Oct. 4 (UPI) -- The last big weekend of preparations for the Breeders' Cup World Championships finds top-class horse racing from New York to Kentucky to California. And then there's the Big One in France.
Some of the top names in the sport will be on display as Keeneland opens its autumn meeting with a bang. Also in the vanguard are Belmont Park and Santa Anita, site of the Breeders' Cup festivities Nov. 1-2. At every turn, Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" bids are up for grabs and, when it's over, the fields for those races will be all but set.
Sunday brings Europe's biggest race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, with Enable shooting for an historic third straight win. The supporting card includes even more Breeders' Cup qualifiers.
If it's all too much to grasp, look for some expert guidance from ace analyst Jude Feld at www.popejude.com. And now, on to the action:
Last year's winner, Blue Prize, faces just four rivals when she tries for the repeat in Sunday's $500,000 Grade I Juddmonte Spinster at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff. After winning last year's edition, Blue Prize went on to finish fourth in the Breeders' Cup. Among the rivals are Group 1 winners Elate and Dunbar Road.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, is enlivened by the surprise entry of Omaha Beach, the Arkansas Derby winner. The Bob Baffert trainee was forced to miss the Kentucky Derby after a throat operation and hasn't raced since that victory in Hot Springs April 13. The favorite, though, is Shancelot, the imposing winner of the Grade II Amsterdam at Saratoga in July. He scored there by 12 1/2 lengths, earning a 121 Beyer Speed Figure, only to finish third a month later in a Saratoga Grade I. The other four in this field have even more question marks.
Friday's $250,000 Grade II Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix at Keeneland is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Promises Fulfilled, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, looks for a repeat of last year's Phoenix victory and is 2-for-2 at Keeneland. Whitmore was second last year, then second in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and returns. Diamond Oops and Hog Creek Hustle show good recent form. Heartwood returns from an eighth-place finish in Korea. Watch out for lightly raced American Pastime.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, attracted nine. Lots of attention goes to Chalon, winner of the Roamin' Rachel at Parx in her last outing; Spiced Perfection, returning from a summertime vacation after winning the Grade I Madison over the Keeneland grass in the spring; and Ours to Run, who showed improvement at Saratoga after moving out of the state-bred ranks.
Anonymity, Selcourt and Lady Ninja figure in a field of six for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III L.A. Woman at Santa Anita. Anonymity was second in last year's L A Woman, then third, beaten only a neck, in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She finished second in both previous starts this year. Selcourt makes her first start since March and Lady Ninja has had recent success a bit down the class ladder.
Last year's winner, Channel Maker, faces a half dozen rivals while trying to repeat in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park. He is one of three English Channel offspring in the race, also including Channel Cat and Cross Border. Sadler's Joy also figures to provide competition. Zulu Alpha and Arklow exit the 1-2 finish in the Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs and winners there usually are in good shape for their next engatement.
A Thread of Blue, winner of the $1 million Saraoga Derby, figures prominently in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park. The Hard Spun colt followed the Saratoga win with a fourth in the Jockey Club Derby back at Belmont. Turf master Chad Brown sends out Standard Deviation and Digital Age for what promises to be a spirited and competitive affair.
Filly & Mare Turf
Pope Jude (see above) says Saturday's $400,000 Grade I First Lady at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, is "the toughest race of the weekend." Indeed, Vasilika, the terror of the graded stakes ranks in California, doesn't even make the top two on this morning line. Those slots are reserved for Rushing Fall, a 4-year-old filly, and Uni, a 5-year-old mare, both by More Than Ready and both trained by Chad Brown. Rushing Fall is 4-for-4 at Keeneland, three of those Grade I affairs. Uni is a bit less accomplished but won the Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar last December. Vasilika, a $40,000 claim 20 months ago, has missed a top-three finish twice in 16 starts since, almost all of those graded stakes. Irish maestro adds complexity by sending Just Wonderful, a Dansili filly who finished second in the Belmont Oaks Invitational during a July trans-Atlantic raid. And all of that may well have missed the eventual winner -- so deep is this field of 14.
