Santa Anita Park certainly lived up to its nickname “The Great Race Place” after hosting seven Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series events over the weekend. With just six weeks until the World Championships, it’s time for the sport’s best to tighten the screws one last time before November arrives. After all of the action, here’s who we thought were the Three Stars of the Week:
Some eyebrows were raised when Bob Baffert entered both Improbable and Maximum Security in Saturday’s Awesome Again Stakes (G1); they’re considered two of the top contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and were believed to be waiting until that race for their showdown. Maximum Security hooked into the early expected pace duel, which consumed four of the five horses in the field. Drayden Van Dyke sensed what was happening and kept Improbable back and in the clear, waiting until everyone else had softened up before blowing past them in the far turn. He drew off to reaffirm his status as a top contender for the marquee event.
Though it wasn’t a “Win and You’re In” event, Saturday’s John Henry Turf Cup Stakes (G2) showed why United – who finished a narrow second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) – could be the Americans’ best chance at defeating the Europeans in the top grass event. Sensing not much pace presence on paper, jockey Flavien Prat put United right on the front end, a new tactic from a horse who usually prefers to stalk. Nobody pressured him the entire way as he went gate to wire. Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella was asked after the race if he was ready to take on the world’s best at Keenelad. His response?
“We’re gonna blow their tires off.”
3. Princess Noor
The ultra-expensive ($1.35 million) juvenile filly is now a perfect 3-for-3 after winning Saturday’s Chandelier Stakes (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the Juvenile Fillies. Her first 2 wins were sprints, but she passed the two-turn test with total ease, and still to this day, nobody’s challenged her. At this point, the Bob Baffert trainee looks like a surefire winner at the World Championships.