Back to the Dirt: Compelling Breeders' Cup

Steve Haskin offers an overview of the Breeders' Cup World Championships.

Welcome to the "Back to the Dirt" Breeders’ Cup, or "Downs and Dirty." The Breeders’ Cup, following two consecutive years run over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface, has returned to Churchill Downs for the first time since 2006. Since then, Churchill has installed lights for night racing, and as a result the Ladies’ Classic (gr. I), to be run Friday, Nov. 5, will become the first ever prime time Breeders’ Cup race, with a 7:30 post. The lights also will be on for the following evening’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), scheduled to be run at 6:45.

With the Breeders’ Cup back on dirt, and with the normally friendly grass surface of Churchill Downs generally having good give, a large contingent of horses from the United States and Europe is expected, including classic winners from both continents and several past Breeders’ Cup winners. Adding to the excitement and anticipation will be two strong representatives from Japan.

The main focus, of course, will be on "Mighty Mare"--Zenyatta--who hopes to conclude her amazing career in the Classic with her 20th victory in as many starts, her third straight Breeders’ Cup victory, and back-to-back wins in North America’s richest race. That will come approximately two hours after the French femme fatale, Goldikova, tries for an unprecedented three straight scores in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT).

Which pedigrees have the greatest winning potential at Churchill Downs? Order the BC Stallion Analysis by Racing Surface Report for the answer.


Marathon (4:10 p.m.)

Let’s start off the Breeders’ Cup festivities with the Marathon (gr. III), run at 1 3⁄4 miles for the second year.

Good luck trying to decipher this race. One top-class horse that could run here is Prince Will I Am, recent winner of the 11⁄8-mile Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT) on the grass at Belmont, who comes from the clouds with a powerful late kick.

A key race could be the 1 1⁄2-mile Turfway Park Fall Championship (gr. III). The first- and third-place finishers—Eldaafer and Atoned—are heading to the Marathon, as are Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II) winner Alcomo; Greenwood Cup winner A.U. Miner, who finished third in the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (gr. II); Cougar II Handicap (gr. III) winner Temple City ; and the late-closing Giant Oak, second in the Hawthorne Gold Cup.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien, who won this race last year with Man of Iron, will send over Bright Horizon, winner of a two-mile handicap at the Curragh in Ireland in his last start.

Juvenile Fillies Turf (4:50)

The two big guns in here are Winter Memories, explosive winner of the Miss Grillo Stakes (gr. IIIT), and Kathmanblu, runaway winner of the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes. Both these fillies pack quite a knockout punch and will take a lot of beating.

O’Brien will send Meon Valley Stud Fillies’ Mile (Eng-I) runner-up Together. Also expected from Europe are Tale Untold, who was beaten a nose in two special weight races at Newmarket for Richard Hannon, and the Brian Meehan-trained Quiet Oasis, a close fourth in the C.L. Weld Park Stakes (Ire-III).

Others with impressive credentials are New Normal and More Than Real, one-two in the Natalma Stakes (Can-IIIT) at Woodbine; Arch Support, second in the Miss Grillo; and the Mazarine Stakes (Can-IIIT) winner Wyomia.

Sentient Jet Filly & Mare Sprint (5:30)

This is one of the more contentious races in this year’s Breeders’ Cup, whether or not Evening Jewel runs here or in the Ladies’ Classic.

Champagne d'Oro may be the horse to beat off her victories in the grade I Betfair TVG Acorn and Test stakes. Her fourth in the recent Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II) over Keeneland’s Polytrack is a throwout race, as she never got hold of the track and still was beaten only two lengths. It seemed the same story with last year’s Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) winner Informed Decision, who should improve off her third-place finish in the TCA.

Dubai Majesty, who won the TCA, is always tough, placing in a number of grade I and II stakes this year. The horse they all have to catch is Rightly So, the Ballerina (gr. I) winner who has been in the money in all 11 of her career starts.

And if you’re looking for a sleeper in here, watch out for Godolphin’s Sara Louise, who was a fast-closing third in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) in her first start of the year. You also have this year’s Gallant Bloom winner My Jen.

To show how tough this race is, there are two fillies in here who came within a half-length of Zenyatta this year—Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) winner Switch (in the grade I Lady’s Secret) and Rinterval (in the grade I Clement Hirsch).

Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf (6:10)

Between last year’s winner, Midday, who is in top form after winning the Prix Vermeille (Fr-I), and Plumania (if she runs here instead of the grade I Emirates Airline Turf), who beat the boys in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I) and was second in the Prix Vermeille before turning in an uncharacteristically bad race in the Arc, the American fillies seem to be outclassed in here, especially with the talented Japanese filly Red Desire likely to improve off her third-place effort in the Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. IT) and the fact Godolphin’s Hibaayeb was able to rebound off three poor efforts in Europe and win the Yellow Ribbon (gr. IT).

