This is "last call" weekend for Breeders' Cup hopefuls with more than a dozen "Win and You're In" races spread across three U.S. tracks. It's also Arc weekend in Paris and Winx seeks her 28th straight win in Australia.
There's even more, with important 2-year-old races in Canada and the Group 1 Sun Chariot in England.
Twenty-eight straight wins? It wasn't THAT long ago -- 22 years -- we were agog when Cigar equaled Citation's then-record 16 straight victories in the "Citation Challenge" at Arlington Park.
No looking back. There's way too much to anticipate. Away we go!
After division leader Abel Tasman's shocking loss last weekend, Saturday's $400,000 Beldame at Belmont Park looms as an important test for the Breeders' Cup Distaff, even though it's not a qualifying race. And there are a few in the eight-horse field who could step up with a career-type performance.
The morning-line favorite is Wow Cat, a Chilean-bred filly now trained by Chad Brown. She comes off a third in the Grade I Personal Ensign, far back of the embattled winner and runner up, Abel Tasman and Elate. Farrell, last year's Fair Grounds Oaks winner, defeated Wow Cat by a diminishing neck in the Grade III Shuvee at Saratoga in July but seems a need-the-lead type. She likely will be pushed along in this heat. Verve's Tale was third in the Shuvee, right behind Wow Cat, and tries again. Among those likely to set or press the pace are Divine Miss Grey and Come Dancing, both stepping up in class.
Sunday's $500,000 Grade I Juddmonte Spinster at Keeneland is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" and the field reflects that. Eskimo Kisses, fourth in the Kentucky Oaks and the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks, finally broke through to win the Grade I Alabama in her last start and tries older rivals for the first time. Talk Veuve to Me had a down day in the Alabama, finishing fourth, but was first or second in each of her previous five starts. Skeptic comes off a win in the Grade III Monmouth Oaks. Blue Prize is the best of the older rivals, winning the Grade II Fleur de Lis and Grade III Locust Grove, both at Churchill Downs, in her last two starts. She was third in last year's Spinster.
Meanwhile, trainer Bob Baffert says his star mare, Abel Tasman, was a bit under the weather when she was upset, finishing fifth, in the Grade I Zenyatta Stakes last weekend. A flu-like virus has been going around the Santa Anita backside and Baffert said after testing it appeared the 2017 Eclipse Award 3-year-old filly was feeling the effects. He said she should be fine for the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Roy H, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, is one of only five contesting Saturday's $300,000 Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship, a "Win and You're In" for this year's Breeders' Cup. The 6-year-old More Than Ready gelding finished third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March, only 3/4 length behind Mind Your Biscuits. In his return, Roy H finished second, 2 1/4 lengths adrift of Ransom the Moon, in the Grade I Bing Crosby July 28 at Del Mar. Ransom the Moon also is back for this heat. The champ's stablemate, Distinctive B, is along to ensure an honest pace and the others would need to step up if Roy H is back at his peak.
Friday's $250,000 Grade II Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", got six entries including some heavyweights. Whitmore, last year's winner, returns fresh off a victory in the Grade I Forego at Saratoga. Limousine Liberal was third in each of those heats and tries again. That pair has met four times previously, splitting the series. Promises Fulfilled, winner of the Florida Derby in March, exits a win in the Grade I H. Allen Jerkens at the Spa.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Trainer Jeff Bonde ships Miss Sunset in from the West Coast for Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". And why not? The Into Mischief filly has started twice at the Bluegrass track, winning the Grade II Raven Run at last year's fall meeting and finishing second, beaten just a nose in the Grade I Madison this spring. In California, she runs mostly against fellow Cal-breds. But the TCA is no cakewalk for anyone. Six of the 10 entrants come off a win, including Happy Like a Fool from the Grade III Miss Preakness, Golden Mischief from the rich West Virginia Secretary of State and Chalon from the Regret at Monmouth Park.
Sunday's $100,000 Grade III L.A. Woman at Santa Anita drew only five. Yuvetsi and Anonymity were 1-2 in the Grade III Rancho Bernardo in their last outings. Sky Diamonds finished fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and has hit the board in each of her last two starts, both graded stakes.
Raging Bull was installed as the 6-5 favorite in a field of eight for Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Hill Prince for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park. The French-bred Dark Angel colt, trained by Chad Brown, is 4-for-5 with a second to Up the Ante in the Manila Stakes on the Fourth of July his only loss. He exits a victory in the Grade III Sarnac at Saratoga where Up the Ante was 1 1/4 lengths back in second. Don't overlook Cullom Road, who just missed behind Channel Cat in the Dueling Grounds Derby last time out, or Ride a Comet, winner of the Del Mar Derby and a close third to Raging Bull in the Hall of Fame at the Spa.
