Saturday's 18th running of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships provide some classic matchups, including a potential rubber match in the $4 million Classic between two of Europe's top horses.
Here's a look at the eight races to be contested at Belmont Park next Saturday, based on pre-entries announced last week. Final decision will be made and post positions drawn on Wednesday morning.
$2 million Distaff
The defending champion, Spain, meets Kentucky Oaks winner Flute and "hot horse" Exogenous in this 9-furlong showdown. Flute, a daughter of Seattle Slew, has never been worse than second in seven lifetime starts but was second to Exogenous in her last outing, the Beldame at Belmont Park on Oct. 6. She has this year's hottest Grade I trainer, Bobby Frankel, in her corner. She worked a very fast 5 furlongs in 59 1/5 seconds on Satuday and Frankel said he was surprised. "I didn't think Flute would go that fast but the girl never moved on her," he said. Spain has won only twice in nine tries since upsetting last year's Distaff but was third in the Beldame and appears to be nearing top form for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "It's tough to repeat in any Breeders' Cup race but I think its' tougher for a filly to do it," Lukas said Sunday at Belmont. Exogenous has won two straight Grade I events at Belmont. Miss Linda comes in off a big upset win in the Spinster at Keeneland. California shipper Tranquility Lake has three wins and three seconds from six starts this year. Upset special: Unbridled Elaine, a 3-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song who has been knocking on the door and finished third in the Spinster with a wide trip. She was second to Macho Uno in the Pennsylvania Derby.
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
You, a daughter of You and I, is the East Coast's top hope after winning the Frizette over the Belmont track by 6 ¼ lengths in her last outing. That race was at the same 1 1/16-mile trip as the Juvenile Fillies. You has won three of four starts, beaten only by Cashier's Dreama and that at 5 ½ furlongs. Frankel also trains You, who worked 5 furlongs Saturday in 59 4/5 seconds, blowing by an older workmate. "She might be a superstar," Frankel said. From California comes Habibi, another from the barn of Bob Baffert. The Tabasco Cat filly hasn't been tested much in winning both her lifetime starts. Trainer Aiden O'Brien has pre-entered Sophisticat, a daughter of Storm Cat who has been racing competitively in Ireland and England. Take Charge Lady, by Dehere, is undefeated in three starts, including the Alcibiades at Keeneland. Longshot special: Bella Bellucci, a French Deputy filly who is 2-for-2 with a gritty, ½-length score in the Astoria Breeders' Cup at Belmont last time out. She's never been a route but benefits from Neil Drysdale's conservative approach and ability to rate.
$1 million Mile (turf)
This is the first race of the Pick Six and may kill a lot of tickets. A full field is guaranteed, the Europeans might benefit if the going is soft, the inner turf track at Belmont can make post position important and traffic usually is a factor in this race. With all of that said, take a look at the last two efforts of Noverre, a Rahy colt from Godolphin Racing. Two starts ago in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deuville, he was shut off (the miscreant was disqualified from the win) just as he was making a move in the final stretch run. And in the QE II at Ascot, he was second to stablemate Summoner after tracking the pace all the way. Other than the French mishap, he hasn't been worse than second this year. He breezed Friday at Belmont and assistant trainer Tom Albertrani was pleased. "I think he's done quite well in New York and he's got a great chance," he said. Hap would be tough here but the 5-year-old son of Theatrical has first preference in the Turf. Val Royale has been tough in California. Numerous Times and 7-year-old Affirmed Success were 1-2 in the Atto Mile at Woodbine. Look out for: Banks Hill -- if she runs here and not in the Filly & Mare Turf. The Danehill filly, from Juddmonte Farms, also was impeded in the Maiois and then finished second to Slickly in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp last time out. The Andre Fabre trainee typically races in mid-pack and will need traffic control.
$1 million Sprint
Still alive in the Pick Six? Okay. Now figure out the cavalry charge -- 14 of the world's fastest horses gunning over 6 furlongs. Among the top prospects is defending champ Kona Gold, who won three in a row this year before surrendering to Swept Overboard in the Ancient Title two weeks ago at Santa Anita. Swept Overboard, however, had an 11-pound weight break. Best from the West is El Corredor, from the Baffert barn. But the 4-year-old Mr. Greeley colt has been running longer. Delaware Township, 10th in this race last year, is better now as a 5-year-old and the Notebook horse won over the track in his last start. Caller One copped the Golden Shaheen in Dubai back in March but lost to Kona Gold in his last start in California. Squirtle Squirt will be out for the lead, as will 3-year-old filly Xtra Heat, who has never lost at 6 furlongs. Liking the Europeans this year? Try Mozart, who has been a terror in England's summer races. From the clouds: He's 9 years old now but Bet On Sunshine looked like a frisky colt in winning the Phoenix Breeders' Cup at Keeneland two weeks ago. He has run in his race twice and finished third each time. He comes with a late rush and is guaranteed a hot early pace.
