Oct. 29 (UPI) -- International fields packed with talent were finalized Monday for the 14 Breeders' Cup World Championship races Friday and Saturday at Churchill Downs.
The two-day extavaganza features everything from promising 2-year-olds in five races on "Future Stars Friday" to the French filly Enable, the two-time winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe who on Saturday will be the heavy favorite in the $4 million Longines Turf.
The 35th running of the Breeders' Cup climaxes with the $6 million Classic late Saturday afternoon. That race features a fascinating mashup of American and European horses, attended by some of the world's top trainers and jockeys.
There are defending champions and previous Breeders' Cup winners in several fields as the event visits the home of the Kentucky Derby for the ninth time. The $2 million Distaff has the winners of this year and last year's Kentucky Oaks. About the only missing piece is Justify, who was retired after winning this year's U.S. Triple Crown.
Enable comes to the Turf, the penultimate race of the day, as the even-money favorite against a dozen rivals who, frankly, look overmatched. Normally, an Arc winner would be well-used at this point in the season and ready for a rest. Not Enable, a 4-year-old daughter of Nathanial, who was injured early in the year and did not race until September. The Arc was only her second race of the year, making that victory even more impressive. Frankie Dettori, her usual pilot, will be aboard from gate No. 2 in a field of 13.
The Classic headliner is Accelerate, winner of five of his six races this year. Trainer John Sadler, seeking his first Breeders' Cup win, said the 5-year-old wasn't fully fit when he won the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes Sept. 29 by 2 1/4 lengths over West Coast. Now, he said, "He's training like he was for the Pacific Classic," which he won by 12 1/4 lengths in August. "He looks great to me. I just hope he shows up on Saturday," Sadler added.
Bob Baffert, seeking his fifth Classic win, will send West Coast out for another try, along with stablemate McKinzie. Both have had limited campaigns this year. "The Classic is very exciting," Baffert said. "It's a very prestigious race. I just hope they show up. That's all you can ask for on a big day like this. When they turn for home, I hope we can scream for some reason."
But Baffert added, " Accelerate, I've been watching him and I think he's the horse to beat."
The field also includes Mendelssohn, who finished last in this year's Kentucky Derby after a terrible start. Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien and jockey Ryan Moore will hope to have learned from that experience. Another with a Churchill Downs nightmare is Thunder Snow, the Dubai-based colt who refused to run at all in the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
He has been better behaved since and won this year's $10 million Dubai World Cup -- with West Coast second. Also in from abroad is Roaring Lion, winner of four straight Group 1 races in England and Ireland for trainer John Gosden. His generous 20-1 morning line odds reflect his long campaign and the fact this will be his first start on dirt although he did win his only start on an all-weather track. Oisin Murphy will be aboard and if he handles the surface, he will be dangerous.
Mind Your Biscuits is all-American but has won in Dubai and heads for a breeding career in Japan after the Classic. He made his mark as a sprinter but has stretched out in two prep races for this effort and a win would enhance his appeal at stud. "We'll have plans A, B, C and D," trainer Chad Summers said after Mind Your Biscuits drew stall 11.
The $2 million Longines Distaff for fillies and mares features a showdown between the 2017 Kentucky Oaks winner, Abel Tasman, and the first three finishers from this year's Oaks: Monomoy Girl, Wonder Gadot and Midnight Bisou.
The $2 million Mile, run on the turf, is a wide-open affair with several talented Europeans. Polydream, in from France for trainer Freddie Head, is the favorite at 5-1 on the morning line.
Imperial Hint is the 5-2 favorite on oddsmaker Mike Battaglia's morning line for the $2 million TwinSpires Sprint despite the presence in that starting gate of last year's winner, Roy H. X Y Jet was a late scratch from the Sprint field with a training injury.
Trainer Chad Brown will saddle five starters in the $2 million Maker's Mark Filly & Mare Turf -- the first time a trainer has had such a large contingent in a single race since D. Wayne Lukas started five in the 1988 Juvenile. Among Brown's small herd is the 3-1 morning-line favorite, Irish-bred Sistercharlie, last seen winning the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park in August. Wild Illusion, based in England for Dubai's Godolphin, exits a victory in the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera Longines. Another good race.
(An historical aside: Lukas's five starters in the 1988 Juvenile finished third, eighth, ninth, 11th and last of 13.)
The $1 million Dirt Mile is a one-turn affair at Churchill Downs, rewarding speed and early position. The favorites in a field of 10 are City of Light and Catalina Cruiser, who drew the inside and outside gates, respectively. Both are based in California and that has not been a "plus" for handicapping in past Churchill Downs Breeders' Cups.
The first Breeders' Cup races on Saturday art the $1 million, 7-furlongs Filly & Mare Sprint with Marley's Freedom the 8-5 favorite on the strength of four straight wins, and the $1 million Turf Sprint at 5 1/2 furlongs and racing luck a big player in the field of 14.
Friday's "Future Stars" program includes the $2 million Sentient Jet Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles, which usually nominates an early favorite for the coming year's Kentucky Derby, and the $2 million Tito's Handmade Vodka Juvenile Fillies, ditto for the Kentucky Oaks. This year, each of those races drew the winners of all the logical preps from around the United States, making them both difficult to handicap and exciting to anticipate.
The $1 million Juvenile Turf and $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf include plenty of promising youngsters from home and abroad. Mendelssohn won last year's Juvenile Turf. New this year is the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint, which has yet to receive graded status but likely will as soon as it's available. Stab the program with a hatpin to pick a horse in these and don't wager more than you want to lose.
The weatherman is calling for rain in Louisville through Thursday but partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid to upper 50s on Friday and Saturday. Battaglia should make odds on that, though. This year's Kentucky Derby weekend forecast for showers turned into a days-long downpour.
The races are televised live on the various NBC-TV outlets, either online or on cable. The final four races on Saturday will be aired live on the main NBC-TV channel. Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) has many hours of preview coverage and is the exclusive radio home of the Breeders' Cup. For tips, check HRRN analyst Jude Feld at www.popejude.com.