For American racing fans, this is the final big week of Breeders' Cup preps. For the rest of the world, it's Arc weekend.
The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the Continent's most prestigious race, is only the top rung on Sunday's card at Longchamp in the Bois de Boulogne. Around the Arc are six other Group 1 races, four Group 2 events, unlimited glamor and French elan. Along with World Cup night in Dubai, the Breeders' Cup World Championships, Royal Ascot, British Champion's Day and the Hong Kong International Races, it's the best the sport has to offer.
But there also are many tasty morsels on the U.S. calendar, including eight more Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" events. And reigning U.S. Horse of the Year Wise Dan is set for his final prep before defending his Breeders' Cup crown.
Rolling into October, Midwest action shifts from Churchill Downs to Keeneland and from Arlington Park to Hawthorne Race Course.
Also worthy of note: Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Indiana Derby and $200,000, Grade II Indiana Oaks at Indiana Downs.
And Monday's National Day Cup in Hong Kong may have vaulted a promising local runner into the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile in December.
As citizens of the world, we start in Paris. Who wouldn't?
Orfevre comes off a stunningly easy win in the Group 2 Prix Foy, the major local prep race for the Arc. He was never asked for his best and won by 3 lengths. "Orfevre is the most fabulous horse of my career," jockey Christophe Soumillon said after the Sept. 17 victory. Orfevre also won the Foy last year en route to his second-place finish in an Arc renewal over soggy going, when he lost a seemingly sure win at the wire to Solemia.
Just a few hours before the Prix Foy, Japanese Derby winner Kizuna got the better of Epsom Derby winner Ruler of the World by a short head in the Group 2 Prix Niel. In a more competitive heat, the Niel went nearly 4 seconds quicker than the Prix Foy. And, as a 3-year-old, Kizuna will enjoy a weight advantage over the older horses in the Arc.
Novellist won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July and the Grosser Prix von Baden in Germany last month. But jockey Johnny Murtagh says he thinks the best may be forthcoming in Paris. "The King George is what I keep remembering," Murtagh told Racing Post early this week. "The feel he gave me. The way he ran. If he can run like that, he's the one they have to beat."
The outstanding filly Treve has been training superbly since her victory last month in the Prix Vermeille, according to trainer Criquette Head-Maarek. Treve and Novellist are among those held closest to Orfevre in the current wagering in Europe. Head-Maarek said this week she respects Novellist but sees Orfevre as the main threat.
Al Kazeem appeared earlier this season to be shaping up as a super competitor but now needs a spot of redemption in the Arc. Said trainer Roger Charlton: "There is no disputing that this year's race is going to be contested by the best horses in Europe and two very smart colts from Japan. We will need all the assistance we can get ... but some ease in the ground and going right-handed will help him." Al Kazeem won five straight races between May of 2012 and this past July. But he then finished third in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York and second in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes.
Olivier Peslier is tied with four other riders for the most career Arc wins, with four. He will shoot to take the lead in that category aboard Intello, a 3-year-old Galileo colt who steps up in class and distance. Peslier's company at four wins is Pat Eddery, Freddy Head, Yves Saint-Martin and Jacques Doyasbere.
Gold-Fun was full of run in the late going to take down Monday's HK Group 3 National Day Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths over Blazing Speed. Helene Spirit lost a head-bob decision with that one and settled for third. Gold-Fun was clocked in 1:20.73 with Olivier Doleuze up for trainer Richard Gibson. "We always thought the horse would be better in his second year" in Hong Kong, Gibson said of the victor in last year's HK Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Mile. "Now we're going to target the big races over a mile leading into the Longines Hong Kong Mile, if selected." Gibson said Gold-Fun will use the HK Group 2 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy over 1,600 meters on Oct. 27 to gauge his ability against other top local milers.
Go Baby Go took the day's other feature, the HK Group 3 Sha Tin Sprint Trophy at 1,000 meters down the straight. Trainer Dennis Yip said Go Baby Go has matured and is ready to advance, adding he can handle a turn so 1,200 meters should not present a problem.
Back in North America, it's final tune-up time for the Nov. 1-2 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita. While some of the favorites were decided in last weekend's interesting round, more will be set this Saturday and Sunday, with an emphasis on the juveniles. So, why not start there?
It's not technically in North America but Saturday's Group III Cornwallis Stakes at Ascot finds 2-year-olds going 1,000 meters, or about 5 furlongs.
Saturday's Group 1 Grand Criterium at Longchamp is open to 2-year-old colts and fillies going 1,600 meters.
A field of nine is set for Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Foxwoods Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, going the one-turn mile. Strong Mandate and Casiquapo, the 1-2 finishers in the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga, return for another engagement. Debt Ceiling won the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs in June, came up empty in the Grade II Sanford at Saratoga and rebounded with a win at Delaware Park. Beyond that, it's a race of discovery, with some maiden winners in the mix.
Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland is an interesting mix with a full field and also-eligibles. Conquest Titan comes off a victory over the Woodbine all-weather in the Swynford Stakes. General Jack won the Shakopee Juvenile on the Canterbury Park grass. Solitary Ranger ran off with the Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity. School On a Hill could be dangerous. After winning at first asking at Arlington, trainer Wayne Catalano sent him to Woodbine for the Summer Stakes, where he finished seventh. Now he gets first-time Lasix. This week's "Name of the Week" is an also-eligible in here -- Oogeley Eye, out of the Maria's Mon mare Flirty Glances.
Sunday's $200,000, Grade III Pilgrim Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the grass at Belmont drew a promising but relatively unproven field of nine.
The story's different for Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Bourbon Stakes on the grass at Keeneland. This field of 13 is full of stakes winners from as far afield as Fairmount Park. The competitive race also could include Oogeley Eye and/or School On a Hill if they don't run on Saturday.
Sunday's $100,000 Zuma Beach Stakes at Santa Anita, a 1-mile turf test, attracted five, including Diamond Bachelor, who won the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf at Del Mar, and Got Shades, winner of two straight turf stakes at Louisiana Downs.
Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grey Stakes at Woodbine, 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course, has only five entrants. That may be because one of them is Go Greeley, who has four wins and one second from five starts with his last three wins all stakes races at Woodbine. Go Go Greeley.
My Conquestadory tops a field of 13 entered for Friday's $400,000, Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland. The filly comes off a victory in the Grade II Summer Stakes at Woodbine in her only previous start. Designer Legs won the Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga on a DQ, then finished fifth in the slop in the Grade I Spinaway over the same course. Rosalind won at first asking on the grass at Ellis Park, then finished a closing third in the Grade Pocahontas at Churchill Downs. The latter will have to contend with the No. 12 gate.
Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park got seven fillies, including the 1-2 from the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga -- Sweet Reason and Stopchargingmaria. The other five are "we'll see" types so we'll see after they run the one-turn mile.
Sunday's $200,000, Grade III Miss Grillo Stakes on the Belmont Park grass includes the intriguing Testa Rossi, fresh off the plane from France after three straight wins. Also here are the top three finishers in the P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga -- Granny Mc's Kitten, Duff One and Miss Frost.
Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Mazarine Stakes at Woodbine, 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course, has eight to go. LLanarmon is the favorite off a win in the Grade II Natalma last time out.
Ten will "hang ten" in Sunday's $100,000 Surfer Girl Stakes at Santa Anita, going 1 mile on the grass. Clenor and Nesso return after running 1-2 in the Oak Tree Juvenile Filly Turf at Del Mar.
Friday's $200,000, Grade III Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix, like every other race on Opening Day of the Keeneland fall season, drew a huge field. The 6 furlongs over the all-weather course includes Gentlemen's Bet , who finished a good third behind Justin Phillip last time out at Saratoga. Sum of the Parts, Hogy and Go Blue Or Go Home all are in the mix. But with a full field portending traffic issues, surprises should be expected.
Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship features defending Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Trinniberg, plus this year's Santa Anita Derby winner, Goldencents, among eight prospective starters. Trinniberg hasn't found the winner's circle in three starts this year but put up a promising showing last time out, finishing second in the Grade II Smile Sprint Championship at Calder back in July. Goldencents has been the beaten favorite -- finishing second each time, in two straight graded sprints in California. Centralintelligence won the Grade I Triple Bend at Hollywood Park in his last start. Several of the others have impressive wins and a good showing here should lead to a berth in the Nov. 2 starting gate.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Only six signed up for Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes on an otherwise oversubscribed day at Keeneland? Oh, right. Groupie Doll is in there. The 5-year-old Bowman's Band mare, winner of last year's TCA Stakes and Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, finished second in the Grade I Cigar Mile to conclude last year's campaign, then has worked back into shape with a win in the Grade II Presque Isle Downs' Masters in her last start. Purely Hot was second in the PID Masters and Judy the Beauty is no slouch but shows a lot of recent seconds before a third-place finish at Presque Isle. Gypsy Robin is a graded stakes winner at Keeneland.
Executiveprivilege and Teddy's Promise head a field of seven for Saturday's $100,000 L.A. Woman Stakes going 6 1/2 furlongs on the Santa Anita dirt. Both have been idle since mid-July. Trainer Bob Baffert moved Executiveprivilege to sprint distances after she suffered her first career losses in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Hollywood Starlet. Teddy's Promise, trained by Ron Ellis, has won half her eight starts at Santa Anita.
Thirteen runners are set for Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Jamaica Handicap for 3-year-olds at 9 furlongs on the Belmont Park grass, including the Ken and Sarah Ramsey entry of Admiral Kitten and Get In Line. Admiral Kitten comes off a victory in the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington Park and Stormy Len and Jack Milton are back after running second and third in that race. Up With the Birds finished second in the Queen's Plate and then won the Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine. Five Iron comes off a victory in the Grade III Sarnac at Saratoga. Notacatbutallama won the Grade III National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at the Spa, then finished second to Five Iron in the Sarnac. Joha was third in the Sarnac. War Dancer won the Grade II Virginia Derby.
