Welcome to this week’s edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. Each week in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
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This week, we’ll look back at another robust Breeders’ Cup.
Something new happened last weekend at the 35th Breeders’ Cup.
Given the 37-year gap between Triple Crown winners, it’s not surprising that only two horses have swept all three spring classics during the Breeders’ Cup era.
The first, American Pharoah in 2015, stayed in training and completed the first-ever Grand Slam by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Three years later, American Pharoah remains the lone Grand Slam champion as the 13th Triple Crown winner, Justify, was retired in late July, more than three months before the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs.
Surely, Justify was missed on Saturday at the home of the Kentucky Derby as the field stepped into the starting gate for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, yet even without him, it was two memorable days of racing.
In terms of delivering quality racing, great horses and wonderful betting opportunities, the Breeders’ Cup increased its batting average to a perfect 35-for-35.
There were great races, like the three-way photo finish in the Juvenile Turf that went to Line of Duty, or Game Winner showing class and determination in wearing down longshot Knicks Go in the Sentient Jet Juvenile, or a fantastic stretch duel between the victorious Stormy Liberal and World of Trouble as the Peter Miller-trained Stormy Liberal captured the Turf Sprint in back-to-back years.
And will we ever forget two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable racing even wider than fellow European Swain in the 1998 Classic and still becoming the first Arc winner to capture the Longines Turf in that same year?
Classic winner Accelerate capped a brilliant year by beating Gunnevera and capturing his fifth Grade 1 of the year and sixth victory in seven starts.
In other years, that would be enough to earn him Horse of the Year honors, but it’s anything but a given in 2018 with Justify in the mix.
In Monday’s final National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) poll, the Breeders’ Cup Classic victory propelled Accelerate to a 24-19 edge over Justify in first-place votes. A week earlier, Justify held a commanding 27-9 lead. Yet that represents only a slice of the eligible voters. Justify still has to rank as the favorite, but maybe there will be a surprise at the ballot box. That’s a story for another day.
The 2-year-old dirt winners, Game Winner and Jaywalk in the Tito's Handmade Vodka Juvenile Fillies, are definitely talented enough to have a return trip to Churchill Downs on the first weekend in May for the Derby and Oaks on their calendars.
Game Winner, though, might get from some stiff competition from a stablemate in trainer Bob Baffert’s barn. To no one’s surprise, the Baffert-trained Improbable looked extremely good in the winning the Street Sense Stakes on Friday’s undercard.
Game Winner is a mortal lock for an Eclipse Award, yet Jaywalk may have a battle on her hands as turf ace Newspaperofrecord looked even better than 2014 winner Lady Eli in taking the Juvenile Fillies Turf and has star written all over her.
Stormy Liberal and Roy H (TwinSpires Sprint) not only posted back-to-back victories in their respective stakes, they did it for the same owners and trainers. Suffice it to say, that sort of achievement by a stable will not happen again anytime soon, unless the two geldings make it 3-for-3 back home at Santa Anita in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup.
Sistercharlie capped a brilliant return to racing for owner Peter Brant, who left the game for more than two decades to focus on playing polo, by beating an outstanding international rival in Wild Illusion by a neck in the Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf. She’s immensely deserving of an Eclipse Award, with the only possible obstacle being some voters’ desire to reward Enable off a single race in the United States.
In the Longines Distaff, Monomoy Girl returned to the scene of her Kentucky Oaks victory and became just the third filly to win both races in the same year. Another cinch for an Eclipse Award, her one-length victory over older fillies stamps her as that division’s leader heading into 2019.
For gamblers there was not a mammoth winner, like Bar of Gold and Stormy Liberal a year ago. The topper was Shamrock Rose in the Filly and Mare Sprint at $53.80, the same race that gave us Bar of Gold at a $135.40 mutuel in 2017.
There were five winning favorites in the 14 races and yet there were enough longshots finishing in the money to fuel payoffs like the $2,905.40 trifecta for a $2 bet in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, a race won by 4-1 shot Bulletin, and the $1,931.20 trifecta in the Juvenile, which went to even-money favorite Game Winner ($4).
The weather early in the week in Louisville was gloomy and at times reminiscent of Baltimore during Preakness week, sans the race day fog. Saturday, however, was a perfect fall day for racing.
Especially great racing.
Which is what fans were treated to at the Breeders’ Cup – as always.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: