A tumultuous year of horse racing has left many divisional championships and the Horse of the Year title ready for the taking at this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
The venue is Santa Anita, where a spate of catastrophic injuries during the winter led to a shutdown of racing for several weeks in March. Increased safety protocols have helped to create an overall reduction in fatal injuries since summer, so hopefully the post Breeders’ Cup conversations are about the great racing and championships that were decided.
Going into the Breeders’ Cup, the primary contenders for Horse of the Year appear to be running in races other than the $6 Million Classic.
Bricks and Mortar is undefeated in five starts this year, including four Grade I wins, and would have a resume worthy of a Horse of the Year with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The filly Midnight Bisou has raced only against her own sex while winning all seven of her starts this year, including three Grade 1’s.
A win by Midnight Bisou in the Distaff could make her Horse of the Year, though, especially if the mare Elate (who she defeated three times this year) is able to beat the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Sistercharlie has only started three times in 2019, but all three were Grade 1 races and she won them all. A repeat in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf would give her a shot at the title.
A case can be made for Mitole, who will compete in what is likely the best and most anticipated Breeders’ Cup race this year — the Sprint. He has won three Grade I races in 2019 and can be excused for his only defeat from six starts (raced against a dominant outside track bias and hit the gate at the start) in the Grade I Vanderbilt at Saratoga.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic could play a big role in the three-year-old title if Travers winner Code of Honor can beat the older horses. It may not be too late for Omaha Beach to get into that conversation with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. He won the Grade I Arkansas Derby before a throat problem caused him to scratch as the favorite on the eve of the Kentucky Derby.
If Omaha Beach can parlay a win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile to a win in the Grade I Malibu at Santa Anita in December, he could be the sophomore remembered most by voters at the end of the year.
Derby watch is on
The 2020 Kentucky Derby conversations usually start with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which will be run on Friday. The $2 million race drew a tough field, headed up by Grade 3 Iroquois winner Dennis’ Moment. The Dale Romans trainee beat Maidens by 19 lengths at Ellis Park prior to his Graded Stakes win and is training like a monster at Santa Anita.
The late defection of Grade I winner Maxfield due to a sore right front foot on Tuesday was disappointing, but there is still plenty of competition for Dennis’ Moment
The best from the West Coast is Eight Rings. Trained by Bob Baffert, Eight Rings has his quirks, as he showed when he ducked in and unseated his rider in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. He rebounded with a daylight win in the Grade 1 American Pharoah at Santa Anita, but will need to stay focused vs. a tough group.
Scabbard showed grit overcoming traffic trouble to rally for second behind Dennis’ Moment in the Iroquois. That ability to overcome trouble is a huge asset for an inexperienced two-year-old. He may be the one overlooked in the Juvenile.
Santa Anita changes
It is always a good idea to review Breeders’ Cup results when returning to a previous host track. There are some differences from the last time Santa Anita hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 2016 that should be noted.
First and foremost, the dirt main track is much deeper and slower than it was in 2016. Trainers who have not raced or trained at Santa Anita during that period could be in for a big surprise. Fitness will be of extreme importance for the dirt races. Horses that have a race or a work over the deeper surface may have an advantage.
The turf course has been playing extremely fast. For example, the one-mile Autumn Miss Stakes last Saturday was run in 1:32.70. Older restricted $32,000 claimers on the same day completed a mile on the turf in 1:32.78. Despite the fast times, there has been no consistent discernable track bias on grass.
The other major change from 2016 is the distance of the turf sprints. Santa Anita is currently using the hillside turf course only to start marathon races going 10 furlongs and 12 furlongs. The Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, a 6 1/2 furlong downhill race previously, will now be five furlongs on the flat turf course. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint will be at the same distance.
Given the sharp left turn and fast fractions, the five-furlong turf sprints may not fit the style of most euro invaders, who often compete in straightaway sprints over deeper going.
Full fields and huge wagering pools make the Breeders’ Cup two of the most attractive wagering days for the horseplayer each year.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita Thursday Race 8 — Andesh (No. 9). Good turf runner ran into a traffic jam in the Grade II City of Hope Mile. He can make amends in this softer spot with a clean trip.