Road to the Breeders’ Cup: Final Tune-ups at Belmont and Santa Anita

Racing
Practical Joke (left) defeated Syndergaard by a nose to win the 2016 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The upcoming weekend of racing holds the final opportunities for horses aiming for an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2-3, as KeenelandBelmont Park, and Santa Anita Park offer a total of 14 Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifying races that provide a spot in the Breeders’ Cup starting gate for each winner.

Four other Challenge Series races will be held at Belmont Park on Saturday and Sunday – Saturday's Grade 1 Champagne Stakes (Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile) and Sunday's Grade 1 Frizette Stakes (Tito's Handmade Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies), Grade 1 Flower Bowl Stakes (Maker's Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf), and Futurity Stakes (a qualifer for the new Breeders' Cup Juvenile Tuf Sprint).

Also on Saturday, Santa Anita Park holds both the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, a qualifier for the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and the Speakeasy Stakes, a qualifier for the Juvenile Turf Sprint.

Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., hosts nine “Win and You’re In” races during its Fall Stars weekend, starting with the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades Stakes and Grade 2 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes on Friday. Those races offer automatic berths for the Tito's Handmade Vodka Juvenile Fillies and the TwinSpires Sprint, respectively. On Saturday, Keeneland runs the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Mile); the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (Sentient Jet Juvenile); the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes (Maker's Mark Filly and Mare Turf); and the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint). On Sunday, Oct. 7, Keeneland features the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff) the Grade 2 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf), and the Indian Summer Stakes (a qualifier for the new Breeders' Cup Juvenile Tuf Sprint).To read about the preps in Kentucky, click here

To top off a jam-packed weekend of racing,  three "Win and You're In" races will be held at Longchamp Racecourse in France on Sunday. They are the Qatar Prix de l’Opera (Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf); the Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Juvenile Turf); and Total Prix Marcel Boussac (Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf).

Television coverage of the Belmont Park and Santa Anita “Win and You’re In” races will be provided by TVG. In addition, Fox Sports in partnership with NYRA is presenting a 90-minute broadcast on Sunday, Oct. 7, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Eastern from Longchamp in Paris, showcasing the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (which often sends horses to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf) as well as the Longines Prix de l’Opera. Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series preps from Keeneland on Oct. 6 and Oct. 7 will be televised on NBC. For a complete schedule, click here.

The 14 Breeders’ Cup races attract the best Thoroughbreds in the world to compete for $30 million in purse money and awards, and the selection of starters in each race is determined in part by a points system for graded stakes and the selection criteria of a panel of experts. However, there is one way for an owner to bypass the secondary criteria and secure a spot for their horse in a Breeders’ Cup race, and that is by winning a stakes race in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.

Here’s some background on this weekend’s “Win and You’re In” qualifying races from Belmont, Santa Anita, and France:

Champagne Stakes

The one-mile Champagne Stakes was first held in 1867 and is the key race for New York-based juveniles on the road to the Breeders’ Cup. Tank’s Prospect, third in the Champagne in 1984 (the race was run at Aqueduct that year), finished second to Chief’s Crown in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Over the next three years, a few horses emerged out of the Champagne to capture minor awards in the Juvenile, but the first really important year occurred in 1988. That’s when 1-2 Champagne finishers Easy Goer and Is It True reversed positions in the fifth Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. Eugene Klein’s Is It True upset Easy Goer by 1 ¼ lengths in the Juvenile, but Easy Goer would still win the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male before going on to even greater feats in 1989 Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup, all of them involving his archrival Sunday Silence.

In 1989, Rhythm finished second to Adjudicating in the Champagne but would win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile convincingly and earn champion honors for owner Odgen Phipps and trainer Shug McGaughey. A year later, Thomas Valando’s Fly So Free became the first 2-year-old to take both the Champagne and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, romping in both races under Jose Santos en route to the Eclipse Award at year’s end.

Three years after Fly So Free’s feat, D. Wayne Lukas-trained Timber Country became the second juvenile to win both races, taking the Juvenile by a widening two lengths under Pat Day. The son of Woodman trained on to become a leading Kentucky Derby contender at three; he finished third in the run for the roses to stablemate Thunder Gulch, won the Preakness, and then was retired due to injury while training for a start in the Travers.

