Europe's biggest race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, shares the weekend stage with gigantic and important programs at Belmont, Santa Anita and Churchill Downs and Breeders' Cup Challenge races in England, France and Japan.
Laurel Park has a spiffy turf program and both Woodbine and Gulfstream Park offer races with major implications for year-end events and honors.
Worldwide, 13 official Breeders' Cup starting spots are on offer through the "Win and You're In" or Challenge programs. Many other Breeders' Cup participants will be running in those races and others.
We'll save the Arc for the International section and start with:
Bob Baffert did not enter his two top candidates for the Breeders' Cup Classic, Arrogate and Collected, for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" for the big race. But he did toss Cupid and Mubtaahij into the mix -- the latter with the comment that he was working too well not to run. Cupid enters off wins in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita and the Harry F. Brubaker at Del Mar. Mubtaahij has not raced since his fourth-place finish in that remarkable Dubai World Cup back in March at Meydan.
Dortmund, second to California Chrome in this race last year, is back for another try but hardly seems the same horse. Breaking Lucky has been unlucky while finishing third against top rivals in his last two starts and Curlin Rules is moving in the right direction with a close second in the Brubaker. Midnight Storm, third in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile on the Santa Anita turf, might break running and see if they can catch him.
Baffert says Arrogate's work earlier this week indicates he is back to form after two consecutive losses. But those defeats -- both at Del Mar, the site of this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships -- make this division much more interesting. And, there's Gun Runner waiting to meet Arrogate, Collected and whoever emerges from this bunch. Watch and learn. Cupid is a 2-1 morning-line favorite.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs features Honorable Duty, the fifth-place finisher in last year's edition. The Distorted Humor gelding got the ultimate equipment change after that race and since has three wins and two seconds from five starts. In his last race, he was second to Gun Runner in the Grade I Stephen Foster under the Twin Spires. Also to be feared are Eagle and Fear the Cowboy. Flashy Jewel has been good but finished last of five in his last race, beaten more than 30 lengths -- and was claimed from that effort for $80,000. He's been training well for new conditioner Mike Maker and might be a bit of value.
Melmich is a big favorite against just four rivals in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Durham Cup at 9 furlongs over the Woodbine all-weather course. The 6-year-old Wilko gelding has won four straight races at the Toronto track and was fourth in the Grade II Marathon Stakes at Santa Anita last year on the Breeders' Cup undercard.
Familiar foes Eskenformoney and Money'soncharlotte hook up again in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Beldame at Belmont Park. The 9-furlongs event for 3-year-olds and up drew a field of just seven. Money'soncharlotte has defeated Eskenformoney twice in their last two meetings. But since then, Money'soncharlotte journeyed to Thistledown to pick up an easy win in the Lady Jacqueline while Eskenformoney knocked heads with Forever Unbridled and Songbird in the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga, finishing third -- a more impressive performance in terms of class. The 3-year-olds are represented by Elate, who just missed winning the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks by a head to Abel Tasman, then went on to capture the Grade I Alabama by 5 1/2 lengths in a tour de force. Also in this field is the appropriately named Presumptuous, still a maiden after 14 previous starts.
