Trends, angles to note for 2021 Breeders' Cup turf races
To borrow an observation from the iconic jockey Frankie Dettori, the Europe-versus-America dynamic in the Breeders’ Cup is reminiscent of golf’s Ryder Cup. While the parallel extends to American success in a few of the turf races, others have been more evenly matched, and Europeans remain historically dominant in the 1 1/2-mile Turf (G1).
Here are trends and other angles to note in the seven turf events over the two-day Breeders’ Cup.
Friday: Juvenile Turf Sprint
The newest Breeders’ Cup race, the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), has showcased American speed. Since the Todd Pletcher-trained Bulletin wired the inaugural running in 2018, Wesley Ward has won the ensuing two editions with frontrunners Four Wheel Drive and Golden Pal. Four Wheel Drive spearheaded an American superfecta when the race was a five-furlong dash at Santa Anita in 2019.
The closest the Europeans have gotten so far are a pair of late-running thirds (2018 and 2020). Yet it should be pointed out that when the predecessor to this race was held at Del Mar in 2017, the Europeans swept the superfecta. And they’re back with both quantity (six contenders including the first also-eligible) and quality on Friday, suggesting an improved European result.
If the pattern established in its Breeders’ Cup incarnation holds, Ward’s pair of Twilight Gleaming and Averly Jane fit the winning profile, as does the brilliant One Timer for Larry Rivelli. But Ward’s third chance, Kaufymaker, brings another angle into play. In all three Breeders’ Cup editions, the runner-up from the Indian Summer at Keeneland came back to finish second in the Juvenile Turf Sprint – and this year, that’s Kaufymaker.
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Friday: Juvenile Fillies Turf
Team Europe has found the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) almost as difficult to conquer, winning just two of 13 runnings. Flotilla (2012) and Chriselliam (2013), who both prevailed at Santa Anita, had experience at a mile already. The two Europeans meeting that prerequisite here are Cachet and Mise en Scene, both running well in defeat in the race Chriselliam had won, the Fillies’ Mile (G1).
Indeed, the distance angle has been essential for the American-based winners as well. All 11 had raced over a route before the Breeders’ Cup. The Miss Grillo (G2) at Belmont Park ranks as the most productive prep overall, boding well for Sail By.
On the other hand, the Miss Grillo’s impact for supplying Breeders’ Cup winners is largely due to Chad Brown, whose 2021 Juvenile Fillies Turf contenders did not run in the Miss Grillo. Consumer Spending instead dominated the Selima at Laurel, the same race that launched Sharing (2019), making her the logical hope to extend Brown’s record number of wins in this race to six.
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Friday: Juvenile Turf
European-trained horses have a better strike rate in the Juvenile Turf (G1), with eight of 14 editions going abroad. The Ward-trained Hootenanny would make it nine if you include juveniles who raced in Europe.
Aidan O’Brien has furnished four of those winners. Two were coming off placed efforts in the Dewhurst (G1) at Newmarket, where his lone hope on Friday, Glounthaune, finished sixth. The slight morning-line favorite in the Juvenile Turf, Dubawi Legend, was runner-up in that same key race for Hugo Palmer. But Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby has won the Juvenile Turf twice, and returns with a pair of contenders in Modern Games and Albahr.
Of the American stepping stones, the Pilgrim (G2) has been the most informative. That elevates Brown’s contender, Pilgrim near-misser Portfolio Company.
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Saturday: Turf Sprint
Americans had been pitching a shut-out in the Turf Sprint (G1), and nearly a “perfect game,” with just a single European even placing in the first 12 years. But Glass Slippers hit it out of the park last fall to get Great Britain on the scoreboard.
To be fair, the sample size of previous European failures wasn’t that large, and disappointments of a few well-credentialed sprinters magnified the impression. Still, it remains to be seen if defending champ Glass Slippers and her fellow shippers can keep the momentum going over five furlongs at Del Mar, shorter than last year’s 5 1/2-furlong version at Keeneland.
Glass Slippers was reinforcing, however, the angle focusing on distaffers. She is the fourth female to win the Turf Sprint, after Mizdirection (2012-13) and Belvoir Bay (2019). That American-based duo were returning fresh off layoffs, which could be a tip for Kimari here. A handful of distaffers have also placed in this race. Caravel is another capable of enhancing the stats in her ideal conditions.
The dozen American winners had prepped in rather eclectic fashion, precluding any hard trends. Santa Anita’s Eddie D. (G2) (previously the Morvich) has served up three winners, a stat that Lieutenant Dan hopes to pad.
Saturday: Filly & Mare Turf
The Filly & Mare Turf (G1) is almost evenly divided with a tally of 12-10 in the Americans’ favor. But the Europeans have been closing the gap in recent years, winning five of the last eight. Overall, most of the European winners have been British-trained, and only one apiece from France and Ireland.