Charming Kitten, who has bounced around among surfaces and targets, is the morning-line favorite among 10 entered for Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Hawthorne Derby at 9 furlongs on the Hawthorne Race Course lawn. The Todd Pletcher trainee, owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, battled down the Triple Crown trail until he finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby. He returned to the turf but has not been able to find the winner's circle. Five Iron is cross-entered here and would be the second pick on the line. Infinite Magic, Dorsett and Kid Dreams all come to Hawthorne out of the Grade II Del Mar Derby where Infinite Magic got place money.
Wise Dan, the reigning Horse of the Year and Breeders' Cup champ, returns in Friday's $750,000, Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland but didn't scare anyone off. Nine are entered to face the 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding. A pace duel looks possible with Silver Max back on the turf and running well and Argentine import Winning Prize also seeming to like the lead after winning his first U.S. start on the engine at Del Mar. Summer Front, Willcox Inn and Coalport all are recent winners. On the other hand, Wise Dan has rolled up nine straight wins, overcoming adversity when he had to and looking every bit the part of a repeat winner at the Breeders' Cup in one month's time. On paper, anyway.
Out west, Obviously puts a four-race winning streak on the line in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II City of Hope Mile on the Santa Anita lawn. Despite the gaudy win skein, Obviously was put to the test by He Be Fire N Ice in the Grade II Del Mar Mile on Aug. 25, winning by only 1/2 length. He Be Fire N Ice is back for more in Saturday's heat, along with seven others.
It's tough to throw out anyone from Saturday's $400,000 Grade I First Lady Stakes for distaffers at Keeneland going 1 mile on turf. Six of the eight -- Hungry Island, Dayatthespa, Winding Way, Daisy Devine, Miz Ida and Better Lucky -- are proven graded stakes performers from all over the United States. Say comes from Ireland off a third-place finish in the Matron at Leopardstown and Amazonas from England after a listed-race win at Haydock to give a preview of the international competition we can expect at Santa Anita in one month's time.
Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Woodford at Keeneland has 10 set to try 5 1/2 furlongs on the green course. Great Mills was second in his race last year behind Bridgetown, then fourth at a big price in the Breeders' Cup while Bridgetown finished last. Storm of the Century has won three in a row, including the Grade III Turf Monster at Parx in his last outing. Havelock is back from England, where he fared poorly. He won the Grade III Shakertown over the Keeneland green before his travel.
You'd think a $500,000, Grade II event just up the road from Churchill Downs and down the road from Arlington Park would be the preserve of Midwesterners. But Saturday's Indiana Derby at Indiana Downs is replete with runners shipping in for the likes of Bob Baffert, Tony Dutrow and Todd Pletcher. Baffert has Power Broker, who finished second in the Grade I Haskell last time out. Dutrow brings Grade III Smarty Jones winner Edge of Reality from the Fair Hill training base. Pletcher's duo of Micromanage and Midnight Taboo drew side-by-side in stalls 11 and 12 in the 15-horse field and run as an entry. Watch out for Holy Lute, a late-bloomer from California. Uncaptured may be so because he's appearing at the seventh different track in his last seven starts for trainer Mark Casse. Capture him? It's hard to even track him. The locals have their chances. Bill Mott entered Mr. Palmer, who has not raced since finishing fourth in the Wood Memorial in April but has been burning up the Churchill Downs strip in the mornings. Fordubai was second to Departing in the Grade II Illinois Derby and boasts two straight wins at Arlington. Ruler of Love was second in his last two starts -- the Grade II West Virginia Derby and the Grade II Super Derby. Take It Like a Man upset the $400,000 Researcher in West Virginia at 7 furlongs in his last start and will tack on another 1 1/2 furlongs.
Six are entered for Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Durham Cup at Woodbine, going 9 furlongs on the all-weather course. Delegation is back after winning this race last year en route to a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. The other five, not so much.
Nine signed on for Sunday's $500,000, Grade I Juddmonte Spinster at Keeneland, 9 furlongs on the all-weather track. Emollient seems better on the artificial surface, having Grade I victories at Keeneland and at Hollywood Park. Most of the others also have graded stakes experience but lack the kind of consistency you'd like to see in this kind of race. Root for a stretch battle between Hard Not to Like and Hard to Resist -- just to hear Kurt Becker's call.
Saturday's $500,000, Grade II Indiana Oaks, like its Derby counterpart, attracted some national attention. Baffert ships in Fiftyshadesofhay, who was second in the Grade I Alabama behind division leader Princess of Sylmar. Pure Fun, idle since finishing sixth in the Kentucky Oaks, returns off good works. Seaneen Girl won the Grade III Monmouth Oaks but then faltered in the Grade I Cotillion. Oscar Party may be overlooked but has the turf-to-dirt angle and the "Ramsey factor" going for her so beware.
Saturday's $100,000 Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Downs drew several recognizable names among a dozen entries. They go 1 mile and 70 yards in this one.