Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Defending champions, European champions and promising challengers fill nine Breeders' Cup races Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Despite clearing skies after a two-day downpour, the weather remains an issue, especially for the turf races. The Churchill Downs grass course is likely to be significantly soft because of the rain -- a major question mark for many of the runners.
Here's a look at the nine races, in reverse running order:
The $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic
The 35th edition of the Breeders' Cup crown jewel is one of the most diverse ever. The 14 starters include a converted sprinter, Europe's dominant middle-distance horse, a 4-year-old who refused to run in last year's Kentucky Derby, the last two winners of the UAE Derby in Dubai, two lightly raced horses trained by four-time Classic winner Bob Baffert and the favorite, whose trainer says he's happy with the No. 14 gate.
The 5-2 favorite on Mike Battaglia's morning line is Accelerate, a 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky. John Sadler, who has never won a Breeders' Cup race, trains the chestnut horse who dominated California handicap racing this year.
"It's a perfect spot for him," Sadler after the post position draw. "He shouldn't be bothered out there and he'll be able to move into whatever slot best works for him going into the first turn." Jockey Joel Rosario will oversee that effort.
Accelerate jogged Thursday morning on the sloppy track as rain continued to pelt Churchill Downs. "I'm sure the track will be to his liking on Saturday," Sadler said, eyeing the forecast for clearing skies.
While Accelerate is the favorite, the talk on the Churchill Downs backstretch was about the two Baffert horses -- McKinzie and West Coast. Baffert makes no secret of the fact that, before Justify came along to win the Triple Crown, He believed McKinzie was his "Derby horse." Injury sidetracked the Street Sense colt and he comes to the Classic with just a single prep -- that a victory in the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby. "Not having to run against Justify kept him fresh," Baffert said Wednesday morning after training hours. "He's a young horse, a 3-year-old, but I know how good he is. He's fast and so I think he should run well."
The other Baffert charge West Coast, finished third in last year's Classic, then second in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup and second again in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup. He was out of action from March until Sept. 29 when Baffert and owners Gary and Mary West inserted him at the last moment into the lineup for the Grade I Awesome Again at Santa Anita where he finished a game second -- behind Accelerate.
It's almost inconceivable that a horse would be 20-1 after winning four consecutive Group 1 races in England and Ireland against some of the best in the world. But that's where Roaring Lion landed on the morning line. The questions are: Will he handle the switch from grass to the main track? Is he still sharp enough after a tough summer campaign? Jockey Oisin Murphy said at Wednesday's media roundtable Roaring Lion is ready to roar again.
The converted sprinter is Mind Your Biscuits, a 5-year-old headed for stud duty in Japan after this race. He proved his ability to handle two turns in his last few races, going 1 1/8 miles but will have to find another 1/8 of a mile this time against tougher rivals. Sprint-to-Classic is not impossible. The great Black Tie Affair finished third in the 1990 Sprint, then won the 1991 Classic en route to Horse of the Year honors.
Thunder Snow won last year's Group 2 UAE Derby in Dubai. But when he tried the Kentucky Derby that spring, he jumped and reared out of the starting gate and was pulled up. He's been better mannered since that debacle -- including an impressive win in this year's Dubai World Cup and jockey Christophe Soumillon will hope Thunder Snow learned from the experience. "We are quite confident that everything will go great with him," the rider said after the 4-year-old turned in a sizzling workout Wednesday morning, 4 furlongs in 45 2/5 seconds. Trainer Saeed bin Suroor commented, "The time was nice ... He is ready."
This year's UAE Derby winner, Mendelssohn, also is in the Classic. He had a mess of his own in this year's Kentucky Derby, losing position at the start and finishing a dismal last. He, too, has been better since and jockey Ryan Moore definitely knows better now and trainer Aidan O'Brien has nursed Mendelssohn through a carefully planned schedule back to Churchill Downs. After watching all his horses walk and jog through the Thursday morning rain, the Ballydoyle wizard allowed, "I am happy with them all. They have been in the barn for two days so it was nice to get them out. Hopefully the rain will stop and the ground will dry out. This track dries out quickly here at Churchill Downs."
The others in the Classic, at 1 1/4 miles on the main track: Catholic Boy has not raced since winning the Grade I Travers in August; Yoshida is a Grade I winner on both turf and dirt; Discreet Lover makes his 45th career start; after barely winning the Grade III Oklahoma Derby in his last start, Lone Sailor is a deserved long shot; Pavel has a win over the track; and Gunnevera will have to find a new gear to improve on last year's fifth-place finish.
