Breeders' Cup 2022 Early Update
As the Triple Crown races come to an end, the thoughts of Thoroughbred racing enthusiasts invariably turn toward the Breeders’ Cup, this year returning for the third time to Keeneland in the heartland of Kentucky’s Thoroughbred breeding industry.
The Breeders’ Cup is a fantastic climax to the season, but it’s more than just that. Each of the 14 races plays a major role in deciding divisional leaders in the United States, and the likely winners of the Eclipse Awards.
At this stage of the year, it’s too early to make any judgments about potential contenders for the five Breeders’ Cup races for two-year-olds, as most of the likely runners have yet to start. But we do have clues about the nine races for three-year-olds and up. So, in the order that they were run last year, here’s a look at some possible contestants.
Filly and Mare Sprint
Much depends on whether last year’s winner Ce Ce comes back for this race or has a go at the Distaff, as she did two years ago. If she does, she will be hard to beat. The same might be said for Beholder Mile (G1) winner As Time Goes By, who could be better suited here than the Distaff. Other leading contenders include Derby City Distaff (G1) winner Obligatory, Madison Stakes (G1) heroine Just One Time, and Winning Colors (G3) victor Sconsin.
Wesley Ward holds a potential strong hand for this $1 million prize. Last year’s winner, Golden Pal, heads his team, which also includes Campanelle and Arrest Me Red. Ward, however, also has his eye on the A$15 million (about $10.7 million) Everest in Australia; though Golden Pal is the more obvious prospect, early reports suggest Campanelle might be the one heading there. Europe’s turf sprinters lack a clear leader, though they often don’t have the gate speed usually needed for this race.
The dream scenario would be to attract the outstanding Australians Nature Strip and Home Affairs, who like Golden Pal are heading to Royal Ascot, but the relatively small prize by their standards makes this unlikely. Home Affairs, being a colt, could be a possibility if his owners think the race would help his stud value; Nature Strip, as a gelding, would be much more likely to try to ascend The Everest again.
Much depends on whether two of the most exciting horses in the U.S., Life Is Good and Flightline, head here instead of seeking other prizes. Life Is Good, a convincing winner last year, could come here if connections decide he doesn’t stay the Classic trip of 1 1/4 miles; he failed this test in the Dubai World Cup (G1), but he might be given another opportunity at that distance before a decision is made where he goes.
Flightline has won all three of his races by wide margins, but has yet to travel beyond seven furlongs. He was being set for the Met Mile (G1) at Belmont before injury struck him; he could potentially head to any of the Sprint, Classic, or Mile, but if he contests this race while fully fit he will be very hard to beat.
Other potential contenders might include Jack Christopher and Forbidden Kingdom, while extra interest could come if the class sprinters Jackie’s Warrior and Speaker’s Corner, both proven over a mile, head here.
Filly and Mare Turf
The best U.S. turf mare this season has been Regal Glory, winner of the Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G3) and Jenny Wiley (G1). But trainer Chad Brown at this point thinks the 1 3/16-mile trip won’t suit her, and she’s likely to head for the Mile instead. Brown will invariably be well-represented here in a race he’s won four times, with Jenny Wiley runner-up Shantisara potentially one of them.
Last year’s favorite and third-place finisher War Like Goddess is still in training and showed her well-being with a victory in the Bewitch (G3) at Keeneland, but this is also a race in which foreign-trained horses would be big chances. Keep an eye on the European classics for potential contenders; among older mares in Europe, Alpinista, conqueror of Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe hero Torquator Tasso last year, is one to watch. The real coup could be if Australian champ Verry Elleegant, who is heading to Europe to be trained, finds her way here, but that may be a longshot.
Also keep an eye on Japan; remember, last year’s Japanese-trained winner, Loves Only You, was just the third-best Japanese mare by world ratings. One potential contender who would brighten up the race would be the white filly Sodashi, who earned a place in this race by winning the Victoria Mile (G1); if she made the trip, however, she might be better suited by the Mile, though her owner has indicated she won't be leaving home.
