Breeders' Cup roundup: July 12, 2021

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July 12th, 2021

Although the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series took last week off, the overall road to the Nov. 5-6 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar keeps on winding.

A trio of high-profile graded stakes with possible Breeders’ Cup implications took place over the weekend, so let’s catch up on the latest news and notes:

Bolshoi Ballet, Santa Barbara stamp Breeders’ Cup credentials

The most significant action of the racing week took place at Belmont Park, where talented three-year-old turf horses took center stage in the Belmont Derby (G1) and Belmont Oaks (G1).

Acclaimed Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien sent over a formidable contingent of European raiders and promptly swept both of the 1 1/4-mile tests. Santa Barbara was the first to strike, overcoming traffic down the homestretch of the Belmont Oaks to rally boldly and beat pacesetter Con Lima by a half-length.

Previously runner-up in the Pretty Polly S. (G1) against older mares in Ireland, Santa Barbara found competing against her own age group more manageable and displayed a powerful turn of foot down the lane, dashing the final quarter mile in approximately :22 3/5.

Bolshoi Ballet was just as impressive in the Belmont Derby. Coming off a troubled seventh-place effort as the favorite in England’s Epsom Derby (G1), the son of Galileo rallied wide through fast closing fractions to beat Italian Derby (G2) winner Tokyo Gold by 1 1/4 lengths with a :23 flat final quarter.

Both Santa Barbara and Bolshoi Ballet were ridden to victory by Ryan Moore, who has scored six of his nine Breeders’ Cup wins when riding for O’Brien. There’s a good chance this productive partnership will pick up a couple more Breeders’ Cup victories in the fall, as O’Brien’s traveling assistant T.J. Comerford informed the New York Racing Association that Bolshoi Ballet is targeting the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and Santa Barbara is aiming for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).

Miss Marissa emerges on the Breeders’ Cup Distaff scene

The 1 1/4-mile Delaware H. (G2) at Delaware Park was supposed to be an easy target for two-time graded stakes winner Bonny South, fresh off a runner-up effort in the Ogden Phipps S. (G1) behind Horse of the Year contender Letruska.

But Bonny South failed to fire her best shot, fading from midpack to finish a distant fifth out of sixth. In the meantime, four-year-old Miss Marissa led all the way to spring a 47-10 upset.

A winner over Bonny South in the Black-Eyed Susan S. (G2) at Pimlico last fall, Miss Marissa enjoyed a perfect trip in the Delaware 'Cap, cruising to an uncontested lead through modest fractions of :25.15, :50.10, and 1:14.62. The pace-tracking longshot Gibberish tried to challenge down the lane, but Miss Marissa always had the race measured, battling home on top by 1 1/4 lengths in 2:04.50.

The Delaware marked Miss Marissa’s second start of 2021, following a runner-up effort over a disadvantageous closer-favoring surface in the Obeah S. at Delaware Park. The Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) now looms as a potential long-term target for the James Ryerson trainee, who will seek to complete the first Del 'Cap/Distaff double since Royal Delta in 2012.

Upcoming “Win and You’re In” qualifiers

Following a one-week hiatus, the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series resumes on Saturday with the $1 million Haskell S. (G1) at Monmouth Park. The prestigious 1 1/8-mile event for three-year-olds serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and has in fact produced four Classic winners since 2014, including three colts who won both races.

A strong field is expected to contest the Haskell, led by the classic-placed trio of Hot Rod Charlie, Mandaloun, and Midnight Bourbon. Hot Rod Charlie may start as the favorite off a gallant runner-up effort in the Belmont S. (G1), but Mandaloun will surely attract support after rallying to victory in Monmouth’s Pegasus S. last month.

Stay tuned to TwinSpires Edge for more coverage and analysis as the road to the Breeders’ Cup continues!