1 of 2 | Forte (C), shown winning the 2023 Jim Dandy at Saratoga, has been retired and will miss the Breeders' Cup Classic. Photo by Cognianese Photography, courtesy of New York Racing Association
Oct. 20 (UPI) -- The weather has turned against one of England's biggest fixtures, Saturday's British Champions Day, with heavy rains significantly softening the turf, but next month's Breeders' Cup World Championships may be a beneficiary.
Two of the Champions Day races are the final "Win and You're In" races for the Breeders' Cup. But at least one runner taking a pass because of the rain-sodden turf may be the best bet for a detour to sunny Southern California.
Meanwhile, there are a few very competitive races in North America, the final leg of the Japanese Triple Crown, a late-season Group 1 in France, another early-season Group 1 in Australia and more action in Hong Kong.
Filly & Mare Turf
Inspiral, one of the world's top females, on Friday was ruled out of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on the Champions Day program at Ascot because Storm Babet inundated England and softened courses around the isles.
The 4-year-old filly appears to have a strong preference for firmer ground, which is a strong likelihood at the Santa Anita Breeders' Cup site.
No final decision has been taken, but trainer John Gosden told ace broadcaster Nick Luck, "She could well be looking toward Santa Anita over a mile and a quarter. That will be the race to go for, if she goes."
That would be the $2 million Grade I Maker's Mark Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Tahiyra, second-favorite for the Ascot race, was left in the QE II field on Thursday, but Racing Post reported trainer Dermot Weld as saying she is unlikely to go if the ground is "extremely soft."
Back on the New World side of the pond, Vergara is looking better than ever as the morning-line favorite among nine in for Sunday's $300,000 Grade III Rood & Riddle Dowager Stakes at Keeneland.
The Noble Mission filly comes off a victory in the $1 million Grade III Aristocrat Ladies Marathon at Kentucky Downs, where she is 2-for-2 after winning the $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks there in 2022.
Caution is advised as she's 2-for-11 elsewhere and has never run at Keeneland. Transient and Personal Best, second and fourth in the Ladies Marathon, look like reasonable alternatives.
Friday's weather-delayed $150,000 Grade III Knickerbocker Stakes at Aqueduct has a "you pick 'em" field of eight to go 1 1/8 miles. Only Wicked Finn is listed at double-digit odds on the morning line.
Danse Macabre closed well through the stretch run to land Thursday's $125,000 Glen Cove Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct by 1 1/2 lengths over Dontlookbackatall.
Danse Macabre, by Army Mule, ran 6 furlongs on the good outer turf course in 1:09.35 with Adam Beschizza in the irons for trainer Kelsey Danner.
Don't be looking for the 2022 Juvenile champ, Forte, in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He's been retired, as trainer Todd Pletcher "ran of time" to get him ready after colt suffered a quarter crack after the Travers Stakes in August.
He was 4-for-5 as a 2-year-old, although one of those wins is in question, and won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby before being forced out of the Kentucky Derby, diagnosed with a foot bruise.
He finished second in the Belmont Stakes, won the Jim Dandy at Saratoga and was fourth in the Travers. He will stand at Spendthrift Farm.
Touch 'n Ride, Forever Dixie and Solo Album, the latter two trained by Mark Casse, are the morning-line picks in a field of 10 for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Derby at Woodbine.
Touch 'n Ride, an Ontario-bred colt by Candy Ride, finished fifth in the King's Plate but rates after winning the third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Breeders' Stakes. Of course, that was 1 1/2 miles on the turf while this is 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather course, so caveat emptor.
Forever Dixie, a Quality Road filly, finished fourth against males in the Grade III Grey Stakes last year and gets another chance at them after winning the Ontario Damsel in her last start with Solo Album second.
Bentornato is a solid favorite in Saturday's $200,000 Affirmed Stakes for Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park, the middle leg of the Florida Sire Series, which has been spread out into December this year.
He's 3-for-3 with a victory in the first leg at 6 furlongs and his huge margin at the finish in that indicates he can handle the 7 furlongs of this test OK.
Hurricane Nelson ships south after finishing second in both starts in New York, but looks dangerous. Baseball's not done and neither is Mattingly, a stakes winner over the Gulfstream all-weather in his last start.
It's a rarity for horses trained by Wesley Ward, Todd Pletcher, Mike Maker and Bob Baffert to face off against one another in the same race at Finger Lakes in upstate New York, not to mention jockeys Joel Rosario, the Ortiz brothers and Manny Franco.
That was the lineup for Monday's $150,000 New York Breeders' Futurity for state-bred juveniles with the Ward-Rosario gelding Whatchatalkinabout spurting clear in the final sixteenth to win by 3 3/4 lengths.
Trust Fund (Pletcher-Jose Ortiz), Mischief Joke (Maker-Franco) and Tall Paul (Baffert-Irad Ortiz Jr.) followed.
Whatchatalkinabout, a Dialed In gelding, reported in 1:11.92 over a sloppy track.
R Harper Rose and Honey Dijon, the morning-line favorites, are drawn in the No. 11 and No. 12 gates for Saturday's $200,000 Susan's Girl Stakes for Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park, the middle leg of the Florida Sire Series for fillies. Nontheless, R Harper Rose is the 9-4 pick after two effortless wins in as many starts.
