A record number of 193 horses have been entered to contest for $26 million in purse money in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will consist of fifteen different races held next Friday and Saturday at Churchill Downs. Pre-entries were announced this past Wednesday, and several contenders have already turned in their final works in preparation of what is sure to be the biggest race of their lives. While the Classic is the marquee race on Saturday, each and every race holds an intriguing hand of players. Here is a preview of four of these most contentious races.
The $2 million Ladies’ Classic on Friday, held at 1 1/8th-miles, will see the ultimate showdown between the top 3-year-old fillies in the nation, as some of them face older females for the first time. Last seen, Plum Pretty and It’s Tricky were trading blows in the Grade II Fitz Dixon Cotillion in a bout that ended up with Plum Pretty delivering a knock-out punch in the form of a 7 ½ -length romp, which earned her a 108 Beyer. If things go according to plan, and Havre de Grace opts to run in the Classic over the Ladies’ Classic, Plum Pretty will be the only holder of a three-digit Beyer in the field. Given the fact Plum Pretty’s biggest win came at this track when she won the Grade I Kentucky Oaks, she’s got the best advantage here. However, it’s worth noting Plum Pretty’s win in the Cotillion was the first since the Oaks, as It’s Tricky and Royal Delta took turns beating her the rest of the year. In the Grade I Alabama, Royal Delta flew by her dueling rivals, and It’s Tricky had to settle for second, while Plum Pretty faded to fourth. Before that, It’s Tricky ground out a victory over Plum Pretty in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks while Royal Delta finished lengths behind them in third. Should one of these three win the Ladies’ Classic, it will determine which is crowned with the Eclipse in their division. Outside contenders look to have less of a shot in the wheelhouse of this trio; Grade I turf specialist Aruna will try to take her campaign to a new frontier here, as well as California shipper Ultra Blend, who has proven herself on dirt as well as synthetics.
Saturday, one of the most intriguing races is the $1 million Dirt Mile. An overstuffed field has pre-drawn for this race, and if Uncle Mo runs in his first preference, the Classic, instead, the door will then be open for the also-eligible Tapizar. Jackson Bend, Caleb’s Posse, Wilburn, Shackleford, Aikenite, Trappe Shot, and The Factor are just some of the names that make up this compelling field. Each of these contenders has a realistic shot for the win, and as few of them have actually met in a 1-mile race together, the race should prove to be an exciting one. In all actuality, several of these horses have been more successful at 7 furlongs than a mile, but have been successful in routes longer than a mile. Jackson Bend, The Factor, and Caleb’s Posse, fit that bill, while some, like Shackleford, Wilburn, and To Honor and Serve (whose first preference is the Classic) will be shortening up for this test. From what he has accomplished thus far, Uncle Mo would probably dominate this field if he would run in this spot, while the Classic, on the other hand, is going to be a pure endurance test. Jackson Bend, though vulnerable, would be a worthy favorite with the absence of Mo; he finished second to the Juvenile champ in the Grade II Kelso last time out, but before that, the little horse dominated in the Grade I Forego over some of the same horses entered here. Since his reins were handed to jockey Corey Nakatani, “Mighty Mouse” has found his super powers. If The Factor is back to form after a disappointing fourth place finish in the Grade I Ancient Title, he will be extremely tough to beat.
The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is always something to look forward to, as it brings fresh names to the spotlight and highlights potential future stars. The colt everyone is most looking forward to seeing is Union Rags, the undefeated winner of the Grade I Champagne Stakes and Grade II Saratoga Special. He enters this race with a similar buzz as Uncle Mo last year, only Union Rags has even more street cred with that additional stakes win under his belt. His competition is far less seasoned, and so it will hard to see where his biggest threat will come from. There is plenty of reason to believe that Creative Cause is something special, as he easily handled the highly-touted Drill in the Grade I Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita, which is the same distance as this race. Many of the contenders in this race have turf or synthetic form in their background and have yet to prove themselves on traditional dirt, as is the case of Hansen, who raised eyebrows in a romper at Turfway Park. The nearly-white colt is a runaway winner of both his starts; after breaking his maiden by a dozen lengths, Hansen dominated in the 1 1/16th-mile Kentucky Cup Juvenile Stakes, where he broke from the outside post and went on to win by 13 1/4th-lengths. If he’s half as good on dirt, Hansen will put Union Rags and Creative Cause to the test and we’ll get to see quite a show in the shadow of the twin spires.
The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile will once again be retitled the Goldikova Show. The 6-year-old mare will attempt to set a new record as she tries to win her fourth consecutive BC Mile; she already holds the distinction of being the only horse with three wins in the same Breeders’ Cup race. Goldikova will enter this test after two consecutive losses in Group I competition, and some familiar foes will try to kick her while she’s down. The runners-up in the last two editions of the Mile, Gio Ponti and Courageous Cat, will try their hand at her once more, and several other entrants look plenty intimidating, though none can claim to have a record like this great mare. Turallure, Get Stormy, Mr. Commons, and Sidney’s Candy all stand a chance to upset the champion, but are they in her same class orbit? Turallure enters on a 2-race win streak, including a victory in the Grade I Woodbine Mile, where he defeated Courageous Cat by a neck. Gio Ponti finally found his way back to the winner’s circle in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, and still has what it takes to run with the best of them. If Goldikova wins yet again, it will be a race to remember—the kind of performance we should all just sit back and appreciate.
Next week, I’ll break down the runners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Will it be just a two-horse race between Havre de Grace and Uncle Mo, or is there a chance for another horse to shine in a year of upsets? Until then, don’t forget to tune in early Friday for the start of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on ABC.