Horses from old veterans to promising youngsters feature in top races around the world this weekend with big pots and Breeders' Cup spots on the line.
We're into the final round of preps for the Nov. 2-3 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita and the weekend action reflects that urgency.
Santa Anita returns to action with four "Win and You're In" races pointing directly to the Breeders' Cup. There are more of those at Belmont Park and yet another in Japan.
Two year-olds strut their stuff at Gulfstream Park in Florida, Newmarket in England and in both New York and California.
Let's strut our stuff:
After Thunder Snow won the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in March, trainer Saeed Suroor immediately was talking about bringing the 4-year-old back to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Christophe Soumillon, who tried to ride Thunder Snow in the Kentucky Derby, shuddered at the thought. Thunder Snow last May showed no interest in running for the roses, bucking and jumping until Soumillon pulled him up only yards out of the starting gate.
Thunder Snow is back. And Soumillon is named to ride him in Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". "He really enjoys the dirt so we're happy to see him back on it," said bin Suroor assistant Tommy Burns.
The Gold Cup also has a pair who started their year in Europe -- Mendelssohn and Gronkowski. Mendelssohn detoured to Dubai to win the Group 2 UAE Derby in March before finishing last in the Kentucky Derby with a nightmare trip. More recently, Mendelssohn was second and Gronkowski, who was closing on Justify in the Belmont Stakes, finished eighth in the Travers.
The local team in the 100th running is headed by 4-5 morning-line favorite Diversify, last year's winner. He comes off three straight wins, most recently the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga where he defeated champion sprinter Mind Your Biscuits by 3 1/2 lengths. Discreet Lover has been competitive but finished 12th in the Grade I Woodward in his last outing. Any of the other three would be a surprise.
Out west in California, it's a battle of heavyweights in Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Awesome Again at Santa Anita, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". Accelerate, winner of the Gold Cup at Santa Anita and the Pacific Classic, both Grade I events, takes on West Coast, second in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup in January and second in the Dubai World Cup in March.
Accelerate, a 4-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky, has four wins and a second this year but the Aug. 18 Pacific Classic was his only start since May. West Coast, a 4-year-old Flatter colt, has not raced since the World Cup outing.
Both Accelerate and West Coast are proven at the 1 1/8-miles distance and both have solid records over the Santa Anita strip. Mike Smith will ride West Coast out of the No. 5 gate while Joel Rosario exits the No. 6 post on Accelerate. The other four appear to be window dressing.
A neutral observer would have to say it's an odd field for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Lukas Classic at 9 furlongs on the Churchill Downs main track.
Mind Your Biscuits, a fearsome sprinter, gets a second chance around two turns after finishing second to Diversify in the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga. If he runs well here, trainer Chad Summers would be set to run him in the Breeders' Cup Classic before he ships off to Japan for his second career.
Then there's Toast of New York, perhaps best remembered for his second-place finish, just a nose behind Bayern and a neck in front of California Chrome, in the controversial 2014 Breeders' Cup Classic. After that race, he was absent until December of 2017, when he won a minor event over the Lingfield Park all-weather course in England off the three-year layoff. He then tired to finish last in the Pegasus World Cup, hasn't been seen since and shows no published works.
Honorable Duty won last year's Lukas Classic, was pulled up in the Clark Handicap in November and has not raced since finishing second in the Grade I Stephen Foster June 16.
Given the question marks and rust surrounding the others, a rapidly improving Remembering Rita is worth a look. Two starts back, the 4-year-old won the Grade III Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows, a race in which McCraken finished third.
Sunday's $400,000 Grade III Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park drew a contentious field. Limation won the Grade III Super Derby in his last start. Believe in Royalty exits a win in the Ellis Park Derby. Lone Sailor was second in the Louisiana Derby, Ohio Derby and Super Derby but has only one career win. Sea Foam won the New York Derby. Several others, including Combatant and First Mondays, have credentials.
