Oct. 9 (UPI) -- The Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park top a weekend horse racing agenda that will pretty much solidify fields for the upcoming Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Six Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races wrap up that series, which started last December in Brazil and traveled the world from South Africa to Japan, England, France, Ireland, and Canada, as well as most of the top U.S. racing jurisdictions.
By our count, that's 81 races. Thanks and kudos to Breeders' Cup's Jim Gluckson for keeping us up to date on all of them throughout this year's pandemic-related shutdowns, cancellations and rescheduling.
The QE II Cup for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland has a really tough field with Oaks winners from around the country. The Gold Cup appears to be a chance for Tacitus to finally get a Grade I victory.
On the international front, while the deep-pockets crowd heats up the sales ring at Newmarket, some top 2-year-olds are poised to contest Group 1 events over the Rowley Mile Course. And speaking of heating up, Australia has five Group 1 events on Saturday including the Caulfield Cup.
Remember, this may be an easy game, but it's easier for some than for others. For a little nudge toward the easy side, check out the thoughts of ace analyst Jude Feld at www.popejude.com.
What's next for Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Sottsass? Find out in News and Notes. And we'll catch up late in this report on some qualifiers for the Claiming Crown, coming up in two months at Gulfstream Park.
Drop a claim on this:
Tacitus is the even-money favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic.
The 4-year-old Tapit colt, a Juddmonte Farms homebred, won the Grade II Suburban over the same track and 1 1/4 -miles distance on the Fourth of July and finished a decent second in his only intervening effort, the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga. He also was a decent fifth in the $20 million Saudi Cup on Leap Day in "before time".
The issue is winning. Tacitus scored three in a row early in his career but since then, that Suburban score is the only win from nine starts.
With that in mind, perhaps a couple of 3-year-olds merit a Gold Cup look: Mystic Guide, a Ghostzapper colt who won the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga in his last start, and Happy Saver, a Wertheimer homebred colt by Super Saver who is 3-for-3 and won the Federico Tesio in his last outing.
Ten are entered for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Hagyard Fayette Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the Keeneland brown track and it would be hard to gather a more diverse bunch. The field ranges in age from 7-year-old Rated R Superstar to 3-year-old Mo Mosa.
Mirinaque makes his second start up from Argentina, hoping to improve on a fifth-place finish, beaten 16 lengths, in the Grade I Pacific Classic. None particularly inspires confidence but if Tax can fire off a long layoff, he might have an edge.
The Arch gelding was claimed for $50,000 at Keeneland in October of 2018 and went on to finish second in the 2019 Grade II Wood Memorial, fourth in the Belmont and first in the Grade II Jim Dandy.
Filly & Mare Turf
Wow. That's a nice field for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Set for the 9 furlongs are the 1-2 finishers from the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational, Magic Attitude and Antoinette; the 1-2 finishers from the Dueling Grounds Oaks, Micheline and Harvey's Lil Goil; last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf third, Sweet Melania; and the 1-2 from the Grade I Del Mar Oaks, Red Lark and California Kook.
Let's hope the predicted rains stay away.
Chad Brown saddles three of the seven set for Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
While the Brown trio -- Cambier Parc, My Sister Nat and Nay Lady Nay -- all look capable, this field is pretty evenly matched. Depending on pace and racing luck over the 1 1/4 miles, none would be a total surprise for the win.
There also is not a lot of differentiation among the eight 3-year-old fillies set for Saturday's $150,000 Grade II Sands Point at Belmont Park. Brown has Selflessly, who was just up to win the Grade III Lake George at Saratoga in her last start, and Tamahere, a Wootton Bassett filly making her first U.S. start after a nice win in a modest stakes in France in June.
Speaktomeofsummer won the Grade II Lake Placid at the Spa. Miss J McKay has been improving with each start and was second in the Music City Stakes at Kentucky Downs in her most recent outing.
Almanaar journeys back down the shore for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Monmouth Stakes. The 7-year-old Dubawi gelding was last seen winning the Grade II Monmouth Stakes (confusing but this is 2020, after all) at the same 1 1/8 miles on May 25 so why not try for the double?
The Chad Brown trainee, a Shadwell homebred, was 10th in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, but does still have his moments, as evinced by his second-place finish in the 2019 Arlington Million.
The others essentially are very nice allowance types. Monongahela is entered only if the race is washed off the turf, which the weatherman says is unlikely.
Got Stormy, fresh off an impressive victory in the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint Sept. 12, is the solid favorite among a dozen fillies and mares entered for Friday's $150,000 Grade III Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes at Keeneland.
The 5-year-old daughter of Get Stormy was second behind Uni in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile.
Jackie's Warrior stands out among six 2-year-old colts in Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
The son of Maclean's Music is undefeated after three starts, including the Grade II Saratoga Special and the Grade I Hopeful at the same venue. This 1-mile test adds a furlong to his longest previous effort but it's a one-turn mile, so less of an issue. The two turns at Keeneland could be a different story.
Doug O'Neill shipped Ambivalent from Southern California a month ago to prepare for the Champagne. He's still a maiden but has run well enough on both turf and dirt to get a chance here.
