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Horse of the Year title on the line at Breeders' Cup -- but in which race?

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Bricks and Mortar tests the Santa Anita track in preparation for Saturday's Breeders Cup Turf. Photo courtesy of Breeders' Cup-Eclipse Sportswire
Bricks and Mortar tests the Santa Anita track in preparation for Saturday's Breeders Cup Turf. Photo courtesy of Breeders' Cup-Eclipse Sportswire

Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Horse of the Year honors almost certainly will be decided Saturday on the second and final day of the Breeders' Cup World Championships -- but in which race?

Or, really, which races?

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At least five of the day's nine championship events at Santa Anita have potential contenders for the top honor, depending on how things go.

The $6 million Longines Classic has McKinzie, a dual Grade I winner this season; Vino Rosso, also twice a winner at the highest level; and 3-year-old Code of Honor, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, won the Grade I Travers at Saratoga and just missed to Vino Rosso in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup.

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The $4 million Longines Turf boasts Bricks and Mortar, winner of all six starts this season including four Grade I events. And Sistercharlie is the big morning-line favorite in the $2 million Maker's Mark Filly & Mare Turf after winning last year's edition and going 3-for-3 this year in all-Grade I events.

Midnight Bisou, a 4-year-old filly, enters the $2 million Longines Distaff as the winner of all seven previous starts in 2019 -- all graded stakes and three of them Grade I's. Omaha Beach has won all three starts this season, including the Grade I Arkansas Derby and would have been the Kentucky Derby favorite but for a late injury. He is the morning-line pick for Saturday's $1 million Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile.

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Big Ass Fans, a new Breeders' Cup sponsor based in Lexington, Ky., makes industrial ventilation equipment, including big fans for horse barns.

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The Classic shapes up as the most competitive of those three tilts and, perhaps, the one with the greatest chance for an upset winner. In addition to the aforementioned trio, the 11-horse field includes Elate, a 5-year-old mare taking males for the first time with a 3-for-3 record at the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. Higher Power and Mongolian Groom have been impressive recently on the Southern California circuit. And Yoshida, a Japanese-bred 5-year-old, is poised to pick up the pieces if a pace duel should break out.

Trainer Bob Baffert said in a pre-event media conference call he ranks McKinzie among the top 10 horses he has trained -- an illustrious crew -- but recognizes the magnitude of his task.

"He's going to have to prove it on Breeders' Cup day," Baffert said. "I really think coming into this race, no excuses. Just, get it done and see what he's made of."

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And after McKinzie drew the No. 8 post, Baffert added, "At the end of the day, the cream rises to the top. That's what the Breeders' Cup is all about. It's great racing. You have to be really good and really good that day."

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Bricks and Mortar appears a solid favorite in the Turf, even though the 1 1/2 miles is farther than he's previously had to run. His cause was helped by the late defection of Magical, the Ireland-based filly who finished second the Enable in the 2018 Turf at Churchill Downs.

A good showing would put Bricks and Mortar, a 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway, right in the middle of the Horse of the Year conversation, no matter what else happens Saturday. Roadblocks might be Old Persian, a globetrotting turf specialist for Godolphin who won the Grade I Northern Dancer at Woodbine in his most recent outing, and Investec Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck, the toughest of the international contingent.

"Yes, I think that's fair," trainer Chad Brown said of Bricks and Mortar's potential for the top honor. "I think he's earned that right to be in that conversation. He's had a really remarkable campaign, one of the best I can remember in recent years for male turf wars, and I think he deserves to be there."

If all the other likely candidates should flop, Brown would have another contender in Sistercharlie, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Myboycharlie. She seeks a repeat win in this race after earlier this year landing the Diana at Saratoga, the Beverly D. at Arlington Park and the Flower Bowl at Belmont Park.

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Midnight Bisou, a 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute, tackles the Distaff after running the table in seven starts at five different tracks this season for trainer Steve Asmussen. A couple of those races might be seen by voters as relatively soft spots, however, and she might need a decisive victory over several well-qualified opponents on Saturday and for some others to lose to get into the mix for Horse of the Year.

Omaha Beach is perhaps the most interesting of the potential honorees. He won the Grade II Rebel and the Grade I Arkansas Derby before injury kept him out of the Run for the Roses, then returned after six months to win the Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship in a tough battle with Shancelot, one of the favorites in Saturday's TVG Breeders Cup Sprint. Trainer Richard Mandella was briefly on the fence about whether to run the War Front colt back in the Classic or the Dirt Mile.

The four others races:

Mitole is the morning-line favorite for the $2 million Sprint but Shancelot, Imperial Hint and Catalina Cruiser all are in with solid chances. Catalina Cruiser has lost only once in eight career starts -- that the 2018 running of this race at Churchill Downs.

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The $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint has nine classy contenders in favorites Covfefe, Come Dancing and Spiced Perfection.

The $1 million Turf Sprint is one of the most wide-open affairs on the entire Championships program with a full field of 12 and nothing approaching a solid favorite. Stormy Liberal won the last two editions of this race but, at age 7, may have lost a step or two.

Circus Maximum stands out in a talented, Euro-heavy, full field for the $2 million TVG Mile on the turf. The 3-year-old Galileo colt won the Group 1 St James's Palace at Royal Ascot and more recently took the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp. Ryan Moore rides for trainer Aidan O'Brien.

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