Filly & Mare Turf
Quidura looks imposing in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I First Lady for fillies and mares at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", after a front-running win last time out in the Grade II Ballston Spa at Saratoga. She earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure for that -- as good as any and better than most of the nine rivals she'll face Saturday. Others to watch include Insta Erma and Valadorna, winner and second in the Grade III Ladies Turf at Kentucky Downs; A Raving Beauty, who seems to have leveled off, albeit at the top level, for Chad Brown in four U.S. starts; Crown Walk, second in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville in her last start; Indian Blessing, third in the Ballston Spa in her first U.S. start; and Dona Bruja, who was choked back and never a factor in the Grade I Beverly D. in her last start but second in that race last year.
Sunday's $500,000 Grade I Flower Bowl at Belmont Park, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", has a cast of seven. Fourstarcrook, a multiple graded stakes winner, is the potential star here after finishing second in the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington, just 1/2 length back of Sistercharlie. Onthemoonagain had some nice races in France as a 3-year-old but hasn't quite measured up yet for Chad Brown on this side of the Atlantic. Lady Mondore also ran well, and more consistently, in France and exits a victory in the Grade II Glens Falls at Saratoga. The 2016 Queen's Plate winner, Holy Helena, was third in the Grade II Dance Smartly at Woodbine in her last start and won the Grade II Sheepshead Bay over the Belmont turf in the springtime. Tricky Escape's record shows three straight wins.
Saturday's $1 million Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland drew a full field more than worthy of its purse, grade and status as a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". Several runners come off successful trips at Kentucky Downs, notably the Wesley Ward-trained Tourist Mile winner Bound For Nowhere. The 4-year-old son of The Factor, experienced against England's best on their home turf, should be a factor despite drawing gate No. 14. The field also has the third-place horse from the Tourist Mile, Mr. Misunderstood; the runners-up from both the Grade I Arlington Million and Grade I Secretariat Stakes, Almanaar and Analyze It; Grade I Fourstardave winner Voodoo Song; Qurbaan, who won the Grade II Bernard Baruch in his first U.S. start; and some others with tons of back class.
Fly to Mars and Sharp Samurai, the second- and third-place finishers in the Grade II Del Mar Mile, will mix it up again as part of a cast of nine for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II City of Hope Mile at Santa Anita. Fly to Mars was demoted from second to third in the Del Mar race, won by Catapult. Christophe Clement brings White Flag, second a head to Proforma in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint in his last start.
Vici and Undrafted, the third- and fourth-place finishers in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint -- both within a length of the winner -- figure prominently in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Woodford at Keeneland. Also here is Angston, winner of the Franklin Simpson over the unique Southern Kentucky track. Mark Casse brings Holding Gold, who has been holding his own at in Ontario and New York. Bucchero won last year's Woodford and returns but hasn't won in seven intervening starts. Others could figure, including former California sensation Rocket Heat, if it happens to be his day to run.
At Belmont Park: Disco Partner won last year's $150,000 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational, which unaccountably is not graded, then just missed with a late rush in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, finishing third, beaten only 1/2 length for the big check. He's back, and back at arguably his best distance, as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in this year's renewal Saturday. The main rival likely is Pure Sensation, coming off a sensational win in the Grade III Turf Monster at Parx, where he led, gave up the advantage and came again for the victory. He led the way in last year's Breeders' Cup before fading to finish fifth. Proforma enters off a win in the Grade III Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint. Todd Pletcher continues experimenting with Gidu and we'll let him do that without our support at the windows.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", drew 14. Among them are potential real deals Mind Control, winner of the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga, and Unionizer, winner of the Sapling at Monmouth Park. Several of the others were impressive maiden winners and others will be seeking serious improvement. Sombeyay deserves another chance after winning the Grade III Sanford, then finishing fourth in the Hopeful with a strange trip.
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", got 10 takers. Leading the charge are two recent first-out winners, Endorsed, a Medaglia d'Oro colt representing Godolphin, and Complexity, by McLean's Music and owned by Klaravich Stables. Both won impressively going 6 furlongs at Saratoga and now add another 2 furlongs. Call Paul won the Grade II Saragota Special but apparently impressed the oddsmaker only enough to be third choice on the morning line. Bottom line: This is pretty wide open.
Big Drink of Water scored his fourth straight win in Thursday's $100,000 Fritz Dixon Memorial Juvenile at Presque Isle Downs. The Soldat gelding led most of the way and shook clear late to score by 2 3/4 lengths. Amy Farah Fowler and Thunderous Gem filled the trifecta slots. Big Drink of Water, with Jose Valdivia Jr. in the irons, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:16.90. He won the Arlington Washington Futurity at Arlington Park in his previous start.
Saturday's $100,000 Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" for the Juvenile Turf Sprint, drew Mae Never No, a No Nay Never filly trained by Wesley Ward who came along too slowly for Royal Ascot but might be a good one anyway. She's 2-for-3 but tries the green course for the first time. Hartel exits a second in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf. Seven are set to go 5 furlongs.
Sunday's $150,000 Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" for the Juvenile Turf Sprint, has 12 entrants. Joyful Heart was third in the Grade III With Anticipation at Saratoga last time around. Veterans Beach was third in the Laurel Futurity. Dragic was third in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile. Check the tote board for further clues.
