Tarnawa, defending champion and favorite for Saturday's Breeders' Cup Turf race, stretches her legs over the Del Mar track Monday. Photo courtesy of the Breeders' Cup
DEL MAR, Calif., Nov. 4 (UPI) -- The 2021 Breeders' Cup World Championships have attracted a record 56 international entries for the two-day event that opens Friday at Del Mar in California, the track built by Hollywood stars and dubbed "Where the Turf Meets the Surf."
That Bing Crosby anthem may describe the setting, but a more apt theme for this year's renewal might be "Where the World Challenges the Best of America."
And most of those showdowns will come in the Breeders' Cup's turf events -- understandably, since most of the world views grass as the main venue for racing.
The challengers come from all over Europe and the United Kingdom, from Ireland to Germany, and from South Africa and Japan, to take on the best of the locals at distances from 5 furlongs to 1 1/2 miles. We'll look at how those races shake down.
We'll also have a brief look at the grass runners on Friday's program, which is dedicated exclusively to 2-year-olds.
The $4 million Longines Breeders' Cup Turf
The exceptionally strong European presence is on full display in this 1 1/2-mile test -- with the caveat that the tight turns of the Del Mar layout and the expected very firm turf will be unfamiliar to most of those invaders.
Tarnawa, the defending champ in this event, leads the charge for the Euros. The 5-year-old Shamardal mare, a homebred from the Aga Khan's stables, comes off heartbreaking second-place finishes in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Still, her overall body of work stands head and shoulders above this field.
Sheik Mohammed's Godolphin and the Irish Coolmore partners have two each in the Turf.
The Godolphin runners already have North American wins with Walton Street coming off a victory in the Grade I Canadian International at Woodbine and Yibir scoring in the Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park.
Coolmore has Broome, who faded to finish 11th in the Arc in his last start, but otherwise has the resume to compete here, and Japan, who frequently has disappointed the Irish connections on the win end.
Teona, a British-based 3-year-old Sea the Stars filly, exits a win in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp and German hopeful Sisfahan won the Group 1 Deutsches Derby.
The American contingent includes three from the barn of turf maestro Chad Brown, including the morning-line second choice behind Tarnawa, Domestic Spending. The 4-year-old Kingman colt finished second as the odds-on favorite in the Grade I Mr. D. Stakes at Arlington Park in his last start, ending a four-race win streak.
The $2 million Fanduel Breeders' Cup Mile
Space Blues could be one of Saturday's best-bet runners. The Godolphin homebred 5-year-old arrives at Del Mar after back-to-back wins in the Group 2 City of York Stakes and the Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp.
He's won big races as far afield as Saudi Arabia and seems in top form. He also is proven on firm going, so the main job for jockey William Buick will be getting him around two turns while trying the mile for the first time.
The international contingent also includes Pearls Galore, who was second to Space Blues in the Foret, Godolphin's Master of the Seas, Coolmore's Mother Earth, and Japanese long shot Vin de Garde, who shouldn't be ignored after finishing second in the Group 1 Dubai Turf back in March.
The local bunch again includes an impressive Chad Brown pair topped by Blowout, winner of the Grade I First Lady at Keeneland in her last start.
California trainer Peter Miller saddles Mo Forza, a 5-year-old son of Uncle Mo who has won four in a row including the last two runnings of the Grade II Del Mar Mile.
Smooth Like Strait and Hit the Road also have been impressive locally and In Love won at Arlington Park, Kentucky Downs and Keeneland in his last three.
The $2 million Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf
Here's a 12-horse field that includes last year's winner, one of Japan's top horses, a 5-time Group 1 winner from the dominating Coolmore operation and the last-out winner of the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera -- none of whom is the morning-line favorite.
That honor in this 1 3/8-mile challenge around three turns goes to War Like Goddess, a 4-year-old English Channel filly trained by Bill Mott. She has won four straight races, finishing with the Grade I Flower Bowl at Saratoga on Sept. 4.