The Americans will be headed by the indefatigable Forever Together, Beverly D. (gr. IT) winner Eclair de Lune, and Beverly D. runner-up Hot Cha Cha. Trainer John Shirreffs has a potential star in Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) and American Oaks (gr. IT) winner Harmonious, who has the talent to give the Euros all they can handle.

Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies (6:50)

Even with the loss of Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) winner Rigoletta, you still have a solid top four with Spinaway (gr. I) winner and Frizette Stakes (gr. I) runner-up R Heat Lightning, Frizette winner A Z Warrior, Darley Debutante (gr. I) winner and Oak Leaf runner-up Tell a Kelly, and the undefeated Awesome Feather, who swept the Florida Stallion Series at Calder with an 8 1⁄4-length romp in the My Dear Girl division. It is important to note that her time for the 1 1⁄16 miles was 2 2/5 seconds faster than the colts ran in the In Reality.

Others to watch are Harlan's Ruby, runner-up in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I); Indian Gracey, third in the Oak Leaf; Jordy Y, third in the Alcibiades and second in the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (gr. III); Joyful Victory, third in the Frizette; and Izshelegal, fourth in the Oak Leaf.

Ladies’ Classic (7:30)

Considering there are no Zenyatta and no Rachel Alexandra, this still should be a compelling race, pitting the top 3-year-old fillies in the country against some hard-knocking older mares.

In addition to the race as a whole, you have a race within the race, as Blind Luck attempts to nail down the 3-year-old female championship against her arch rival Havre de Grace, and possibly Evening Jewel, who may head to the Filly & Mare Sprint instead. Blind Luck, who amazingly will be making her sixth cross-country trip this year, holds a 2-1 advantage over Havre de Grace, and is 2-0 against Evening Jewel (both wins by a nose), and her Gulliver-like travels this year will give her a great deal of leverage with the voters.

The older fillies and mares will be headed by Beldame Stakes (gr. I) winner Life At Ten, along with Beldame runner-up Unrivaled Belle and Persistently, winner of the Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) and third in the Beldame.


Juvenile Turf (1:50 P.M.)

The Americans will be out for revenge after last year’s victory by the English-trained Pounced, the 2-1 favorite. There are no standouts on the home team, with the possible exception of Rogue Romance, the impressive winner of Keeneland’s Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT).

The others of note are Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Air Support, Summer Stakes (Can-IIIT) winner Pluck, and With Anticipation (gr. IIIT) winner and Pilgrim runner-up Soldat .

Dirt Mile (2:30)

This has the potential to be one of the most entertaining and contentious of all the Breeders’ Cup races. Run for the first time at a mile on the dirt, the Dirt Mile (gr. I) will be run out of a straightaway, which makes it, for the first time, a true mile test.

An eclectic group is being assembled, including a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner (Mine That Bird), a Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner (Awesome Gem), and a number of talented sprinters and milers.

Godolphin will fire a potent one-two punch in Vineyard Haven, who should improve off his third-place finish in the Forego Stakes (gr. I), and Gayego, winner of the Presque Isle Mile. Their main threat likely will come from Tizway, a natural miler who won the recent Kelso Handicap (gr. II) by five lengths in 1:34.42.

From the West comes a real sleeper in Crown of Thorns, who has proved to be a dangerous foe at six furlongs, seven furlongs, 1 1⁄16 miles, and 1 1⁄8 miles. Plagued with injuries throughout his career, he could be ready for a breakout performance if he handles the dirt. One of the local horses is Here Comes Ben, winner of four straight, including his breakout race in the Forego at odds of 9-1.

Turf Sprint (3:15)

Like most turf sprints, this is your typical pick-out-of-a-hat race, as just about anyone is capable of winning. Two of the top contenders are fillies: Unzip Me, impressive winner of the Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Hollywood Park; and Rose Catherine, winner of the Turf Amazon Handicap and Lena Spencer Stakes.

They’ll be facing Woodford Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Silver Timber, Woodford runner-up Central City, Turf Monster Handicap winner Chamberlain Bridge, Nearctic Stakes (gr. IT) runner-up Grand Adventure, Morvich Handicap (gr. IIIT) winner Quick Enough, last year’s Turf Sprint winner California Flag, who most recently finished last of 11 in the Woodford, and a host of other hard-knocking stakes horses.

