The path to the 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2-3 is a road with plenty of ups and downs as talented racehorses vie for a spot in one of 14 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 or two ago.
Enable scored a repeat victory in the Group 1 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which essentially serves as Europe’s weight-for-age championship race. She did so with only a single prep race in a Grade 3 on the synthetic main track at Kempton Park, showing both her elite class and trainer John Gosden’s adept handling. Last year’s European Horse of the Year, Enable has nine wins and one second in 10 lifetime starts, including six Group 1 wins, and she showed in this year’s Arc that she is back at her best. While it is true that no horse has ever completed the Arc-Breeders’ Cup Turf double in the same year, Enable brings a much different profile than the typical Arc winner tackling the Breeders’ Cup as a cap to a long season. Instead, Enable is essentially as fresh as can be. She’ll be making her third start in the Breeders’ Cup and, rather than the Turf as an afterthought, she could be sitting on a peak performance in her third race off a layoff. She almost certainly will be favored in the Turf should she make it to Churchill for the race, and it sure sounded like it was a firm gameplan after the Arc. She should be viewed as a clear standout. If she runs the way she ran in the Arc, the rest of the field will be racing for second in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf on Nov. 3 at Churchill.
The most impressive aspect of Jaywalk’s 5 ¾-length romp in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes on Oct. 7 was that she looked like she was just galloping along on an easy lead and she drilled the opening half-mile in :45.65. That’s a taxing pace for a one-mile race and yet she still had enough stamina in reserve to spurt away from Covfefe at the top of the stretch as she completed the final quarter-mile in a rock-solid 24.86 seconds. The final time was 1:34.57 for a mile, good for a career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure. Jaywalk’s victory was her third straight following a runner-up finish in her debut. She won a maiden special weight race by 7 ½ lengths in July and followed with a clear win in the White Clay Creek Stakes in August at Delaware Park. In that race, Jaywalk closed from off the pace to win, so she has natural speed like her sire, Cross Traffic, but she’s not a need-the-lead type. I do have some concerns about distance limitations and I’d feel better about her chances in the Tito’s Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies had she won around two turns, but I think she’ll be just fine for 1 1/16 miles. Jaywalk is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to multiple stakes winner Danzatrice, runner-up in the Grade 3 Groupie Doll Stakes.
3. Wild Illusion
There were multiple terrific candidates for the final spot here, but ultimately I landed on Wild Illusion because I think she has the best chance to reach the winner’s circle on Breeders’ Cup weekend. After running second in the Epsom Oaks earlier this year, Wild Illusion has matured nicely in the second half of the year and posted back-to-back Group 1 wins in the Qatar Nassau Stakes in August and the Prix de l’Opera Longines on Oct. 7 on the Arc de Triomphe undercard. After the one-length Prix de l’Opera win, trainer Charlie Appleby said the Godolphin homebred would target the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. The U.S. turf female division is a bit stronger and deeper than usual this year, but Wild Illusion figures to be one of the top two or three betting choices. The Prix de l’Opera win came on firm turf, so I think the firmer ground in the U.S. will suit her well.
Also-Eligibles: Sharp Samurai has been really good for a long time. In fact, he has not finished more than 2 ¾ lengths behind another runner in 11 starts on grass with seven wins, two seconds, and two fourths. But after a very good 3-year-old season in 2017 that included a string of three straight graded stakes wins, Sharp Samurai has ascended to the elite this year with Equibase Speed Figures ranging from 112-123 and a Grade 2 win in the City of Hope Mile Stakes on Oct. 6 at Santa Anita that stamped him a serious threat for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. … Unbeaten in her native Chile with three Group 1 wins, Wow Cat needed three starts in the U.S. to secure her first victory for trainer Chad Brown. Her first stateside win came on Oct. 6 with a stylish 3 ¼-length runaway victory in the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes. While it was an eye-catching performance that probably will make Wow Cat one of the favorites for the Longines Distaff, it came against a relatively weak field and I can’t help but look at her third in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes, nearly 10 lengths behind both winner Abel Tasman and runner-up Elate, and wonder if she might just be a cut below the very best older females. ... I was really impressed with both Champagne Stakes winner Complexity and runner-up Code of Honor. Complexity’s connections seemed to indicate that 1 1/16 miles in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile might be about as far as he wants to go, but he has a high cruising speed and he’s now run a 104 and 105 Equibase Speed Figure in his two starts. Code of Honor showed tremendous resilience by overcoming a brutal start with a powerful finish for a visually impressive second. … After running second in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes, Restless Rider took a nice step forward when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades, surging clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths in a full field of 14 on Oct. 5 at Keeneland. She passed the eye test but she will need to get faster to win the Tito’s Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. … It was nice to see Roy H back at his best in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes on Oct. 6. It might be tempting to dismiss last year’s Twinspires Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner’s chances with the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill, but remember he shipped east and turned in a monster race in June 2017 in the Grade 2 True North Stakes at Belmont Park. Belmont is much different than Churchill, but it’s still nice to see that he has traveled well in the past. … Next Shares’ Grade 1 win in the Shadwell Turf Mile was his first graded stakes victory, but with back-to-back dominant stakes wins — he prevailed in the Old Friends Stakes in September at Kentucky Downs — he is in career-best form.
