Nov. 2 (UPI) -- With "Horse of the Year" honors and lots of other year-end hardware on the line, the fields for the Breeders' Cup World Championships were finalized Monday with a generous sprinkling of international challengers.
The 14 races, worth $31 million, run Friday and Saturday at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., the epicenter of the North American Thoroughbred breeding and racing season. Beautiful weather is in prospect. Spectators are not, as COVID-19 pandemic precautions prohibit them.
Despite the pandemic, strong contingents from Ireland, England, Europe and even Japan arguably make the weekend the most international of any racing event since the $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh.
Five races on "Future Stars Friday" are for 2-year-olds, on both turf and dirt. Saturday's nine-race card has heavyweights on both surfaces, culminating in the $2 million Longines Distaff, $4 million Longines Turf and the $6 million Longines Classic.
The Classic, run at 1 1/4 miles, is likely to determine the Horse of the Year and also could determine the Eclipse Award for best 3-year-old male. Improbable, Maximum Security and Tom's d'Etat top the roster of older horses, while this year's Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law and Kentucky Derby winner Authentic represent the 3-year-old division. The Preakness Stakes winner, Swiss Skydiver, was entered for the Classic, but instead will contest the Distaff.
Trainer Bob Baffert has a strong hand, to say the least, as he seeks his fourth win in the Classic. Baffert trains the 5-2 morning-line favorite Improbable, as well as Authentic, Maximum Security and Improbable.
Improbable brings a three-race winning streak, all in Grade I races, to Keeneland.
Maximum Security, who will be remembered forever for his disqualification from victory in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, has won 10 of 13 races but finished second to Improbable in his last start.
Authentic, a five-time winner, was second to Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness. Improbable drew gate No. 8 in the 10-horse field, Authentic, No. 9 and Maximum Security, No. 10.
Tiz the Law, trained by Barclay Tagg, skipped the Preakness after his Triple Crown chances ended with a second-place finish behind Authentic at Churchill Downs. He drew gate No. 2 for the 1 1/4-mile Classic.
The 1 1/2-mile Turf is a magnificent showdown between proven Europeans and tested Americans. The joker in the deck is that most of the invaders have run their last races on very wet turf, making their form hard to judge as they face what promises to be a firm surface at Keeneland.
Enable's retirement after her loss in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe was a blow to the race. But the rest of the overseas contingent packs plenty of punch.
Magical finished second to Enable in this race two years ago in a dramatic finish at Churchill Downs and has scored three Group 1 wins this season in Ireland for trainer Aidan O'Brien and the powerful Coolmore operation.
She was installed as the 5-2 early favorite, starting from the No. 2 post with Ryan Moore up.
Mogul is the 3-year-old hope for the same connections after a win last time out in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris. Tarnawa, racing for the Aga Khan, won prestigious Group 1 events in France in her last two starts.
Lord North, winner of this year's Qipco 2000 Guineas, and German-based Donjah, add to the international intrigue.
The North American rivals in the Turf include United, second in this race last year, Channel Maker, and Arklow. United has won three of his last four starts and the horse who beat him in the other, Red King, also is in this field -- an indication of the competitive nature of top-level American turf racing this year.
The Distaff took on a new complexion with the decision to put Swiss Skydiver in the field rather than try the Classic. Without her in the race, the remarkable Monomoy Girl would have been the overwhelming favorite.
The 5-year-old mare won six of seven starts in 2018, including the Distaff at Churchill Downs, then missed 18 months with various woes. She returned in May and has won all three starts by open lengths.
Monomoy Girl is the 8-5 favorite, closely followed by Swiss Skydiver at 2-1. After the top two, the Distaff looks very competitive with improving West Coast 3-year-old Harvest Moon perhaps posing a threat.
The other races, very briefly:
The $2 million Mile on the turf has an incredibly tough European contingent lead by English 2000 Guineas winner Kameko and Phoenix Stakes and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Siskin.
Now 6-year-old One Master just missed with a late run in the 2018 Mile. Safe Voyage has claims and O'Brien brings Circus Maximus, Lope Y Fernandez and Order of Australia.
They face a strong local team. Trainer Chad Brown has three, including last year's winner, Uni. Ivar, a local winner last time out, is the 4-1 morning-line pick in an excellent wagering event.
Yaupon C Z Rocket and Vekoma top the morning line in the $2 million Sprint on the dirt track. But this 6-furlongs cavalry charge really is wide open with everything from 7-year-old Whitmore to a 3-year-old making just his third career start, to Japanese runner Jasper Prince.
The $2 million Filly & Mare Turf is another showdown between tough Europeans and a diverse bunch of Americans. Half Light, one of a small Godolphin Racing contingent in this year's event, and Peaceful, representing Coolmore, and the Jessica Harrington-trained Cayenne Pepper figure among the Euros.
Brown again packs a powerful punch with the likes of 2018 winner Sistercharlie, Rushing Fall, Nay Lady Nay and My Sister Nat.
The $1 million Dirt Mile has a field of 10 with Complexity -- a relatively unusual dirt contender for turf maestro Chad Brown -- as the favorite on the morning line. Complexity had a breakthrough in his last start, winning the Grade II Kelso at Belmont Park by 2 1/2 lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 110.
The $1 million Turf Sprint features Got Stormy as the 7-2 early pick starting from the No. 12 gate in a field of 14. She was second behind Uni in last year's Mile, and comes off a win in the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes over the same Keeneland turf and the same 5 1/2 furlongs.
The $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint has a short field of nine, perhaps because of the presence of the Baffert-trained Gamine. She has finished first in four of her five starts and was third in the Kentucky Oaks, finishing only 1 1/2 lengths behind runner-up Swiss Skydiver despite going well beyond her preferred distance.
This 7 furlongs should fit like a glove. Serengeti Empress, last year's Kentucky Oaks winner, was a fading third in last year's Distaff and fits better here.
Friday's races for the 2-year-olds also feature some top European grass runners and some early prospects for the 2019 U.S. Triple Crown. As always with the juvenile races, it's wise to take things with a grain or two of salt as early developers can do well at 2, and then fail to progress the following year.