Imperial Hint, runner-up to Roy H. in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, is the clear choice in Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Vosburg at Belmont Park, a "Win and You're In" for this year's Breeders' Cup renewal. The 5-year-old son of Imperialism scored his first Grade I win in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga July 29, a superior effort. Trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. said Imperial Hint has worked strongly ever since, adding, "I'm looking forward to Saturday." His six rivals have much more modest resumes and Imperial Hint is 1-5 on the morning line. We take the hint.
C Z Rocket is the 2-1 morning-line pick in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Ack Ack at Belmont Park, going a one-turn mile. The 4-year-old City Zip colt was a fading fourth in the Grade I Forego at Saratoga in his last start but still ran a big enough figure to outclass most of these. The exception might be Seeking the Soul, who shortens up but did win the Grade I Clark Handicap around two turns over the course last fall.
Arlington Million winner Robert Bruce returns as the favorite in a field of nine for Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". The 4-year-old Chad Brown trainee, formerly raced in his native Chile, is 2-for-3 in the United States.
The Turf Classic, however, is filled with talent, including Carrick, a Giant's Causeway colt who won the Grade I Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Million program Aug. 11. Spring Quality, Channel Maker, Sadler's Joy, High Happy and Highland Sky all have shown enough to make the frame here. And since he was in town anyway to ride Mendelssohn, Ryan Moore opted to ride Teordoro, who makes his first start outside England.
Hot Springs looks for a breakthrough against nine rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs. The Uncle Mo colt is 2-for-2 under the Twin Spires but settled for second in the Grade III Kent at Delaware Park and fourth in the Grade III Sarnac at Saratoga. Majestic Eagle comes off a fourth in the Grade II Del Mar Derby. Captivating Moon has been thereabouts most of the year including a second in the Grade II American Turf on Derby Day. Lots of possibilities here.
Filly & Mare Turf
It's tough to look past any horse riding a six-race winning streak, even if that one started after a $40,000 claim and moves up for the first time to the top rung of the class ladder. That would be Vasilika, the 4-year-old Skipshot filly installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita. The main rival in a field of eight is Cambodia, who finished second to Vasilika last time out in the Grade II John C. Mabee. Cambodia also was third in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Paved steps up against older rivals and, like the others, will need to improve to compete with the top two. The race is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" but Vasilika is not nominated to the program and would require a big supplemental payment.
Last year's winner, Projected, is back for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup at Laurel Park, hoping to break a streak of "seconditis". The Juddmonte Farms homebred, second or third in each of his five races, beaten a total of less than 5 lengths. Trainer Chad Brown says the 5-year-old Showcasing gelding, has been running well enough to have his picture taken. Several others in the nine-horse field are in similar circumstances, however.
Stormy Liberal, the defending Breeders' Cup champ, and Conquest Tsunami are the morning-line favorites for Friday's $100,000 Grade III Eddie D down the Santa Anita hillside course. Stormy Liberal was runner-up in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai on World Cup night, then sixth in the Grade II Jaipur at Belmont Park and a dual winner at Del Mar. Conquest Tsunami, a 6-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding, tossed in a real clunker in his last start at Del Mar but earlier finished third in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai and second in the Grade II Jaipur Invitational at Belmont Park. Touching Rainbows is worth a look.
Ms Bad Behavior has a win and a second in two trips down the Santa Anita hillside turf course and that's enough to make her a lukewarm morning-line favorite for Saturday's $75,000 Unzip Me Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at the same trip. Twelve are set for the Unzip Me, plus two also-eligibles.
Saturday's $300,000 Grade I American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", pits the 1-2 finishers from the Grade I Del Mar Futurity for supremacy among the West Coast juveniles. Game Winner, a Candy Ride colt trained by Bob Baffert, tracked down pacesetting Rowayton to win the Del Mar heat by 1 1/2 lengths, remaining undefeated. Jerry Hollendorfer trains Rowayton and Gunmetal Gray, an impressive maiden winner in his first try around two turns at Del Mar. Jefe and Sigalert complete the field.
