The Breeders' Cup World Championships, the culmination of a full season of racing, also have become a springboard to the coming year of competition around the world.
This year's event at Churchill Downs provided the usual early favorites for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. More than ever, it churned up a diverse set of candidates for the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January.
The repeat winners in the Sprint and Turf Sprint are likely repeat visitors to Dubai in March and potential candidates for "three-peats" in their divisions when the Breeders' Cup returns to their home base in Southern California in 2019.
There even was a lesson for owners who face the prospect of spending a lot of money to supplement horses not nominated to the Breeders' Cup program: Look to the future.
But there was no bigger question left hanging as the show left Louisville than this one: Will Enable run again next year, chasing a third straight win in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and perhaps a second try at the Turf, or head off to continue the Juddmonte Farms' bloodstock program, of which she is the fourth generation?
The last question will be left for Khalid Abdullah to decide. Despite the pleas of trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori, Juddmonte racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe wasn't making any announcements after the 4-year-old daughter of Nathaniel edged Coolmore's filly, Magical, after a stirring stretch duel in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.
"I'm sure Prince Khalid will want to at least sit back and enjoy this," Grimthorpe said. "There's no great hurry. She's going to go back home to Newmarket. We'll make sure she's all right, then think about the future."
Other corners of the future hold a bit more certainty.
Undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner came out of his Friday triumph "in good shape and looked good this morning," assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said Saturday morning. Trainer Bob Baffert, winner of this year's Triple Crown with Justify, said he now has his eye on the 2019 Triple Crown with Game Winner.
"We're going to freshen him up a little bit and get ready for the spring," Baffert said. "He had a pretty rough trip (in the Juvenile) but still won. You can't compare horses but of all the Juvenile winners, he's the best one." His roster of Juvenile winners is comprised of Vindication (retired undefeated after the 2002 win) Midshipman (2008, did not run in the Kentucky Derby) and New Year's Day (retired after the 2013 win).
Game Winner, whose previous races were all in California, was all out to get by long shot Knicks Go at the top of the stretch in the Juvenile after a somewhat tardy start. Once in command, he drew off to a clear win.
Could Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Bulletin, eventually turn his attention to the main track? "We haven't firmed anything up just yet," said Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, part of the ownership team with China Horse Club and others. "At some point, switching him to dirt might be under consideration. But not any time in the near future."
Bulletin's ownership group won this year's Triple Crown with Justify, trained by Bob Baffert.
Jaywalk, front-running winner of Friday's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, was "great, doing really good" Saturday morning according to trainer Jason Servis. "She's bright-eyed. She ate up good. Servis said Jaywalk will ship back to Florida. "And then I think I'm going to send her to Ocala for 30 days and let her be a horse for a little bit."
After that, he indicated, the Kentucky Oaks will be the target, likely with prep races in the winter and early spring at Gulfstream Park.
Pegasus World Cup
Many scoffed at the concept of the Pegasus when it was first run in January 2017 at Gulfstream Park -- a $1 million buy-in with a $12 million purse. This year the program adds a turf race and each will have a purse of $6 million. Judging by the interest expressed by Saturday's winning connections, the race has become an established fixture, right between the Breeders' Cup and either the start of the breeding season or the Dubai World Cup.
Accelerate will head off to stud in the spring but, before that, trainer John Sadler said the plan is to give the 5-year-old one more race -- in the Pegasus.
City of Light, winner of Saturday's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, is the only horse who finished in front of Classic winner Accelerate this year, defeating him in the Oaklawn Handicap early in the season. Asked if the Pegasus is a possibility, owner William Warren said, simply, "Yes."
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Audible also is a Pegasus candidate after winning Saturday's Cherokee Run Stakes at Churchill Downs in his first start since a third-place showing in the Kentucky Derby.
The excitement extended to the filly set. After Monomy Girl backed up her Kentucky Oaks victory six months earlier with a dominating win in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff, part owner Sol Kumin said he and his partners will "take a look at" the Pegasus before giving the filly a rest.
Peter Miller became the only trainer in Breeders' Cup history to saddle back-to-back winners with the same horse, in two races when Roy H won Saturday's Sprint for the second time and Stormy Liberal stormed home first, repeating in the Turf Sprint. Both went to Dubai this spring with Roy H finishing third in the Group 1 Golden Shaheen and Stormy Liberal second in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint. The trainer said he sees no reason not to try again. Citing his 6-year-old geldings' "heart and durability," Miller added, "You can't do this with most horses."
Future Breeders' Cups
As for future Breeders' Cups, owner Manfred Conrad had to cough up a $130,000 supplement fee to get Shamrock Rose into the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, which she proceeded to win at odds of 25-1. Conrad admitted, "It's not easy to write a check like that unless you have a lot of money." But he turned a profit with the win and pointed out rich folks are in it for the fun and excitement so, why not?