There are no Zenyattas in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Zenyatta at Santa Anita, a 1 1/6-mile Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". In fact, there's just one Grade I winner among the half dozen entrants -- Santa Anita Oaks winner Paradise Woods. The Union Rags filly hasn't fared well since that triumph, finishing 11th as the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks, then sixth, as the odds-on favorite, in the Grade III Torrey Pines at Del Mar in her only intervening race. She had excuses in both -- a sloppy track at Churchill Downs and a stumbling start at Del Mar -- and a return to the Santa Anita Oaks form would put her well in front of at least four of these opponents. The potential exception is Faithfully, a Smart Strike filly who finished third in the Grade I Clement Hirsch at Del Mar two starts back. But Faithfully has been seen more often in the bridesmaid's role. A fast track and a clean trip could see Paradise Woods back on the right path.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park looks like a proper prep for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, for which it's a "Win and You're In". Grade I Arlington Million winner Beach Patrol, Grade I Sword Dancer winner Sadler's Joy, Grade I Belmont Derby and Grade I Secretariat Stakes winner Oscar Performance should give an indication of the relative strength of the American turf runners. The European team, loosely defined, includes Fanciful Angel, second in the Million for trainer Marco Botti and now conditioned by Chad Brown; French Group 1 winner Mekhtaal, a luckless 10th in the Million for trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and now handled by Graham Motion; and Irish-based The Grey Gatsby, who has tons of back class but hasn't won since Moses stopped shaving. This is not the European A-team expected to show up at Del Mar so if the Americans can't dominate this event, things will look a bit bleak for the home team a month down the pike. This race is the Breeders' Cup distance of 1 1/2 miles.
Sunday's $200,000 Grade II John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita is a 1 1/4-mile prep for the Breeders' Cup Turf. Hunt and Itsinthepost enter this off a 1-2 finish, just 3/4 length apart, in the Grade II Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles. Chicago Style, a 4-year-old Kitten's Joy gelding, gets a class test after dual wins at Del Mar. Most of the other six have been successful at this level -- but not recently.
Saturday's $100,000 Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs drew Giant Payday, the winner of the Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury Park; Super Derby winner Mr. Misunderstood; rapidly improving Kentucky Downs allowance winner Mr Cub; hard-trying dual Monmouth Park winner Your Way; and four others. The 1 1/16 miles around two turns could go just about any way but Mr. Misunderstood is the morning-line pick.
Voodoo Song rides a four-race win streak into Saturday's $200,000 Commonwealth Derby at Laurel Park and that's enough to make him the 8-5 favorite on the morning line. The English Channel colt, trained by Linda Rice, scored a rare four-bagger during this summer's Saratoga meet, culminating in the Grade III Sarnac, and is undefeated in five tries on the turf. Profiteer has three wins and a second from his last five starts. Don't overlook Bronson, third in the Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs in his last start.
Filly & Mare Turf
Avenge led the way in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita and held on for third behind only Queen's Trust and Lady Eli. That's a pretty good credential and, despite fading losses in her only two previous starts this year, puts her in the mix for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" for this year's Filly & Mare Turf. It's a very competitive field of 10, however, and the likes of Responsibleforlove, Beau Recall and Goodyearforroses promise a scramble for the winners' share. Goodyearforroses and Avenge are the oddsmaker's picks.
Rymska, a French-bred daughter of Le Havre, is the 2-1 morning-line pick among 10 in for Saturday's $200,000 Commonwealth Oaks at Laurel Park. Trained by Chad Brown, she made her second U.S. start in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, finishing a decent fifth. She came back to win the Grade III Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream Park in February but has not been seen since. Brown also saddles Taperge, a Tapit filly who comes off a nice win at Saratoga. Another French-bred, Flower Fashion, makes her U.S. debut after running well enough at Maisons-Laffite this summer.
Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup at Laurel Park drew a nice field of nine headed by 9-5 favorite Projected. The Juddmonte Farms homebred, a 5-year-old gelding by Showcasing, has a win and three seconds to show from six U.S. starts for trainer Chad Brown. He faces some tough ones in Catapault, Tower of Texas, Ring Weekend and last year's winner, Blacktype. The race is 1 mile around two turns.
Eleven are set to race down the hillside turf course in Friday's $100,000 Grade III Eddie D Stakes at Santa Anita with Om the 8-5 morning-line favorite. Om, a 5-year-old son of Munnings, rallied from last of 14 in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and just missed catching the winner, Obviously, by a nose. He rarely is out of the money and also has been very effective up to 1 mile.
