December 3, 2020

Horses to watch heading into the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series

Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. celebrates as Bricks and Mortar crosses under the finish line first in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Saturday, May 4, 2019 (c) Horsephotos.com/Cecilia Gustavsson

There have been a handful of 2019 Breeders’ Cup Challenge races contested overseas since December, but the all-important North American segment of the “Win & You’re In” series kicks off on Memorial Day with the $500,000 Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, host site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

It’s an interesting bit of history that no West Coast-based horse has won a Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) held in California since the filly Royal Heroine took the inaugural running at Hollywood Park in 1984. Among those seeking to end that cold streak is 2018 Mile runner-up Catapult, who will attempt in the Shoemaker to avenge a photo-finish loss to Ohio in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile. One of the leading long-term prospects from the east, Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) winner Delta Prince, is also expected for the Shoemaker.

Bricks and Mortar, currently the top grass horse in the country, is in a difficult spot with respect to Breeders’ Cup aspirations. He’s developed into quite the talent in the 9-10 furlong range this season, but would either have to drop back to a mile or stretch out to 1 1/2 miles come Breeders’ Cup time. Ten-furlong races this summer like the Manhattan (G1) and Arlington Million (G1) are surely in his wheelhouse, but what will his connections do in the fall? Seems more likely to stretch, but we’ll see what happens.

Here’s a brief look at how other Breeders’ Cup divisions look heading into Challenge season.

Classic & Dirt Mile

The West Coast side of the older male division is currently dominated by Gift Box and McKinzie. The latter might be better over slightly shorter than 1 1/4 miles, thus his expected participation in the one-mile Metropolitan H. (G1) on Belmont Day. This year’s Dirt Mile will be a two-turn affair.

A winning return in the Dixie (G2) at Pimlico has given Catholic Boy a green light to move back to the dirt for races like the Suburban (G2) and Whitney (G1), thus giving the East Coast side of the division a much needed boost. Thunder Snow, the two-time Dubai World Cup (G1) winner, is also headed to the Met Mile and figures to prep once or twice more for the Classic in the east later in the season. Meanwhile, fellow Met Mile candidate Coal Front has looked a very strong prospect for the Dirt Mile in a pair of starts this term.

The three-year-old male division will sort itself out in time. The first “Win & You’re In” Challenge race restricted to three-year-old Classic hopefuls is the Haskell Invitational (G1) on July 20, a race currently on the radar of Maximum Security, who was disqualified from first in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Distaff

A delay in the return to action of champion Monomoy Girl has given Midnight Bisou a head start in the race for champion older female honors. Already a three-time graded stakes winner, she could stamp her ticket to the Breeders’ Cup with a victory in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on Belmont Day. She’s a Julie, who took the La Troienne (G1) earlier this month, gives trainer Steve Asmussen a solid one-two punch in this division.

It’s also too early to give up on Elate following her two runs against Midnight Bisou at Oaklawn Park. Races like the Delaware H. (G2) and Personal Ensign (G1) are likely summertime goals again.

The three-year-old fillies do not seem quite as strong as the older mares at present. Serengeti Empress, Point of Honor, Lady Apple, and Champagne Anyone appear the brightest prospects.

Filly & Mare Turf

This race reverts to 1 1/4 miles this year and the division again figures to be dominated by a plethora of steeds residing in the Chad Brown barn — reigning champion Sistercharlie, Homerique, and Rushing Fall, just to name a few. Coolmore’s Magic Wand is also sure to make another trip or two over here after placing in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Man o’ War (G1).

Twinspires.com Sprint, Turf Sprint, and Filly & Mare Sprint

He might be stretching out for the Met Mile, but Mitole is sure to cut back for the Sprint come Breeders’ Cup time. He’s arguably the best sprinter the country, and hopefully can finish out the season unlike 2018 when he was sidelined by injury during the latter half of the campaign. Roy H will be seeking a third Sprint title and unprecedented third Sprint championship later in the year, though it’s unlikely we’ll hear from him before Del Mar.

Multi-surface talent World of Trouble probably could give Mitole trouble on the dirt, but the five-furlong Turf Sprint seems more up his alley. He narrowly lost last year’s renewal to Stormy Liberal, who’s been slow to re-assert his superiority in a trio of starts so far. Imprimis is another to watch for ahead of the Turf Sprint.

On the female side, 2018 Filly & Mare Sprint runner-up Charon made a successful return to action this past weekend at Pimlico, but was overshadowed by the monster effort turned in by the three-year-old Covfefe in the Miss Preakness (G1). We’ll see if the latter will be as effective against older and over seven furlongs in the months ahead. Another three-year-old to watch is Eight Belles (G2) winner Break Even.

Despite a couple recent losses, Marley’s Freedom still looks a serious danger given her fondness for the track and distance over which this race will be run.

1 Comment on Horses to watch heading into the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series

  1. In NY, been watching that mare Come Dancing, she got, what I thought was a suspect 114 beyer, highest of the year so far, in the 7F Distaff at Aqueduct then followed it up with an easy 6 length score in the mile Ruffian (G2) – I was at the track for that – looked darn impressive.

    Her numbers off those last two put her in the conversation I think. Andy Serling at DRF thinks she may be one of the best in the U.S.

    In any case, can’t wait to see her against Midnight Bisou in the Gr 1 Phipps coming up on Belm. Stakes day – should be a good race to clear up F&M division.

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