The pieces of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup puzzle are finally coming together!
With the pre-entries released today, many of the fields in this year’s World Championship are taking shape. The possible runners for each race are no longer just hearsay.
There are still questions to be answered because some horses have first and second preferences for certain races, but for the most part, we know who will line up in the gates come next Friday and Saturday (November 1 and 2) at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.
We’ll explain more about what the preferences mean in this week’s Breeders’ Cup Skinny and dive into each of the fields for the nine Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday.
Here’s what surprised and what jumps off the page as we take a first scan through the pre-entries.
(Please note: Races are not in order of when they will be run in order on Saturday, but by the biggest stories on the card. For a full listing of races and times, please check out the Racing Dudes’ Breeders’ Cup page with replays, too!)
The biggest news is that the multiple Group 1-winning filly Magical is pre-entered with first preference in the Turf, a race in which she finished second last year. This is a bit of a surprise because after her win in the QIPCO Champions Stakes (G1) this past Saturday at Ascot, trainer Aidan O’Brien said immediately that he would likely run her in the Filly & Mare Turf next. See the clip here:
O’Brien said that the Coolmore ownership group already has Investec Derby (G1) winner Anthony Van Dyck for the Turf, so will they really run both here? Or, is O’Brien playing a game of chess and trying to scare some of his competition out of the race – mainly the Horse of the Year candidate Bricks and Mortar?
O’Brien told racingpost.com this week, “Magical will be entered in the Turf, along with Anthony Van Dyck, but she is more likely to run in the Filly & Mare Turf.”
As expected, likely favorite Bricks and Mortar’s first preference is the Turf for trainer Chad Brown. If he stays, he’ll stretch out to 1 1/2 miles for the first time in his career; if not, his second preference is the Mile. It should be noted that this race starts going down Santa Anita Park’s unique hillside turf course, which should help him stay going longer. Bricks and Mortar is undefeated in 2019 with four Grade 1 wins.
The Northern Dancer Stakes (G1) victor Old Persian is one of the top Europeans pointing to the Turf. Trainer Charlie Appleby is always dangerous in the Breeders’ Cup, earning wins at the World Championships in each of the past two years.
Overall, the Turf drew 13 pre-entries who made this race their first preference, including old hard-knocking Americans Channel Maker, Arklow, Channel Cat, Bandua, and Zulu Alpha.
Filly & Mare Turf Showdown
Magical made the Filly & Mare Turf her second preference, but it’s still likely that she ends up here for the 1 1/4-mile trip. When connections make their preferences, it only matters when a race is overfilled, so O’Brien can still choose to run Magical here, rather than in the Turf.
If Magical runs here, then it’ll set up a showdown with the likely favorite and defending champion Sistercharlie, who has won six straight Grade 1s dating back to last year. Since this race didn’t overfill with pre-entries, Sistercharlie will have her pacesetting stablemate Thais join the race to ensure a fast pace up front. Local Rodeo Drive Stakes (G1) victor Mirth, who won that in gate-to-wire fashion, will apply the pressure in a race that should set up well for closers.
Another local horse and Grade 1 winner, Vasilika, will get the chance to run at Santa Anita Park, even though both the track and the Breeders’ Cup are not allowing her long-time trainer Jerry Hollendorfer to enter horses this meet. Hollendorfer’s ownership share in Vasilika has been sold and her care transferred to Hollendorfer’s assistant Dan Ward so that she can race in the Breeders’ Cup.
Besides Magical, Coolmore also has pre-entered Fleeting, who was a no-luck fourth while caught behind traffic in the Champions Filly & Mare Stakes. “Fleeting, who didn’t have the clearest of runs at Ascot on Saturday, is also an intended runner,” O’Brien said. Two weeks earlier, Fleeting was a late-charging second at Longchamp in the Prix de l’Opera (G1) behind winner Villa Marina, who also will come to California for trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias.
The Coolmore group also pre-entered Just Wonderful in a race that will be rich with other Europeans, including Billesdon Brook, Castle Lady, and Fanny Logan. A total of 11 fillies and mares have been pre-entered in this one as their first preference.
Mile Field Deep and Wide
A massive amount of 17 horses are pre-entered in the Mile as their first preference, and some big names may be on the outside looking in when final entries are drawn next Monday.
