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Two $1 million weekend races offer spots in the Breeders' Cup Classic

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Flightline, shown winning the 2021 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita, is the 1-5 favorite for Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Benoit photo courtesy of Santa Anita
Flightline, shown winning the 2021 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita, is the 1-5 favorite for Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Benoit photo courtesy of Santa Anita

Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Dueling $1 million Grade I races a continent apart Saturday should help determine the top older horses to take on Epicenter and the other 3-year-olds in November's Breeders' Cup Classic

Epicenter's victory in last weekend's Travers Stakes confirmed his status. Flightline could solidify his spot as overall favorite in that lineup with a win in Saturday's $1 million Grade I Pacific Classic.

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Or, if Flightline should falter, any one of a number of horses set for Saturday's $1 million Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga could improve their stock for the big race.

Those are the marquee races on the final summer weekend with the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Keeneland just two months away. "Win and You're In" spots for two of the Breeders' Cup turf races also are on the line, along with some other nice heats.

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Kentucky Downs is off and running with massive fields and even more massive purses and Monmouth Park, Gulfstream Park and others contribute to the festivities.

With all of that going on, there's no better time to pick the brains of industry insider Jude Feld at popejude.com. The pontiff ponders the "big three" tracks this weekend.

International action, meanwhile, spans the globe from the Black Forest of Germany to Seoul, South Korea.

RELATED Nest, Spendarella sparkle in weekend races for 3-year-old fillies

Let's rock and/or roll.

Classic / Dirt Mile

The Pacific Classic and the Jockey Club Gold Cup are "Win and You're In" races for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic. But they have a vastly different vibe.

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Flightline is undefeated after four starts and was posted on the morning line at odds of 1-5 for the TVG Pacific Classic At Del Mar. Things are more wide open in an eight-horse field entered for the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga.

How good is Flightline? Leading Del Mar trainer Bob Baffert will send out Country Grammer, the winner of the $16 million Dubai World Cup in March, to oppose him.

But Baffert backed off early thoughts about running another promising candidate, Laurel River. Instead, that one entered and won last weekend's Grade II Pat O'Brien Stakes.

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"I would only do it if Flightline wasn't in the field," said Baffert, who has won the Pacific Classic a record six times.

The question facing the favorite is distance. Flightline has never raced beyond 1 mile. This is 1 1/4 miles and his first trip around two turns, but his breeding and the way he runs indicate he should have no trouble running on.

Flightline and Country Grammer have four rivals in the race, including Royal Ship and Stilleto Boy. Those two finished first and third, sandwiching Country Grammer, in the Grade II San Diego Handicap on July 30.

Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga is a much more contentious affair, at least on paper.

The powerhouse ownership duo of WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, which already has Life as Good as the potential Breeders' Cup chief rival to Flightline, will see if another of theirs, Americanrevolution, can take the long-awaited next big step forward to join that company -- or perhaps to drop back to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, which Life Is Good won for fun last year.

Americanrevolution, a 4-year-old Constitution colt, has won five of nine starts, including the Grade I Cigar Mile. In his most recent, he was second to Olympiad in the Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.

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Olympiad came back from that to finish fourth in the Grade I Whitney (won by Life Is Good), and returns for the Gold Cup. Before the Whitney, Olympiad had five straight wins. And that streak started after a fourth-place finish behind Americanrevolution in December in the Cigar Mile.

Americanrevolution is one of four to be saddled by Todd Pletcher. Of the others, Dynamic One looks the most likely contender after winning the Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs and the Grade II Suburban at Belmont Park in his last two outings. First Captain and Untreated, second and third in the Suburban, also are in this bunch.

While the big guns are blazing in the Grade I events, don't overlook the five 3-year-olds set for Saturday's $125,000 Shared Belief Stakes at 1 mile at Del Mar.

Baffert saddles the 8-5 Armagnac and the 9-5 co-second favorite, High Connection. Newgrange, formerly with Baffert and now trained by Phil D'Amato, also is 9-5 on the line.

Newgrange was a hot Kentucky Derby prospect, but hasn't raced since finishing sixth in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park in February. High Connection exits a win in the Los Alamitos Derby. Armagnac fizzled on the turf in his last and has yet to win a big race but might try to steal this on the lead with John Velazquez up.

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The other two appear overmatched but who knows what California Derby winner Il Bellator can do in his first start on the dirt?

Distaff

Sunday's $125,000 Grade III Torrey Pines at Del Mar is a 1-mile test for 3-year-old fillies. Bob Baffert saddles three of the seven entries -- Grace Adler, Under the Stars and Midnight Memories.

All are talented, but Under the Stars gets the nod with a win in the Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita in her last start. Desert Dawn was third in the Kentucky Oaks after winning the Santa Anita Oaks but was third in the Summertime Oaks.