Saturday's $75,000 Unzip Me Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita got an overflow field, many of them shortening up from the Del Mar Oaks to try this dash down the hillside turf course. Noted and Quoted makes her turf debut here for trainer Bob Baffert.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Front Runner at Santa Anita, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", got a field of nine. Among them we find Bolt d'Oro and Zatter, the first- and second-place finishers from the Grade I Del Mar Futurity, and Encumbered, winner of the Del Mar Juvenile Turf. Texas Wedge won a maiden claimer in his first race early in the Del Mar meeting and would be tough if he can replicate that. Baffert charge Solomini also was an impressive maiden winner down the coast. Another tough one to figure out although Bolt d'Oro and Zatter are solid morning-line favorites.
Soutach, a Backtalk colt, is the favorite among just six in for Saturday's $400,000 In Reality Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Ralph Nicks trainee won the Affirmed Division of the FSS after finishing third in the Dr. Fager Division.
Artie B Good is a 2-1 morning-line favorite in Saturday's $75,000 Oak Tree Juvenile at Pleasanton with seven rivals for the 1 mile and 70 yards. The Artie Schiller colt is 2-for-2 with a win in the Jess Jackson Juvenile at Santa Rosa in his last start. We note the presence here of Axelrod, fresh off a maiden win at Del Mar.
Seven turned out for Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Grey Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the Woodbine all-weather. Like What I See and Piven come off a 1-2 finish in the Colin Stakes. The other five are recent maiden winners.
Eight signed on for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Pilgrim at Belmont Park, 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf. There's no shortage of talent here but Voting Control, a Kitten's Joy colt trained by Chad Brown, looks fearsome after winning at first asking late in the Saratoga season with a late run. Others catching the eye are Maraud, a Blame colt from the Todd Pletcher barn, and Evaluator, who was closing late in the Grade III With Anticipation. The latter drew the outside position in a race that starts on the clubhouse turn.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", poses the age-old handicapping question: Do you go with proven performance or a bucketful of promise? The eight-filly field includes the first two from the Grade I Del Mar Debutante -- Moonshine Memories and Piedi Bianchi -- and the winner of the Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf, Terra's Angel. The most promising of those stepping up is Alluring Star, a Bob Baffert-trained Exchange Rate filly who was most impressive in winning her first start at Del Mar Sept. 3. They're all trying 1 1/16 miles for the first time.
Desert Honeys is the 2-1 morning-line pick in Saturday's $400,000 My Dear Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The High Cotton filly was second to Starship Bonita in the Susan's Girl Division and that rival in the outside gate in a 10-filly field Saturday.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Orbolution, an Orb filly, was a two-time winner at Saratoga and a likely favorite for Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Miss Grillo at Belmont Park. Southampton Way, a daughter of Into Mischief, also has support after a second in the Grade II Adirondack at the Spa and another runner-up showing on the Arlington all-weather in the Arlington-Washingon Lassie. Best Performance has been second-best in her last three races, including the Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga. Chad Brown takes over the training for Africa, a Dabirsim filly who just stepped off the plane from her native France.
In three consecutive races, El Deal has worked his way up from the Charles Town handicap ranks to winning the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga. The 5-5-year-old son of Munnings returns from a two-months break to tackle Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Vosburgh at Belmont Park, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" event, as the 6-5 morning line favorite. "I always believed he was a nice horse and he's shown it," said trainer Jorge Navarro. Do I think he ran against the best sprinters in the nation (in the Vanderbilt)? Nope. He's still got to show up on Saturday, and if he shows up on Saturday, I think he'll be there." A couple of big names among his six rivals, Stallwalkin' Dude and Green Gratto, have been in the doldrums recently so it's time to look out for such 3-year-old newcomers as Mr. Crow, a Todd Pletcher trainee, and Takaful, winner of the Grade I H.A. Jerkens at the Spa.
Awesome Slew is pretty much a standout among nine entrants in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Ack Ack at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old Awesome Again colt has finished second in three of his last four starts -- behind Limousine Liberal, Mind Your Biscuits and Defrong, the cream of the crop in this division. Based on recent data, Conquest Big E will try to take the field all the way. D. Wayne Lukas will saddle Warrior's Club for the happy members of the Churchill Downs Racing Club.