One of those names that might not make the field in the Mile is Without Parole, now with trainer Chad Brown. The 2018 St. James’s Palace (G1) winner at Royal Ascot was welcomed to the Brown shedrow a couple of months ago while looking for firmer turf in America. His recent workout with Bricks and Mortar at Belmont Park on October 20 indicates that he’s ready for his first stateside start. He hasn’t won since the St. James’s Palace, though, and ranked 18th on the pre-entry list, he’ll need four defections by Monday to make the field. Both Bricks and Mortar and Just Wonderful have first preference in other races, so Without Parole would need two more defections in addition to those horses not entering the Mile.
In the main body of the field, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Line of Duty has been pre-entered by the aforementioned Appleby, but he hasn’t won all year while running in Europe.
Circus Maximus may be a very tough runner for O’Brien and the Coolmore team, as he’s coming off of a win in the Prix du Moulin (G1) at Longchamp at the beginning of September. “Circus Maximus is an intended runner in the Mile. We’ve been happy with him since his win at Longchamp,” said O’Brien.
Iridessa is a 3-year-old filly with major upside for Aidan’s son and trainer Joseph O’Brien, as she won the “Win & You’re In” Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron (G1) at Leopardstown over good turf in September. That was a qualifying race for the Filly & Mare Turf, but her connections made that her second preference behind the Mile.
Brown may saddle the likely favorite in the race: the fast-closing, multiple Grade 1-winning mare Uni. Her recent First Lady Stakes (G1) win at Keeneland was jaw-dropping and earned her a 105 Beyer speed figure. She’ll be helped by a fast pace here.
This field may be lacking a lot of early pace right now, but with 14 getting into the gate, it may heat up with the upset Woodbine Mile Stakes (G1) winner El Tormenta looking for forward placement early. The Fourstardave Handicap (G1) winner Got Stormy can sit off of the pace and win (like she did against Uni in the Fourstardave), but she then lost to El Tormenta in the Woodbine Mile.
This wide-open race also features Bowies Hero returning back to California after winning the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (G1) at Keeneland. This looks like a possible spread race for wagering.
Stagnant Classic Field
There were some surprises in the turf races’ pre-entries, but not so much in the Classic, which attracted 11 horses to run for the $6 million purse.
As expected, the Bill Mott barn made the Classic the first preference for its 5-year-old mare Elate, with second preference in the Distaff. She has excelled at the 1 1/4-mile Classic distance, going undefeated in three starts at the distance, but those were all versus females. She’ll try male foes for the first time here.
The other 10 horses have only pre-entered for the Classic.
The connections for a pair of 3-year-olds, Math Wizard and Owendale, made their intentions to run in the Classic known last week. You can’t blame them for taking a shot at a nice payday, especially if the pace heats up and they can close for a top-five placing. Third place gets a $540,000 check, so why not?!
McKinzie, Code of Honor, and Vino Rosso will vie for favoritism as the likely top three choices in the wagering. My recent Breeders’ Cup Skinny column discussed McKinzie being a vulnerable favorite. It also has more information about this year’s Classic.
Distaff has a Pacesetter
Another expected field of 11 will show up in the Distaff, which has a likely pacesetter in its ranks.
Trainer Tom Amoss made the Distaff the first preference for his Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Serengeti Empress, with her second preference in the Filly & Mare Sprint. She can carry her speed, as she did in the Oaks, and she may be the controlling speed in the Distaff. If she went in the Filly & Mare Sprint, then she would have to contest with several other speedballs.
Perfect in seven starts in 2019, Midnight Bisou will likely be the biggest favorite of any Breeders’ Cup race when she enters the Distaff. The local Zenyatta Stakes (G2) winner Paradise Woods will likely be the second choice in the wagering.
Sophomores Look to Shine in Dirt Mile
A late addition to the Dirt Mile is the 3-year-old Spun to Run, who throws his hat into the ring for trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero. He most recently earned a 110 Beyer when winning the M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile Stakes at Parx on October 12.
He’ll join a strong field of sophomores led by the Arkansas Derby (G1) winner and likely favorite Omaha Beach, along with other top choices Mr. Money and Improbable. This young group will need to tackle veterans like Coal Front and Giant Expectations.
