October 29, 2020

2020 Breeders’ Cup: early look at landscape ahead of final preps

Maximum Security
Jockey Abel Cedillo guides Maximum Security to the winner's circle after their victory in the Pacific Classic © BENOIT PHOTO

With the Breeders’ Cup prep action going into overdrive for the next couple of weeks, it’s helpful to get the lay of the land – how the various divisions are shaping up, and the main players who are training toward Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland instead of racing in the interim.

Here’s the broad-brush overview, as of this writing, by Breeders’ Cup race:

Breeders’ Cup Classic

Three “Win and You’re In” (WAYI) races remain, beginning with Saturday’s Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita that’s forecast to be a Bob Baffert showdown. According to Daily Racing Form, both of his older stars, Maximum Security and Improbable, are expected to line up despite Baffert’s initial idea to keep them apart until the Breeders’ Classic. Each secured free Classic tickets last time out, Maximum Security in the Pacific Classic (G1) and Improbable in the Whitney (G1).

Baffert’s latest Kentucky Derby (G1) winner, Authentic, tops the projected cast for the Oct. 3 Preakness (G1) that’s a WAYI thanks to the COVID calendar. But like his older stablemates, Authentic already has a free Classic spot via the Haskell (G1). Although beaten Derby favorite Tiz the Law is still under consideration for Pimlico, the vibe from his camp sounds more inclined to skip it and freshen up for a rematch in the Classic.

That’s the approach taken by Stephen Foster (G2) hero Tom’s d’Etat, who’s training up to the Classic after his troubled third in the Whitney. Two major winners from Labor Day weekend, Alysheba (G2) victor By My Standards and Global Campaign, successful in the WAYI Woodward (G1), are likewise going straight to the Classic.

The Oct. 10 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) offers the final free pass, and Suburban (G2) romper Tacitus hopes to earn his Grade 1 breakthrough there. Interestingly, Code of Honor isn’t defending his Gold Cup title but instead reverting to a mile in the Kelso H. (G2), also at Belmont, on Oct. 3.

Breeders’ Cup Distaff

Monomoy Girl, the 2018 champion, will bid to regain her crown after a year’s hiatus. The Oct. 4 Spinster (G1) could be next. That final WAYI, held at the same track and trip as the Distaff (G1), is coming up deep with champion Midnight Bisou, her WAYI Personal Ensign (G1) conqueror Vexatious, and possibly Swiss Skydiver. Monomoy Girl’s stablemate from the Brad Cox barn, Kentucky Oaks (G1) upsetter Shedaresthedevil, is also on the all-star Spinster nominations list.

In comparison, Sunday’s WAYI Zenyatta Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita is pretty light. Baffert’s Clement L. Hirsch (G1) vixen Fighting Mad is clearly the one to beat, and progressive sophomore Harvest Moon a potentially new challenger.

The Oct. 4 Beldame (G2) at Belmont isn’t a Challenge race, but has Breeders’ Cup Distaff implications with Dunbar Road penciled in for Brown and Letruska possible (if not trying the Spinster).

Breeders’ Cup Turf

The European team won’t be firmed up until after the Oct. 4 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), when Enable clashes with top 3-year-old filly Love. The Oct. 17 Champion S. (G1) at Ascot is the other key event, with Magical earmarked for a title defense.

Ghaiyyath’s fall plans are pending, but worth watching as a leading Breeders’ Cup threat who took a WAYI for the Classic – the Juddmonte International (G1). Note that his Godolphin stablemate, Barney Roy, is eyeing the Oct. 18 Northern Dancer Turf (G1) at Woodbine.

Turning to the U.S. scene, last year’s Turf near-misser United will stay at Santa Anita for his final tune-up, Saturday’s John Henry Turf Championship (G2). Red King, who just upset him in the Del Mar H. (G2), is training up to the Turf. So is Zulu Alpha, most recently third to Arklow as the 4-5 favorite and defending champion in the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3).

Arklow could go for a repeat in the Oct. 3 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) or train up to the Turf. If he does return to Belmont Park, he’d find Channel Maker, the 2018 Joe Hirsch winner, awaiting him. The Joe Hirsch is not part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, but the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) on the Oct. 3 undercard is a WAYI.

Breeders’ Cup Mile

As with the Turf, the Europeans will crystallize after their October festivals, but Pinatubo has long been mentioned as a candidate, and Godolphin confrere Earthlight could join the discussion in the Prix de l’a Foret (G1) on Arc Day. Circus Maximus is an obvious type to make a return visit. Champers Elysees and Safe Voyage have entered the reckoning following wins on Irish Champions Weekend, and Kameko has expressed an interest.