Fourteen plus one also-eligible are ready to go in Sunday's $250,000 Grade III Dixiana Bourbon at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In".
Another 14 young 'uns, five of them fillies, are entered for Sunday's $200,000 Indian Summer at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" for the Juvenile Turf Sprint. One of two also-eligibles is Jo Jo Air, a name that somehow reminds us of a Chuck Berry song. Or maybe we're conflating the "Airmobile" from "You Can't Catch Me" with the song "Jo Jo Gunne". Whatever, we hope she gets in and wins.
Four fillies from the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga return for Friday's $400,000 Grade I Alcibiadies at Keeneland, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". Chief among them is Restless Rider, who was second in the Spinaway. Also set are Bella Ciao (fourth at the Spa), Reflect (sixth) and Catherinethegreat (ninth). Peter Miller brings Barretts Debutante winner Kim K. and Boujie Girl from California. It's a full field with also-eligibles.
Tiz Breathtaking, winner of the 5 ½-furlongs Shady Well Stakes in her third career start at Woodbine Aug. 4, stretches out as a likely prospect in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Mazarine Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather. Among the rivals, trainer Mike Stidham picked this over the Alcibiades for the Godolphin-owned Carnival Colors, who already has proved herself at the distance.
Sunday's $400,000 Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", has eight takers. Sue's Fortune, won both previous starts, most recently the Grade II Adirondack at Saratoga. Cassies Dreamer was third in the Grade I Spinaway up north. Jaywalk has lower-level wins at Parx and Delaware Park in her last two outings. And there are several recent maiden winners.
Taking the worldwide view:
The climactic weekend of European racing features the return of the Group 1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe to a rebuilt Longchamp. The bookmakers reckon the setting may be different than last year but the outcome won't. Defending champion filly Enable's 2018 campaign was severely abridged by injury. But she looked just fine in her lone prep race Sept. 6 over the Kempton all-weather course, leading all the way and striding out to a 3 1/2-lengths victory over Crystal Ocean. She is little better than evens with most shops. Her trainer, John Gosden, has decided to save stablemate Cracksman for the British Champion Stakes, seeking softer ground.
There are many other choices in the Arc if Enable doesn't fire. Sea of Class, the Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks winner trained by William Haggis, was supplemented to the race early in the race. She would become a third-generation winner, following her sire, Sea the Stars (2009), and his dam, Urban Sea (1993). Waldgeist, winner of the Group 2 Qatar Prix Foy, and Kew Gardens, Aidan O'Brien's and Coolmore's top hope off a win in the Group 1 at Doncaster, also get support in the antepost wagering.
At much longer odds are many who would star in most races: French Derby winner Study of Man and the Andre Fabre-trained Godolphin duo of Talismanic and Cloth of Stars among them.
It may or may not make a difference but Enable drew stall No. 6 and Sea of Class was parked out wide in 15.
And the Arc itself is only the centerpiece of two days of top-shelf racing at Longchamp. Saturday's card has the Group 1 Qatar Prix Cadran and a quartet of Group 2 events. Sunday has six Group 1's, including three Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" events -- the Jean-Luc Lagardere for 2-year-olds, the Marcel Boussac for 2-year-old fillies and the Prix Opera for fillies and mares.
Winx gives it another go Saturday in the Group 1 Seppelt Turnbull Stakes at Flemington. The mighty mare still faces local competition as she seeks her 28th straight win and, all things being on the level, the race should be a maintenance work for her next assignment, seeking a fourth straight win in the Group 1 Cox Plate. Meanwhile, some members of Winx's ownerships group have been telling the Aussie racing press the Street Cry mare might continue next year as an 8-year-old if she continues to show interest. Maybe THEN she'll tackle Royal Ascot.
Saturday's Grade 3 Saudi Arabia Royal Cup for 2-year-olds is an early test of potential stardom. Like juvenile races anywhere, it doesn't always work out. But last year's winner, Danon Premium, went on to win the Grade 1 Asahi Hai Futurity. He also won the Grade III Hochi Hai Yayoi Sho in his 2018 debut before finishing sixth in the Japanese Derby. The race is 1 mile, left-handed around the Tokyo Racecourse turf oval.
Back in North America, some early returns:
Operation Stevie made steady progress from the back of the pack through the final half mile and was along in time to win Tuesday's $100,000 Gus Grissom Stakes for Indiana-breds by a neck over Uphold. Here Comes Doc was third. Operation Stevie, a 6-year-old Lantana Mob gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.85 with Emmanuel Esquivel in the irons.
Expect Indy showed the way in Tuesday's $100,000 Richmond Stakes for state-bred distaffers and held sway, winning by 3 3/4 length over Hay Little Bit. The favorite, Express Run, ran third. Expect Indy, a 5-year-old mare by Mr. Mabee, got home in 1:43.94, also partnered by Esquivel.