Audible, unraced since finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, rallied from behind rivals to win the $200,000 Qatar Cherokee Run Stakes as a lead-in to Saturday's Breeders' Cup card. The Into Mischief colt, owned by the same group that campaigned this year's Triple Crown winner Justify, won four straight races before closing ground in the stretch in the Derby before finishing 2 1/2 lengths behind Justify. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Audible now is a candidate for the $6 million Pegasus World Cup in January at Gulfstream Park.
Divine Miss Grey passed the tiring leader midway through Saturday's $200,000 Chilukki Stakes for fillies and mare and held the lead despite drifting out. Berned was up for second, 1 1/4 lengths back and 1 1/2 lengths better than Pricedtoperfection. Divine Miss Grey, a 4-year-old daughter of Divine Park, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.64 for jockey Manny Franco.
Improbable was away a step slowly in Friday's $100,000 Street Sense Stakes for 2-year-olds, improved position around the turn and dominated the stretch run, winning off by 7 1/4 lengths under Drayden Van Dyke. Trophy Chaser chased him home with Distant Shore third. Improbable, a City Zip colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.61. Jimmy Barnes, assistant to winning trainer Bob Baffert, said, "Hopefully this kick starts a fun weekend." He proved a wise oracle as Improbable is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, the same group that owns Bulletin, winner of the first Breeders' Cup race on the Friday card, just four races later.
Rocketry ran last of nine through the bulk of Friday's $200,000 Grade II Marathon, rallied five-wide around the final turn and got home first by 3/4 length over the pacesetter, Dabster. It was another 4 1/4 lengths back to Big Dollar Bill in third. Rocketry, a 4-year-old Hard Spun colt, ran 1 3/4 miles on a fast track in 2:57.62 with Joel Rosario at the controls.
Vertical Oak pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Dream Supreme Stakes for fillies and mares, assumed command when let go by jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. and drew off down the stretch for a 2 3/4-length win. Awestruck and Dream Pauline filled out the trifecta. Vertical Oak, a 4-year-old Giant Oak filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.53.
River Boyne settled back of the leaders in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Twilight Derby, came five-wide into the stretch and outfinished Have At It, winning by 1/2 length. Desert Stone came from farther back to finish third and the early leader, Majestic Eagle, was a close fourth. River Boyne, an Irish-bred colt by Candy Man, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:46.70 with Flavien Prat riding.
Vasilika took back early in Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Goldikova Stakes for fillies and mares, split rivals to reach contention in the stretch and was along to win by 1 1/2 lengths over pacesetter Fahan Mura. Madame Stripes was third. Vasilika, a 4-year-old Skipshot filly, finished 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.49 with Prat aboard.
Storm the Hill stormed down the hillside turf course in Saturday's $100,000 Senator Ken Maddy Stakes for fillies and mares, collared pacesetting Painting Corners and finally put that one away to win by 1 3/4 lengths. It was a similar margin back to Poster Girl in third. Storm the Hill, a 4-year-old daughter of Get Stormy, finished the gravity-assisted 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:12.13 with Raphael Bejarano up.
Kencumin pressed the pace made by Kenjisstorm in Friday's $75,000 Lure Stakes, eased by that one in the late going and prevailed by 1/2 length. Alert Bay was third, another 1/2 length in arrears. Kencumin, a 4-year-old, French-bred colt by Kendargent, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:33.59 with Brice Blanc aboard.
Cruel Intention hooked up in a tight duel with Galilean in Saturday's $200,000 Golden State Juvenile for California-bred 2-year-old fillies, edged to the front in the closing yards and won by a neck. Luck's Royal Flush raced with the leaders early but tired to finish third, 16 lengths farther back. Cruel Intentions, a Smiling Tiger colt out of the Pleasantly Perfect mare Perfect Feat, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.82, adding yet another promising juvenile to trainer Bob Baffert's barn.
Give Me a Hint overcame a stumbling start to win Friday's $200,000 Golden State Juvenile Fillies Stakes for state-breds by 2 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Mucho Unusual. Hotitude held a brief lead at the top of the lane and was just nipped for second. Give Me a Hint, a daughter of Merit Man, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:26.45 under Evin Roman.
Bold Script dueled to the lead on the turn in Sunday's $225,000 (Canadian) Princess Elizabeth Stakes for Canadian-bred 2-year-old fillies and romped home royally, winning by 7 1/2 lengths. Lady Azalea held off the odds-on favorite, Tiz Breathtaking, for place money. Bold Script, an Ontario-bred Speightstown filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.20, entering the 2019 Woodbine Oaks -- or Queen's Plate -- conversation.
Mr Havercamp stalked the pace after a slow start in Saturday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Autumn Stakes, gained the lead in the lane and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Gigantic Breeze finished third. Mr Havercamp, a 4-year-old gelding by Court Vision, finished 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.36 for jockey Eurico Da Silva.
