The path to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 1-2 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. In the new edition of Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, we take a look at the previous week of races.
1. Omaha Beach
I already held Omaha Beach in high regard — I’m on record saying he would have won the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve by open lengths had he been able to run — but returning from injury is always a risky proposition. While the surgery Omaha Beach underwent to repair an entrapped epiglottis is not a major procedure, there is never a guarantee that a racehorse taken out of training will return at an elite level. With a stud deal already in place, several setbacks over the last few months very easily could have led to an early retirement. The War Front colt’s comeback race also was no easy spot as he faced older rivals for the first time at a six-furlong distance far shorter than his previous two graded stakes wins, both of which came around two turns. Add in heavy favorite Shancelot, a 3-year-old, in-form sprinter with dazzling speed and gaudy speed figures, for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes Oct. 5 and the race became a tough assignment. Omaha Beach used his terrific cruising speed to rate a few lengths off of Shancelot’s blistering opening quarter-mile in :21.87, moved up to challenge entering the stretch, and then outfinished his determined rival despite being inside along the rail. In winning by a head, Omaha Beach reminded racing fans that he was a serious racehorse capable of winning a race at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. He earned a career-best 111 Equibase Speed Figure and a 103 Beyer Speed Figure that was two points higher than his Arkansas Derby win and seven better than the 96 he earned while winning a division of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. It was a heck of a training job by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, who had been targeting a two-turn race but had to adjust the plan after a virus and a training mishap. To have Omaha Beach ready to run three-quarters of a mile in 1:08.79 and outfinish one of the fastest dirt sprinters in the country was a remarkable accomplishment. Omaha Beach will be considered for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile, and the 1 ¼-mile Classic. His ability to stalk a fast pace and still finish well was what drew me to him in April, and his cruising speed would be a valuable asset in any of the three races. Can Mandella have him ready to take another step forward and stretch out to 1 ¼ miles for the first time in the Classic? Will he keep him sprinting and take on a group that probably includes elite older males Mitole and Imperial Hint? Perhaps, he’ll go with the Dirt Mile as a happy medium. Whichever race Mandella chooses, Omaha Beach will be a threat to win it. He’s now won four straight and probably has as much room to improve as any Breeders’ Cup contender outside of the 2-year-olds. All nine of Mandella’s Breeders’ Cup wins have come when the event was at Santa Anita, the host track this November.
The bay Street Sense colt made the kind of explosive, push-button move in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity Oct. 5 at Keeneland that I love to see in 2- and 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail. Maxfield swept past eight 2-year-olds while rallying from ninth early after a slow start and made the others look like they were running in quicksand on his way to a 5 ½-length runaway. According to Trakus data, Maxfield was a full second faster than any of his nine opponents from six furlongs to a mile and finished his final sixteenth in 6.41 seconds, a fifth of a second faster than the next fastest for that final section. He earned a career-best 99 Equibase Speed Figure and an 86 Beyer Speed Figure that indicate he a serious threat in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. “When he started rolling I was looking to see if he was going to get through – is there anything going to stop us? – because I knew he was going to run right to the wire,” winning trainer Brendan Walsh said after winning his first Grade 1. “He’s a very special horse. I’ve been around a lot of good horses, and good horses breathe different air. I think this horse is right there.” As he did in his Sept. 14 debut win going a mile at Churchill Downs, Maxfield broke slowly from the starting gate and left himself with a lot of work to do. The Godolphin homebred overcame that adversity in each of his first two starts, but he’ll need to get away better to have a chance to beat high-quality 2-year-olds like Dennis’ Moment and Eight Rings in the Juvenile. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum has won 15 Breeders’ Cup races, either alone or in partnership.
This was a very tough call between Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades Stakes winner British Idiom and Grade 1 Frizette Stakes winner Wicked Whisper, but I chose the former because the speed figures were very similar, her win came around two turns, she beat two fillies I greatly respect, and she’s shown the ability to rate. British Idiom improved to 2-for-2 when she drew off to a 6 ½-length romp Oct. 4 at Keeneland, earning a 91 Equibase Speed Figure and an 84 Beyer Speed Figure. While neither figure jumps off the page, they represented a nice step forward when stretching out from a six-furlong debut win to 1 1/16 miles around two turns and they are very competitive with the other hopefuls targeting the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. In her debut, British Idiom pressed the early pace through an opening quarter-mile in :22.82 and she was fourth in the Alcibiades, 2 ½ lengths back after a half-mile in an easy :47.27, so she’s adaptable depending upon how the pace scenario plays out and willing to listen to her rider. I also think she beat a couple of very nice fillies in the Alcibiades in runner-up Perfect Alibi and third-place finisher Alandra. British Idiom is out of multiple stakes winner Rose and Shine, by Mr. Sekiguchi and is a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to stakes winner Parade of Roses. Trainer Brad Cox earned his first Breeders’ Cup win in 2018 with Monomoy Girl in the Longines Distaff, and British Idiom is one of several candidates capable of giving him a second win at the World Championships. “She’s a really nice filly that’s full of class. She never gets worked up,” Cox said. “She does whatever you want in the mornings. She’s a good-sized filly, too, and obviously capable of getting around two turns.”
