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Final weekend of Breeders' Cup preps brings out stars of U.S. horse racing

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Nest, seen winning the Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, takes on older rivals for the first time in Sunday's Beldame Stakes at Aqueduct. Photo courtesy of Keeneland
Nest, seen winning the Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, takes on older rivals for the first time in Sunday's Beldame Stakes at Aqueduct. Photo courtesy of Keeneland

Oct. 7 (UPI) -- It's the final big weekend of Breeders' Cup preps with 14 "Win and You're In" races covering 10 divisions and spread from coast to coast.

The emphasis is on Keeneland, which opens its eagerly anticipated autumn meeting Friday. But racing at Aqueduct, Santa Anita and Woodbine also will produce some candidates for the Breeders' Cup meeting back at Keeneland in November.

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When the weekend's done, the only remaining "Win and You're In" races will be the following weekend's Champion Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Qipco Champions Day at Ascot in England.

We count 24 weekend races with a major chance of impacting the Breeders' Cup events. Here they are, albeit in a nutshell:

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Turf

The cream of the American turf division is well represented in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Aqueduct.

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Chad Brown fields Adhamo and Rockemperor. Bill Mott saddles War Like Goddess in her first try against male opponents. Christophe Clement sends out Gufo and Soldier Rising.

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It's 1 1/2 miles on the turf and, although not a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, the event, named for the universally admired late Daily Racing Form columnist, certainly will identify some candidates for November at Keeneland.

Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Knickerbocker at Aqueduct is 1 1/8 miles on the green, and Brown is well-represented again with Public Sector, L'Imperator and Lonesome Fugitive. None of the others stand out, but Pao Alto, making his second U.S. start for trainer Graham Motion, shows promise.

Filly & Mare Turf

Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita, a "Win and You're In" for the Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, drew seven.

Brown sends Fluffy Socks, a 4-year-old Slumber filly who has had a penchant for finishing second this year.

Last year's winner, Going to Vegas, is back, also with lots of runner-up showings in her recent past performances. Family War arrives from Kentucky with four seconds in her last six races.

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By comparison, Neige Blanche has won four of her last six, but comes off a bit of a clunker in her most recent start.

Queen's Plate winner Moira returns to action against her own gender in Saturday's $750,000 (Canadian) Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine. The Ghostzapper filly, 4-of-5 for her career, has not raced since the Plate victory and faces older rivals now.

Brown appears double-handed again with Rougier and Lemista. This is, at best, Brown's "B Team" and they run into not only Moira, but the likes of Fev Rover, Kentucky Downs winner Adventuring and German invader Mylady.

Turf Mile

Coolmore takes the title sponsorship of Saturday's $1 million Grade I Turf Mile at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile, so of course the Irish juggernaut sends a contender.

The problem is that contender, Order of Australia, also ran in this race a year ago and finished 12th and last.

And the crowd he faces this time around is about as good as it gets with the last-out winners of the Grade I Arlington Million, Grade III Sarnac at Saratoga, Grade I Fourstar Dave at the Spa, Grade III Mint Million at Kentucky Downs, Grade III Bernard Barouch at Saratoga and Grade III Baltimore-Washington International Cup at Pimlico.

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Adding in second-place finishers in their last races gets the contenders tally almost up to the whole field. In that category is Smooth Like Strait, second in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, who is in from California and could beat 'em all.

Brown saddles three of the six entries for Saturday's $750,000 Grade I First Lady for fillies and mares at Keeneland -- Technical Analysis, In Italian and Regal Glory. They all seem to be at their peak and it will be more of a surprise if they don't finish 1-2-3 than if they do.

Turf Sprint

Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Woodford Stakes at Keeneland hasn't been blessed by Breeders' Cup but it is, nonetheless, a Breeders' Cup prep for Golden Pal.

The 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt, trained by Wesley Ward, won both the Woodford and the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last year and, but for a misadventure in the starting gate before the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, could be riding a five-race winning streak. It's no walkover though, so tread with a bit of caution.

Saturday's $250,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nearctic Stakes at Woodbine has Like the King, winner of last year's Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park. He no doubt will appreciate getting back onto an all-weather track as he hasn't won since that race in northern Kentucky.