If all the potential contenders make it to this race, it could be one of the strongest editions of this race in Breeders’ Cup history. Last year’s first two home in an incredibly tight finish, Aloha West and Dr. Schivel, are still in training and are logical contenders again. The 2021 edition was also notable, however, for the below-par effort from subsequent Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Jackie’s Warrior. He’s back again this year, and easily accounted for Aloha West in the Churchill Downs S. (G1) May 7; if he heads here, as expected, rather than the Mile, he will be tough.
The most exciting prospect in the sprinting division is arguably Flightline, who is unbeaten in three starts and who destroyed his opponents in the Malibu (G1) last year. He is currently dealing with an injury, and if he does come back there is a chance he could head towards the Dirt Mile or maybe even the Classic instead. Another strong contender could be Speaker’s Corner, winner of the seven-furlong Carter H. (G1), though like Flightline, he could also head to the Dirt Mile.
This is one of the great international contests on Breeders’ Cup day, with European and American trainers winning in roughly equal numbers, so one needs to look widely. In North America, the field is headed by the leading mare Regal Glory, winner of the Jenny Wiley (G1) already this season; other potential players include Santin, Shirl’s Speight, Colonel Liam, Pizza Bianca, and Tiz the Bomb.
The best miler in Europe at the moment, and a very good one at that, is the unbeaten Baaeed, who strolled away with the Lockinge (G1) earlier this month. There are also a number of promising three-year-olds that could be contenders, among them 2,000 Guineas (G1) winner Coroebus, Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Homeless Songs, and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Modern Games, who has added the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (G1) to his résumé May 15.
The race would also be strengthened if some of Japan’s top milers participate. But the Asian horse that would add the most interest, Hong Kong champion Golden Sixty, has more earning potential if he stays at home and probably won’t be making the journey.
As always, this is a competitive division. Last year’s shock Japanese winner Marche Lorraine is still in training; at her only 2022 start, she finished a distant sixth against the boys in the Saudi Cup (G1). Don’t be surprised if she’s back again.
Also likely to be aimed at the race again is Letruska, who has bounced back from her below-par effort as favorite last year with two wins, including the Apple Blossom (G1); Malathaat, a winner on resuming after finishing third last year; Shedaresthedevil, second to Pauline’s Pearl in the La Troienne (G1); and As Time Goes By, winner of her three starts since finishing eighth last year.
Adding to the field is likely to be the cream of this year’s three-year-old fillies; the leaders of that division to date are Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath along with Nest, Desert Dawn, Echo Zulu, and Kathleen O.
Last year’s impressive winner Yibir is back in training; however, after going down narrowly to Japan’s Shahryar in Dubai, he’s put in a couple of relative clunkers, the latest being a defeat in the Man o’ War (G1) to Highland Chief.
Recent records suggest that Europe is the place to look for a potential winner of this race. The question then becomes which of the best European runners make the journey. Among last year’s best European stayers, Adayar, Hurricane Lane, and Torquator Tasso are still in training; none made it to this race in 2021 but all would add to its appeal. In addition, the best three-year-old stayers will soon make their mark in races such as the Derby, Irish Derby, and Prix du Jockey Club.
Japanese horses would also be a welcome addition, but as they have the Japan Cup at home over the same distance three weeks after this race, few are likely to make the journey. But take careful note of the form of any that do.
Already this is looking like a fascinating renewal, with no horse grabbing the mantle as division leader yet. At one point, it looked like Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Life Is Good would do so, but he didn’t stay the 1 1/4 miles of the Dubai World Cup. The track was testing that day, however, so he may be given another chance at 1 1/4 miles, possibly in the Pacific Classic (G1), before he’s routed away from this race.
With Life Is Good failing to stay, the Dubai World Cup went to Country Grammer, who is clearly a leading prospect here. The horses immediately behind him, such as Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon, will also be set for this race. Last year's Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun will probably attend as well. It’s worth noting, of course, that prior to Dubai, Country Grammer was beaten in the Saudi Cup (G1) by local galloper Emblem Road; given how that form worked out, the Saudi galloper wouldn’t be out of place at Keeneland.
The leading three-year-olds will also probably be represented. Leading them at present are Rich Strike, Early Voting, Epicenter, and Zandon; others from that crop are also likely to emerge.