Sunday's $200,000 Temperence Hill Invitational at Belmont Park at 13 furlongs drew six including Scuba, Madefromlucky, Turco Bravo and Testosterone.
On the international front:
It's the year's biggest race on the Continent: Sunday's Group 1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly. The odds-on favorite, Enable, is a 3-year-old filly by Nathanial, seeking her sixth straight win for trainer John Gosden and Juddmonte Farms. She has already thumped her main rival, Ulysses, beating the 4-year-old Galileo colt by 4 1/2 lengths in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July.
Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien has a powerful field of five for the Arc, topped by another 3-year-old filly, Winter, and Order of St George, who was third last year. There are lots of other possibilities in this big field should Enable not be able to handle the Chantilly course. Flying way below the radar is the Japanese hope, Satono Diamond, a Deep Impact colt who finished fourth in the Qatar Prix Foy in preparation for this. The Foy winner, German-trained Dschingis Secret, also returns for the Arc, which should be a great renewal of the historic feature.
There are five other Group 1's on Sunday's Chantilly card: The Total Marcel Boussac for 2-year-old fillies at 1 mile; the Qatar Jean Luc Lagardere for 2-year-olds, also at 1 mile; the Qatar Abbaye de Longchamp for 2-year-olds and up at 1,000 meters; the Longines Prix Opera for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles; and Qatar Prix Foret at 1,400 meters.
The juvenile races and the Opera all are Breeders' Cup Challenge races. The Jean Luc Lagarere also is the third race in Churchill Downs' "European Road to the Kentucky Derby", offering 10-4-2-1 points to the first four finishers.
Saturday's Chantilly card features the Group 1 Qatar Prix Cadran for 4-year-olds and up at 4,100 meters, supported by a quartet of Group 2 events.
There are two Breeders' Cup Challenge races this weekend at Newmarket. Friday's Shadwell Rockfel provides a free pass to the Juvenile Fillies Turf while Saturday's Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes offers a spot in the starting gate for the Juvenile Turf and is the second race in the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" series.
Strangely, neither of two Group 1 races on Saturday at Newmarket -- the Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes for 2-year-old colts and the Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes for 2-year-old fillies -- is anointed by Churchill Downs or Breeders' Cup.
On Sunday, Epsom Downs will offer a "wildcard" entry into next year's Investec Derby to the winner of the extended-mile totepool Conditions Race, provided that winner is not already entered -- or a gelding. There were 448 yearling entries made last January for the 2018 Investec Derby. Horses not entered also can gain a "wildcard" entry by winning the Investec Derby Trial April 25 -- a race won this year by Cracksman, who went on to finish third in the Derby. In addition, there is a second entry deadline April 3 and a supplementary entry stage May 28. The Derby will be run June 2.
Group 1 racing returns to Japan Sunday at Nakayama Racecourse with the Sprinters Stakes, a 1,200-meters dash over the right-handed turf course that represents the eighth leg of the Global Sprint Challenge. The race also is a "Breeders' Cup Challenge" race with the winner offered a fees-paid spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, plus a travel allowance. Last year's winner, Red Falx, is back. He finished 12 in last year's Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint but has been more effective at home this year with a win and two thirds from three starts. The only foreign runner in this year's Sprinters Stakes is Hong Kong-based Blizzard, who steps up a bit in class.
While anxiously awaiting Winx's try for her 21st straight win, Aussies have something to hold their interest. Saturday's Group 2 Santos Coffee Premier Stakes at Royal Randwick, featuring Chautauqua and Ball of Muscle going 1,200 meters. Ball of Muscle was second to Redzel in the Group 2 The Shorts on Sept. 16 with Chautauqua flying late only to finish seventh going 1,100 meters. Improvement would put Chautauqua into the mix off favorites for the Oct. 14 Everest, the Aus$10 million sprint at 1,200 meters.