Photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire.
The Breeders’ Cup is not exactly around the corner, but the stage for the Nov. 1-2 blockbuster should be set rather nicely by a slate of important Grade 1 stakes this weekend.
Belmont Park in New York and Santa Anita Park in California, the home site for the Breeders’ Cup, will each offer five Grade 1 stakes on Saturday that will serve as a litmus test for a large array of horses who hope to occupy center stage at the world championships.
With 13 of the 35 horses who received votes in this week's National Thoroughbred Racing Association Poll running in the graded stakes races this weekend, divisional championship leaders may become clearer when the smoke settles Sunday night.
New York’s races may be more well-known and prestigious, but the California races may be more meaningful in November since horses’ efforts in them could offer a preview of how they will handle the racing surface in the Breeders’ Cup races.
Game On Dude, who was the No. 1 choice in this week’s National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll, will not race again until the Breeders’ Cup Classic, leaving the $250,000 Awesome Again without a major Horse of the Year contender. Yet the mile and an eighth race is a perfect stepping stone for the mile and a quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Mucho Macho Man, who was second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, and You Know I Know, who was third in the Pacific Classic, head the list of probable starters, which also includes the sport’s sentimental favorite, Paynter.
Paynter overcame tremendous odds to make it back to the races after suffering laminitis and colitis, but disappointed on a wet track in the Woodward at Saratoga and will need a strong effort on Saturday to punch his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup.
PAYNTER WON HIS COMEBACK RACE AFTER NEARLY A YEAR AWAY FROM THE TRACK
Saturday’s card at Santa Anita will also feature the $250,000 Zenyatta Stakes for fillies and mares, a dress rehearsal for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Beholder, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita, is expected to run in the Zenyatta, where she will face Include Me Out, who was third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and Joyful Victory, who won the Grade 1 Santa Margarita earlier in the year at Santa Anita.
The $250,000 FrontRunner for 2-year-old colts will bring together the top three finishers in the Del Mar Futurity - Tamarando, Dance With Fate and Can the Man - along with promising maiden winners like New Year’s Day and Schoolofhardrocks. The race will mark their first race on dirt and create a pecking order for the West Coast hopefuls for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The Grade 1 Chandelier for 2-year-old fillies and Rodeo Drive for fillies and mares on the turf should also uncover a few Breeders’ Cup candidates from the California contingent.
At Belmont Park, the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup highlights an outstanding card and should provide the framework for the top challengers for Game On Dude in the BC Classic.
Flat Out will attempt to win the JC Gold Cup for a third straight year, but will have to defeat an outstanding field to register a hat trick.
FLAT OUT (outside) WON A THRILLING VERSION OF THE JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP LAST YEAR
Cross Traffic, the Whitney winner, and Woodward victor Alpha will tackle Flat Out in a race that will also fill in the blanks about the quality of this year’s 3-year-old crop as Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice will face older horses for the first time in the mile and a quarter stakes.
Also on the card, a two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff champ will conclude her preparation for another crack at glory in the world championships as Royal Delta will face off against 3-year-old sensation Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame.
The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic will feature two outstanding stablemates in Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Arlington Million winner Real Solution and Sword Dancer winner Big Blue Kitten and last year’s Arlington Million and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, Little Mike.
The field is also expected to include King Kreesa, who was second to reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Fourstardave and will try to stretch out to a mile and a half against Grade 1 competition.
Among some of the other top Breeders’ Cup candidates on the Belmont card are Graydar in the Grade 2 Kelso; The Lumber Guy, Strapping Groom and Justin Phillip in the Grade 1 Vosburgh; and stablemates Laughing and Tannery in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl for fillies and mares on the turf.
Put it all together and by day’s end Saturday, the Breeders’ Cup will still be five weekends away, but it the anticipation for it will be percolating at a very rapid clip.