The Irish heroine, Iridessa (2019), was sent out by Aidan O’Brien’s son, Joseph. Aidan himself has yet to win this race, but his star females have tended to go in the Turf. Thus the factoid that he’s 0-for-the-Filly & Mare Turf isn’t as damning as it sounds, and Love could erase it for the master of Ballydoyle on Saturday.
Indeed, this year’s edition appears poised to bust at least one angle or another. The Prix de l’Opera (G1) is the key European lead-in, but if it produces the winner, another pattern must be broken. Rougir is trying to become the first Opera winner to double up in this race. The only other Opera alum, fourth-placer Audarya, is attempting to make history as the first back-to-back Filly & Mare Turf heroine. And looking beyond Europe, Japan’s hope Loves Only You is qualified to break new ground with a Breeders’ Cup victory.
The domestic trends, though, look likely to stand firm. The Flower Bowl (G1) remains the best American stepping stone, with morning-line favorite War Like Goddess its marquee graduate. And the Rodeo Drive (G1), which has never yielded a Filly & Mare Turf winner (and only two placed in 22 years), figures to rate as a negative again.
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Team USA has extended its advantage in the Mile (G1) over the past decade, now sporting 22 wins to the Europeans’ 15.
One-third of Europe’s total came courtesy of Miesque (1987-88) and Goldikova (2008-10). Those Hall of Famers provided five of France’s 10 wins, a total that will not budge this year since there’s no French shipper. The Irish have won three times, including last year when the shocking Order of Australia topped a Ballydoyle trifecta. The British have won just twice, but as recently as 2018, and Appleby will try to bump up that number with his duo, including Space Blues, the morning-line favorite.
Space Blues and Ireland’s Pearls Galore ran one-two in the Prix de la Foret (G1), a useful springboard to the Mile. O’Brien’s runner, Mother Earth, and the other Appleby, Master of the Seas, were last seen in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day at Ascot. The QEII hasn’t produced a Mile winner since Ridgewood Pearl (1995), but it has yielded placegetters in recent years.
The Woodbine Mile (G1) is one of the most valuable North American preps, and third-placer Raging Bull is eligible to prove it again back on his preferred Southern California turf. The Keeneland Turf Mile (G1) is the other key stepping stone domestically, although its alumni this year, Brazilian imports In Love and Ivar, are trying to become the first South American-breds to win the Mile.
Also noteworthy is Keeneland’s First Lady (G1), responsible for two of the past six Mile winners, and pinning its hopes on Blowout here. Distaffers, both foreign and domestic, have historically done well in the Mile. That factors for Got Stormy (second in the 2019 edition), as well as Pearls Galore, Mother Earth, and South Africa’s also-eligible, Queen Supreme.
The Turf is virtually a mirror image of the Mile scoreboard, with the Europeans leading 23-15, and pouring it on especially since the turn of the millennium. More than half of the U.S. total was compiled by 1998. Since then, only six American horses have managed to win, including Johar’s dead-heat with Irish defending champion High Chaparral (2003).
The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) has been the most significant pointer. While Enable (2018) is the only one to complete an Arc/Turf double in the same season, 11 other Arc contestants went on to Turf glory that fall. And more came back to place in the Turf.
That’s just another talking point in favor of defending champion Tarnawa, who exits a gallant second in the Arc. The aforementioned High Chaparral placed in the Arc before both of his Turf wins, and Conduit (2008-09) was fourth in Paris en route to his Breeders’ Cup repeat.
The Arc angle applies less persuasively to Broome. One of the quartet for six-time Turf winner O’Brien, Broome was 11th after being involved in the Arc pace. Stablemate Japan ran below his best in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1), historically America’s leading stepping stone, behind Rockemperor and Gufo. But the top U.S. Turf hope, Domestic Spending, is taking a non-traditional route by arriving fresh from Arlington, like past Brown trainee Bricks and Mortar (2019).
Three outstanding European sophomores are also arriving via different ways. Teona would have contested the Arc if the ground had been better, so perhaps she merits an asterisk as a near-runner in the Arc. She comes here straight from her victory in the Prix Vermeille (G1). Sisfahan, second to Arc upsetter Torquator Tasso in the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1), was last seen placing in another German Group 1. And Godolphin’s Yibir manhandled the “Win and You’re In” Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park, a relatively new race on the calendar that should grow in importance as a Breeders’ Cup springboard.
Seven of Europe’s winners were three-year-olds, including filly Found (2015). Although just five females have captured the Turf, three have scored in the last six years. And twice as many distaffers have placed in the Turf since the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984.