Starship Jubilee, fresh off her WAYI score in the Woodbine Mile (G1), has the Filly & Mare Turf (G1) as an alternative. So does Rushing Fall, although trainer Chad Brown is reportedly much more inclined to the Filly & Mare Turf.

Brown has a potent Mile squad as it is, including defending champion Uni who’s again using Keeneland’s First Lady (G1) as her stepping stone. She’ll have to deal with stablemate Newspaperofrecord in that Oct. 3 prize. Brown’s arguably best male hope – Analyze It, the third in the 2018 Mile before vanishing – looms large in the WAYI Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) on the same day, along with Raging Bull. Halladay would be another leading player in the Shadwell unless Todd Pletcher opts to train up to the Breeders’ Cup Mile off his WAYI Fourstardave (G1).

The California mile scene wasn’t too exciting until Mo Forza returned from his layoff to crush them in the Del Mar Mile (G2). He’d be entitled to do the same if using Santa Anita’s Oct. 3 City of Hope Mile (G2) as his prep, but trainer Peter Miller has nominated to the Shadwell too.

Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf

Although the WAYI Prix de l’Opera (G1) on Arc Day should yield a major contender or two, a pair of European fillies are using stateside preps. Magic Attitude, now with Arnaud Delacour, made a smashing U.S. debut in Saturday’s Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) and could go straight to the Cup. Her alternative is wheeling back for the Oct. 10 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1), which is the potential target for Irish Champions Weekend heroine Cayenne Pepper.

On the domestic front, the entire superfecta from the Diana (G1) – Rushing Fall, Mean Mary, Sistercharlie, and the aforementioned Starship Jubilee – could get a rematch in the Breeders’ Cup. While Rushing Fall and Mean Mary are training up, the 2018 Filly & Mare Turf champion Sistercharlie is to defend her title in the WAYI Flower Bowl (G1) Oct. 10.

Santa Anita’s WAYI in this division, the Rodeo Drive (G1), historically hasn’t been much of a pointer, and Saturday’s renewal doesn’t change the narrative. Keeneland’s First Lady is a more valuable WAYI, but it remains to be seen if the Oct. 3 running has a greater impact on the Mile.

Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint

The most informative preps might turn out to have come Sept. 12 at Kentucky Downs, where Imprimis prevailed in the WAYI Turf Sprint (G3) and turnback miler Got Stormy cruised in the Ladies Sprint (G3).

But additional contenders will be sorted soon across the country. Friday’s Eddie D. (G2) at Santa Anita features Wildman Jack, the Oct. 3 Woodford (G2) at Keeneland possibly snares Bound for Nowhere, and the Oct. 4 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational (G3) is the other race to watch.

On Arc Day, the WAYI Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) will probably pit the brilliant Battaash against defending champion Glass Slippers.

Breeders’ Cup Sprint

Monday brought the bombshell news of the injury-forced retirement of divisional star Volatile, who would have been the heavy favorite in Saturday’s WAYI Vosburgh (G2) at Belmont. But trainer Steve Asmussen has a more than capable understudy in unbeaten sophomore Yaupon, a nominee to the WAYI Phoenix (G2) Oct. 2 at Keeneland. The Phoenix is the plan for fellow 3-year-old No Parole, and veteran Whitmore has been a mainstay in the race for the last three years.

Out west, Collusion Illusion has already beaten elders in the WAYI Bing Crosby (G1). The sophomore looks to score a superfluous ticket in Sunday’s WAYI Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2).

The composition of the field also depends upon whether any significant contenders opt for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). Vekoma, sidelined since his July 4 Met Mile (G1) coup, might cut back for the Sprint in light of his layoff. Although Complexity is race-fit, Brown’s initial idea was to shorten up rather than stretch out. Peter Miller made a similar comment regarding C Z Rocket after he earned a Dirt Mile ticket in the Pat O’Brien (G2).

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile

As the discussion of those last three Sprint candidates suggests, the Dirt Mile can attract versatile performers who have other options. Definite so far are Win Win Win, training up to the race after his dramatic Forego (G1), and Pirate’s Punch, who just captured Sunday’s Salvator Mile (G3).

Warrior’s Charge is using Saturday’s Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs as his prep. The Oct. 3 Kelso at Belmont will lure the aforementioned Code of Honor, who could contemplate the Dirt Mile as well as the Classic, and Complexity is also in the mix.

