There are two elements that create interest in the Breeders’ Cup and help promote the event on a national scale. One is to have a superstar like American Pharoah or Goldikova or Enable to look forward to, preferably in the Classic as a rousing final act. The other is to have an epic showdown between two popular superstars, such as Easy Goer vs. Sunday Silence or Alysheba vs. Ferdinand or California Chrome vs. Arrogate.
This year there doesn’t appear at this time to have either, at least not on the scale of those mentioned above.
We may not have that one big headliner, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fascinating showdowns to look forward to, although they may come in a different form this year. And remember, we still have a number of final races that will determine just how this year’s Breeders’ Cup stacks up.
For instance, right now, perhaps the most intriguing showdown will be a rematch between Midnight Bisou and Elate following their memorable duel in the Personal Ensign Stakes. But that picture is far from clear. Midnight Bisou still has to win the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park and Elate still has to win the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland.
And we’re not done yet. What if the undefeated 3-year-old Guarana adds to her victories in the Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks in next week’s Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing? What if her stablemate, Mother Goose and Alabama winner Dunbar Road, continues her winning streak against Elate in the Spinster? Not only do you have four major stars, but one rivalry for the Older Filly and Mare title and one rare showdown for 3-Year-Old Filly honors between two stablemates. Of course, if Elate gets beat again, that takes away from her showdown with Midnight Bisou. Right now it looks to be the BC Distaff that has the most potential star appeal.
The turf horses also appear to have several appealing matchups, although not your usual kind. The BC Turf looks to be a showdown between America’s main defender Bricks and Mortar and trainer Aidan O’Brien, who can mix and match his stars any way he pleases. We will know more after the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
But right now, the strongest matchup would be American superstar Bricks and Mortar, a winner of six straight, including four grade 1 stakes, vs. Magical, who picked the wrong year to come along, living in the shadow of the great Enable. Although she has defeated colts twice this year in the group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup and group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, she is best known for her three runner-up performances against Enable, giving her all she could handle in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf and this year’s Eclipse Stakes, and also falling 2 3/4 lengths short in this year’s Yorkshire Oaks. In all, she has won three group 1 stakes, three group 2 stakes, and one group 3 stakes.
A male-female showdown between her and Bricks and Mortar would be of great interest. But first she likely will take on Enable one last time in the Arc, a race Enable will be trying to win for an unprecedented third time, after which she will be retired. Americans will remember her for her gutsy three-quarters of a length victory over Magical in last year’s BC Turf after a prolonged stretch battle.
Now, it must be added that O’Brien also has another talented, but frustrating filly in Magic Wand, who is winless in her last 13 starts, but who has racked up seconds in seven stakes, including the group 1 Prix Vermeille and Pretty Polly Stakes and two strong runner-up finishes behind Bricks and Mortar in the Arlington Million and Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational. She also finished a close third in this year’s Man o’ War Stakes, so she is no stranger to America and would love an opportunity to try Bricks and Mortar again. Another daughter of Galileo, she is coming off a second to Magical in the Irish Champion Stakes.
O’Brien could run both fillies in the Turf or send Magic Wand to the BC Filly and Mare Turf, where she would face an equally daunting task of trying to knock off Chad Brown’s other turf star Sistercharlie, a virtual winning machine who has reeled off five consecutive grade 1 victories. Europeans will remember Sistercharlie for her second-place finish in the 2017 French Oaks (Prix de Diane) and victory in the group 3 Prix Penelope. In all, she has nine victories and three seconds in 13 lifetime starts. But she has been unbeatable since June of 2018.
Believe it or not, O’Brien is not through. He also has this year’s English Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck heading straight to the BC Turf following his strong third-place finish behind his two female stablemates in the Irish Champion Stakes. And if he decides to, O’Brien could also run arguably his best 3-year-old, Japan, after victories in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp, and a gutsy score over leading older horse Crystal Ocean in the Juddmonte International at York. Yet another son of Galileo, Japan was also a fast-closing third in the English Derby, beaten only a half-length. But one would think that Japan will call it quits following the Arc and get ready for next year. However, you never know what O’Brien and the “lads” at Coolmore are going to do.
There is one caveat regarding the Turf. Bricks and Mortar has never been 1 1/2 miles, his big wins coming at 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles. So, we will have to wait to see what Chad Brown decides to do. Without Bricks and Mortar and with Brown’s Sword Dancer Stakes winner Annals of Time out with an injury, according to DRF, we really don’t seem to have a top-class mile-and-a-half horse who can compete with the O’Brien arsenal and the other top Europeans.
Even in last weekend’s grade 1 Northern Dancer Stakes at 1 1/2 miles at Woodbine, Godolphin’s Old Persian, winner of the group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic this year, had no trouble defeating two American and three Canadian opponents.
While on the subject of Breeders’ Cup turf races, if you are more interested in a good old fashioned U.S.A. matchup, forgetting about Ireland for now, how about an East vs. West showdown between Sistercharlie and Vasilika, who has won 15 of her past 18 starts, including eight graded stakes, with 10 of those victories coming at Santa Anita.
Another potential filly showdown could come in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint when the brilliant 3-year-old Covfefe, winner of the seven-furlong Test Stakes in 1:21 1/5, takes on the equally brilliant 5-year-old Come Dancing, winner of the seven-furlong Ballerina Stakes in 1:21 2/5.
