS - BREEDERS’ CUP PREP RACES
Santa Anita: American Pharoah Stakes G1 1m1/2f, 2yo, $300,000
Bob Baffert casts a long shadow over this ‘Win and You’re In’ contest over course and distance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which he has won a record eight times – including last year with subsequent BC winner Game Winner, and in 2014 with the Triple Crown hero now honoured in the race’s title. (It was formerly known as the Norfolk, then the FrontRunner).
Baffert’s runner this time is Eight Rings, bidding to atone after putting Drayden van Dyke in hospital when veering left and losing his jockey soon after the start of the G1 Del Mar Futurity, where he had started odds-on favourite. Amid worries that DVD might not be ready to return, Baffert has summoned John Velazquez from New York for a rare visit.
Opponents include Nucky (Peter Miller/Norberto Arroyo), who picked up the pieces for a 35-1 shock at Del Mar, and Storm The Court (Peter Eurton/Flavien Prat), who also threw his jockey after Eight Rings interfered with him. A hot contest also features G2 winner Collusion Illusion (Mark Glatt/Joe Talamo), 14-length maiden romper Express Train (John Shirreffs/Mike Smith) and G1 runner-up Shoplifted (Steve Asmussen/Joel Rosario).
Santa Anita: Chandelier Stakes G1 1m1/2f dirt, 2yo fillies, $300,000
Baffert has an even better record here with ten previous winners – and he’ll be confident of making it 11 with Bast, runaway 8 3/4-length victory in the Del Mar Debutante. Johnny V gets the leg-up in this major prep for the BC Juvenile Fillies over the same course and distance. G3 winner Comical (Doug O’Neill/Abel Cedillo), a distant third behind the favourite at Del Mar tries her luck again but the favourite smells like a good thing. She will surely be a much shorter price than the 3-5 suggestion on the track’s morning line.
Santa Anita: Eddie D Stakes G2 5f turf, 3yo+, $200,000
Not a BC ‘Win and You’re In’ race but more than worth a look as last year’s Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal (Peter Miller/Norberto Arroyo) bids to rediscover his best form ahead of his attempt to complete a hat-trick. He won this 12 months ago but it isn’t straightforward: both Mr Vargas (Brian Koriner/Joe Talamo) and Eddie Haskell (Mark Glatt/Joel Rosario) were in front of him when they met at Del Mar.
SATURDAY 28 SEPTEMBER
Belmont Park: Jockey Club Gold Cup G1 1m2f dirt, 3yo+, $750,000
A ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the BC Classic, the Jockey Club Gold Cup boasts a roll of honour comprising a who’s who of US racing. While it isn’t quite the race it used to be following the creation of the Breeders’ Cup, it remains one of the most coveted prizes on the New York circuit, offering a clash of generations akin to Ascot’s King George. Albeit on dirt.
This latest edition is no exception, headed as it is by a pair of leading three-year-olds in Travers Stakes one-two Code Of Honor (Shug McGaughey/John Velazquez) and Tacitus (Bill Mott/Jose Ortiz). Late-running Code Of Honor enjoyed a comfortable three-length victory over his rival at Saratoga, enough to make him second favourite in ante-post lists for the Classic. "He's done everything right since the Travers and put his weight back on real quick," said McGaughey. "He likes this track and the mile and a quarter...and all I have to do is walk him down the street.”
A cautionary note, however. Connections have yet to commit to Santa Anita, with the Cigar Mile also mentioned as an end-of-year target. "The Breeders' Cup is still in consideration,” added McGaughey, who has won three Jockey Clubs in the past. “We just have to get through this one and we'll see where we go from there."
Preservationist (Jimmy Jerkens/Junior Alvarado) regained the winning thread in the Woodward at Saratoga. However, he weakened into fourth behind Classic favourite McKinzie after trying to make all on his previous outing in the Whitney, where he was a place behind (Hollywood) Gold Cup winner Vino Rosso (Todd Pletcher/Irad Ortiz). The latter loves this 1m2f trip and should not be overlooked.
Belmont Park: Vosburgh G1 6f dirt, 3yo+, $300,000
Pocket rocket Imperial Hint (Luis Carvajal/Javier Castellano), a three-time G1 winner who cruised to victory 12 months ago at 1-5, fully deserves his status as an overwhelming favourite to complete back-to-back successes en route to the BC Sprint, for which this is a ‘Win and You’re In’ contest.
The six-year-old, placed at the last two Breeders’ Cups, was massively impressive on his most recent outing breaking the track record at Saratoga in the G1 Vanderbilt; well behind that day was his Saturday’s rival Firenze Fire (Irad Ortiz), whose trainer Promises Fulfilled is back hitting at his startling 38% strike rate. Habitual front-runner Promises Fulfilled (Dale Romans/Luis Saez) weakened at Saratoga after a game G2 victory at this venue over 7f.
Belmont Park: Beldame G2 1m1f, 3yo+ fillies and mares, $300,000
Downgraded from the top level for 2019, the Beldame might still have a serious bearing on the Distaff as it features ante-post favourite Midnight Bisou (Steve Asmussen/John Velazquez), out to extend her winning streak to seven, and last year’s BC runner-up Wow Cat (Chad Brown/Jose Ortiz).
Santa Anita: Awesome Again Stakes G1 1m1f dirt, 3yo+, $300,000
Named after track owner Frank Stronach’s Classic winner Awesome Again (who never actually ran at Santa Anita), this is the foremost west coast trial for America’s most prestigious race, won 12 months ago by subsequent Classic victor Accelerate.
While this is very much a prep race, anything other than victory for McKinzie (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) would be a blow to his Breeders’ Cup ambitions. However, even a handsome performance here won’t answer any questions regarding the four-year-old’s potential stamina doubts at 1m2f, as this race is a furlong less.
Moreover, this may not be a tap-in, with rivals headed by Higher Power (John Sadler/Flavien Prat), who represents the Accelerate team. Although he won what looked a weak renewal of the Pacific Classic, you couldn’t ask for much more than a commanding five-length victory in Del Mar’s million-dollar signature race. G1 regular Seeking The Soul (Dallas Stewart/Brian Hernandez) should keep the locals honest as he ships out west.
Santa Anita: Rodeo Drive Stakes G1 1m2f turf, 3yo+ fillies and mares, $300,000
Formerly known as the Yellow Ribbon before it was renamed after LA’s most upmarket fashion arcade, the Rodeo Drive is a ‘Win and You’re In’ contest for the Filly & Mare Turf.
In all honesty, this isn’t the strongest G1 race you’ll ever see; in fact, Beau Recall (Brad Cox/Drayden van Dyke) has won a pair of G2s this term, both of which looked more competitive. Paved (Mike McCarthy/Victor Espinoza), a half-length runner-up to the prolific Vasilika as a three-year-old in last year’s race, is another to note on her third start after a layoff.
SUNDAY 29 SEPTEMBER
Santa Anita: Zenyatta Stakes G2 1m1/2f dirt, 3yo+ fillies and mares, $200,000
Retaining its place within the Breeders’ Cup Challenge and offering a fees-paid berth in the Distaff, this is another trial to forfeit its top-level status for 2019, having formerly been the G1 Lady’s Secret. In 2010, the great Zenyatta completed a hat-trick, while three-time Breeders’ Cup winner Beholder achieved the same feat (2013-15), so there are some big names to live up to.
Could be a bit of deja vu for anyone who watched the G1 Clement L Hirsch at Del Mar as the 1-2-3-4 are all set to run again, headed by Ollie’s Candy (John Sadler), who beat Secret Spice (Richard Baltas) on the nod.