The path to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup is a road with plenty of ups and downs as talented racehorses vie for a spot in one of 13 championship races. This blog provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and three horses whose Breeders’ Cup chances are not quite as strong as they were a week ago.
The Niarchos family’s Erupt ran arguably the best race of his career on Oct. 16 in the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International Stakes, winning by a length and setting up a bid for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. Erupt had been running fairly well in Europe against top competition — he entered off a third-place finish in a Group 2 race and finished second in July in a Group 1 race in France — but had not won since the Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris in July 2015. Three of his four wins in Europe came on firm turf, however, and the firm ground at Woodbine in the Canadian International proved to his liking as he recorded a 123 Equibase Speed Figure, just four points behind leading Turf contender Flintshire’s 127, which rates as the top figure for a turf male this year in a stakes race. Expect the pace to be quicker in the Turf at Santa Anita Park, which means Erupt might be a bit farther back than he was at Woodbine, but I like his chances for a top-three finish in the Turf should his connections move ahead with the plan to go on to the Breeders’ Cup.
He didn’t race last weekend, but in my eyes Highland Reel’s chances got a pretty significant boost from the news coming out of British Champions Day, which indicate that trainer Aidan O’Brien is leaning strongly toward not bringing 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Found back for a repeat bid. Found won the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 2 and finished second in the QIPCO British Champion Stakes on Oct. 15. If Found remains in Ireland and bypasses the Turf, that really opens it up for her stablemate Highland Reel, who finished second in the Arc de Triomphe. It makes sense, too, because if you are trying to build Highland Reel’s stallion credentials, why ship across the Atlantic to race against a stablemate who has already beaten him? Shipping multiple horses to France, where O’Brien swept the top three spots in the Arc de Triomphe, is one thing, but going all the way to the West Coast from Ireland doesn’t make sense with two legitimate standouts for the same race. Highland Reel won the Group 1 QIPCO King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July and also finished second in the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes in August. He romped in his only North American race when winning the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes by 5 ¼ lengths in 2015 at Arlington Park, and seems to really like the firmer turf found in the U.S. If Highland Reel comes to the Turf and Found does not, he very likely will be my pick.
I’m not convinced Theory is going to excel in longer races after he won his second straight sprint on Oct. 15 at Belmont Park when waltzing in the Grade 3 Futurity Stakes by 3 ½ lengths, but there’s little doubt this is one talented colt. Now 2-for-2 lifetime, Theory has pressed a swift early pace in both of his starts and surged away to win both times (by 5 ½ lengths in his debut) at three-quarters of a mile. That cruising speed should be a valuable asset at Santa Anita Park, where speed typically holds up well, and it’s not like his connections would be asking him to traverse 1 ¼ miles. Sprinters can often capably extend out to 1 1/16 miles, the length of the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which is good because the bottom half of Theory’s pedigree screams sprinter. Theory’s Equibase Speed Figures (98, 97) suggest he’s fast enough, and seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher has nine Breeders’ Cup wins, including two last year. Definitely worth a second look.
It’s tough to be sure this far out, but it also looks like Aidan O’Brien will be sending over Alice Springs for the Breeders’ Cup Mile and Seventh Heaven for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Alice Springs, especially, has been in terrific form of late with three Group 1 wins from her last four starts. O’Brien has won 10 Breeders’ Cup races to date, including six since 2011, and there’s no doubt he’d love to get a Breeders’ Cup win on Alice Springs résumé after she finished second last year in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. It sounded like the connections of Time and Motion, winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes Presented by Lane’s End, and Al’s Gal, winner of the E. P. Taylor Stakes Presented by HPIBet, were at least considering the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf but were not ready to commit. Both ran well in victory and would be legitimate contenders should their connections opt to move on to the Breeders’ Cup. Intricately, the 25-1 upset winner of the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes on Sept. 11, is targeting the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf for trainer Joseph O’Brien, Aidan O’Brien’s son. Joseph O’Brien won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf aboard St. Nicholas Abbey, and the pair finished third in the Turf the following year at Santa Anita in a bid for a repeat victory.
Catch a Glimpse had an eight-race winning streak halted on Aug. 21 when second by a head in the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes, but her seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes Presented by Lane’s End on Oct. 15 was stunningly out of character for a filly who has been extremely honest. Beaten by 10 ¾ lengths, Catch a Glimpse just did not look like the same filly we saw throughout the year when she packed it in early in the stretch of the QE II Cup. For a filly who has won four races by less than a length, Catch a Glimpse did not show her typical tenacity in the stretch. Let’s hope to see a return to top form in her next start.
I pride myself on being strong in evaluating European shippers for North American races, but I whiffed in a big way on Best In The World. I thought she’d prove much the best in the Grade 1 E. P. Taylor Stakes Presented by HPIBet on Oct. 16. Instead, she faded to last of 12 as the favorite after racing within three lengths of the pace. Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien is in the midst of a superb year, and Best In The World came into the race off a pair of strong performances, but she didn’t fire at Woodbine. It was a disappointing race to say the least from a full sister to 2015 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Found, winner of this year’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
3. Euros Not Making the Trip
Earlier this year, Galileo Gold and Ribchester looked like a couple of talented 3-year-olds who would make ideal candidates for the 2016 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, but alas, it was not meant to be. Galileo Gold, who won the Group 1 St. James’s Palaces Stakes in June at Royal Ascot, tailed off at the end of the year. On the other hand, Ribchester ran a very solid second to Minding on Oct. 15 in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on British Champions Day. Neither is expected to make the trip to Santa Anita. Four-time Breeders’ Cup-winning trainer John Gosden also said that neither Journey, winner of the QIPCO British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes on Oct. 15, nor So Mi Dar, who lost for the first time in five starts when third in the Group 1 Longines Prix de l’Opera on Oct. 2, would make the trip for the Breeders’ Cup. Journey, riding a three-race winning streak for Augustin Stable, would have been especially intriguing for the Filly and Mare Turf, or even the Longines Turf.