Dubai Carnival celebrity Midnight Sands, third in his American premiere at Churchill, had this race as his goal upon repatriation so keep an eye out for him. Japan’s dual-surface Grade 1 winner Mozu Ascot was thinking of making the trek after his next engagement, the Oct. 12 Mile Championship Nambu Hai – if it’s feasible, according to the JRA.

Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

Gamine is the most talented of the 3-year-old fillies who might tackle their elders, with Venetian Harbor, Kimari, Frank’s Rockette, Sconsin, and Four Graces. Frank’s Rockette’s status won’t be determined until she gets through the Oct. 3 Miss Preakness (G3), while Sconsin and Four Graces could renew rivalry in the Oct. 17 Raven Run (G2) at Keeneland.

The leading older contenders are training up – Bell’s the One and Serengeti Empress, separated by a pixel in the Derby City Distaff (G1) where Bellafina regressed to sixth – and Come Dancing following her return to form in the Honorable Miss (G2).

More hopefuls can emerge from Friday’s Chillingworth (G3) at Santa Anita and a pair of Oct. 3 preps, the Gallant Bloom H. (G2) at Belmont and the WAYI Thoroughbred Club of America (G3) at Keeneland.

Future Stars Friday

The 2-year-old scene is barely getting started, so the upcoming preps will furnish the preponderance of evidence.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies

Hopeful (G1) conqueror Jackie’s Warrior, the pro tem divisional leader, is slated for the Oct. 10 Champagne (G1) as his WAYI for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). His Asmussen stablemate Calibrate, a sensational debuter at the Spa, is expected in the Oct. 3 WAYI Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, where WAYI Iroquois (G3) victor Sittin on Go and hot Churchill maiden winner Essential Quality are also nominated. With Del Mar Futurity (G1) winner Dr. Schivel training up to the Cup, runner-up Spielberg is left to represent his form in Saturday’s WAYI American Pharoah (G1) against maiden romper Superman Shaq.

Del Mar Debutante (G1) romper Princess Noor was considering other WAYIs for the Juvenile Fillies (G1), but as of Monday, DRF was reporting her likelihood for Saturday’s Chandelier (G2) at Santa Anita. Vequist, the stellar winner of the Spinaway (G1), is reportedly in line for either the Oct. 2 Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland or the Oct. 10 Frizette (G1) at Belmont. The WAYI Alcibiades could draw as many as three other Spa stakes winners – Thoughtfully, Dayoutoftheoffice, and Simply Ravishing. While WAYI Pocahontas (G2) queen Girl Daddy might train up to the Cup, the runner-up Crazy Beautiful could press on to the Alcibiades. The WAYI Frizette is likely to nab Saratoga maiden smasher Cantata.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile turf races

The turf events are as ever awaiting European developments, chiefly Friday’s WAYI Rockfel (G2); Saturday’s Middle Park (G1), Cheveley Park (G1), WAYI Royal Lodge (G2), and Beresford (G2); the Oct. 4 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) and Prix Marcel Boussac (G1), both WAYIs on the Arc undercard; and the Oct. 9 Fillies’ Mile (G1) and Oct. 10 Dewhurst (G1) at Newmarket.

The upcoming U.S. races for the Juvenile Turf (G1) are the Oct. 3 Pilgrim (G2) at Belmont and Laurel Futurity at Pimlico, Oct. 4 Zuma Beach at Santa Anita, and the WAYI Bourbon (G3) at Keeneland Oct. 11. The winners of the first two WAYIs, Cadillac (during Irish Champions Weekend) and Gretzky the Great (in Sunday’s Summer [G1]), are both expected in the Juvenile Turf.

Wesley Ward’s unbeaten Prix Morny (G1) heroine Campanelle is training up to the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), where she’ll meet Sunday’s WAYI Natalma (G1) winner Lady Speightspeare. Impressive Kentucky Downs stakes victress Plum Ali is bound for the Oct. 4 Miss Grillo (G2) at Belmont. The Oct. 3 Selima at Pimlico, Oct. 4 Surfer Girl at Santa Anita and Keeneland’s WAYI Jessamine (G2) Oct. 7 round out the domestic preps.

Ward also has a major hope for the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) in Golden Pal, last seen dominating the Skidmore at Saratoga. Unbeaten Tobys Heart, the winner of the fillies’ counterpart in the Bolton Landing, also commands attention wherever she goes next. The picture will be complete after the three remaining WAYIs, Saturday’s Speakeasy at Santa Anita, the Oct. 4 Indian Summer at Keeneland, and the Oct. 11 Futurity (G3) at Belmont, where the Matron (G3) warrants a look on the same card.