KEEP your eyes peeled. Because with a plethora of Grade 1 contests this weekend spread across three of America’s greatest tracks, it is almost a case of blink and you’ll miss it with regard to the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In Challenge’.
Last weekend the US programme was marked by half-a-dozen G1s as star juvenile Eight Rings enhanced his claims for next month’s two-day extravaganza, while Bast and Imperial Hint only scraped home and uneasy Classic favourite McKinzie was beaten, costing Mike Smith the ride.
Now with Keeneland joining the fun with its signature Fall Stars Weekend at the start of a stakes-laden 17-day stand, there’s a second slew of top-level action (Unfortunately Emerald Downs doesn’t figure, so I can’t risk a laboured pun about a Seattle slew.)
Ten G1s feature among a total of 15 BC Challenge contests offering automatic expenses-paid places for designated races at Santa Anita on November 1-2 – and that’s before five in France on Sunday’s Arc card are taken into the equation. And the good news is that all of them are due to be shown live on Sky Sports Racing; perhaps less good news is that I’m guesting (or maybe guessing) on Sunday night’s broadcast.
With a smattering of interest from certain stables in Britain and Ireland, Keeneland alone hosts five G1s among ten stakes worth total prize-money just a few nickels short of $4 million over three days beginning with Friday’s opening day card, where the centrepiece is the G1 Alcibiades, a major trial for the BC Juvenile Fillies.
Not to be outdone, Belmont Park cards top-grade action on both dirt and turf featuring a multitude of New York’s Cup contenders, while Santa Anita also weighs in again with a potentially thrilling sprint clash.
Watch the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
FRIDAY 6 OCTOBER
Keeneland: Darley Alcibiades Stakes G1 1m1/2f dirt, 2yo fillies, $400,000 (Breeders’ Cup Challenge: Juvenile Fillies)
This division looks wide open after Breeders’ Cup favourite Bast could only struggle to victory last weekend. Representing a trainer who has won this three times in the last seven years, Perfect Alibi (Mark Casse/Jose Ortiz) bids to lay down a serious marker by completing a hat-trick after sweeping the G2 Adirondack and G1 Spinaway at Saratoga.
Keeneland: Phoenix Stakes G2 6f dirt, 3yo+, $250,000 (BCC Sprint)
A crucial trial for the BC Sprint in recent years, with both Work All Week (2014) and Runhappy (2015) having triumphed in both. Last year’s one-two Promises Fulfilled (Dale Romans/Luis Saez) and Whitmore (Ron Moquett/Joel Rosario) renew rivalry after being separated by a head 12 months ago; Whitmore had won in 2017. G1-winning three-year-old Hog Creek Hustle (Vickie Foley/Corey Lanerie) faces older horses for the first time.
SATURDAY 7 OCTOBER
Keeneland: Shadwell Turf Mile G1 1m turf, 3yo+, $1m (BCC Mile)
Dual Horse of the Year Wise Dan and BC Mile victor Court Vision have won this in the last decade, alongside dual champion turf performer Gio Ponti, who was second to Zenyatta on the synthetics in the Classic in 2009 and filled the same spot behind Goldikova in the Mile in 2010.
A strong European presence will include Suedois (David O’Meara/Jamie Spencer), who won this two years ago before ceding the crown to Californian-based Next Shares (Richard Baltas/Corey Lanerie), a shock 24-1 winner 12 months ago.
Also in the Euro contingent are Godolphin gelding Vintager (Charlie Appleby/James Doyle), on a hat-trick after a couple of minor Group wins on the continent, plus the much travelled Robin Of Navan (Harry Dunlop/Florent Geroux) and Van Beethoven (Aidan O’Brien/Wayne Lordan), runner-up to Saturday’s rival Valid Point (Chad Brown/Javier Castellano) In the Secretariat Stakes on his last visit to the US. Ballydoyle has claimed this twice in the past with similar lesser lights in Aussie Rules and Landseer.
In an open race, British rider Adam Beschizza will fancy his chances on Arlington Million third Bandua (Jack Sisterson) in the Calumet Farm colours.
Keeneland: Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity G1 1m1/2f dirt, 2yo, $500,000 (BCC Juvenile)
Gouverneur Morris (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) jumps straight into G1 company after going into many a notebook with a runaway maiden victory under a hand ride at odds on in the Saratoga slop. He breaks from the outside in a ten-runner field also featuring By Your Side (Eddie Kenneally/Corey Lanerie), reportedly working well since floundering in the mud in the Hopeful at Saratoga, where he had won the G2 Sanford earlier in the meet.
Keeneland: First Lady Stakes G1 1m turf, 3yo+ fillies and mares, $400,000 (BCC Filly & Mare Turf)
Keeneland is a home from home for top turf miler Rushing Fall (Chad Brown/Javier Castellano), who has a four-from-four record at the Lexington track including a pair of G1s. A Breeders’ Cup winner as a 2yo in 2017 at Del Mar, she has been beaten only twice in her life – and both times she finished second at a distance beyond a mile, her specialist trip.
With Jerry Hollendorfer still hors de combat at Santa Anita, the prolific eight-time Graded-stakes winner Vasilika (Flavien Prat) comes east and will try to run down the favourite in the stretch.