It still seems a leap of faith to put her on top of these rivals. But they run the races for a reason, so we'll see.
The 2020 winner, Audarya, hasn't won since that upset victory. Japan's Loves Only You was second in her prep for this. Coolmore hopeful Love missed the Arc with a fever and seems to have regressed since winning the Group 1 Prince of Wales at Royal Ascot. And Opera winner Rougir might not have the numbers to stack up with these.
Also note the presence of Queen Supreme, a dominant force in South Africa before undergoing the onerous quarantine requirements to get to England, where she finished seventh in the Group 2 Joel Stakes after nearly nine months off.
The other Americans include Going to Vegas and Dogtag from local barns and East Coast invaders Pocket Square and My Sister Nat, both trained by Chad Brown. All are perfectly capable of having a say.
The $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint
This 5-furlong dash around one turn attracted speedsters who have won Group 1 races in Ireland, England, France and Dubai, yet the morning-line favorite is Kentucky-trained Golden Pal, who will be contesting his first-ever Grade I event.
Golden Pal's record is, well, golden. He won last year's Grade II Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint after finishing second in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. The Uncle Mo colt Golden Pal, one of three in this race trained by Wesley Ward, comes off a win in the Trade II Woodford at Keeneland.
The raiders include Emaraaty Ana, last-out winner of the Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock in England; Glass Slippers, winner of the Group 1 Flying Five Stakes at Curragh in Ireland last year; A Case of You, winner of the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp just a month ago; and Extravagant Kid, who won the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan in Dubai in March.
Few of the others in the 12-horse field can be dismissed easily. Ward's other two, Kimari and Arrest Me Red, are capable. Lieutenant Dan is 2-for-2 sprinting on the Del Mar greensward. Gear Jockey was an impressive winner of the Grade III Turf Sprint at Kentucky Downs.
On Friday's program:
The $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint
Wesley Ward has another strong hand in this Friday heat, including the favorite, undefeated and largely untested Midshipman filly Averly Jane. Ward brings Twilight Gleaming back from Europe, where the National Defense filly finished second in the Group 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot.
Another tough foreign contingent includes Armor, a No Nay Never colt who finished a close third in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket in his last start. Hierarchy was second in the Group 2 Mill Reef in his most recent. Twilight Jet has been improving and won a Group 3 at Newmarket on Oct. 8.
One Timer, trained by Arlington Park's nine-time leading trainer Larry Rivelli, enters undefeated after three starts at Arlington, Woodbine and Santa Anita.
The $1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
This 1-mile event couldn't be much more wide open.
France's hope, Malavath, and Mise En Scene from England, could be well-fancied except they drew gates No. 12 and No. 13, respectively, and will need to find position heading into the unfamiliarly sharp Del Mar first turn.
Malavath, with Ryan Moore aboard, exits a win in the Group 2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte. Mise En Scene, with Oisin Murphy in the irons, was 2-for-2 before finishing fourth in the Group 1 Fillies Mile at Newmarket in her last.
The morning-line favorite, Pizza Bianca, finished second in the Group 1 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine in her second start.
The $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
Here's another wide-open race with a full field.
The Godolphin homebred duo of Modern Games and Albahr, both by Dubawi, rank among the favorites and drew gates No. 1 and No. 2 -- an interesting challenge for jockeys William Buick and Frankie Dettori.
Both won their last race with Albahr taking down the Grade I Summer Stakes at Woodbine and Modern Games scoring in a Group 3 at Newmarket.
The favorite, yet another by the prolific Dubawi, is Dubawi Legend, owned by Rabbah Bloodstock and trained by Hugo Palmer. He was second after battling for the lead in the Group 1 Dewhurst in his most recent outing.
After those, Mackinnon has won three straight in California, including two at Del Mar, while Dakota Gold, Tiz the Bomb and Slipstream bring winning streaks from the East and Midwest.