A. A. Azula's Arch challenged for the lead on the stretch turn in Saturday's $150,000 Maple Leaf Stakes for fillies and mares, then was all out to hold off Lift Up and win by a neck. Gamble's Ghost finished third. A. A. Azula's Arch, a 3-year-old daughter of Arch, ran 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:05.23with Omar Moreno in the irons.
My Silencer, making his first start, pressed the early pace in Wednesday's $100,000 (Canadian) Frost King Stakes for 2-year-olds, got by and went on to win by 3 1/2 lengths, finishing 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:23.89. Dun Drum came between rivals to get second. My Silencer, a Silent Name gelding, was ridden by Luis Contreras. "It's wonderful. Finally it happened," said winning owner-breeder René Hunderup. "I knew he had the third gear and I told Luis don't forget that third gear and he sure used it."
Teresa Z came four-wide around all five rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Turnback the Alarm Handicap for fillies and mares and ran on to win by 6 lengths. Forever Liesl was second, another 6 lengths ahead of Holy Helena. Teresa Z, a 4-year-old daughter of Smart Strike, ran 9 furlongs on a good track in 1:51.68 with Trevor McCarthy riding.
No Dozing woke up early in the stretch run in Friday's $200,000 Bold Ruler Handicap, shot by the early leader and got away to a 9 3/4-lengths victory. True Timber was second with Delta Prince along for third. No Dozing, a 4-year-old Union Rags gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.81 with Daniel Centeno in the irons.
Vekoma stumbled at the start of Sunday's $200,000 Grade III Nashua Stakes for 2-year-olds, raced wide the whole way and still found enough in the lane to get home first by 1 3/4 lengths over Network Effect. Call Paul was third after holding a brief lead. Vekoma, a Candy Ride colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.62 with Manny Franco up.
On the turf Sunday, Empire of War came from off the pace to take the $100,000 Awad Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1/2 length from Life Mission. A Thread of Blue was third. Empire of War, a Declaration of War colt, got 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:37.39 with Franco riding.
Oxy Lady took command in the stretch in Friday's $150,000 Grade III Tempted Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, romping home first by 5 lengths over Enliven at odds of 36-1. Surge of Pride contested the early pace, then faded to finish third, another 7 lengths back. Oxy Lady, an Oxbow filly, ran 1 mile through dense fog in 1:38.88 with Declan Cannon up.
On the international front:
Tuesday is Melbourne Cup -- the race that stops a nation. Or so they say. As has become common in the last few years, international juggernauts Coolmore and Godolphin are raiding parties. Godolphin is represented by Caulfield Cup winner Best Solution and Cross Counter. Coolmore counters with Aidan O'Brien trainees The Cliffsofmoher, third in the Caulfield Cup, Yucatan and Rostropovich.
They're not the only foreigners. Japan has Chestnut Colt, less than impressive in the Caulfield Cup. The UAE's Sheik Hamdan Al Maktoum fields Muntahaa, making his first start down under after a campaign in England. Sound Check arrived from Germany in time to finish 12th in the Caulfield Cup. Marmello came from France to finish ninth in last year's Melbourne Cup and returns.
Finch is owned by Juddmonte Farms, fresh off two Breeders' Cup wins, and had one local prep after arriving from France. Auvray raced in his native France in 2014 but has been in Australia since and now is owned by China Horse Club.
Last year, Irish trainer Joseph Patrick O'Brien saddled the winner, Rekindling, who was coming off a fourth in the St Leger at Doncaster. In truth, with 24 entries and 3,200 meters (2 miles) to run, anything can happen.
Rasima got first run past the leaders in Thursday's Fleur De Lys Fillies' Stakes at Lingfield Park and held on nicely to win by 1 1/4 lengths, earning a "Fast Track Qualifier" spot in the Ladbrokes All Weather Filly & Mare Championship over the same course on Good Friday next spring.
The favorite in Thursday's event, Move Swiftly, did not break swiftly and was caught last by others crossing over in front of her. She did make eye-catching progress in the late going but was never catching the winner and finished second.
The Nurlan Bizakov-owned and bred filly had previously finished second to stablemate Sheikha Reika, winner of the Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine. With this win in her book, said trainer Roger Varian, "Whether she stays in training is a nice discussion to have."
They were off and running at Meydan Thursday night -- the start to a season that will culminate in the $12 million Dubai World Cup on March 30. No surprise that trainer Doug Watson fired right out of the gate, winning four of the seven races.
In amongst the Watson triumphs, New Trails, making his first start since May of 2017, got to the front for jockey Connor Beasley at mid-stretch in the 2,000-meters emirates.com Handicap and, despite tiring in the final 100 meters, held off the closing Street of Dreams for the win.
"This is a nice new horse for us this season and we knew that if he could produce the levels he had shown us in his work at home, he would run well," said trainer Ahmad bin Harmash. "He has trained well on dirt but, until you race them on it, you never know. Hopefully he can build on this."
Watson's winners were Syncopation, Big Brown Bear and Stunned, all in a row, and Pillar of Society in the night's penultimate race.