Around the world, around the clock
It's out with the old, in with the new in England as Saturday's Qipco-sponsored Champions Day is almost the finale of the turf season and the opening of the All-Weather Championships heralds the dominance of that surface during the winter.
Champions Day has five championship races plus the Balmoral Handicap over the Ascot greensward. While always an interesting day with top-notch runners, the event faces headwinds from the usually less-than-good going and the lure of the Arc program a few weeks earlier and the Breeders' Cup a few weeks later.
Still, a jolly good show -- Ascot without the pomp and pretense.
This year's even worse-than-usual weather has created even more uncertainty about the event with plans in place to use the dryer hurdles course if the usual circuit is deemed too wet.
The 1 1/4-mile Champion Stakes itself seems wide open after the defection of Paddington to the 1-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Paddington is a solid favorite in that over Tahiyra, even if she does start (see Filly & Mare Turf above).
Last year's winner, Bay Bridge, enters off a sixth-place finish in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The Fillies & Mares Stakes also looks up for grabs with 14 set to load, most having claims.
The Sprint at 6 furlongs could be the domain of Kinross, who will be toting Frankie Dettori in what might or might not be his final appearance at a Champions Day.
Stay tuned about that and check listings for the current status of the farewell tour. And we'll still be thinking of the retired champion Stradivarius as eight line up to tackle the 2 miles of the Group 2 Long-Distance Cup.
There are no Godolphin runners on the program and precious few from Aidan O'Brien' Ballydoyle yard. The QE II is a "Win and You're In" for the FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile and the Champion Stakes is the final "Win and You're In" for this season, for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.
Meanwhile, the All-Weather Championships are transformed rather dramatically for the 11th season.
The categories remain unchanged, but the annoying "Win and You're In"-style Fast-Track Qualifiers are replaced by two All-Weather Championships Trials Day fixtures each, including a series of £45,000 open handicaps in the respective categories, at Newcastle on New Year's Day and Lingfield Park in early March.
The winner of each Trials Day race gets a pass to the finals, plus a £30,000 bonus if the horse doubles up with a Good Friday win. A hat trick of victories in both trials and in the final, all in the same category, is worth a total bonus of £75,000. The Good Friday finals become open-qualifying handicaps.
The bonuses and basic prize money, while minor by global standards, are important to purse-starved Euros.
At the other end of the spectrum, connections at the top of the pecking order have come to use the AWC program as a proving ground for big-money dirt races in the Middle East early in the year.
An early case in point: Godolphin's Military March returned from a 999-day, injury-induced layoff in Tuesday's all-weather feature at Newcastle. He finished 10th, but trainer Saeed bin Suroor predicted he would need the race and said he's entered in the Bahrain International Trophy with Dubai as an option later.
There's no Triple Crown on the line in Sunday's Grade 1 Kikuka Sho or Japanese St. Leger at Kyoto Racecourse. But, with the winners of each of the first two legs facing off, there is a lot at stake in the 3,000-meters event.
Tastiera returns after a break of nearly five months after winning the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby, his third victory from five starts.
Sol Oriens, winner of the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Satsuki Sho or Japanese 1,000 Guineas, was second in the Derby and second again in a warmup for this race, a Grade 2 event at 2,200 meters Sept. 18.
None of that is to say it's a two-horse race. The Derby ended in a blanket finish involving five horses, also including Heart's Concerto and Nocking Point, who return.
Saturday's Group 1 Caulfield Cup has a full starting gate to go 2,400 meters. Gold Trip is the lukewarm favorite off a victory in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes at Flemington last time out. But West Wind Blows, Soulcombe, Without a Fight, Breakup and a few others also look capable.
We await final fields for Sunday's Criterium de Saint-Cloud at 2,000 meters and Criterium International at 1,600 meters. Both are for 2-year-olds. Both are Group 1. Both have a heavy list from Aidan O'Brien's Coolmore string.
Illinois goes in the Criterium and the Galileo colt comes off a strong performance in winning his first start back home in Ireland.
There's lots going on at Sha Tin Racecourse with the Longines International Races less than two months away.
Star springer Lucky Sweynesse will try to recapture his winning form Sunday in the Group 2 Premier Bowl Handicap.
Trainer Manfred Man's charge finished second to Victor the Winner last time out but was excused because it was his first start of the season, the course was rated yielding after typhoon rains and he was carrying 135 pounds, giving 20 pounds to his rival.
He had a record-tying eight wins in the 2022-23 season, seven of them in pattern races and three of those in Group 1 affairs. That score might have been better but for a luckless run in the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint last December.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's star of stars, Golden Sixty, turned in a successful barrier trial Tuesday morning and trainer Francis Lui said he may change earlier plans and give the 8-year-old a prep race before the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Mile.
That would be in the BOCHK Private Wealth Jockey Club Mile on Nov. 19. In that, he likely would face California Spangle, who spoiled his bid for a hat trick in last December's international, and the 2023 BMW Hong Kong Derby winner, Voyage Bubble.
Golden Sixty the only nine-time Group 1 winner in Hong Kong racing history, holds the marks as top earner (HK$147.93 million) and is the only three-straight Hong Kong Horse of the Year.
Meanwhile, back in the States
Presque Isle Downs
Greavette was out front early in Monday's $100,000 Finest City Stakes for 2-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred fillies and held on to win by a head over the favorite, Dancing Spirit.
Greavette, a daughter of Australian-bred Astern, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.57 with Gaddiel Martinez in the irons.