In 1995, two Champagne Stakes also-rans – fourth-place finisher Unbridled’s Song and sixth-place finisher Hennessy – finished 1-2  in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Both would become successful stallions, Unbridled’s Song especially so as the sire of Arrogate, among many others. A year later, Champagne sixth-place finisher Acceptable nearly upset Boston Harbor in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, with Champagne winner Ordway third. And starting in 1998, for three straight years horses exiting the Champagne – Aly’s Alley (sixth), Chief Seattle (second), and Point Given (second) – each ran second in their respective Breeders’ Cup Juveniles. Point Given would go on to win the 2001 Preakness, Belmont, Haskell, and Travers Stakes and be voted Horse of the Year as a 3-year-old.

Afleet Alex, like Point Given one of the most popular and accomplished 3-year-olds of the first decade of this century, finished second as a 2-year-old in both the Champagne and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. A year later, Champagne winner First Samurai checked in third in the Juvenile. And two years after that, War Pass dominated both races to become the third dual winner and a cinch choice for the Eclipse Award. Unfortunately, Robert LaPenta’s charge would only race three times at three before retiring; he passed away in 2010, early in his stud career.

Arguably one of the most talented juveniles of this century, Uncle Mo became the fourth dual Champagne-Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner in 2010. He only raced three times total as a 2-year-old, romping by 14 ¼ lengths in a six-furlong Saratoga maiden and then taking the Champagne by 4 ¾ lengths and the Juvenile – his first two-turn race – by 4 ¼ lengths at Churchill Downs. Like War Pass, Uncle Mo would only race three more times at three before retiring. But his stud career is something else entirely, as he’s already sired a dual classic winner in Nyquist and several other graded stakes winners from four crops to race.

Union Rags, winner of the 2011 Champagne, finished a good second to Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before maturing into a Belmont Stakes winner in 2012 and then retiring to a promising stud career. In fall 2012, Todd Pletcher-trained Shanghai Bobby captured the Champagne by a dominant five lengths before shipping to Santa Anita for the Juvenile. Under a skillful ride from Rosie Napravnik, Shanghai Bobby held off He’s Had Enough by a head to become the fifth 2-year-old to win both races.

2013 Champagne winner Havana finished second to New Year’s Day in that year’s Juvenile, also held at Santa Anita, and the 2016 Champagne winner, Practical Joke, finished third to Classic Empire and Not This Time in the Sentient Jet Juvenile. 

Last year, Firenze Fire won the Champagne by a half-length over the maiden Good Magic. Four weeks later, however, it was up-and-coming Good Magic who visited his first winner's circle on a larger stage, romping by 4 ¼ lengths in the Sentient Jet Juvenile at Del Mar. Good Magic earned champion 2-year-old male honors for 2017 and went on to accomplish more great things as a 3-year-old before his recent retirement.

Frizette Stakes

Belmont’s filly companion race to the Foxwood Champagne Stakes was first held in 1945. The one-mile test sent its first notable runner to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in the second year of the World Championships, as 1985 Frizette winner Family Style ran second by a length to stablemate Twilight Ridge at Aqueduct. Three years later, 1988 Frizette runner-up Open Mind won the fifth Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs en route to an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly for owner Eugene Klein and trainer D. Wayne Lukas. That superb filly would go on to win important Grade 1s at age three, including the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes, and finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff while picking up another Eclipse Award. She was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

Meadow Star became the first filly to sweep both races in 1990, and Carl Icahn’s filly absolutely dominated, rolling by 14 lengths in the Frizette and then by five lengths in the Juvenile Fillies, also at Belmont Park. The Juvenile Fillies was the seventh in what would extend to a nine-race win streak to begin Meadow Star’s career. One of the most popular fillies of the early 1990s, she finished fourth against males in the 1991 Wood Memorial before notching two more Grade 1 wins against her gender – including the “Mother of All Gooses” over Lite Light – and then never winning again in her final eight starts.

