With the retirement of Palace Malice, plenty of attention will be placed on this year’s 3-year-olds, starting with dual classic winner California Chrome and last year’s champion 2-year-old male Shared Belief, but there are still plenty of intriguing older horses pointing to, or at least possible, for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).
Two horses I’m keeping an eye on are Lea, who has not raced since winter; and Will Take Charge, who may have fallen a bit in some people’s eyes with just one win to date this season. While neither has won a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race this year, their connections are pointing them to starts in the Classic.
Lea wins the 2014 Hal's Hope. - Coglianese Photos - Order This Photo
Lea has not raced since posting a clear victory over Will Take Charge in this year’s Donn Handicap (gr. I) Feb. 9 at Gulfstream Park. While Lea has fallen from the headlines, he’s been busy getting ready for a return for trainer Bill Mott.
On Aug. 31 Lea delivered a bullet workout at Saratoga Race Course, breezing four furlongs in :48.70, which was fastest of 26 moves at the distance that day. It marked the seventh workout since July 19 for the 5-year-old son of First Samurai.
The bullet work came one day after Lea was scratched from the Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. IIT), where he was entered “main-track-only.”
Mott captured his two previous Breeders’ Cup Classic victories with horses who entered off relatively busy years. Drosselmeyer won the 2011 Classic in his seventh start of that season while Cigar won the 1995 Classic in his 10th start of the year. Still, I suspect the Racing Hall of Fame trainer could have Lea ready for this year’s Classic.
Will Take Charge is versatile enough to be in nearly every race. He’s only been off the board once in six starts this year while securing victory in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) and runner-up finishes in three grade I races at three different tracks: Gulfstream, Santa Anita Park, and Churchill Downs.
Will Take Charge at the Breeders' Cup. - Rick Samuels Photo - Order This Photo
While he’s classy enough to nearly always compete, longer races with some speedy early runners to keep the pace honest-to-fast certainly don’t hurt his chances. Unfortunately for the 4-year-old Unbridled’s Song colt, there are not many races that offer distance and a wealth of early speed. The good news is the Classic is 1 ¼ miles and this year should deliver several early speed horses.
The opening half-mile in last year’s Classic was completed in :46.36, with Will Take Charge four lengths behind in ninth. With the final quarter-mile going in :25.88, Will Take Charge made up 2 ¾ lengths but came up a nose short.
Multiple Challenge Winners for Florida
Florida became the third state to boast multiple 2014 Challenge winners when Lucky Player scored a narrow victory in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) Saturday, Sept. 6 at Churchill to earn the first Sentient Jet Juvenile (gr. I) bid of the season. Bred in Florida by Destiny Oaks of Ocala, Lucky Player is by Lookin At Lucky. Read more on Leading Sires, by 2014 Breeders' Cup Challenge Winners.
The previous Florida-bred to win a Challenge race this season is Big John B, who punched his Turf (gr. I) ticket with a victory in the Del Mar Handicap (gr. II).
With 26 Breeders’ Cup winners bred in Florida, the Sunshine State is second only to Kentucky. Last year Florida was nearly shut out until Mucho Macho Man came through in the Classic (gr. I).
Fantasy Sports Site Sponsor
This year’s Filly and Mare Sprint (gr. I) will be the DraftKings Filly and Mare Sprint according to a sponsorship agreement with the daily fantasy sports site announced this week by Breeders’ Cup.
The law has smiled on Internet fantasy sports and that industry seems to be taking off, or at least it gives that impression by its seemingly never-ending advertising during sporting events in recent weeks, obviously tied to the beginning of football season. These sites are paying out money based on skill-based gambling/competition, which of course is a gambling form similar to betting horse races.
This Week’s Challenge Races
There are no Breeders’ Cup Challenge races scheduled for the U.S. this weekend but there will be plenty of action with eight Challenge races scheduled outside the U.S., all with bids toward Breeders’ Cup turf races.
In Canada, Woodbine will play host to four Breeders’ Cup Challenge races Saturday and Sunday Sept. 13-14. On Saturday, the Natalma Stakes (Can-II) winner will punch her ticket to the Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. I) and the Summer Stakes (Can-II) winner will receive an automatic bid to the Juvenile Turf (gr. I). After spotlighting the 2-year-olds on Saturday, Woodbine offers races for older horses on Sunday with the Canadian Stakes (Can-II) (Challenge race for the Filly & Mare Turf [gr. I]) and Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (Can-I) (Challenge race for the Mile [gr. I]).
The other four Challenge races will take place in Ireland on Saturday and Sunday at Leopardstown and the Curragh. On Saturday at Leopardstown, the John Deere Juvenile Turf Trial Stakes (Ire-III), Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes (Ire-I), and QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) will offer bids to the Juvenile Turf, the Filly and Mare Turf, and the Turf (gr. I).
On Sunday at the Curragh, the Moyglare Stud Stakes (Ire-I) winner will earn the all-expenses trip to the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Read more on Automatic bids by state or country bred.
Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Skip Dickstein Photo - Order This Photo