Reinvestment Risk was second in the Hopeful, making up some ground late. Midnight Bourbon was second in the Iroquois at Churchill Downs and the other two are recent maiden winners.
Saturday's $250,000 (Canadian) Cup and Saucer at Woodbine is for Canadian-foaled juveniles and is an early test for the following year's Queen's Plate prospects.
Credit River, a More Than Ready colt, kicked off his career by jumping right into the Ontario Racing Stakes Sept. 19 and won with a nice last-to-first move. He was 41-1 that day but stands as the morning-line favorite here.
If that was a fluke, turn to Dragon's Brew, a Milwaukee Brew gelding who won the Simcoe Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs, then was a closing third in the Bull Page Stakes while trying to get out on both turns.
We note in the Cup and Saucer field, because her name makes some sense and sounds catchy, a filly named Carpe Horseshoe, by Carpe Diem from the Street Sense mare Horseshoe Hill. "Seize the horseshoe," basically, and a horseshoe is lucky. ... Well, it amused us. Gary Barber is the owner.
Ace juvenile turf conditioner Wesley Ward has two top prospects in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Futurity at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
The duo, Trade Deal and After Five, ran 1-2 in an allowance race at Kentucky Downs in their last start -- a tough assignment for youngsters and a toughener for future assignments.
Ward also has Gypsy King. The promising field also boasts County Final, who has shown promise on both turf and dirt, and Sky Not Falling, who has a second and a third in turf stakes at Woodbine.
Vequist won the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga by 9 1/2 lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure of 83 -- more than enough to make her the one to beat in Saturday's $250,000 Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
On the other hand, Dayoutoftheoffice won the Grade III Schuylerville earlier in the Spa meeting by 6 lengths with an 83 Beyer. And Cantata, who just missed bringing $1 million a year ago at the Keeneland sale, scored by 10 1/4 lengths in her only previous start, Aug. 16 at Saratoga.
Doug O'Neill wouldn't have shipped Get on the Bus from Del Mar to Belmont Park just for the frequent flyer miles but her record doesn't point to any other reason.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Aunt Pearl led from the earliest jumps in Wednesday's $150,000 Grade II JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and ran on to win by 2 1/2 lengths.
Spanish Loveaffair was second, 2 3/4 lengths to the good of Ingrassia. Aunt Pearl, an Irish-bred miss by Lope de Vega, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.86 under Florent Geroux. She now is 2-for-2 after a romping maiden win on the Churchill Downs grass.
The time lowered the stakes record by more than a full second and Geroux said he and trainer Brad Cox knew that kind of effort was needed. "If she wants to be a factor in the Breeders' Cup," Geroux said, "she needed to do a little something today."
Another of trainer Wesley Ward's charges, Royal Approal, easily could star in Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Matron at Belmont Park -- providing it doesn't rain.
Ward took the Tiznow filly to Royal Ascot, where she ran 17th on soft turf. Back home, she was scratched twice at Saratoga when the grass got wet. She finally got a track with some bottom at Kentucky Downs and romped home a winner by 6 1/4 lengths.
There's a chance of showers this weekend on Long Island but likely not enough to mess things up. A similar scenario plays out for Magisterium, who makes her first U.S. start after racing well enough in England.
In the excitement about the Preakness and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, we were forced last weekend to pass over the Claiming Crown prep races at Pimlico on Friday. These events offered free entry to the corresponding races on the Dec. 5 Claiming Crown card at Gulfstream Park.
The Claiming Crown itself offers a chance for glory and big purses to horses which have run for a claiming price during the preceding two years -- the backbone of the sport. The event was run at Canterbury Park for several years, moved around and settled at Gulfstream Park, where it runs for the eighth straight year.
Sadly, Friday's turf events were washed off the grass and onto the "good" main track. Here's the belated report on the various allowance races:
Bobby G landed a spot in the Claiming Crown with a bold move in the stretch run. The 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding opened up a big lead and held on to win by 3 1/4 lengths, running 1 1/16 miles on the dirt in 1:45.61.
Jonathan Maldonado trains for Mohan Stable. Mia Bella Rosa rallied late to win the 1 1/16-miles event for fillies and mares by 2 lengths. The 6-year-old Hold Me Back mare is trained by Scott Lake for Aaron Racing Stables.
Dirtyfoot tracked down the pacesetter and drew clear late to win a 6-furlongs event on the dirt in 1:11.23 to earn his ticket south. The 5-year-old Tiz Wonderful gelding is owned by Proud Stable and trained by Bruno Tessore.
The off-the-turf event at 1 1/16 miles was won by Singapore Trader, who edged away to score by 2 1/2 lengths. The 5-year-old Flatter gelding is owned by Barry Schwartz and trained by Horacio DePaz.
The corresponding race for fillies and mares went to Wicked Awesome, who kicked away to a wicked awesome 10 3/4-lengths winning margin. A 4-year-old filly by Awesome Again out of the Curlin mare Mira Alta, she might be one of the best-bred of the Claiming Crown aspirants.
