Set Sail for Some Great Turf Action

By Tim McCarthy, Thoroughbred Sports Network

Connections of the top contenders for the Breeders' Cup turf races have mapped their final routes for greater riches and perhaps an Eclipse Award. There are many graded turf stakes races carded across the country on Columbus Day weekend, and after the sun sets on Monday, some prime picks for the championship day's grassy events are likely to be discovered. For those who fare well this weekend, it's full speed ahead for Churchill Downs.

Five of the weekend's ten stakes are Grade 1 events, with Saturday's action highlighted by the Flower Bowl Invitational H. (G1) and the Turf Classic Invitational S. (G1) at Belmont Park, along with the Yellow Ribbon S. (G1) at Santa Anita. The Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup S. (G1) at Keeneland and Oak Tree's Clement L. Hirsch Memorial H. (G1) at Santa Anita are the features on Sunday.

On Saturday, the Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile (G2), the Hawthorne Derby (G3) and Colonial Downs' All Along S. (G3) will perhaps provide a surprise starter on the marquee day of racing. Sunday's Kelso H. (G2) at Belmont is loaded with Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) hopefuls, and there could even be a sleeper among those that will go to the post in the Pebbles H. (G3) at the same track on Monday.

Tracking the paths of all the contenders is quite a task so a concise look at the Grade 1 and Grade 2 races might help you keep things in order. Traveling from East to West, Saturday's Champions on Turf Day at Belmont Park features the Flower Bowl and the Turf Classic. Bobby Frankel's HAPPYANUNOIT (NZ) (Yachtie) and the Bill Mott-trained SNOW POLINA (Trempolino) hook up again in the Flower Bowl in a rematch of their battle in the Beverly D S. (G1) where Snow Polina took top honors. On Wednesday, Frankel opted to send his charge to New York for this one instead of facing PERFECT STING (Red Ransom) at Keeneland a week later. If Happyanunoit comes out of the race okay, she'll have to be supplemented to run the Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Snow Polina was second to Perfect Sting in the New York H. (G2) prior to her impressive win at Arlington and is a vastly improved distaffer who will be a factor in the Filly & Mare Turf. Keep an eye on PRETTY (Ire) (Darshaan), who has won three in a row in France and ships in from John Hammond's barn, the same trainer who conditions the talented European runner MONTJEU (Ire) (Sadler's Wells). Soaring Softly, last year's winner of the Flower Bowl, used the race as a prep to her victory in the inaugural running of the Filly & Mare Turf.

The Turf Classic is an extraordinarily tough race that drew a full field of 12. Man o' War S. (G1) hero FANTASTIC LIGHT (Rahy) should be formidable, but be careful if it rains as this one prefers firm footing. Top European jockey Frankie Dettori replaces Jerry Bailey in the saddle on Fantastic Light, who is eyeing a spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1). Bailey takes the reins on SUBTLE POWER (Ire) (Sadler's Wells), a surprise Mott entry who was a Group 2 winner in England. COMMANDER COLLINS (Sadler's Wells), a Group 1 English winner, was competitive against Montjeu in France and will be looking for a spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf with a good showing on Saturday. ELA ATHENA (GB) (Ezzoud [Ire]) is a filly trying the boys. If she runs well, the four-year-old will be primed to beat her own kind in the Filly & Mare Turf.

At Keeneland on Saturday, SUPER QUERCUS (Hero's Honor) returns to the races for the first time this year after suffering from foot and ankle problems. If the hero of the Hollywood Derby (G1) runs back to form, and trainer Frankel said Super Quercus was his best bet of the day, he will be one of the favorites in the Breeders' Cup Mile. GARBU (Strawberry Road [Aus]) and ALTIBR (Diesis [GB]) should run well in Lexington, but they may not have all it takes to get to Louisville.

On the West Coast at Oak Tree's meet at Santa Anita, some big names are lining up for Saturday's Yellow Ribbon S. (G1). TRANQUILITY LAKE (Rahy), who has reportedly recovered from the spider bite which kept her out of the Ramona H. (G1), will need her best to be assured a starting spot in the Filly & Mare Turf. CAFFE LATTE (Ire) (Seattle Dancer) and defending champion SPANISH FERN (El Gran Senor) are two whom will give Tranquility Lake a run for her money. The relative unknown MYNAH (GB) (Selkirk) ships in from England and will have Gary Stevens in the irons.

Retracing races back to the east, Sunday's turf racing card is highlighted by the Hirsch Memorial, formerly run as the Oak Tree Turf Championship (G1). MASH ONE (Chi) (Mashkour) returns to defend his title, but is not eligible for the Breeders' Cup. ASIDERO (Arg) (Fadeyev), a Group 1 champion in his native land, ran off to a big lead in the Arlington Million (G1) last out but tired badly to finish fifth. Trainer Ron McAnally is giving jockey Alex Solis another chance to control this one's speed, and Asidero has a big chance to win if he is able to do so. BOATMAN (Irish River [Fr]), who did not like the soft going in the Sword Dancer Invitational H. (G1) last out, needs to run a big race to earn a spot in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

GAVIOLA (Cozzene) will probably sport a crown after the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland on Sunday, but the undefeated three-year-old filly will not go to the Breeders' Cup. Frankel's UNCHARTED HAVEN (GB) (Turtle Island), the heroine in the San Clemente H. (G2), could earn a trip to Churchill Downs with a strong showing.

The most compelling race of the day may be in the Kelso S. (G2). AFFIRMED SUCCESS (Affirmed), HAP (Theatrical [Ire]) and FORBIDDEN APPLE (Pleasant Colony) will sprint the one-turn mile in an attempt to solidify their standings for the Breeders' Cup Mile. LEAVE US LEAP (Summer Squall), who ships in from France, would enjoy a soft turf.

Whether a Breeders' Cup champion emerges from the Columbus Day weekend cards or not, it is a great three-day racing holiday for turf handicappers. So sharpen those pencils and grab a seat close to the simulcast monitors so you can stay the course on the way to Churchill Downs.