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Distaff

Sunday's $600,000 Grade I Juddmonte Spinster at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff, is one of the premier races of the weekend with Malathat and Letruska among the five entries.

Malathat, the 2021 Kentucky Oaks winner, comes off a victory in the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga. She has eight wins from 12 starts, including the Grade I Ashland in her only previous Keeneland appearance.

Letruska may have lost a step at age 6 and finished third in the Personal Ensign. But she won this race last year and also won the Grade I Apple Blossom in April at Oaklawn Park.

Nest, winner of the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade I Alabama in her last two starts, takes on four rivals in Sunday's $250,000 Grade II Beldame at Aqueduct.

It's the first time against older rivals for the Todd Pletcher trainee, but it doesn't look like a very tough assignment for her. She won the Grade I Ashland during Keeneland's spring meeting.

Sprint

Friday's $350,000 Grade II Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint, features last year's winner, Special Reserve, and rapidly improving 4-year-old Sibelius.

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Special Reserve went on from this to finish fourth in the Breeders' Cup, behind winner Aloha West, who was second to him in the Phoenix. So go figure.

Only five turned out for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Vosburg at Aqueduct, a "Win and You're In" for the Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint, and one would be hard pressed to fall back on the "small but select" cliché for the field.

Drafted has lots of back class but he's 8 now and finished fifth in the Grade I Forego in his last. Elite Power has been improving and could take a big but relatively easy step forward here for Juddmonte and trainer Bill Mott.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Saturday's $350,000 Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint finds Sconsin and Bell's the One going at it again.

Bell's the One took the last round in the long-running rivalry, winning the Open Mind Stakes at Churchill Downs last month with Sconsin third. There are others, including West Coast invader Slammed.

Juvenile

Three of the youngsters entered in a full field Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland come directly from stakes wins.

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Notably, Forte jumped up to post an impressive win in the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga. Lost Ark won the Sapling at Monmouth and Two Phil's exits a win in the Shakopee Juvenile at Canterbury Park. It's a "Win and You're In" for the FanDuel Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Saturday's $300,000 Grade I American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita, a "Win and You're In" for the FanDuel Breeders' Cup Juvenile, drew eight youngsters, half of them trained by Bob Baffert.

That quartet ranges from Grade Del Mar Futurity winner Cave Rock through recent maiden winners Gandolfini and National Treasure to Hejazi, runner-up in each of his first two starts.

Among the others, Skinner was third in the Del Mar Futurity, beaten 9 1/2 lengths. The others, not so much.

Juvenile Turf

A full field of 12 plus four also-eligibles is on tap for Sunday's $350,000 Grade II Castle & Key Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

An overflow field also is on hand for Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Zuma Beach at Santa Anita at 1 mile on the green course.

Juvenile Fillies

Fun and Feisty, the winner of the Grade III Pocohontas at Churchill Downs in her last, is the lukewarm favorite in a full field for Friday's $500,000 Grade I Darley Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the NetJets Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

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The November race is shaping up as highly competitive, so someone needs to make a statement here.

Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita, a "Win and You're In" for the NetJets Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, has the first three past the judge in last month's Grade I Del Mar Debutante -- And Tell Me Nolies, Home Cooking and Icedancing.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Friday's $350,000 Grade II JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, has a full starting gate with a long waiting list. It's absolutely wide open.

It's program-stabbing time with a full field on tap for Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Matron at Aqueduct. One note: Danse Macabre exits a win in the Untapable Stakes at Kentucky Downs, a track that puts fitness into horses pretty quickly.

A slightly smaller but equally challenging field of 10 is presented for Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Surfer Girl at Santa Anita, 1 mile on the turf.

Juvenile Turf Sprint

Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Woodbine Cares Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs attracted seven 2-year-old fillies. With little to differentiate them, we like the Wesley Ward-trained No Kay Never, a No Nay never filly who was a decent fifth in the Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga in her last start.

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Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Ontario Racing Stakes, at the same distance, is open to all 2-year turfers and drew 10, including a trio from the Mark Casse barn.

Eleven are entered for Sunday's aptly named $250,000 Indian Summer Stakes at Keeneland, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.

Sunday's $150,000 Grade III Futurity at Aqueduct is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint but also a "win to show what you've got" as an obviously talented field of eight hasn't yet displayed much of that ability.

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