Educated Risk and Heavenly Prize won the 1992 and 1993 renewals of the Frizette and finished second and third in their respective editions of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. And in 1994, William T. Young’s precocious filly Flanders became the second Frizette-Juvenile Fillies winner by romping to a 21-length score in the former race and then edging Serena’s Song by a head in the latter. Flanders won all five of her starts during a championship juvenile season but never raced again after 1994 due to injury.

In 1995, My Flag finished second to Golden Attraction in the Frizette but improved in the Juvenile Fillies at Belmont, defeating Cara Rafaela by a half-length with Golden Attraction third. And the Frizette-Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies connection remained strong in 1996, as Storm Song became the third dual winner by putting together the two best races of her career back-to-back. The Dogwood Stable filly won the Frizette by four lengths and then the Juvenile Fillies by 4 ½ lengths with Craig Perret aboard.

Storm Flag Flying joined Meadow Star, Flanders, and Storm Song as a Frizette-Juvenile Fillies dual winner in 2002. The Ogden Phipps homebred would finish second to Ashado two years later in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, her final start. Ashado, third in the 2003 Frizette, then ran second to Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies early in her Hall of Fame career.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Balletto won the 2004 Frizette and finished second in the Juvenile Fillies to Sweet Catomine. Three years later, Indian Blessing became the fifth Frizette-Juvenile Fillies winner, dominating both races by a total of 11 lengths. Those were only the second and third starts of her career, and the daughter of Indian Charlie would train on to compete well through her 4-year-old season, winning 10 of 16 career starts with five seconds and earning nearly $3 million before she was retired.

Sky Diva (won 2008 Frizette, third in Juvenile Fillies) and R Heat Lightening (second in 2010 Frizette, second in Juvenile Fillies) made good showings in the World Championships leading up to yet another standout dual race winner in 2011. My Miss Aurelia, owned by Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton and trained by Steve Asmussen, won her first two races at Saratoga, including the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes, at sprint distances, but she really turned heads when stretched out to a mile in the Frizette, which she won by 5 ½ lengths. Sent off as the 2.10-1 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs, the daughter of Smart Strike made those odds look like a gift in a three-length romp over Grace Hall. The champion filly would continue to perform well in her 3- and 4-year-old seasons, finishing second to Royal Delta in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (Distaff), but she was at her best during an undefeated juvenile campaign.

In 2013, Ria Antonia finished a well-beaten fifth in the Frizette (won by Artemis Agrotera) but outran her 32.30-1 odds considerably in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. She was elevated from second to first in that race after She’s a Tiger drifted out and made contact as the two fillies neared the finish line.

The 2017 Frizette Stakes played out in similar fashion to the Champagne, in that the runner-up became a Breeders’ Cup winner. Caledonia Road finished 3 ½ lengths behind Separationofpowers in the Frizette and thus was sent off at 17.30-1 odds in the Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar. With Hall of Famer Mike Smith in the irons, the Quality Road filly swept into contention in early stretch and powered clear to a 3 ¼-length score as Separationofpowers finished fourth. The filly was voted champion in her division for 2017 but made only two starts this year and will be offered in the Fasig-Tipton November auction.

Flower Bowl Stakes

The 1 ¼-mile Flower Bowl Stakes, first held in 1978, has been without a doubt one of the most influential Breeders’ Cup preps in the entire event since the Filly and Mare Turf was first run in 1999. Nearly every year it seems, a filly or mare exiting the Flower Bowl goes on to hit the board in the Filly and Mare Turf, which is contested at distances between 1 1/8 and 1 3/8 miles, depending on the host track.

Many Flower Bowl females to shine in the Breeders’ Cup have not necessarily been the race winners. But that was not the case in 1999, when James Toner-trained Soaring Softly won the Flower Bowl by a length and then posted a three-quarter-length win in the inaugural Filly and Mare Turf with Jerry Bailey in the irons. The Kris S. filly defeated Irish-bred Coretta in both races.

In 2002, Flower Bowl fourth-place finisher Starine spoiled Banks Hill’s attempt at a Filly and Mare Turf repeat with a 1 ½-length win over that champion, resulting in a Bobby Frankel-trained exacta. And from 2004-06, the ultra-consistent racemare Film Maker exited the Flower Bowl three times – where she finished fourth, third, and second – to finish second, third, and second again in the Filly and Mare Turf (2006 Flower Bowl winner Honey Ryder finished third in the ’06 Breeders’ Cup behind the great Ouija Board and Film Maker).