European stables have never won this. Bidding to end the drought are Just Wonderful (Aidan O’Brien/Wayne Lordan), third to Iridessa in the Matron Stakes over Irish Champions Weekend, plus Awesometank (William Haggas/James Doyle) and Indian Blessing (Ed Walker/Jamie Spencer).
Belmont Park: Champagne Stakes G1 1m dirt, 2yo, $500,000 (BCC Juvenile)
The east coast’s most prestigious two-year-old race, numbering Seattle Slew, Alydar, Spectacular Bid and Easy Goer among its previous winners. More recently, both Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012) won here before following up in the BC Juvenile for trainer Todd Pletcher, who has six victories to his name altogether.
Maiden winner Alpha Sixty Six (John Velazquez) Is Pletcher’s candidate this time. "It's an ambitious placing but we're doing so because he run well first time out and you don't have a lot of options this time of year," said Pletcher. "We've been successful in the past in doing this with some nice two-year-olds, so hopefully he can step up."
The sole Graded winner in the field is Saratoga Special winner Green Light Go (Jimmy Jerkens/Junior Alvarado), who is “acting like he’s something special” according to his trainer.
Belmont Park: Joe Hirsch Turf Classic G1 1m4f turf, 3yo+, $500,000 (BCC Turf)
In the absence of division leader Bricks And Mortar and injured Sword Dancer winner Annals Of Time, on paper this does not look the greatest renewal, featuring a group of US horses who are much of a muchness and seem a long way behind their middle-distance counterparts in Europe. Chad Brown, who trains both absentees, is expecting better from former South American star Ya Primo (Irad Ortiz), yet to win since a big-money transfer.
Late-running veteran Sadler’s Joy (Tom Albertrani/Jose Lezcano), a distant third behind Enable in last year’s BC Turf, was also third behind course specialist Channel Maker (Bill Mott/John Velazquez) In this race 12 months ago, when the soft ground can’t have done him any favours. Kentucky Downs one-two Zulu Alpha (Mike Maker/Channing Hill) and Arklow (Brad Cox/Junior Alvarado) also figure in a trappy contest.
Santa Anita: Santa Anita Sprint Championship G1 6f dirt, 3yo+ $300,000 (BCC Sprint)
Very, very interesting. Omaha Beach (Richard Mandella/Mike Smith) finally makes his long-awaited return after six months on the shelf following surgery for the enlarged epiglottis that forced him out of the Kentucky Derby reckoning when he was heading the market.
After a messed-up workout scuppered plans to run at Churchill Downs last weekend, the son of War Front cuts back fully three furlongs after his Arkansas Derby win. On the plus side, his much-respected trainer said he looked “real sharp” when completing his preparations with a blistering ‘bullet’ workout at Santa Anita this week, when he was the fastest of 32 workers at the 4f distance.
Mind you, he’ll need to be fast if he’s going to win this, as his rivals are headed by the much vaunted Shancelot (Jorge Navarro/Emisael Jaramillo), whose 12 1/2-length raw-speed demolition in the G2 Amsterdam at Saratoga in July caught everybody’s attention, not least with its Beyer speed figure of 121, the highest ever recorded by a 3yo sprinter. In that context, a subsequent photo-finish defeat on his G1 debut could be regarded only as an anticlimax. That was only his fourth career start, however, and he is shopping out west to try out west-coast dirt ready for the BC.
SUNDAY 8 OCTOBER
Keeneland: Juddmonte Spinster Stakes G1 1m1f dirt, 3yo+ fillies and mares, $500,000 (BCC Distaff)
This may be a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Distaff but Bill Mott is leaning towards a weakish-looking Classic with star racemare Elate, for whom the trainer prefers the 1m2f distance at which the 5yo is 3-for-3.
First, though, comes the not insignificant matter of the Spinster, in which she be reopposed by last year’s winner Blue Prize (Ignacip Correas), whom she has easily beaten twice already this term. The Sistercharlie team of trainer Chad Brown and owner Peter Brant (who also has Sottsass in the Arc) field leading 3yo filly Dunbar Road; the Alabama Stakes winner is going from strength to strength this season and could be a fly in the ointment.
Belmont Park: Flower Bowl Stakes G1 1m2f turf, 3yo+ fillies and mares, $500,000 (BCC Filly & Mare Turf)
Always a significant BC trial, graced this year by champion turf female Sistercharlie (Chad Brown) en route to defending her crown in the Filly & Mare Turf, for which she is clear favourite. Now five, the ex-French mare has looked as good as ever in winning both starts this season. Former David Simcock-trained Mrs Sippy, who won a G2 on her US debut for Graham Motion, is also entered here.
Belmont Park: Frizette Stakes G1 1m dirt, 2yo fillies, $400,000 (BCC Juvenile Fillies)
Jaywalk last year became the seventh filly to complete the Frizette/Breeders’ Cup double. Not entirely sure who is likely to turn up on Sunday, but Shug McGaughey’s daughter of Tapit Mrs. Danvers was an impressive maiden winner at Saratoga, where Frank’s Rockette was second in the G1 Spinaway. Dual winner Quality Response (Bob Baffert) would demand attention if she jets in from California.