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
If someone tells you who's going to win this race, run the other way. Lailani has won seven straight and probably will be the favorite. But the 3-year-old filly by Unfuwain, owned by Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum, will be making her second North American start. Sometimes that's a problem. England's Legend is by the legendary Lure and finished ¾ length behind Lailani in the Flower Bowl at Belmont on Sept. 29. Earlier, she won the Beverly D. at Arlington Park on a yielding course and is worth watching if rain comes to New York -- or even if it doesn't. Watch Wednesday's post position draw and see if Banks Hill runs in this race rather than the Mile. If so, take a close look. The Danehill filly hasn't raced beyond a mile but has been very effective in France against older horses and males. If trainer Andre Fabre sends her in this event, it would be dangerous to overlook her. Take a look at the South African mare, Spook Express, who won the Winstar Galaxy at Keeneland, and Starine, who was tough at Saratoga, or Tranquility Lake, who has been consistently good in California but finished eighth in this race last year after similar preps. A stab at the program: Volga and Spring Oak finished 1-2 in the E.P. Taylor at Woodbine last time out. Volga led all the way and Spring Oak was blocked in the stretch run. If the big berthas don't do the job here, either or both of these could figure.
$1 million Juvenile
Officer, a Cal-bred son of Bertrando, is undefeated and untested in six starts, including the Champagne at Belmont in his last outing. Baffert is comparing him to Point Given and Officer probably will be the heaviest favorite of the day. Adds regular rider Victor Espinoza: "I've never ridden a horse like him and I don't think anyone else has." Espinoza said Sunday at Santa Anita he has never hit Officer with the whip and doesn't know how the colt would react if he does. "I hope I never have to do that," he said. If Officer doesn't fire, look to Siphonic, winner of the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, or Came Home, who won the Hollywood Juvenile and the Hopeful at Saratoga. The only knock on Came Home, a son of Gone West, is that he hasn't raced since the Hopeful on Sept. 1. Officer is a pretty solid pick but these are 2-year-olds, so.... Here are some "what if" picks: Johannesburg, who is undefeated in six starts in Ireland, France and England; Publication, winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity; and Striking Song, who broke his maiden Oct. 8 at Santa Anita after running fourth in the Del Mar Futurity. Striking Song seemed to like the added distance, is a son of Unbridled's Song and the Groovy mare Michele Royale, and will offer generous odds. He breezed 5 furlongs on Saturday at Santa Anita in 59 2/5 seconds. "He did it in an Officer-like way," trainer Bob Hess Jr. told Daily Racing Form. "He could not have worked any better."
$2 million Turf
If Officer is the best bet of the day, Sakhee is a close second. The 4-year-old son of Bahri, from the Godolphin stable, has won all three starts this year, including a dominating, 6-length victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in his last start. He earned a 135+ Timeform rating for that effort -- and a 136 for his victory in the Juddmonte International in the start before that. Jockey Frankie Dettori has said the colt could beat Fantastic Light even-up. He breezed 5 furlongs Saturday at Belmont. "We just wanted to see how he would handle the dirt and I thought he handled it well," said Albertrani. Sakee is cross-entered in the Classic. After Sakhee, Hap has been outstanding but this 1 ½-mile trip will be a stretch; Mutamam won the Canadian International at Woodbine and was fourth in this race last year, beaten less than 1 length; Timboroa won the Del Mar Handicap, then shipped cross-country to win the Turf Classic at Belmont on the last weekend of September. A lot of players could crash the trifecta here. Watch out for: Milan. The 3-year-old by Sadler's Wells was a well-beaten fifth in the Arc. Before that, however, he won the English St. Leger by 5 lengths with a late run. He also has run well on firmer-than-usual British ground.