In 2007, Lahudood became the second dual winner of the Flower Bowl and Filly and Mare Turf, taking the latter race on a very soft Monmouth Park turf course by three-quarters of a length over Honey Ryder. In 2009, Flower Bowl winner Pure Clan was runner-up to England’s Midday in the Filly and Mare Turf, and Midday returned in 2010 on the heels of three consecutive Group 1 wins in Europe. The Henry Cecil trainee was sent off as the 9-10 favorite at Churchill Downs, but it was Flower Bowl fifth-place finisher Shared Account who won the photo finish by a neck in a 46-1 upset for Sagamore Farm and Graham Motion to spoil Midday’s bid for a repeat.

In 2012, Flower Bowl runner-up and French import Zagora won the Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita by three-quarters of a length for owner Martin Schwartz and trainer Chad Brown. Since then, Brown has won two more Filly and Mare Turfs – in 2014 with Dayatthespa and in 2015 with Stephanie’s Kitten. Dayatthespa defeated ’14 Flower Bowl winner Stephanie’s Kitten in the Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita, completing an all-Chad Brown exacta in emulation of his mentor Bobby Frankel a dozen years earlier.

A year later, Stephanie’s Kitten closed out what is almost certain to be a Hall of Fame career with a Flower Bowl-Filly and Mare Turf double. Her final win was at Keeneland, which held the Breeders’ Cup for the first time in 2015. Keeneland is also the home base of Stephanie’s Kitten’s owners-breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey, which made for a poignant winners’ circle celebration at the picturesque Lexington track.

In 2016, Brown’s champion Lady Eli won the Flower Bowl but came up a nose short to Queen’s Trust in the Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita. 

Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes

Formerly known as the Ancient Title Stakes until 2012, the six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship was first held in 1985, one year after the inaugural World Championships. Groovy, winner of the race in 1986, finished fourth as the odds-on favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint also held at Santa Anita; the Texas-bred would go on to finish second in the Sprint a year later and win an Eclipse Award. No other winner would go on to make an impression in the Breeders’ Cup for several years, until 1993. That year, both races were also held at Santa Anita, and West Coast mainstay Cardmania swept the Ancient Title and Breeders’ Cup Sprint for owner Jean Couvercelle to earn champion sprinter honors at the Eclipse Awards. The son of Cox’s Ridge, who began his racing career competing in France for several years in low-level races, made an impressive 77 starts over eight seasons, and also finished fourth in the 1994 Ancient Title and third in that year’s Sprint.

 

Paying Dues, elevated to third in the 1996 Ancient Title, ran second to Lit de Justice in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. A year later, Elmhurst became the second dual winner, prevailing in the Sprint at odds of 16.60-1 to defeat Hesabull by a half-length. His win was the second consecutive Breeders’ Cup Sprint for trainer Jenine Sahadi, following Lit de Justice’s score in ’96.

The years 1998-2000 saw California sensation Kona Gold make his mark on the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and the Bruce Headley trainee used the Ancient Title to prep for the Sprint each year. He finished fifth in the ’98 Ancient Title and third in the Sprint, second to Lexicon in the 1999 Ancient Title and second to Artax in the Sprint, and then won both races in 2000, taking the Sprint at Churchill Downs and setting a track record at the time of 1:07.77 for six furlongs. Kona Gold would also compete in both races the next year, finishing second in the Ancient Title but seventh in the Sprint. He then contested the Sprint for a fifth straight time in 2002, finishing fourth. 

Bluesthestandard, third in the 2003 Ancient Title, finished second to Cajun Beat that year in the Sprint, and three years later Thor’s Echo ran second to Bordonaro in the Ancient Title but posted a dominant win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs, winning by four lengths. 2007 Ancient Title winner Idiot Proof was runner-up to Bob Baffert’s champion Midnight Lute in that year’s Sprint, and in 2009, Ancient Title horses Gayego (winner), Crown of Thorns (runner-up), and Cost of Freedom (fourth) came home fourth, second, and third, respectively, to Dancing in Silks in a heart-pounding Breeders’ Cup Sprint as all four horses hit the finish with less than a half-length between them.