The $4 million Longines Turf
In a day filled with stars, the superstar is right here. Enable arrives at Churchill Downs fresh off her second straight win in Europe's biggest race, the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. And, after recovering from an early-season injury, she won that with only one prep race. So she should be fresh and ready to go for jockey Frankie Dettori and trainer John Gosden.
After watching Enable and Gosden test the track on Wednesday morning, Gosden sounded both hopeful and wary. "She has taken longer to come out of the Arc, which is understandable," he said. "She has gone there not 100 percent but she is eating and drinking well and has settled in nicely. She has had a light campaign and Iast year she won five Group 1's and I would have like to have come here on a crest of a wave. But she has won an Arc."
On form, none of the other 12 should be much bother to Enable. Indeed, her two main rivals would seem to be Waldgeist and Talismanic -- both trained by ace French conditioner Andre Fabre. Waldgeist finished fourth in the Arc. Talismanic was 13th -- an uncharacteristically poor showing for the horse who won the 2017 Breeders' Cup Turf at Del Mar, then went on to finish second in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase.
O'Brien brings Magical, a 3-year-old Galileo filly, for the Turf. She bounced back from a 10th-place finish in the Arc to win the Group 1 Qipco British Champion Stakes Oct. 20 at Ascot and, while O'Brien and the Coolmore owners certainly know their horses, a third run in less a month is a lot to ask.
Quarteto de Cordas comes from Brazil to add more international flavor to the Turf.
American horses have been neither impressive nor consistent in this division this year.
The $2 million Longines Distaff
Here's a race featuring last year's Kentucky Oaks winner, Abel Tasman, against the first three finishers from this year's Oaks, Monomoy Girl, Wonder Gadot and Midnight Bisou.
Monomoy Girl would be undefeated in six starts this year but for a disqualification in her last outing. She is the 2-1 morning-line favorite over 7-2 second pick Abel Tasman, who tossed in a clunker in her last race in California. Wonder Gadot has struggled since taking on males in the Queen's Plate in Canada and the Travers at Saratoga. Midnight Bisou was awarded the victory in the Grade I Cotillion when Monomoy Girl was DQ'ed for stretch interference.
Among the others, La Force has finished second in each of her last three races, twice behind the now retired superstar Unique Bella. Vale Dori has been good in the past and looks to be on the rebound for Baffert. Blue Prize is capable of an upset. And trainer Chad Brown said Thursday morning Wow Cat, the Chilean Triple Crown winner, "has improved with every race. She just needs a good pace in front of her."
The $2 Million Mile (Turf)
This race has seen some dominant competitors but none was more memorable than Goldikova, who won the Mile three times in a row from 2008 through 2010 before finishing third in her fourth appearance. This year's edition suffered a blow Friday when the same Wertheimer family blue and white colors, set to contest the race aboard Polydream, were among the list of scratches. The 3-year-old daughter of Oasis Dream sports four wins from seven starts with the victories including the Group 1 LARC Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville in August. She also was the morning-line favorite, albeit at long odds of 5-1 in a totally competitive field.
Among the 13 remaining in the field is One Master, upset winner of the Group 1 Qatar Prix de la Foret in her last start -- a race in which Polydream finished seventh after experiencing traffic problems. Other Europeans with excellent chances are Lightning Spear and Expert Eye, the first two home in the Group 1 Qatar Sussex Stakes in August; the O'Brien trio of Gustav Klimt, Happily and I Can Fly; and Mustashry, riding a three-race win skein for trainer Sir Michael Stoute.
American hopes rest with Catapult, winner of the Grade II Del Mar Mile; Next Shares, winner of the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland; and Oscar Performance, winner of the Grade I Woodbine Mile.
The expected soft turf remains an issue, summarized Thursday morning by Catapult's trainer, John Sadler. "It comes down to how well he'll handle the soft turf," Sadler said. "He's used to running in Southern California where it's firm. I think he'll handle it. But you just never know."
