Mendelssohn (center, purple and white colors), seen winning the 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, is entered for this year's Classic on the main track at Churchill Downs. (Breeders' Cup photo)
It's the weekend between British Champions Day and the Breeders' Cup World Championships -- a niche nicely filled on Saturday in Australia with Winx's shot at an unprecedented fourth straight Cox Plate victory.
Japan also contributes to the proceedings with the Tenno Sho (Autumn), featuring the top two from the 2017 Japanese Derby, Rey de Oro and Suave Richard, and the 2016 Derby winner Makahiki.
With Champion's Day still fresh in our memory, England's All-Weather Championship Season already is under way with the first Fast-Track Qualifier in the books.
And the UAE kicks off its 2018-19 racing season Friday at Jebel Ali. Two blinks of an eye will have us at the Dubai World Cup on March 30.
North American racing, understandably, catches its collective breath this weekend as the Breeders' Cup contenders not already on the grounds roll into the Churchill Downs backstretch. Still, there are some noteworthy races here and there, which we'll note.
The Breeders' Cup pre-entries are out. And, looking still farther into the future, so are the nominations to the Longines Hong Kong International Races Dec. 9.
But we start with:
The Aussie wonder mare has won 28 straight races and three straight runnings of the Group 1 Cox Plate. There's not a lot left unsaid about the 7-year-old daughter of Street Cry who tops the Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings. In Wednesday morning's ceremony, Winx drew gate No. 6 in a field of eight and jockey Hugh Bowman told racing.com he's okay with that. "Depending on how the race is run, I can ride Winx to suit her and the race."
After beating up on the locals, Winx this time around faces rivals from across the waters representing the world's two major racing powerhouses -- Godolphin and Coolmore. Benbatl, a 4-year-old Dubawi colt, is a Group 1 winner this year in Dubai and Germany for Godolphin and won the Group 1 Ladbroke Stakes at Caulfield in his Aussie debut Oct. 13. Rostropovich, a 3-year-old Frankel colt, finished second in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby in his best performance to date for Coolmore.
Godolphin's assault on Australian racing took another jump forward with Best Solution's victory last weekend in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup. That performance lowered Best Solution's odds for the Nov. 6 Melbourne Cup -- along with the Kentucky Derby, a race Sheik Mohammed has yet to add to his trophy case.
The Cox Plate is not the only race on the day with international implications. The 14-horse field for the Group 1 Ladbrokes Manikato Plate includes U S Navy Flag, Spirit of Valor, Intelligence Cross and Fleet Review -- all Aidan O'Brien charges from the Coolmore lineup. U S Navy Flag won the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket this summer but was ninth earlier this month at Royal Randwick in his first test Down Under.
The Breeders' Cup World Championships
Fourteen races, all but one Grade I affairs, spread over two days at Churchill Downs on the first weekend of November. If even a fraction of the pre-entries announced this week pan out, one hardly could hope for more.
The lineup includes five previous Breeders' Cup winners -- Mendelssohn, Oscar Performance, Roy H, Stormy Liberal and Talismanic; two-time Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Enable; British superstar Roaring Lion; and the winners of the two most recent runnings of the Kentucky Oaks -- Monomoy Girl and Able Tasman. The list goes on from there and about the only missing notable is the retired Triple Crown winner Justify.
In all, a record 221 horses, 51 from overseas, are on the pre-entry list.
Detailed rundowns of each race will be forthcoming.
And away they go in the All-Weather Championships -- a winter-long series that climaxes with Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, April 19, 2019. The first of the Fast-Track Qualifying races, which guarantee the winner a spot in the finals, went to Concierge Tuesday on Newcastle's Tapeta track. With Oisin Murphy up for trainer George Scott, the Society Rock gelding found running room in the final furlong and ran on to win by 2 3/4 lengths.
Scott said Concierge has had an unlucky season but now looks a candidate for the 3-year-old event in April. "I ran him specifically because I thought he would really handle the track coming from off the pace. It was nice to see him put it all together.
"I guess the obvious thing now would be to give him a break and bring him back for Finals Day," the trainer added. "We will see how we are going but I would not be afraid of taking him straight there. This will be his first winter off, so we will keep that door open and see how he is training closer to the time."
Before we shuffle off to the all-weather, however, there's one final Group 1 Flat race on the British turf -- Saturday's Vertem Futurity Trophy for 2-year-olds at Doncaster, the former Racing Post Trophy. Eleven are set with Coolmore's Magna Grecia a general antepost favorite at just more than even odds. The Invincible Spirit colt has finished first and second in his two previous starts for trainer Aidan O'Brien. Coolmore also has Circus Maximus so perhaps we should brace for a flood of ancient Mediterranean names from the Irish juggernaut?
The contenders for Sunday's Grade 1 Tenno Sho (Autumn) haven't been the most consistent bunch in the history of Japanese racing. But, collectively, they have posted some notable successes, including wins in the last two runnings of the Japanese Derby. Rey de Oro won that classic last year and went on to finish second behind Cheval Grand in the Grade I Japan Cup. Makahiki landed the 2016 Derby, then traveled to France where he finished second in the Group 2 Prix Niel, raising hopes Japan might finally land the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. But Makahiki never landed a blow in that race and has not won since.
Vivlos, one of two females expected in the field, won the Group 1 Dubai Turf in 2017 and finished second in that race this year. Al Ain is a Satsuki Sho winner. Kiseki won the Kikuka Sho last year. Mikki Rocket notched his first Grade 1 win in the Takarazuka Kinen in June. Perhaps one of them can put together a consistent effort in this.