Sistercharlie looks to be the prohibitive favorite in Sunday's $500,000 Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. And why not? The Chad Brown star has won five straight races, all Grade I events, including last year's Breeders' Cup and two straight runnings of the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park. She has earned more than $3.7 million while failing to finish first or second only once in her 13-start career. Stablemate Thais will be along to ensure a decent clip and the others, on paper, need to step things up a notch or two to compete in the late going.
If the First Lady (see above) is a tough race, packed with talent, so too is Saturday's $1 million Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile. The 14 entrants, plus two also-eligibles, come include a sizeable contingent of Europeans, including Van Beethoven, who finished second for the Aidan O'Brien team in the Grade I Secretariat Stakes on the Arlington Million undercard on his last American visit. The field also includes the Secretariat winner, Valid Point, trained by Chad Brown, and Bandua, third in the Arlington Million. Other European trainers represented in the sterling field are David O'Meara, Harry Dunlop and Charlie Appleby. It's bound to be an exciting race to watch but tough to figure out.
Prince Earl returns from a victory in the Grade II Del Mar Mile as the favorite for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II City of Hope Mile at Santa Anita. The 4-year-old Paddy O'Prado gelding faces 10 rivals including Grade I Shoemaker Mile Bolo, California Derby winner Kingly, Grade II Twilight Derby winner River Boyne, Grade I Frank Kilroe Mile winner and runner-up Ohio and Catapult and Grade II King Edward Mile winner Synchrony. A nice field indeed.
Disco Partner looks for a hat trick in Saturday's $125,000 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational and his trainer, Christophe Clement, seeks his fourth straight win in the feature. Hawkish returns from throat surgery while cutting back from a mile to this 6 furlong-affair and Godolphin is doubly represented with Final Frontier and Fully Vested. The morning-line favorite, however, is the improving Shekky Shebaz.
Impremis is the 2-1 favorite in a competitive field for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Woodford Presented by Keeneland Select. The lightly raced 5-year-old Broken Vow gelding won the Grade II Shakertown during Keeneland's spring meeting, then ran fourth, beaten less than 5 lengths, in the Group 1 King's Stand at Royal Ascot -- a race won by all-world grass sprinter Blue Point. He had a return warmup at Kentucky Downs and should be fit. The other nine come from all points of the compass and several look capable of making an impact.
Three recent impressive maiden winners top a field of 10 for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Gouverneur Morris, a Constitution colt trained by Todd Pletcher, won his only previous start by 9 lengths in the slop at Saratoga Sept. 2. Ajaaweed, a Shadwell homebred son of Curlin, took two tries to get going but then won in style at Belmont Park Sept. 11. And Tap It To Win, a Tapit colt trained by Mark Casse, got the job done in his second start, also at Saratoga. By Your Side, another by Constitution, won the Grade III Sanford at the Spa and shouldn't be overlooked for faltering in the slop in the Grade I Hopeful.
Seven are set to face the starter in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Green Light Go is the only graded stakes winner in the bunch, attaining that status in the Grade II Saratoga Special Aug. 10. He also is undefeated in two starts and the 8-5 favorite on the morning line here. Big City Bob won the Sapling at Monmouth Park Sept. 1 while the others will need to make a case to stay at this level. The Champaign has produced many, many future champions.
A 14-horse field awaits Sunday's $250,000 Grade III Dixiana Bourbon at Keeneland. They come from everywhere for this one, including Louisiana Downs stakes winner Deviant, Kentucky Downs and New York contenders and others. You pick 'em, you should be well rewarded.
Sunday's $250,000 Grade III Dixiana Bourbon at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, is one of three Sunday races in this category. Also on tap are the $100,000 Zuma Beach at Santa Anita and the $225,000 (Canadian) Cup and Saucer at Woodbine.