Garter and Tie, Well Defined and Cajun Firecracker, the first three finishers in the Affirmed Division, return for Saturday's $400,000 In Reality Division of the Florida Sire Stakes for state-bred 2-year-olds at Gulfstream Park. The final leg of the series extends the test to 1 1/16 miles. Garter and Tie, by Brooks and Down, was second in the first leg. Twelve are set for this test.
Opry heads a big and promising field for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Pilgrim at Belmont Park. The Declaration of War colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, won the Grade III With Anticipation at Saratoga in his most recent start. Pletcher also has Social Paranoia, hoping the addition of blinkers will get him over the hump. Somelikeithotbrown, second in the With Anticipation, also returns. Should be fun to watch.
Saturday's $75,000 Armed Forces Stakes at Gulfstream Park drew a field of 10 and it's a real program-stabber.
Bellafina looks like the one they'll have to catch to win Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". The Quality Road filly, trained by Simon Callaghan, has reeled off successive, open-lengths scores in the Grade II Sorrento and the Grade I Del Mar Debutante. The second- and fourth- place fillies from the latter race, Mother Mother and Brill, return here. So, too, does Del Mar May, second in the Sorrento. Maiden winners Vibrance and Der Lu complete the field. Der Lu, an Orb filly conditioned by Bob Baffert, looks upsettish.
The top three from the 7-furlongs Susan's Girl Division -- Cookie Dough, Starship Nala and Blazing Brooke -- tackle another furlong and a half in Saturday's $400,000 My Dear Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Cookie Dough, a Bretheren filly, was sixth in the first round of the series but drew off smartly to win by 6 1/2 lengths last time out. They're part of a field of 18 2-year-old fillies in the race.
Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Miss Grillo at Belmont Park drew a sparkling field including Decorated Ace, winner of the Sorority at Monmouth Park; Dogtag, winner of the P.G. Johnson at Saratoga; and Miss Technicality, winner of the Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies at Kentucky Downs. There also are some promising maiden winners.
Fine Needle, arguably Japan's top sprinter, is a well-warranted favorite in Sunday's Grade 1 Sprinter's Stakes at Nakayama, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. Fine Needle won the Grade 1 Takamatsunomia Kinen in the springtime and was a good fourth in the Group 1 Chairman's Sprint Prize in Hong Kong in April. He won his return, the Grade 2 Centaur Stakes, off the layoff. The opposition includes Hong Kong invader Lucky Bubbles, a Group 1 winner at home, and Red Falx. The latter won the last two editions of the Sprinters Stakes but has struggled since last year's running.
It's 2-year-olds on parade Friday and Saturday at Newmarket with a pair of Group 1's and three Group 2's on the agenda.
Friday's Group 2 Shadwell Rockfell for 2-year-old fillies provides the winner a free pass to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Nine signed on, headed by Coolmore runner Just Wonderful and the Mark Johnston-trained Main Edition. Don't overlook Yourtimeisnow, whose time may be now.
Friday's Group 2 Shadwell Joel Stakes for 2-year-olds has just five and there's not a lot to choose among them. Four of the five are listed as favorite by one bookmaker or another.
Saturday's Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge is a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. T the Group 1 Juddmonte Cheveley Park is for 2-year-old fillies and and the Group 1 Juddmonte Middle Park is for 2-year-old colts.
In Thursday's action, Arctic Sound found his best stride in the final 2 furlongs and rallied to win the Group 3 Tattersalls Stakes by 1 length over Bye Bye Hong Kong. The highly regarded -- and expensive -- Prince Eiji -- settled for third. Arctic Sound, a Poet's Voice 2-year-old colt trained by Mark Johnston, now is 4-for-6. Bye Bye Hong Kong is a Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt out of the Tiznow mare Light and Variable.
The older dudes had a turn Thursday, too, as 8-year-old Nearly Caught wasn't nearly caught by 9-year-old Sheikhzayedroad in the Jockey Club Rose Bowl Stakes, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over that rival going 2 miles.