The $2 million TwinSpires Sprint
Only nine were left on entry day Monday for the Breeders' Cup equivalent of the 100-yard dash. That is no reflection on the quality of the field, which starts with last year's winner, Roy H. The 6-year-old started his season with an easy win in the Grade Palos Verdes at Santa Anita, finished third, beaten just 3/4 length, in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, took second off a layoff in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby at Del Mar and then won the Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship Oct. 6. The only question mark is that the Dubai race is his only start outside California and the Churchill Downs track is different.
Imperial Hint comes to this with three straight wins on his scorecard, two of them in Grade I's. Also well worthy of consideration are the 1-2-3 finishers from the Grade II Phoenix at Keeneland Oct. 5 -- Promises Fulfilled, Whitmore and Limousine Liberal.
The $2 Million Maker's Mark Filly & Mare Turf
A field of 14 tackles 1 3/8 miles in this one with four standouts on the morning line.
Sistercharlie, the 3-1 favorite, has three wins and two seconds since coming to the United States and trainer Chad Brown from France. She won the Grade I Diana at Saratoga and followed that with a victory in the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington but has not raced since that Aug. 11 engagement.
Wild Illusion is another of Godolphin's live hopes for this Breeders' Cup. The Dubawi filly was second in the Group 1 Investec Oaks at Epsom and more recently won the Group 1 Qatar Nassau at Goodwood and the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera Longines at Longchamp. She is the second pick on the morning line at 7-2.
Right behind those two in the early calculations are Fourstar Crook and Magic Wand. Fourstar Crook was second in the Beverly D., then won the Grade I Flower Bowl and gives Brown a powerful 1-2 punch in this race. He also has longer shots A Raving Beauty, Santa Monica and Thais. Magic Wand, another Galileo filly from the Coolmore operation, defeated Wild Illusion in the Grade II Ribblesdale in June and was second to that rival in the Opera.
A long shot to consider is Eziyra, whose record doesn't quite stack up with the favorites. But the Teofilo filly is owned by her breeder, the Aga Khan and trained by Dermott Weld -- connections never to be ignored in big races. Perhaps more important, Frankie Dettori will ride the filly for the first time.
The $1 million Dirt Mile
Ten are set for this one-turn mile with attention focused on two California-based horses, Catalina Cruiser and City of Light.
Catalina Cruiser, who drew the outside gate, is undefeated in four starts for trainer John Sadler, winning at distances from 6 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles -- all in California. He's never really been tested.
City of Light drew the rail, which might suit his pace-stalking style. The Mike McCarthy trainee has four wins and four seconds from nine starts and two of those wins came at Oaklawn Park and Saratoga, demonstrating versatility. In the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap, he got the better of Accelerate, the favorite for Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic.
Seeking the Soul, winner of last fall's Grade I Clark Handicap over the Churchill Downs strip, also graces this field after a 1-mile win in the Grade III Ack Ack Sept. 29. Also trying the Dirt Mile are Triple Crown refugees Bravazo and Firenze Fire.
The $1 million Turf Sprint
There are 14 in this and good luck sorting them out. Start by knowing the first three finishers from last year's race, Stormy Liberal, Richard's Boy and Disco Partner, all are back. And the morning-line favorite this time around the one turn is last year's show horse, Disco Partner. That could change as the 6-year-old hasn't been as good on soft turf as on firm and the Churchill Downs turf promises to have some moisture on Saturday after heavy rain Wednesday into Friday morning.
Richard's Boy and Stormy Liberal both contested the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai on World Cup night. Stormy Liberal just missed to Jungle Cat and has been good in minor skirmishes in California since his return. Richard's Boy was sixth in Dubai and less impressive back home.
Plenty of others could figure in the outcome. Among them, World of Trouble could go a long way on the front end if jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. can get a good start from the outside gate.
The $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint
Can Bob Baffert get off on the right foot in this first of the Saturday Breeders' Cup races? He has the 8-5 morning line favorite in Marley's Freedom, a daughter of Blame and the winner of four straight races. Most recently, she took the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga. Mike Smith will need to get the filly going from the No. 13 gate, one from the outside, but it's a long run down the backstretch and her preferred style seems to be stalking the leaders anyway. As they say, if you can't beat he, bet her.
If you do want to try to beat her, Golden Mischief exits a Grade II win at Keeneland, Finley'sluckycharm is a multiple graded stakes winner seeking to atone for a ninth-place finish in this race last year, and Selcourt won three in a row in California -- defeating Marley's Freedom in one of those -- before being sidelined in March.