And the male sprinters could put on a show if we get a rematch between Mitole and Imperial Hint. But it must be noted that Mitole could point for the BC Dirt Mile, even though he has never been two turns. Imperial Hint did beat him rather easily in the six-furlong A.G. Vanderbilt Stakes, in which he set a track record of 1:07 4/5 at Saratoga. Mitole, however, was dropping back from a mile after winning the Met Mile in a blazing 1:32 3/5 and is not really a six-furlong horse anymore. He was fast enough to win six-furlong races in 1:08 2/5, 1:08 4/5, and 1:09 1/5 twice, but that was earlier in his career and he has since become more of a seven-furlong to one mile horse, winning the Met Mile, the seven-furlong Forego Stakes in 1:20 4/5 and seven-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes in 1:21 1/5.
Imperial Hint on the other hand is a natural six-furlong horse, winning the Vanderbilt in record time and winning last year’s Vosburgh Stakes in 1:08 1/5, last year’s Vanderbilt in 1:08 4/5, and the Don Levine Memorial at Parx in 1:07 3/5. He also captured the 6 1/2-furlong True North Stakes in 1:15 flat.
The more natural rematch would be Imperial Hint vs. Roy H, winner of the past two BC Sprints who beat Imperial Hint by five lengths last year. But the 7-year-old gelding has not run since January and has not worked since March, so he looks to be out of commission. So it seems to be a question of whether the connections of Mitole want to tackle Imperial Hint again at six furlongs, along with another brilliant speedster in the 3-year-old Shancelot, wno ran a spectacular race to win the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam at Saratoga, or go two turns for the first time in the Dirt Mile against veteran milers.
Also lurking out there is the blazingly fast World of Trouble, but he also has been out for a long time, with no works since July, and although he has won several stakes on dirt, he appears to be more a grass sprinter, and his two most dominating wins on dirt have come on sloppy tracks. So he is a huge if right now.
One showdown that appeared to have great appeal was the American filly Got Stormy, who crushed the boys in the Fourstardave Stakes, taking on any one of the leading milers in Europe. But that appeal went up in smoke when Got Stormy was upset in the Woodbine Mile by a 44-1 shot after seemingly moving too soon with that long wide stretch at Woodbine that has swallowed up many a horse and rider who was not familiar with the course. We could get one, two, or three top-class milers from Europe who are vying for the top spot. They are Circus Maximus, Too Darn Hot, and Romanised, who are all very close in ability and accomplishment. But there are no Goldikovas, Wise Dans, or Tepins to put the race in the spotlight.
The 2-year-olds, both on dirt and grass, are still sorting themselves out, but if Green Light Go wins the Champagne Stakes impressively and Eight Rings runs off with the Frontrunner Stakes, it would make for a classic East-West-Midwest showdown among those two and the exciting Dennis’ Moment, who has dominated his opposition in Kentucky. Forget his 1 3/4-length margin in the Iroquois Stakes. He was geared down the final sixteenth, and you had to be impressed with the way he merely cruised to the lead nearing the top of the stretch. The runner-up, Scabbard not only proved he’s a very good horse in his own right, finishing 5 1/4 lengths ahead of the third horse in a quality field, he also boosted the reputation of Green Light Go, who beat him by nearly four lengths in the Saratoga Special.
If the runaway Hopeful winner Basin repeats in either the Champagne or Breeders’ Futurity it could add another element to the big showdown. And keep an eye on exciting maiden winners Three Technique, Gouverneur Morris, Express Train, and Tap it To Win. Any one of these could be a major star waiting to break out. Three Technique and Gouverneur Morris were particularly impressive, as if they could be something special.
On the filly front, if we can find a truly brilliant filly in the East, either out of the Frizette or Alcibiades Stakes, we could have an excellent matchup between that filly and the Bob Baffert-trained Bast, who romped by 8 3/4 lengths in the Del Mar Debutante in only her second career start and while still a maiden. Right now we do have the hard-knocking Perfect Alibi in the East, winner of the Spinaway and Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga. But her victories were more workmanlike, winning by 1 1/4 lengths and a half-length, respectively. We’ll see what she does when she stretches out in distance. Her main attribute at this point is that she wants to win and knows how to do it.
Finally we come to the Classic. At this writing there really is no single matchup that looks capable of capturing the public’s attention. Basically, they all have to ship from the East to face McKinzie and Higher Power, the two top representatives from California. There is no standout in the East, with older horses Preservationist, Yoshida, Catholic Boy, Vino Rosso, and Seeking the Soul all pretty close together in ability. The X factor is the globetrotting Thunder Snow, who is back in England after missing the Whitney and Woodward with a cough and fever.
The 3-year-olds could produce a great deal of excitement if Travers 1-2 finishers Code of Honor and Tacitus can run 1-2 again against older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Those are your two big names now that Maximum Security has been derailed with a colon problem and forced to scratch from the Pennsylvania Derby. What a tough year for him and the Wests, who also had to say goodbye for the year to Game Winner. We also will find out just how good the streaking Mr. Money is in the Pennsylvania Derby and if Improbable is back to the form that made him the Kentucky Derby favorite. If Improbable wins easily at Parx and McKinzie wins the Awesome Again Stakes, then we could have a fascinating 3-year-old vs. 4-year-old showdown between Bob Baffert-trained horses.
So there are a number of interesting possibilities. But at this point we don’t even know if Code of Honor will point for the Classic, and there is still a lot of sorting out to do with the older horses.