Two down, nine to go: divisional championships on the line at the Breeders' Cup

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

October 17th, 2016

We're less than three weeks away from the Breeders' Cup, which means time is nearly up for candidates to make their final championship pitches to Eclipse Award voters.

At this writing, it appears two of the 11 equine divisional races are already settled. Songbird is a perfect seven-for-seven this year, and if there was a tiny opening for anyone else in the three-year-old filly ranks to depose her, it was completely sealed with her tour-de-force victory in the Cotillion (G1). Songbird's performance in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) will have no impact on the outcome of this contest.

On the steeplechase side, Rawnaq likely clinched year-end honors over the weekend with a victory in the Grand National (G1) at Far Hills, New Jersey. Also the winner of the Iroquois (G1) and Temple Gwathmey (G3) earlier in the season, Rawnaq is likely to focus on preparing for next March's Cheltenham Festival rather than take a run at next month's Colonial Cup (G1), a victory in which would be gravy and little more.

As is customary, the Breeders' Cup juvenile races will have a huge impact on who wins for two-year-old male and two-year-old filly. Leaving aside those two divisions, here's one man's opinion on how the remaining seven races are shaping up.

Three-year-old male

The retirement last week of Exaggerator pretty much ended his Eclipse aspirations. That leaves Kentucky Derby (G1) and Florida Derby (G1) winner Nyquist and Travers (G1) record-setter Arrogate as the final hopefuls.

Nyquist's declining form since the Derby has threatened his candidacy, though merely out-finishing Arrogate in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) would be enough to clinch. A victory in the Classic by Arrogate would clinch it for him, but a strong race in defeat might also win him a lot of support if he also happens to out-finish Nyquist by a significant margin.

On the other hand, no horse has ever won this division with just a single stakes win to his credit. If Arrogate runs strongly in but loses the Classic, I'd expect his connections would wheel him back in 20 days for the Clark H. (G1) at Churchill Downs in order to pad his résumé, Will Take Charge-style (2013).

Older male

In the eyes of many, California Chrome has already sewed this up. He'll be an overwhelming favorite in the Classic, deservedly so based on what we've seen in the San Antonio (G2), Dubai World Cup (G1), San Diego H. (G2), Pacific Classic (G1), and Awesome Again (G1).

Theoretically, however, Frosted, and even Melatonin, would have a legitimate claim to the title if they pulled off the Classic upset. Frosted would avenge a previous loss to California Chrome in the World Cup, while Melatonin would have a three-for-four mark in stakes company on the year, with victories in three of California's four top divisional races.

Frankly, though, I don't expect California Chrome to lose this.

Older female

Forever Unbridled and I'm a Chatterbox are nice fillies (though not as successful this year as the recently-retired Cavorting, who is now out of Eclipse consideration), but I'd really be surprised to see any of them getting the upper hand on both Stellar Wind and Beholder on their home track of Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1).

Stellar Wind owns a 2-1 edge over Beholder this season, and thus she figures as the top candidate going into the Distaff. I'd say whomever out-finishes the other is the championship winner, but the lines will definitely be blurred if Beholder finishes ahead, but doesn't actually win, the Distaff. I'm hoping for a more clear-cut result than that.

Turf male

Flintshire, due to his body of work this year, didn't lose his position at the top of this race after a loss in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) on softish ground. He'll undoubtedly find firmer conditions more to his liking at Santa Anita (G1) in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1), but a bad defeat could possibly open the door for someone else.

I'm not sure a European-based runner can carry this off even if Flintshire sustains a minor loss to one in the Turf (I'm looking at you Highland Reel, etc.). However, if Ectot happens to replicate his Turf Classic win at Santa Anita, he'd take this as well. Ironicus, as much as like him for the Mile, has a tougher path considering that loss to Flintshire in the Manhattan (G1) and a more recent one in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1).

Turf female

Tepin, with a pair of victories against males, will be hard to dethrone even if she happens to lose the Mile, narrowly or otherwise. However, a loss by her, combined with a potential victory by Lady Eli in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), will generate a major debate, especially when you consider Lady Eli's personal, heart-warming story of fending off a near-fatal case of laminitis. However, I'd still be inclined to stick with Tepin given her record transcending the female turf division.

Miss Temple City, like Tepin, has two wins against the boys, but she's winless in her own division this year and likely won't be as effective against open company outside of Keeneland, which she seemingly loves more than any other turf. However, check back with me if she pulls off a stunner in the Mile.

Sea Calisi can officially knock Lady Eli out of contention by making amends for her loss in the Flower Bowl (G1), but her path to a championship is also seemingly blocked by Tepin's open-company record.

I also see no path for Found, even if she wins a second consecutive Turf. The American-based contingent is too strong to look overseas in this category.

Male sprinter

Lord Nelson and A. P. Indian are clearly the most deserving candidates now, but a win in the Sprint (G1) by Joking, Masochistic or Drefong could be a clincher for them as well.

If the Sprint result is "wild," expect the best finisher among Lord Nelson, A. P. Indian, and Joking to get the nod.

Female sprinter

Haveyougoneaway has built up the strongest pre-Breeders' Cup résumé, but this race is wide open. Others near the top of this category include Paulassilverlining, Tara's Tango, By the Moon, and Irish Jasper. Even three-year-old Carina Mia and Curalina, who might shorten up for the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), are in the discussion pending the outcome of the seven-furlong Breeders' Cup dash.