Awesome Again, Joe Hirsch highlight the first of two major Breeders’ Cup prep weekends
The first of two major Breeders’ Cup prep weekends is up ahead, with Belmont Park and Santa Anita offering 12 graded stakes including seven “Win & You’re In” races, and let’s preview the Breeders’ Cup implications.
Eddie D (G3): Santa Anita’s opening day program features a field of 11 at the about 6 ½-furlong turf distance and Om is the one to beat in an expected Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) tune-up. A nose second in the 2016 Turf Sprint at Santa Anita, Om will receive a rider switch to Drayden Van Dyke and trainer Dan Hendricks will put blinkers back on the 8-5 morning line favorite. Tribalist is listed as the early 4-1 second choice in his graded debut and doesn’t have to win down the hill considering his affinity for Del Mar, capturing his last three starts over the 5-furlong seaside course. Connections are looking for a solid showing in the second start back from a lengthy layoff.
The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1), Beldame (G1), Vosburgh (G1) and Pilgrim (G3) are on tap at Belmont.
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic: Winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Oscar Performance started his 3-year-old season slowly with a pair of setbacks but has really come on this summer, recording consecutive wins in the Pennine Ridge (G3), Belmont Derby (G1) and Secretariat (G1). The unquestioned leader of the sophomore turf division will make his first start against elders in a salty 11-horse Joe Hirsch field and trainer Brian Lynch said the speedy colt’s performance in the 1 ½-mile turf affair will determine whether they point toward the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) or Mile (G1). A numbers of others definitely have the Turf on their radar including the dangerous trio of Beach Patrol, Fanciful Angel and Money Multiplier from the Chad Brown stable. French Group 1 winner Mekhtaal will make his first start for Graham Motion after an unplaced effort in the Arlington Million (G1). Sword Dancer (G1) hero Sadler’s Joy and multiple Group 1-winning international raider The Grey Gatsby add further intrigue to what promises to be a dynamite race.
Beldame: Elate heads a field of seven in the 1 1/8-mile Beldame and it’s easy to appreciate her rapidly improving form. A head second to divisional leader Abel Tasman in the CCA Oaks (G1) two back, the 3-year-old filly exits a smashing 5 ½-length score in the Ababama (G1) that netted a career-best 108 BRIS Speed rating. Trainer Bill Mott has won five editions of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), including a pair with sophomore fillies, and Elate can enhance her prospects against a less-than-imposing cast of rivals.
Vosburgh: After stretching his win streak to three with an eight-length tally in the A.G. Vanderbilt (G1), El Deal tops a field of seven in the 6-furlong Vosburgh. He’s gotten very good of late for controversial trainer Jorge Navarro and the 5-year-old promises to bring plenty of early speed to the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) with another wire-to-wire victory. Stallwalkin’ Dude, Takaful and Weekend Hideaway are others who could earn a trip west based upon how they perform Saturday and the Vosburgh marks the stakes bow of Mr. Crow, an up-and-coming sophomore colt for Todd Pletcher who exits a pair of runaway wins over maiden and entry-level allowance foes at Saratoga.
Pilgrim: Eight Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) hopefuls are set for the 1 1/16-mile turf affair and top contenders include last-out maiden winners Maraud and Voting Control for Pletcher and Brown, respectively.
At Santa Anita, the Awesome Again (G1), FrontRunner (G1), Zenyatta (G1), Chandelier (G1) and Rodeo Drive (G1) are in the spotlight.
Awesome Again: Bob Baffert is preparing for a serious assault upon the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), with Arrogate, Collected and West Coast all looming as major contenders, and Cupid is poised to join the group if he runs to his short odds in the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again. After racing primarily on the front end last season, the gray colt has shown more tractability this year winning both starts from just off the pace and observers have been touting his improvement at age 4. He’ll generate plenty more buzz with a dazzling performance. Mubtaahij, who was last seen finishing fourth in the Dubai World Cup (G1), will make his first start under the care of Baffert and the 5-year-old has raced in the U.S. the last two seasons, recording a head second in the 2016 Woodward (G1). Midnight Storm is the one to catch. A Grade 1 winner on turf, the 6-year-old has displayed his versatility with a pair of Grade 2 scores and a runner-up in the Santa Anita H. (G1) on the main track and he could be under Breeders’ Cup consideration for the Classic, Dirt Mile (G1) and Mile.
FrontRunner: Bolt d’Oro and Zatter established themselves as top contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) finishing 1-2 in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and they’ll continue to their rivalry in the 1 1/16-mile FrontRunner. Impressive debut scorer Solomini, who along with Zatter is trained by Baffert, is another runner of interest in the nine-horse field.
Chandelier: Del Mar Debutante (G1) winner Moonshine Memories can solidify her status as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) favorite with a victory in the 1 1/16-mile Chandelier. Conditioned by Simon Callaghan, the front-running filly will meet seven rivals including Piedi Bianchi, a rallying half-length second in the Debutante; and the Baffert duo of Alluring Star and Just a Smidge.
Zenyatta: Paradise Woods hasn’t been close in her last two starts, retreating to 11th after setting the pace in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and weakening to sixth after a stumbling start in the August 27 Torrey Pines (G3) at Del Mar, but she’s clearly the one to beat in a suspect edition of the 1 1/16-mile Zenyatta. The sophomore filly showed an affinity for the local main track when posting an 11-length victory in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) in early April, registering a 110 BRIS Speed rating that towers over her modest five rivals, but the Zenyatta came up extremely weak this year in terms of being a Distaff (G1) prep.
Rodeo Drive: The 1 ¼-mile Rodeo Drive didn’t draw a formidable group, but the 11-horse field is eligible to produce some starters for Filly & Mare Turf (G1) five weeks later. Goodyearforroses is the probable favorite following a pair of seconds in the Gamely (G1) and John C. Mabee (G2).
John Henry Turf Championship (G2): A former turf sprinter, Hunt displayed improved stamina at Del Mar, capturing the 1 1/8-mile Eddie Read (G2) and 1 3/8-mile Del Mar H. (G2), and the 5-year-old gelding will cut back to 1 ¼ miles for the John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita. Phil d’Amato could be using the race as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Turf or Mile. Multiple Grade 2 scorer Itsinthepost is also part of the nine-horse field after finishing second as the Del Mar H. favorite.
Miss Grillo (G3): Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) hopefuls will contest the Miss Grillo at 1 1/16 miles on Belmont’s turf and Orbolution can solidify her case for favoritism at Del Mar with another strong performance. The Pletcher-trained daughter of freshman sire Orb exits a 4 ¾-length romp as the odds-on favorite in the P.G. Johnson. Brown has a pair of probables in Significant Form, who disqualified after easily finishing first in her August 27 debut on Saratoga’s turf; and French stakes-placed Africa, who is scheduled to make her first outing for the new barn.