Smiling Tiger won the 2010 Ancient Title, held at Hollywood Park that year, and ran third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint … which brings us to 2011 and the fourth dual winner, Amazombie. Co-owned and trained by Bill Spawr, the Northern Afleet gelding was known for his a stalk-and-pounce running style, and he used that to perfection in both the Ancient Title and Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs, winning by three-quarters of a length at Santa Anita and then by a neck in Louisville. Mike Smith was aboard on both wins.

Goldencents finished second to Points Offthebench in the 2013 Santa Anita Sprint Championship but then won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in his next start. A year later, the Doug O’Neill trainee would repeat the same finish in both races, losing to Rich Tapestry by a nose in the Sprint Championship but taking the Dirt Mile by 1 ¼ lengths (the Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita both years). Secret Circle, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2013, finished third in the 2014 Santa Anita Sprint Championship and then second in his bid for a Breeders’ Cup Sprint repeat to Work All Week.

The Santa Anita Sprint Championship continued to be a crucial sprint division prep in 2017, as Roy H became the fifth horse to win both races in the same year. He scored by a length in both events, defeating the top East Coast sprinter Imperial Hint in the TwinSpires Sprint at Del Mar, and was voted champion male sprinter at the Eclipse Awards. Roy H has won one of three starts this year and is still one of the best sprinters in training, but Imperial Hint has upped his game. That should make for an exciting Breeders’ Cup rematch in Louisville on Nov. 3 if all goes well in the month ahead.

Foreign races:

On Sunday, Longchamp Racecourse in France features three qualifiers: the Longines Prix de l’Opera (Maker's Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf); Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf ); and Total Prix Marcel Boussac (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf).

The Longines Prix de l’Opera has sent a couple of winners over to the Filly and Mare Turf earlier this decade: Nahrain in 2011 (second to Perfect Shirl) and Ridasiyna in 2012 (fourth). In addition, 1992 winner Hatoof finished second in the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Turf against males, and won the Eclipse Award as champion turf female that year.

Last year, the Longines Prix de l’Opera – which was held at Chantilly Racecourse while Longchamp was being renovated – proved to be the determining prep race for Breeders’ Cup glory, sending four horses to the Filly and Mare Turf. That group included abovementioned 2016 Filly and Mare Turf winner Queen’s Trust, who finished eighth in the ’17 Prix de l’Opera, as well as Prix de l’Opera winner Rhododendron and fourth-place finisher Wuheida.

At Del Mar, Godolphin-owned Wuheida wrested the lead in upper stretch and held off a late-rallying Rhododendron to win by a length and turn the tables on her rival. Queen’s Trust finished fifth in her bid for a Filly and Mare Turf repeat.

Past winners of the two Sunday Group 1s for juveniles in France – the Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere for males and the Total Prix Marcel Boussac for fillies – have shown up regularly in the Breeders’ Cup, but usually later on in their careers. One 2-year-old who didn’t wait was one of the most memorable Breeders’ Cup winners in history. Arazi won the 1991 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (then named the Grand Criterium), which was his sixth consecutive win after finishing second in his debut. He then shipped to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he was sent off as the 2.10-1 favorite. Settling well back early under Pat Valenzuela, Arazi made a sweeping move through the far turn and effortlessly put five lengths between himself and the rest of the field at the sixteenth pole, winning by the same margin. That brilliant performance was enough to earn Allen Paulson’s charge the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.

More recently, Japanese-bred Karakontie won the Jean-Luc Lagardere in 2013, and then the French Two Thousand Guineas Guineas and the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2014, the latter race as a 30-1 longshot. 

As for the Prix Marcel Boussac, the race has sent several juveniles on to the Breeders’ Cup later in their careers, including 1986 winner Miesque, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile in both 1987 and 1988 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999 as one of the most dominant turf females of her era. Six Perfections, winner of the Marcel Boussac in 2002, took the Mile at Santa Anita in 2003 and finished third in 2004. 