When Eskimo Kisses appeared as an “also-eligible” in the Aug. 22 edition of this blog after her win in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, I wrote: “she needs to be more consistent before I give her a chance in what looks like a deep Longines Distaff division.” Essentially, I wanted to see if this clearly talented filly had turned a corner in the second half of her 3-year-old season, as is fairly common with Thoroughbreds, or if she would remain a riddle of a racehorse. Her seventh-place finish, beaten by 15 ½ lengths, in the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes on Oct. 7 at Keeneland provided the answer. At her best and with the right set up in a race, Eskimo Kisses is capable of a huge effort. But for now she’s just too up and down for me to believe she is ready to compete with the elite 3-year-old fillies and older females in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
2. Miss Sunset
Miss Sunset was sent off as the favorite in the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes on Oct. 6 at Keeneland for good reason. She had not finished outside the top three in six previous starts in 2018 while amassing three stakes wins and running second by a nose on the Keeneland main track in the Grade 1 Madison Stakes in April. I expected her to take a step forward in the TCA Stakes and cement her credentials as a serious Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint contender in a race that pretty wide open behind Marley’s Freedom, a winner of four straight. Instead, she came up a little flat and finished fourth by 1 ¼ lengths. If you still like her chances in the Breeders’ Cup, you should now get a much better price on Miss Sunset, but I was looking for a quite a bit more from her final prep.
Let me be clear, I don’t think Quidura ran an awful race in the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes on Oct. 6 at Keeneland, it’s just that I was expecting much more. Making her third start following a nine-month layoff, I was expecting a special race from Quidura as was the betting public, which pegged her as the 8-5 favorite for the First Lady. Coming off a dominant victory in the Grade 2 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa Stakes, Quidura was positioned in fourth early — she set the pace in each of her first two starts of the year — and never accelerated when called upon by jockey Javier Castellano, fading to finish seventh. On the bright side, she only lost by 3 ½ lengths against a deep field. But if she was going to be a factor against males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile or at a 1 3/8-mile distance that might be beyond her comfort zone in the Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf, she needed to perform better in the First Lady. Castellano said after the race: “I had a perfect trip in stalking position. It was a slow pace but I took her to the outside for running room. She just didn’t show up today unfortunately.”
Also-eligible: With four wins and a second in five career starts and coming off back-to-back graded stakes victories, Raging Bull was a logical favorite in the Grade 2 Hill Prince Stakes on Oct. 6 at Belmont Park. He was never a factor for trainer Chad Brown, finishing fifth in the seven-horse field as the 0.45-1 favorite. He’s been so good this year that I thought he had a real chance to compete with older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, but the Hill Prince did not inspire confidence. … I try not to use 2-year-olds in the main cooling down section just because I think at this point in the year we are still learning about these developing racehorses. I do think War of Will warrants a mention here though. His game runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Summer Stakes appeared to set him up perfectly for the Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes, but after setting the pace he faded late to finish fourth by three-quarters of a length as the 7-5 favorite in a 13-horse field. I’m hoping a pair of two turn stakes races builds his stamina a bit because I love the pedigree (half-brother to Group 1 winner Pathfork) and I believe in his talent.