The Dirt Mile only has nine pre-entries who made this their first preference. Horses making this their second preference include Catalina Cruiser, Diamond Oops, Firenze Fire, Hog Creek Hustle, and Whitmore, who all made the Sprint their first preference. It’s possible that one or more connections will try the two-turn Dirt Mile instead of taking on Mitole, Imperial Hint, and Shancelot in the Sprint.
Star-Studded Sprint Field
Speaking of the Sprint, it doesn’t get much better than the 11 pre-entries who made this their first preference. This is possibly the most loaded field of the entire weekend.
The Amsterdam Stakes (G2) winner Shancelot, who received a whopping 121 Beyer speed figure for that win against fellow 3-year-olds, is the likely pacesetter. He’ll likely get company up front from two late pre-entries: the very fast sophomore Landeskog and the Japanese invader Matera Sky, who showed abundant speed when finishing second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen Stakes (G1) back in March.
The likely favorite and multiple Grade 1 winner Mitole has been working at Santa Anita Park recently. On Tuesday, he threw down a bullet over the local strip, going 5 furlongs in 58.27 seconds. He will be a handful for fellow Grade 1 winners Imperial Hint, Catlina Cruiser, Whitmore, and Firenze Fire in a race for the ages.
Filly & Mare Sprint Field Intact
There were no surprises in the pre-entries for this race. In my early preview, I took a look at Grade 1 winner Covfefe as a vulnerable favorite based on the race’s expected pace and historical trends.
Like Vasilika, the Rancho Bernardo Handicap (G3) winner Danuska’s My Girl will move barns to Jerry Hollendorfer’s assistant Dan Ward in order to be eligible for this spot.
Overall, only nine fillies and mares made this race their first preference.
Wide-Open Turf Sprint
Saving the most wide-open race on the Saturday card for last, the 5-furlong Turf Sprint will be a mad dash without a clear favorite. A total of 16 horses pre-entered with this as their first preference, so a few won’t even make the gate.
Trainer Mark Glatt’s local hero Eddie Haskell, who lost by a 1/2-length to the since-retired Pee Wee Reese in the Eddie D Stakes (G2) last out, may vie for favoritism, but with a loss in his last start, it’s possible that another will be bet down below him.
Totally Boss won the Runhappy Turf Sprint Stakes (G3) at Kentucky Downs last out for trainer Rusty Arnold and has been in top form all year, winning four of his five 2019 starts. His one loss came by a nose to Om in an allowance race at Churchill Downs in June.
Speaking of Om, he’s pre-entered in the Turf Sprint for trainer Peter Miller. He ran second by a nose in the 2016 running, the last time that the Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita Park. However, that race was run on the 6 1/2-furlong downhill turf course, which will not be used this meet.
With the shorter 5-furlong distance, the speed of the speed may have an advantage. Trainer Christophe Clement’s 8-year-old veteran Pure Sensation may be on the lead in his fourth Breeders’ Cup while trying to win Clement his first at the World Championships. Other horses with early speed include Shekky Shebaz, Final Frontier, and Belvoir Bay. Only 12 horses will be allowed to run in this race. Right now Final Frontier and Shekky Shebaz sit ranked 13 and 14, respectively, on this list, so the east coast invaders will need defections to make the gate.
The two-time defending Turf Sprint champion Stormy Liberal has pre-entered, but he hasn’t won a race or performed at the same level all year. Will he find his old form one last time for his third straight victory in this race?
Only one European appears to be coming over for this race – Aidan O’Brien’s Fairyland.
One Turf Sprint pre-entry flying under the radar is Imprimis, who ran admirably when finishing sixth in the King’s Stand Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot in June. However, he hasn’t returned to top form, finishing fourth and third with traffic troubles in two return races. With this being his third start off of the layoff for trainer Joe Orseno, he may be the value play in this wide-open affair.
Get Studying Now!
This is the time to buckle down, print out your past performances, and start formulating your plan of attack for the Breeders’ Cup. I am working to get my wagering strategy and final tickets in place early next week for the Racing Dudes’ Inside Track to the Breeders’ Cup Wagering Guide, which is available for pre-order now.
Stay updated on all of my Breeders’ Cup thoughts by following me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim. I’m also trying to put together my annual “Know Your Euros” column where I go through replays for the top Europeans coming for the Breeders’ Cup, so stay tuned!