In 2014, Found won the Prix Marcel Boussac for her first Group 1 win. Owned by the Coolmore Stud-affiliated partners Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith, she went on to assemble one of the best international race records of this decade, winning the 2015 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland, taking the 2016 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and finishing third in the 2016 Longines Turf at Santa Anita. Found finished worse than third exactly once in 21 career starts. 

More recently, Wuheida captured the 2016 Marcel Boussac a year before her successful trip to the SoCal seashore discussed above.

Of note:

The Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Beldame Invitational Stakes at Belmont on Saturday is not a Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but its history is deeply intertwined with the top World Championships dirt race for females, starting back in 1984 when Beldame winner Life’s Magic finished second in the inaugural Distaff. Life’s Magic would win the 1985 Distaff over 3-year-old Lady’s Secret, who had taken the Beldame by an easy two lengths and entered the Breeders’ Cup on an eight-race winning streak. It was no contest in the Distaff at Aqueduct, as Angel Cordero Jr. piloted Life’s Magic to a 6 ¼-length win. A year later, Lady’s Secret would win both the Beldame and Breeders’ Cup Distaff to secure Horse of the Year honors. The “Iron Lady” would enter the Hall of Fame in 1992.

Another Reagan-era superstar, Personal Ensign, won the Beldame and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 1988, the latter by a hard-earned nose over Winning Colors. Heavenly Prize won the 1994 Beldame and finished second in the Distaff, and a year later ran second in both events. Serena’s Song won the 1995 Beldame over Heavenly Prize and would finish runner-up to Jewel Princess in the 1996 Distaff en route to Hall of Fame induction in 2002. Ajina was second best in the 1997 Beldame but won the Distaff by two lengths for Allen Paulson and Bill Mott. And in 1999, John Oxley’s Beautiful Pleasure became the fourth filly to win both events in the same calendar year, defeating Silverbulletday in the Beldame and Banshee Breeze in the Distaff.

Nearly every year it seems, the Beldame has continued to be a significant prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. 2001 Beldame third-place finisher Spain nearly won the Distaff three weeks later at Belmont Park, yielding to Unbridled Elaine at the finish line. Ginger Punch, third in the 2007 Beldame, rebounded to post a game neck win in the Distaff for Frank Stronach and Bobby Frankel; she would later finish second in the 2008 Beldame. Three years on, Beldame runner-up Unrivaled Belle won the Distaff (then called the Ladies’ Classic) at odds of 7.50-1 in a race that will always be remembered for the actions of Beldame winner Life At Ten, who refused to compete.

Royal Delta, runner-up to Havre de Grace in the 2011 Beldame, won the Ladies’ Classic as a 3-year-old. A year later, the Besilu Stables star won both races – romping in the Beldame by 9 ½ lengths – and secured her second consecutive Eclipse Award. She would finish second to Princess of Sylmar in the 2013 Beldame and then fourth in the Distaff, but receive another championship trophy anyway.  

Stopchargingmaria finished a well-beaten second in the 2014 Beldame but a year later won the Longines Distaff at Keeneland. And in 2016, Forever Unbridled won the Beldame impressively before running a solid third behind superstars Beholder and Songbird in the Longines Distaff. The Dallas Stewart-trained racemare returned in 2017 to win the Longines Distaff (Beldame winner Elate was fourth) and earn champion older dirt female honors at the Eclipse Awards.

Saturday’s Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds on turf at Belmont has produced horses such as Artie Schiller (2004, winner of the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile) and champion Gio Ponti (2008, runner-up in the 2009 Classic and 2010 Mile) who would go on to make their mark in the World Championships. The 1 1/8-mile Knickerbocker Stakes on the turf at Belmont, held on Columbus Day, Oct. 8, has done the same on occasion. Its winners include Better Talk Now (won in 2003, won the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2004 and was second in 2006) and Za Approval (won in 2013 and was second to Wise Dan in the Mile that year).

Lastly, the Grade 2 City of Hope Mile Stakes on turf at Santa Anita resumes Saturday after a one-year hiatus. It has been won by some top-class horses through the years, including Obviously in 2012. That versatile gelding ran in four editions of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, finishing third in 2012, and won the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint to close out his $2.3 million-earning career.

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