$4 million Classic
If they both start, this will be the rubber match between the Euro "Big Boys" -- Galileo and Fantastic Light. Oh, and there's Aptitude, the top U.S. pick who seems to be peaking at just the right time. Galileo, a 3-year-old by Sadler's Wells, knocked off Fantastic Light in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July. Then Fantastic Light evened the score in the Irish Champion Stakes last month -- handing Galileo his first career defeat in one of the year's most exciting races. Fantastic Light, a 5-year-old son of Rahy, was fifth in the Breeders' Cup Turf last year, only 2 lengths behind the winner. Fantastic Light is also entered in the Turf. "He's very consistent and very tough," said Albertrani. "If he runs back to the same form he had in his last start, he'll be tough in either spot." Since neither Galileo nor Fanstatic Light has ever started on the dirt, look again at Aptitude. You remember him -- second to Fusaichi Pegasus in last year's Kentucky Derby? Second in the Belmont? Second this year in the Hollywood Gold Cup (but moved up to first)? Since then, the 4-year-old A.P. Indy colt has won the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Depending on how you look at it, he's peaking or over the top. Last year's winner, Tiznow, is back but with a ton of question marks. Ditto the 2000 Juvenile winner, Macho Uno. One to put on your tri ticket: Guided Tour. A 5-year-old son of Hansel, Guided Tour is on the improve, winning the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington and the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway. On even terms, he wouldn't be the equal of Fantastic Light or Galileo. But he might have an advantage on the main track. Downside: Guided Tour was 12th of 13 in last year's Classic.
In weekend racing:
--Belmont: Scottish Halo won Sunday's $250,000 Empire Classic, the highlight of New York Showcase Weekend, by 1 ¾ lengths over pace-setting Duplicitious. Saratoga Sunrise was third. Ransom's Pride beat Eventail by a head in the $150,000 Ticonderoga Handicap on the turf and Princess Dixie won the $100,000 Maid of the Mist for 2-year-old fillies by daylight over Sunday Driver. Impeachthepro took the 6-furlong, $125,000 Hudson Handicap by 1 ¼ length over Say Florida Sandy. I'm All Yours won Saturday's $150,000 Mohawk over the lawn in a stretch duel with Statement. Maddie May scored a 2 ¼-length victory over Bedside Manner in the 7-furlong Iroquois Handicap. White Ibis caughte Private Emblem in the stretch to win the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds by 2 ¼ lengths.
--Calder Race Course: Western Pride, the favorite, ran off from nine rivals to win Saturday's $200,000 Calder Derby by 5 lengths over Tour of the Cat. Built Up was third. Western Pride, by Way West, ran 9 furlongs in 1:51.12 on a sloppy track after the race came off the grass.
--Keeneland: Cozzy Corner and Chausson Poire dead-heated for the win in Saturday's $100,000 Valley View Stakes at 9 furlongs on the green course with Quick Tip third. Sunday, Cat Cay dropped back to last but rallied to win the $100,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes by 7 ½ lengths over Spanish Glitter in what jockey Pat Day called "an awesome performance."
--Woodbine: Starbeau, the only 3-year-old in the field, scored a front-running upset in Saturday's $125,000 Bunty Lawless Stakes, winning by ½ length over Bristol Pistol. Val de Dash was third. Sunday, Devil Valentine rolled to a 4 ½-length win in the $100,000 Deputy Minister Stakes with Moonlight Affair second and Indian Dan third. In the co-featured $135,000 Fanfreluche, Miss Noire went right to the lead and won off by 6 ½ lengths over My Valley Girl.
--Santa Anita: Ponche de Leona won Sunday's $75,000 Anoakia Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 3 lengths over Asian Adventure. In Saturday's $75,000 Sunny Slope Stakes for 2-year-olds, Roman Dancer drew off in the stretch to win by 4 lengths over American System. Cappuchino was third.
--Arlington Park: Langston rolled in the stretch to win Sunday's $50,000 Bowl Game Stakes over the grass by 2 ½ lengths over Jake the Flake with Minor Wisdom third. Saturday, Rylstone upset the $75,000 Manila Stakes for 2-year-olds, beating U S S Tinosa by 3 lengths to break his maiden. Jaha was third as the fave.
--Delaware Park: Ride the Tiger used a pace-stalking trip to win Sunday's $100,000 First State Stakes for 2-year-olds by 3 ¼ lengths. Lucky Locomotion was second and Mazoolian Ghost third. In Saturday's $75,000 Kelso Stakes, Grundlefoot used a late run to beat pace-setting Wedlock by 2 ¾ lengths.
--Bay Meadows: Hall of Gold was an easy, 4 ½-length winner in Saturday's $50,000 Charles H. Russell Handicap, with Creaseinthejeans second and De Goddaughter third.
--Pimlico: Dimpled Ballot worked through traffic to win Saturday's $75,000 Japan Racing Association Stakes by 1 length over Bowman Mill.