Sprint

Sunday's $100,000 Rumson Stakes at Monmouth Park has a field of seven. Hollis, Baytown Bear and Feast look like likely prospects.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Friday's $250,000 Grade II Prioress Stakes at Saratoga has a very competitive field of 10 3-year-old fillies.

The nominal favorite at 7-2 on the morning line is Hot Peppers, a Khozan filly who won the Grade III Victory Ride Stakes at Belmont Park two starts back and finished second in the Grade I Longines Test Stakes earlier in the Spa meet.

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Turf

Like most of the races at this attractive meet, Sunday's $750,000 Grade III Big Ass Fans Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs has a full field and a waiting list of also-eligibles.

Ready to Purform, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, is drawn in the outside No. 12 gate with Joel Rosario riding and another well-fancied runner, Grand Sonata, drew the rail to test Tyler Gaffalione's riding skills. Potential rivals Double Clutch and Running Bee start from the No. 7 and No. 8 gates.

Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Del Mar Handicap is a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, and several of the 11 contenders look capable of picking up that Annie Oakley.

Master Piece is the 3-1 morning-line favorite after winning the Grade II Eddie Read over the course July 31. The Chilean-bred also was second as a long shot in this race last year, but wins have been rare since he arrived in North American late in 2020.

Balnikhov rates as the 5-2 morning-line favorite among nine set for Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Caesar's Sportsbook Del Mar Derby. The Irish-bred gelding was last seen winning the restricted Oceanside Stakes on the first day of the meeting -- his first win in America.

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The field also includes War at Sea and Cabo Spirit, the 1-2 finishers in the Cinema Stakes at Santa Anita. Cabo Spirit returned from that to win the Grade III La Jolla Handicap over the Del Mar grass on Aug. 7.

Will Ethereal Road's place in history be defined by his last-minute Kentucky Derby scratch that let Rich Strike into the field to post his 80-1 upset win?

So far, the Quality Road colt hasn't done anything to expunge that lead from his biography but he gets another chance in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Saranac Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Saratoga greensward.

It's his second start on the turf, following a frankly dismal effort in the admittedly much tougher Grade I Saratoga Derby Invitational on Aug. 6.

This would be an easier spot but for the presence of Annapolis, a progressive sort from the Pletcher barn who finished second in the Saratoga Derby and is likely to be the heavy favorite Saturday in a field of just five.

Entries were not available at press time for Monday's $200,000 Grade III Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga.

Filly & Mare Turf

War Like Goddess gallops into Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Flower Bowl Stakes at Saratoga with hooves flashing, swords swinging and six wins from her last seven starts.

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That string was interrupted only by a third-place finish, beaten less than 1 length, in the 2021 Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare turf and a win Saturday would earn the 5-year-old English Channel mare a "Win and You're In" return engagement for that event.

The rivals who finished second, third and fourth behind her in the Grade II Glens Falls on Aug. 6 return for another try but if all goes to form, they're running for the minor awards again.

A full field and four also-eligibles are on the program for Sunday's $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs. The relatively solid favorites are Turnerloose, a Nyquist filly trained by Brad Cox, and New Year's Eve, by Kitten's Joy and trained by Brendan Walsh.

Saturday's $100,000 Violet Stakes at Monmouth Park has a field of seven. None has made much noise so far. Thisnameisokay has won three straight down the class ladder at Delaware Park. Did her owners have a problem with the Jockey Club naming process?

Turf Mile

Saturday's $1 million Grade III WinStar Mint Million at Kentucky Downs has nine takers, with last year's winner, Pixelate, installed as the 5-2 favorite on the morning line.

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The 5-year-old son of City Zip, a Godolphin homebred from the Mike Stidham barn, makes his second start of 2022 following a close-up third in the Prince George's County Stakes at Laurel Park on July 16. Cavalry Charge and Kentucky Ghost also have run well over the unique course.

Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Del Mar Mile has no shortage of legit contenders among the 10 names that landed in the entry box.

Hong Kong Harry has three wins and a second in four U.S. tries after racing in England, and is the nominal morning-line favorite. Also at single-digit odds are Irideo, None Above the Law, Goliad, Tripoli and Cathkin Peak.

Astronaut, the upset winner of the Grade II Del Mar Handicap a year ago, is 12-1 on the line off a long layoff and an outside draw.

Turf Sprint

Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, has a full field with last year's winner, Lieutenant Dan, prominent.

The 6-year-old Grazen gelding went from that win to victory in the Grade II Eddie D at Santa Anita and finished second to Golden Pal in the Breeders' Cup at Del Mar. He hasn't raced since. Dubai Key has won all three U.S. starts after racing earlier in Argentina.

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Juvenile

Awesome Strong, Turbo and Cajun hope, the top three finishers from the first round of the Florida Sire Stakes series at Gulfstream Park, return for Saturday's second leg, the $200,000 Affirmed Division, while stretching out to 7 furlongs. Eleven are entered.

