Four things I'm watching for in this weekend's round of BC preps

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

September 25th, 2015

There's a lot going on in Saturday's first round of final Breeders' Cup preps, where the action from Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, and Santa Anita will be coming at a fast and furious pace all afternoon. Here are four things I'll be watching for:

Can Curalina stay in championship contention? -- It's arguably too late for any filly or mare not named Beholder to earn a divisional title in the older dirt female category, but the 1 1/8-mile Beldame (G1) at Belmont represents an opportunity for Curalina to stay in the hunt for the three-year-old filly title in the wake of I'm a Chatterbox's impressive win in last week's Cotillion (G1).

Winner of the Acorn (G1) in her stakes debut, Curalina was rightly elevated to first in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) when I'm a Chatterbox interfered with her during the stretch run. Both fillies were compromised by a moderate pace in the Alabama (G1), but I'm a Chatterbox still finished well ahead (3 1/2 lengths) of Curalina for runner-up honors.

A victory in the Beldame over older rivals, especially the Belmont-loving Wedding Toast, would be a feather in the cap of Curalina and make the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), and a third clash with I'm a Chatterbox, potentially much more interesting.

And America's best turf male possibly is.... -- With all due respect to The Pizza Man, who still has a strong fan base out there following a hometown victory over testing conditions in the Arlington Million (G1), the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont might be a better indicator of who the best domestic hope for the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) will be.

Big Blue Kitten's consistently good form this season needs no re-hashing, while Red Rifle has come on surprisingly strong in recent months with a score in the Bowling Green H. (G2) and clear second-place finish to the European invader Flintshire in the Sword Dancer Invitational (G1).

With Flintshire, and others from overseas, likely to make the Breeders' Cup Turf a tough ask for any U.S.-based hopefuls, it'll still be interesting to note who'll be leading the pack heading into October.

Will Fanticola finally come through for me? -- After two heart-breaking losses in the final strides of the Santa Barbara H. (G3) and Gamely (G1) at odds of 7-1 and 8-1, respectively, I must belatedly report that I missed on cashing when Fanticola she rebounded in the Royal Heroine (G2) at odds of 4-1 (I was on vacation that weekend). However, a recent loss as the favorite in the John C. Mabee (G2) might have some bettors avoiding her in the Rodeo Drive (G1) at Santa Anita.

Granted, the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Rodeo Drive is hardly ideal for this front-running mare, but on paper the race shapes up exactly like the Santa Barbara and Gamely where she figures to be loose on the lead. With a little more luck and staying power, she has the potential to score at a decent price on a day when larger win payoffs in these major preps might be hard to come by.

To Bayern or not to Bayern -- The trajectory Bayern's career has taken this year suggests he's far from a legitimate candidate to repeat in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), a disappointing sequence of events considering he was a worthy candidate for three-year-old champion and Horse of the Year honors last season.

The silver lining for Bayern is he looks like the controlling speed in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, a track over which he has never lost in three previous starts. It might be too much to expect connections to concede the Classic even if he were to prevail in the Awesome Again, but there's something to be said about going out on top if the opportunity presents itself.

(Curalina photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)