Grey Goose Juvenile (3:55)

This will be one of the most widely anticipated races in this year’s Breeders’ Cup, as it has the potential to unveil racing’s next superstar and hot early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

Undefeated Champagne (gr. I) winner Uncle Mo  is on the verge of stardom and could be one of the most exciting young horses we’ve seen in a while. But his stablemate, Stay Thirsty , second in Saratoga’s Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), also has star power and a pedigree that shouts classics. If you listen to trainer Rick Dutrow, you’d be convinced that Hopeful winner Boys At Tosconova  is the next coming, and this from the trainer of Big Brown . These three Beasts from the East will square off against California invaders Jaycito and J.P.’s Gusto, the one-two finishers of the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I), and possibly J.B.’s Thunder, an easy wire-to-wire winner of the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I).

The others are going to have to turn in a freaky performance to defeat this group.

TVG Mile (4:40)

Despite a talented group of horses pointing for the Mile, this is all about Goldikova and her quest for three straight victories in this event, which would be an amazing accomplishment, considering how tough a race this is to win. Luck often plays a major role because of the importance of post positions and the potential for traffic problems. But the French phenom has overcome it all.

This should be her toughest test, with the possible presence of last year’s dual Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti , who also is pre-entered for the Classic, as well as the blazingly fast Sidney's Candy; America’s top grass filly, Proviso, who has been a win machine this year; Goldikova’s shadow in Europe, Paco Boy, who is trying one final time to beat her; the Woodbine Mile (gr. IT) winner Court Vision ; and several others with top credentials.

Sentient Jet Sprint (5:20)

If you have a fast sprinter with even a touch of class, then this is the year you’ll want to try for the Sprint. With the two most accomplished sprinters in the country, Discreetly Mine and Majesticperfection , on the sidelines, the race is up for grabs.

Godolphin’s lightly raced Girolamo, winner of the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I), could go off as the favorite but certainly is no standout. His likely challengers include Smiling Tiger , winner of the grade I Ancient Title and Bing Crosby stakes; the lightly raced Wise Dan, winner of the Phoenix (gr. III) at Keeneland; Smile Handicap (gr. II) winner Big Drama; the international traveler Kinsale King, winner of the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News (UAE-I) at Meydan and a solid third in the Golden Jubilee Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot; and Vosburgh runner-up Riley Tucker.

If your name is not among this group, don’t worry; you still have a legitimate shot to win this race.

Emirates Airline Turf (6:00)

If there is one consistent factor regarding the Turf, it’s that we have pretty much the same script every year. How are the lowly Americans going to withstand the high-powered European invasion?

It looks on paper as if nothing has changed this year. Do major stakes winners such as Winchester, Al Khali , Champ Pegasus , and Telling actually have a prayer against Investec Epsom Derby (Eng-I) and Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner Workforce; Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-I) and Qatar Prix Niel (Fr-II) winner Behkabad, the Arc favorite who finished fourth, despite a dreadful trip; and Arlington Million (gr. IT) winner Debussy, who is coming off a good third in the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes (Eng-I) after setting all the pace?

Winchester will be the main hope of the Americans, but the one horse that has demonstrated the turn of foot to outkick the Euros is Al Khali, who was much the best in the Canadian International. And Champ Pegasus is coming into the race in peak form.

Classic (6:45)

Zenyatta takes on the world. If the daughter of Street Cry is going to go out in the proverbial blaze of glory, she’s going to have to work for it. Unlike last year, this year’s Classic will consist mainly of the top dirt horses in the country, and Zenyatta will have to face them after traveling cross-country and racing on dirt for only the third time in her career. Her main competition is expected to come from Whitney (gr. I) and Stephen Foster (gr. I) handicaps winner Blame , who is three-for-four at Churchill Downs; Metropolitan Mile (gr. I) and Woodward Stakes (gr. I) winner Quality Road ; and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and IZOD Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) winner Lookin At Lucky .

But those three are not the only horses that pose a threat to Zenyatta. Along with Quality Road, the other strong pace presences are Haynesfield, who ran off from Blame to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) on the front end; Etched, the gutsy winner of the Monmouth Cup (gr. II); the wire-to-wire Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) winner Morning Line; the ultra-consistent First Dude ; and the Japanese invader Espoir City, impressive winner of last year’s Japan Cup Dirt (Jpn-I).

The midpack threats include Lookin At Lucky  and the game and consistent Musket Man. Blame could lurk in mid-pack or take back, depending on the severity of the pace.

If Zenyatta is going to prevail, she will have to out-close stretch runners Blame, Travers Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Fly Down, the explosive Paddy O’Prado, and possibly the late-charging grass star Gio Ponti, who has been pre-entered in both the Classic and Mile.

It all adds up to a memorable Classic.

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