A Super Saturday of sorts is upon us, and although many top horses are sitting them out, there are seven grade 1 stakes that offer fees-paid berths to Breeders' Cup races in their respective divisions—five at Santa Anita Park and two at Belmont Park. Also at Belmont, Alabama Stakes (G1) winner Elate will be odds-on against six older fillies and mares in the Beldame Stakes (G1).
Let's take a look at the win-and-in races.
Zenyatta Stakes (SA, race 5, 2:30 PT): Paradise Woods (4) takes on five older fillies and mares, and is listed as the 6-5 choice to rebound to her most recent race over the track—a romping win by nearly a dozen lengths in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) over Abel Tasman, who leads the 3-year-old filly division after taking the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), Acorn Stakes (G1) and TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), followed by a tough-trip second in last week's Cotillion Stakes (G1).
But the Santa Anita Oaks was almost six months ago, and since then Paradise Woods has run twice, getting deep-fried on the lead in the Kentucky Oaks, and finishing off the board at 3-10 in her comeback at Del Mar in the Torrey Pines Stakes (G3).
I can be lenient and look for ways to excuse races when evaluating good-priced contenders, but not so much with strong favorites—particularly in this situation, where Paradise Woods must deal with Faithfully (1), who has won or run second in eight of nine starts at a mile or longer, and enters off her three fastest races.
A - 1
B - 4
Chandelier Stakes (SA, race 7, 3:32 PT): None of the eight juvenile fillies entered have been two turns on dirt, while three come out of one-mile turf routes at Del Mar.
Based on their form at distances up to seven furlongs, you can throw a blanket over Alluring Star (2), Moonshine Memories (3) and Piedi Bianchi (7). If you're willing to forgive Just a Smidge (8) for her disappointing fifth as the favorite in the Del Mar Debutante (G1), throw her into the mix as well.
Perhaps the biggest question is how Alluring Star, an $850,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders Sale in March, trained by Bob Baffert, was nearly 5-1 for her debut victory.
A - 2, 3
B - 7
C - 8
Frontrunner Stakes (SA, race 8, 4:03 PT): Nine juvenile colts vie in this opening leg of a pick four with a $750,000 guaranteed pool. Casting a rather wide net may be the way to go, because there isn't much dirt-route form to go on.
Bolt d'Oro (4) and Zatter (1) ran one-two in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), and they had nearly five lengths on third=place finisher Run Away, a nice little horse who has won four of five starts including three stakes.
In addition to Zatter, Baffert sends out Solomini (8), who raced a bit greenly but got the job done winning his debut at even money four weeks ago.
Ayacara (3) showed big improvement coming from off the pace to beat maidens when stretched out to a mile second time out, and is liable to go forward again for the Desormeaux brothers.
A - 1, 4
B - 8
C - 3
Rodeo Drive Stakes (SA, race 9, 4:34 PT): Avenge (5) wired this race last year and went on to lead the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T) into deep stretch, but she has been outfinished in both starts at age 5. Moreover, the presence of four-time graded/group stakes winner Goldy Espony (2) poses pace problems for her up front.
Despite an outside draw, Goodyearforroses (10) looks like a solid favorite. After winning all three of her races at Santa Anita's winter meet, including the Santa Ana (G2T); in May she beat Avenge for second by over three lengths in the Gamely Stakes (G1T) at Santa Anita when just a half-length behind Lady Eli.
Given a freshening after that, Goodyearforroses returned with a bang-up second from post 13 in the John C. Mabee (G2T) behind Cambodia (a three-time graded stakes winner in 2017), and galloped out strongly past the wire.
Also coming out of the Mabee is Decked Out (8), who appeared reluctant to go through a small opening on the rail and wound up fifth in her first appearance since winning the American Oaks (G1T) in the final start of an 11-race campaign as a 3-year-old.
A - 10
B - 5, 8
Awesome Again (SA, race 10, 5:05 PT): Bob Baffert, who already has Arrogate, Collected, and West Coast headed to the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), has morning-line favorite Cupid (8) and third choice Mubtaahij (6) going in this race.
Cupid banked more than $1.3 million barnstorming around the country at 3, and while he was sometimes a no-show and wound up beaten double-digit lengths, he seems to have gotten over that trait with maturity, winning the Gold Cup At Santa Anita (G1) in his seasonal bow, and returning at Del Mar nearly three months later to take the Harry F. Brubaker over a stubborn Curlin Rules (4), who is back for another try.
Mubtaahij will add blinkers for his first start for Baffert, and first since running fourth in the Dubai World Cup (G1), a race in which he ran second in 2016. Although the 5-year-old horse hasn't won since 2015, he has still earned more than $4.3 million, which is rather remarkable.
Mubtaahij has reportedly been holding his own in workouts with stablemate Hoppertunity, and may fire fresh.
Midnight Storm (3) will try to take them as far as he can, but he was no match for Cupid in the Gold Cup.
After running third behind Gun Runner in the Stephen Foster (G1) and the Whitney (G1), one could make the argument that Breaking Lucky (5) is taking a drop in class here. He has turned in four consecutive bullet workouts since the Whitney.
A - 8
B - 5, 6
C - 3, 4
Vosburgh Stakes (Bel, race 7, 4:04 ET): Stop us if you've heard something like this before: El Deal was off the board at odds of 102-1 at Gulfstream Park in late January, but resurfaced a few months later with a trainer change to Jorge Navarro and has been untouchable ever since, winning three starts by a combined margin better than 18 lengths, capped by an eight-length score in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) at Saratoga Race Course.
Based on the way the Navarro-trained Sharp Azteca walked his beat when similarly fresh for the Kelso Handicap (G2) last week, you'd have to think El Deal is going to fire, which is bad news for his three main rivals: Stallwalkin' Dude (1), last year's Vosburgh runner-up, and the 3-year-olds Takaful (4) and Mr. Crow (5).
Takaful held well for second after setting the pace in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes (G1), and will benefit from the cutback to six furlongs. If he hooks up early with El Deal, it could lead to a nice trip for Mr. Crow. The latter is giving away a ton of experience in just his fourth career start, and first in a stakes, but he is fast and has shown some tractability.
A - 2
B - 4, 5
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (Bel, race 10, 5:45 ET): This anchor leg of an all-graded stakes pick four may be the most competitive among the day's eight grade 1 events.
Indeed, we have managed to whittle the field of 11 down to eight contenders, and if things break the right way in the Vosburgh, Pilgrim (G3T) and Beldame, we'll be covered.
The keys are Sadler's Joy (4) and Money Multiplier (1), the one-two finishers from the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (G1T); and the 3-year-old Oscar Performance (3), who ran three ticks faster winning the Secretariat Stakes (G1T) than Beach Patrol (5) ran to win the Arlington Million (G1T).
Along with Beach Patrol, three others coming out of the Arlington Million rate inclusion--second finisher Fanciful Angel (9), fifth finisher Ascend (6), and Mekhtaal (8), who was beaten less than four lengths from post 12 after running in some traffic through the lane.
The Grey Gatsby (10) recorded his most recent victory in the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (G1T) back in September 2014, but he likes firm ground and will be first-time Lasix for Dermot Weld, who brought Zhukova over from across the pond to win the Man o'War (G1T) at Belmont in May.
A - 1, 3, 4
B - 5, 6, 8, 9
C - 10