Perfect Alibi tops a field of 11 for Friday's $400,000 Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Perfect Alibi romped home first by 9 1/2 lengths in her career debut, finished second in the Astoria at Belmont Park and then swept the Grade II Adirondack and Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga. The Sky Mesa filly is one of three entered by Mark Casse. Several others have significant upside potential.
Another of trainer Wesley Ward's band of precocious 2-year-olds, Karak, features in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Matron at Belmont Park going 6 furlongs. The filly has been competing at the highest levels, including the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot, where she finished 15th, perhaps not fond of the going. She comes off a win in the Tyro at Monmouth Park. The favorite is Alms, who was good enough in winning her career debut over the track Sept 19 that she is even money on the morning line.
Casse has saddled five of the last seven winners of the Mazarine Stakes, including Wonder Gadot, and while Perfect Alibi runs at Keeneland, he sends out three for Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) renewal on the Woodbine all-weather course -- Roman d'Oro, Skygaze and Special Honor. That's half the field for the two-turn event, which Casse calls an important step in the young fillies' development.
Trainer Bob Baffert puts Quality Response's 2-for-2 record on the line against six rivals in Sunday's $400,000 Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. The Quality Road filly scored by open lengths in her first two starts, both in California. Frank's Rockette will try to break through after twice finishing second to Perfect Alibi at Saratoga. The others step up to graded stakes level for the first time.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Entries were pending at press time for Sunday's $100,000 Surfer Girl at Santa Anita.
Juvenile Turf Sprint
Sunday's $200,000 Indian Summer Stakes at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, attracted nine entries including Kimari, another of the Wesley Ward youth brigade. The Munnings filly won at first asking over the Keeneland green in the sprint, finished a gallant second in the Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and returned to win the Bolton Landing at Saratota. Old Chestnut, Fast Scene and Rockcrest were stakes winners in Canada. Chimney Rock was second in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Another Miracle looms in a field of six for Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Futurity at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. The American Pharoah colt exits a grassy win in the Skidmore at Saratoga and trainer Gary Contessa said he likes the way the colt works on the lawn. Also in the field is Grade III Sanford runner-up Tomato Bill.
Sunday's $200,000 Speakeasy at Santa Anita, also is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. Entries were pending at press time.
On the international front:
Sunday's renewal of the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Lonchamp could be historic for any number of reasons. Prime among them is Enable's shot for a third straight victory in Europe's richest and, arguably, most prestigious race. The 5-year-old Nathaniel mare, a Juddmonte Farms homebred, has trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori on her side as she seeks her 13th straight win.
Although Enable doubled down on last year's Arc victory to become the first-ever same-year winner of both that race and the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, the Arc almost certainly will be her swan song and she will be missed by all, save the rich and historic Juddmonte breeding program.
The 2019 Arc could be historic for a different reason should Enable falter. Three Japanese runners, Blast Onepiece, Kiseki and Fierement, take up the long and frustrating quest to land the Arc for Japan. Kiseki finished second the star filly Almond Eye in last year's Grade 1 Japan Cup. And, ironically, the second-favorite in antepost wagering is a horse named Japan but campaigned in Ireland by Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore.
Also prominent in the 12-horse field are French Derby winner Sottsass; Coolmore's Ireland-based Magical, who was second to Enable in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Turf; and Godolphin runner Ghaiyyath, winner of the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden in his most recent start.
The Arc is only the tip of the rather stunning iceberg that is the Sunday card at Longchamp. Four more Group 1 events and a Group 2 fill out the program and two of the top-level tilts are for 2-year-olds and two offer "Win and You're In" slots for the Nov. 1 program at Santa Anita.
Saturday's Group 1 Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot at Newmarket got a really contentious field of nine fillies and mares to tackle 1 mile. Veracious, Hermosa, Iridessa and Laurens all are offered at about 4-1 in antepost wagering with Lavender's Blue also at single digit odds on most boards.
Saturday's card at Royal Randwick features three Group 1 events, the TAP Epsom and Darley Flight at 1,600 meters and the 2,400-meter Heineken 3 The Met.
Also Saturday at Flemington is the TAB Turnbull at 2,000 meters.