Final round of Breeders’ Cup prep races their losing appeal

Profile Picture: James Scully

September 6th, 2017

With Labor Day weekend in the books, less than nine weeks remain until the 2017 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar and many top contenders are already training up to the championship event in early November. The final round of major prep races, which takes place at Belmont Park, Keeneland and Santa Anita in late September/early October, no longer attracts the marquee slate of horses it once did.

Three of the 13 Breeders’ Cup race winners last year made their previous start at Del Mar or Saratoga and the total figures to keep rising as trainers continue to employ more time between starts. Even a veteran like 82-year-old Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who has won a record 14 Triple Crown races and knows the benefit of a recent prep better than most, said of Sporting Chance following Monday’s Hopeful (G1) victory, “I might try to go straight to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile” before adding Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) as a viable option.

The top three for this year’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic – Arrogate, Gun Runner and Collected – will receive at least two months preparation for the 1 ¼-mile race and defending champ Arrogate is the standard-bearer when it comes to entering a race fresh. After posting a record-setting victory in his stakes debut, the 2016 Travers (G1) at Saratoga, Arrogate eliminated any concerns of a “bounce” when returning from a 10-week hiatus with a monstrous performance at Santa Anita, running down a loose-on-the-lead California Chrome in the stretch of the Classic.

Bob Baffert trains Arrogate and Collected and when the latter upset his stablemate in the August 19 Pacific Classic (G1), the Hall of Fame conditioner left open the possibility of running Collected back in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita this fall. But he tipped his hand when talking about Arrogate afterward, mentioning how Collected benefitted from a near two-month freshening in advance of the Pacific Classic,  “I don’t think I have a problem bringing (Arrogate) back in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But he’s got to be fresh, just like Collected came in here fresh.”  

Reigning sprint champion Drefong came back from a 10-week layoff to win the 2016 TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and Baffert has the favorite on the same path again this year, using the August 26 Forego (G1) at Saratoga for his final outing.

The possible favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), Skye Diamonds, will wait 12 weeks for her main engagement. An easy winner in all four sprint starts this year for Bill Spawr, the 4-year-old filly exits a sharp tally in the August 13 Rancho Bernardo (G3) at Del Mar.

Simon Callaghan indicated unbeaten Del Mar Debutante (G1) heroine Moonshine Memories will likely train up to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). Mick Ruis mentioned possibly bringing Del Mar Futurity (G1) winner Bolt d’Oro back for the FrontRunner (G1) at Santa Anita but considering how he eschewed a final prep with 2016 Del Mar Debutante winner Union Strike, it will be no surprise to see Bolt d’Oro make his next appearance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

John Sadler spoke recently about how Stellar Wind loves to runs fresh and is giving serious consideration to skipping the upcoming Zenyatta (G1) at Santa Anita and going straight to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) after her victory in July 30 Clement L. Hirsch (G1) at Del Mar. Connections of Forever Unbridled, the expected second choice in the Distaff wagering to Stellar Wind, were initially considering a title defense in the Beldame (G1) at Belmont Park but recently asked what winning that race would do for the 5-year-old mare, who improved to 2-for-2 this year with her victory in the August 26 Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga.

And I can’t leave out Lady Eli, who strengthened her grasp upon the filly & mare turf division with an excellent victory in the August 26 Ballston Spa (G2) at Saratoga. This will be the first time in three years the Chad Brown trainee won’t prep for the Breeders’ Cup in a fall stakes race at Belmont Park.

The imposing list of runners illustrates how more top contenders are bypassing the final round of Breeders' Cup prep races in 2017.