Unmoored won the off-the-turf, 5-furlongs sprint by 4 1/4 lengths. By Midshipman, the 6-year-old gelding is trained by Mike Maker for David Staudacher. The corresponding event for fillies and mares went to Little Skiff, a 5-year-old Midshipman mare who led all the way. She is trained by Ann Merryman for Laura McKinney.
Thundershook, a 4-year-old Super Saver gelding, closed in the final sixteenth to take the 6-furlongs, main-trace event by 1 length for trainer Jamie Ness and owners Run to Win Stable and Jagger Inc.
Around the world, around the clock:
If you're looking for the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes on Saturday's program, it's officially the Neds Stakes this year, courtesy of sponsorship money. Only six are entered for the 2,000-meters test with Russian Camelot likely to be a heavy favorite.
And why not? The 4-year-old, Irish-bred colt by Camelot also is among the favorites for both the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup. He exits a victory in the Group 1 Underwood at 1,800 meters and, before that, was second behind Japanese-bred Fierce Impact in the Group 1 Makybe Diva at 1 mile.
Humidor and Arcadia Queen, the second- and third-place finishers in the Underwood, return to take another swing.
Three other Group 1 events are on the same Caulfield card.
Ole Kirk comes off a win in the Group 1 Golden Rose at Randhill Sept. 26 as one of the most likely for the Neds Caulfield Guineas. The Written Tycoon colt is moving along with added distance and now gets to try a mile.
Also of note, King's Legacy, a Redoute's Choice colt who was third in the Golden Rose but had a pair of Group 1 wins in the Southern Hemisphere autumn, and Mo'unga, a New Zealand-bred with a 4-for-4 career mark. Fourteen are in after the scratch of Glenfiddich.
Hungry Heart, a daughter of Frankel from the Pivotal mare Harlech, is the top-rated among 14 fillies in the Schweppes 1,000 Guineas after a trio of runner-up showings to open her spring report card while the aptly named Instant Celebrity steps up in class after posting four aces in four starts to start her career. Instant Celebrity is by Not a Single Doubt.
The Lexus Toorok Handicap at 1 mile has 15 and most of them seem to have at least some kind of chance.
There's also Group 1 action Saturday at Rosehill with Love Tap seeking his fifth win without defeat in the 2,000-meters Moet & Chandon Spring Champion Stakes for 3-year-olds. Montefila, a Kermadec filly, comes to this just a week after winning the Group 1 Flight Stakes at 1 mile at Rosehill.
Ten 2-year-old fillies are entered for Friday's Group 1 Fillies Mile at Newmarket with two of the most-fancied coming from the O'Brien clan. Donnacha O'Brien brings Shale, a Galileo product from the Holy Roman Emperor mare Homecoming Queen.
She comes off a win in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh last month and boasts three wins from five starts. Joseph Patrick O'Brien has Pretty Gorgeous, who in her last three starts has defeated Shale once and finished second to her twice. The boys' mom, Annmarie O'Brien, owns Pretty Gorgeous with John Oxley.
Also of note: Indigo Girl, 2-for-2 for trainer John Gosden and owner George Strawbridge, and Isabella Giles, winner of four of her five starts, most recently the Group 2 Shadwell Rockfell.
The Newmarket action switches to the male youngsters with Sheik Hamdan Al Maktoum holding a pair of aces in Alkumait and Albasheer. Alkumait, by Showcasing, won the Group 2 Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury in his last start.
Albasheer, by Shamardal, won his first start, then reported second in the Group 2 bet365 Champagne Stakes behind Chindit. Chindit, a Wootton Bassett colt, is undefeated in three starts and reappears here. Also in this tough field is Cadillac, by Lope de Vega, who has two wins from three starts.
News and Notes
Well, that didn't take long. Rather than give him one more chance for glory in the Breeders' Cup, owner Peter Brant has announced the retirement, with immediate effect, of Sunday's Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Sottsass. The 4-year-old will stand at Coolmore Ireland, which purchased a 50 percent share earlier in the year.
"A World Champion at 3 and now an Arc winner at 4, I have decided to retire Sottsass after what he has achieved," Brant said in a statement released by Coolmore. "He has retired sound and right at the top of his game. This is important to me. I am looking forward to breeding some of my best mares to him."
We're grateful we got to see him at 4 but, being greedy, we'll also remember that after her Arc victory at age 4, Enable shipped right over to Louisville and won the 2018 Breeders' Cup Turf for a remarkable double.
Another loss: Fancy Blue, the Deep Impact filly who gave a big springboard to Donnacha O'Brien's training career, has been retired after suffering a tendon injury during a Monday morning work.
Fancy Blue scored in the Group 1 Prix de Diane and backed that up with a victory in the Group 1 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. She was to have contested the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera Sunday at Longchamp, but was part of the contaminated-feed debacle that saw a raft of withdrawals of Irish-trained horses.
All is not lost for Aidan's son, however, as he has Shale among the favorites for Friday's Group 1 Fillies Mile at Newmarket (see above). The Coolmore owners also benefit from having the Deep Impact bloodlines in the breeding shed, perhaps a year ahead of time.