Entries were not available at press time for Monday's $300,000 Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga.

Juvenile Turf

Eight colts and one long shot gelding are lined up for Saturday's $500,000 Juvenile Mile at Kentucky Downs. All are recent maiden winners and none looks impossible at this 1-mile test over an unfamiliar track.

The draw of this rich meeting is evident as morning line favorite Really Good arrives from Saratoga, Castleknock ships in from Del Mar and Bramble Blaze comes from Monmouth Park.

Boppy O turned away three rivals before getting home first in Wednesday's $175,000 Grade III With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga.

The Bolt d'Oro colt first disposed of pace rival El Conjito, then dueled the favorite, Andthewinneris, into submission in the stretch and finally outlasted late-running Battle of Normandy to score by a neck.

All said and done, the Mark Casse trainee finished 1 1/16 miles on the good inner turf course in 1:46.93 with Dylan Davis in the irons. He won at first asking at Gulfstream Park in May, but then was 10th in the Grade III Sanford at the Spa on July 16 in his only other start. Casse said the Grade II Bourbon Stakes on Oct. 9 at Keeneland looms on the horizon.

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Juvenile Fillies

Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga attracted 10 2-year-old fillies.

Naughty Gal has won her last two, including the Grade III Adirondack in her last outing.

Just Cindy is 2-for-2 with a win in the Grade III Schuylerville in her most recent start.

Sabra Tuff was second in the Debutante at Churchill Downs and third in the Adirondack.

Wonder Wheel has won both her starts, including the Debutante. Most of the others are recent maiden winners so there's lots of sorting out to be done in the course of the 7 furlongs.

Saturday's $200,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park has a field of seven, featuring Lynx, a Brethren filly who remained undefeated with a win in the first leg of the series Aug. 6. High Fashion Lady returns to Florida after a win at Colonial Downs.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Knockyoursocksoff is the 5-2 pick on the morning line among nine entries for Saturday's $500,000 Aristocrat Gaming Juvenile Fillies at Kentucky Downs.

The Kitten's Joy filly, trained by Chris Block for Town and Country Racing, won at first asking at Colonial Downs Aug. 3 and Julien Leparoux picks up the mount.

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Janis Joplin arrives from Saratoga after finishing third in the Grade III Schuylerville and second in the Grade III Adirondack. The California Chrome filly makes her turf debut.

Be Your Best was the best by 3 3/4 lengths in Thursday's $150,000 P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga, rallying past the leading duo in the stretch to notch the easy win. Whichwaze was best of the rest, 1/2 length in front of Recognize.

Be Your Best, an Irish-bred filly my Muhaarar, ran 1 1/16 miles on good turf in 1:45.67 with Jose Ortiz up. She now is 2-for-2 with both races at the Spa and trainer Horacio De Paz said he "definitely" will consider the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

"I think she is deserving of that spot," he said.

Thursday's first race of the rich Kentucky Downs meeting went to Carnaby Street, an American Pharoah filly making her first start.

Owned by Michael Tabor and trained by Wesley Ward, the gray filly tracked the pace into the stretch, moved when asked by jockey Tyler Gaffalione and drew off to an easy win. She's out of the Giant's Causeway mare Sloane Square

Around the world, around the clock

England

Seventeen runners stood their ground for Saturday's Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock. It's a pretty wide-open field with Minzaal, runner-up in the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest, and Group 1 Platinum Jubilee Stakes winner Naval Crown narrowly atop the antepost wagering.

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France

St James's Palace Stakes and 2000 Guineaas winner Coroebus looks to bounce back from a stinging defeat in his last when he lines up for Sunday's Group 1 Moulin de Longchamp.

The Godolphin homebred by Dubawi finished fifth as the favorite in the Group 1 Jacques le Marois at Deauville without obvious excuse.

Pending last-minute defections, Sunday's field also includes Order of Australia, who was fourth in the Deauville heat, and The Revenant, riding a two-race winning streak at Saint-Cloud.

Germany

Reigning Arc winner Torquator Tasso faces only four rivals in Sunday's Longines Grosser Prix von Baden in the Black Forest spa town. He was a major long shot at Longchamp in 2021 but will be much shorter this year if he performs Sunday with Frankie Dettori hopping aboard.

In his last, he finished a credible second behind Pyledriver in the Group 1 King George at Ascot on June 23. Three of the five, including Torquator Tasso, are by Adlerflug.

Korea

Sunday's Group 3 Korea Cup at 1,800 meters and Group 3 Korea Sprint at 1,200 meters have some international interest. King's Shield comes from Hong Kong and Intellogent from England for the longer race. The Sprint has Computer Patch from Hong Kong and Annaf from England.

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