Looking forward to the first of two Breeders’ Cup Preview weekends
The first of two Breeders’ Cup preview weekends is at hand and plenty of star power will be on display at Belmont Park, Churchill Downs and Santa Anita.
Let’s start in Arcadia, California where the Breeders’ Cup will be held for a record ninth time at Santa Anita on November 4-5.
California Chrome is America's top-ranked horse and has margin for error in Saturday’s Awesome Again (G1), reeling off five straight wins this year. It’s difficult to envision a scenario where he loses but a setback won’t cost California Chrome favoritism in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) given the lack of depth in the prospective field, with Travers (G1) winner Arrogate a clear second choice presently and anybody’s guess as to who winds up the Classic third choice.
High-profile sophomores Exggerator and Nyquist have gone off form and the top-ranked Classic contender on the East Coast, Frosted, is under serious consideration for the Dirt Mile (G1) given his phenomenal showing in the Met Mile (G1) and how poorly he performed in last year’s 1 ¼-mile Classic.
California Chrome will be one of the biggest favorites on Breeders’ Cup weekend if he continues to shine as expected in the Awesome Again.
The Zenyatta (G1) features a compelling rubber match between Beholder (champion older mare in 2015) and Stellar Wind (champion 3-year-old filly in 2015), who have split a pair of previous meetings this summer. In the Vanity Mile (G1) and Clement L. Hirsch (G1), the winner was drawn to the outside of her rival in the starting gate so post positions will once again be a key element to Saturday’s race.
The winner will bring positive momentum into the Distaff (G1) as the likely second choice in the wagering.
Songbird wrapped up Distaff (G1) favoritism with her convincing victory in last Saturday’s Cotillion (G1) at Park Racing, improving her record to 11-for-11. And don’t be surprised to see her wind up as an odds-on favorite regardless of what happens between Beholder and Stellar Wind on Saturday; Songbird would take lots of action versus California Chrome if entered in the Classic and will bring an air of superiority to her first assignment against elders in the Distaff.
At Belmont Park, Flintshire will tune up for his Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) appearance in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1). The leading U.S.-based turf horse by an overwhelming margin, Flintshire has compiled a 3-for-3 mark since being transferred from Andre Fabre to Chad Brown this year.
The European contingent will be formidable, with Postponed a proposed candidate after Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), but Flintshire finished a close second in the 2014 Turf at Santa Anita and promises to compete for favoritism if he continues to star in the Hirsch.
Sprint aficionados will also be paying close attention to the Vosburgh (G1) and Gallant Bloom (G2) at Belmont.
A.P. Indian has risen to the top of the East Coast ranks by virtue of five straight stakes wins, easily proving best in the Forego (G1) and A.G. Vanderbilt (G1) in the last two. I still have some doubts as to his best distance, with three of his last four wins coming at 7-furlongs, but the gelding distinguished himself in 6-furlong Vanderbilt and will negotiate the same trip in the Vosburgh.
I’m looking forward to the return of X Y Jet, who provides quality competition to the heavy favorite if ready to go for Jorge Navarro. The gray gelding earned big BRIS Speed ratings reeling off three straight wire-to-wire sprint stakes at Gulfstream before an outstanding neck second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) on the Dubai World Cup undercard last out.
The Gallant Bloom contains serious implications for Wavell Avenue, who parlayed a strong runner-up effort last year into a Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) title. After dropping her first three starts this year, she finally returned to the winner’s circle in early August before taking another step back most recently in the August 27 Ballerina (G1), finishing a disappointing sixth. It’s been a disappointing season for the late runner but Wavell Avenue still has time to turn things around.
The Ack Ack (G2) at Churchill Downs serves as a major race of interest due to the presence of Runhappy, who is scheduled to use the one-turn mile event as a springboard to the Breeders’ Dirt Mile (G1). The reigning sprint champion is unraced since dominating the Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita in late December and brings a six-race win streak to his 2016 bow.
Connections of the 4-year-old colt have been clear-cut about their plans: they’re pointing Runhappy to the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic and would love to campaign the first horse to win three different Breeders’ Cup races. The Dirt Mile has always been the plan this fall and Runhappy will stretch out to 1 1/8 miles for the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream in January.
But what happens if Runhappy wins by 10+ lengths, garnering huge Speed/performance ratings while winning in a fast time? Will be the Dirt Mile still be a viable spot or does a horse of Runhappy’s immense talents belong on center stage in the main event?
I still think there’s a chance Runhappy winds up in this year’s Classic field.