The Tenno Sho is run over 2,000 meters, left-handed, over the Tokyo Racecourse turf.
United Arab Emirates
The season starts with a seven-race card at Jebel Ali Racecourse, featuring a 1,400-meters handicap with a field of 13. Prominent in that group is last year's winner, Cosmo Charlie. The Doug Watson trainee was on the fringes of the top rung last season, finishing second to subsequent Group 2 Godolphin Mile winner Heavy Metal in February's Group 3 Firebreak Stakes. Anyway, ignore Watson's runners at your own risk. Another factor here is trainer Nicholas Bachalard, an import from Saudi Arabia to the stable of Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Longines Hong Kong International Races
Sixty-seven Group 1 winners are among the 191 horses from around the globe nominated at the first stage for the Dec. 9 showpiece day at Sha Tin Racecourse. The four Group 1 turf races -- the Cup at 2,000 meters, the Mile, the Sprint at 1,600 meters and the Vase at 2,400 meters -- all got significant purse increases this year to a total of HK$93 million (US$ ---------).
Andrew Harding, executive director of racing for the Hong Kong Jockey Club, noted the entries include eight more Group 1 winners than last year's, adding, "Among those we have bill-topping international stars of the highest calibre.
"Hong Kong in December is a destination that appeals to the world's great horsemen and that is borne out by the fact that we have entries from 12 jurisdictions, with many of the world's most prominent trainers and owners looking to end their year on a high at Sha Tin in four career-defining races," Harding said.
The nominees include a substantial contingent from Australia (no, not Winx) despite the fact the Australian government continues to ban shipment of horses between the two jurisdications. Resolution of that dispute would be a welcome prelude to the big event.
It's tough to beat the home team in Hong Kong but if even a fraction of the early nominees turn up on Dec. 9, the locals will have to be at their best to hold serve.
Otherwise on the weekend agenda:
Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Bold Ruler, 7 furlongs on the dirt, drew a field of six. Notable among them, and giving weight to all the others, is Coal Front, a 4-year-old Stay Thirsty Ridgling trained by Todd Pletcher who has four of five starts, including the Grade III Gallant Bob at Parx Racing in his last outing and the Grade II Amsterdam at Saratoga this summer. Delta Prince could have a shot if Coal Front isn't up to snuff.
Saturday's $100,000 English Channel for 3-year-olds is 1 mile on the turf with nine to start plus one "main track only" entry. Sand Dancer comes off a second in the Grade II Hill Prince. Therapist won two legs of the New York Stallion Series but finished seventh in the Grade III Sarnac at the Spa. Golden Brown, who is a dark bay or brown colt, won the Grade III Kent Stakes at Delaware Park in July but hasn't lived up to that since. Majestic Dunhill exits a second in a Kentucky Downs stakes, always an angle to watch. Note: Medal of Honor ships in from Ireland for this with Joseph Patrick O'Brien listed as trainer. Also note: None of the 10 is by top turf sire English Channel.
Saturday's $100,000 Awad Stakes has nine 2-year-olds going 1 mile on the turf. It's a "you pick 'em" event but Order and Law, a Violence colt, comes off a victory in the Laurel Futurity and shows promise.
Sunday's $100,000 Chelsea Flower is for 2-year-old fillies, also 1 mile on the turf.
Prime Attraction is, well, the prime attraction in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Hagyard Fayette Stakes at 9 furlongs on the dirt. The 5-year-old son of Unbridled's Song, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, has been competing at the highest level on the West Coast, most recently chasing home Breeders' Cup Classic favorite Accelerate in the Awesome Again and Pacific Classic. This should be much easier. But it's no cakewalk with Hofburg and Leofric at 5-2 on the morning line. Hofburg gets a nice break in the weights as the only 3-year-old in the seven-horse field.
Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Autumn Miss for 3-year-old fillies is 1 mile on the turf and you'd never know from the entry box that there's a horse shortage. Fourteen are set to face the starter in what promises to be a good scramble. We'll be watching Raya, the winner of the Group 3 UAE Oaks and runner-up to Mendelssohn (albeit by 18 3/4 lengths) in the Group 2 UAE Derby. Sent to Bob Baffert after that, the Tiz Wonderful filly finished 13th in the Kentucky Oaks. She returned Sept. 8, finishing fifth of six in the Beverly J. Lewis at Los Alamitos, showing little.
Silent Poet, riding a three-race winning streak, and Pink Lloyd, last year's winner and reigning Canadian Horse of the Year, are among nine in for Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Overskate Stakes.
Moonlit Promise, last year's winner, is back for Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Fashion Stakes for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs on the all-weather course. The field of 12 has many other possibilities, including Code Warrior, third in last year's edition.
News and notes:
Speaking of Woodbine, the Toronto-area track is nearing completion of a new 7-furlongs inner turf course, expected to provide substantial new grass racing as early as the 2019 season. Installation of the Kentucky Bluegrass sod was completed last week and the start of racing will depend on how fast the grass roots and matures.
"With the addition of this world-class inner turf track to complement our suite of turf assets including the E.P. Taylor Turf Course, we will be able to offer more turf racing opportunities and flexibility to our local horsemen and visiting competitors," said Jonathan Zammit, Vice President of Thoroughbred Racing Operations.
Woodbine hosted more than 290 turf races, including 37 stakes, over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course through the first 100 days of the 2018 Thoroughbred racing season. Among the highlights were four Grade 1 Breeders' Cup 'Win And You're In' events and this month's Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International and E.P. Taylor Stakes won by European stars Desert Encounter and Sheikha Reika.