Also-Eligibles: I’m definitely worried that I might have picked the wrong 2-year-old filly for the top three because I really liked what I saw from Wicked Whisper. She set a solid pace and still posted easily the fastest final furlong in winning the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths Oct. 6 at Belmont Park. She improved her Equibase Speed Figure from an 86 to an 89 and earned an 87 Beyer Speed Figure for the win. With two dominant wins in as many starts, this half-sister to 2019 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes winner Point of Honor has a ton of upside. … I discussed front-running Awesome Again Stakes winner Mongolian Groom in last week’s edition, but news came this week from Daily Racing Form that he will be supplemented to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He won’t be my pick Nov. 2, but he’s shown he can compete with elite competition. … Wesley Ward is a master with 2-year-olds and he has a nice pair that figure to be well-backed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint in Four Wheel Drive and Kimari. Four Wheel Drive drew off to win the Grade 3 Futurity Stakes Oct. 6 at Belmont by three lengths, while Kimari closed from the clouds to win the Indian Summer Stakes Oct. 6 at Keeneland. Kimari ran second this summer in a Group 2 race at Royal Ascot and showed a new dimension coming from off the pace in the Indian Summer. Trainer Wesley Ward said she has had trouble getting away to good starts so they did extra work to prepare Kimari to become comfortable racing behind horses. … Waldgeist has been a classy runner since he was a Group 1 winner as a 2-year-old in 2016 and Oct. 6 at Longchamp he earned a career-defining victory when he reeled in superstar Enable late to win the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It sounds like the Longines Turf is on the radar for Waldgeist as his odds were cut by British bookmakers from 10-1 to 5-1 for the Nov. 2 race. … Over the last 13 months, Final Frontier has developed into a very nice turf sprinter for Godolphin and he turned in a career-best win in the Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational Stakes Oct. 5 when earning a 112 Equibase Speed Figure for a three-quarter-length score. … According to Trakus data, Bowies Hero completed his final quarter-mile in 22.82 seconds to beat a strong group in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes Oct. 5 at Keeneland. He’s also a Grade 1 winner on the grass at Santa Anita. … Uni’s victory in the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes Oct. 5 at Keeneland was stunning visually as she blitzed the final quarter-mile in 22.68 seconds and set a course record for one mile in 1:32.87. She earned a career-best 122 Equibase Speed Figure and a 105 Beyer Speed Figure, however Uni is not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup.
I try not to overreact to one race, but with Elate it is starting to feel like a bit of a pattern where she comes up just short this year against the very best competition. In the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes Oct. 6 at Keeneland, Elate stalked a tepid pace, took command in the stretch, and still could not hold off the late rally of Blue Prize. A repeat Spinster Stakes winner, Blue Prize is a top-quality racemare, but Elate had defeated her soundly twice earlier in the season and the Spinster was Blue Prize’s first graded stakes win in 2019. With Elate’s connections strongly considering talking males next in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I expected she’d be able to handle four female challengers fairly easily in the Spinster. Instead, she lost the race as the 7-10 favorite with no real excuse. Even if you are willing to forgive her lack of late punch in the Spinster, it’s tough to endorse her against the best male dirt horses in the world Nov. 2 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic coming out of that final prep race. In an ideal scenario, she would have won convincingly and moved on to the Classic off her best race of the year. Instead, she dropped eight points to a 107 Equibase Speed Figure and has now finished second twice and third once in her three starts in Grade 1 races this year. Granted, one of those defeats was a heartbreaking loss by a nose to older female division leader Midnight Bisou in the Aug. 24 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga. Perhaps the Personal Ensign might have taken something out of Elate, who came into that race off back-to-back dominant Grade 2 wins, and the hope is that she’ll get back to that level in the Classic. I’m just not willing to bet on that based on what I saw in the Spinster.
2. Rushing Fall
Rushing Fall was unbeaten in four starts at Keeneland entering the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes Oct. 5, but she did not accelerate as powerfully as several opponents and finished fourth as the 13-10 favorite, beaten by 5 ¼ lengths. It was not a bad performance by any stretch for the four-time Grade 1 winner, but it was the first time she had ever finished outside the top two and her connections indicated they would not be pushing forward to the Breeders’ Cup. The World Championships are losing a world-class talent, but it sounds like Rushing Fall could be back in 2020. “We’ll probably regroup, talk to Chad [Brown] and come up with a plan. Maybe [send] her down to Stonestreet [in Florida] and let her winter down there and then come back and run her next year,” said Bob Edwards of owner e Five Racing Thoroughbreds.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert shipped Quality Response east for the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes Oct. 6 at Belmont Park after she improved to 2-for-2 with an eye-catching 5 ½-length win in the Phone Chatter Stakes Sept. 19 at Los Alamitos. It made sense that Baffert would keep Quality Response, who had won her two starts by a combined margin of 13 lengths, away from multiple Grade 1-winning stablemate Bast, winner of the Chandelier Stakes Sept. 27 at Santa Anita as the 1-5 favorite. However, Quality Response was not up to the task in the Frizette. She settled into a nice, stalking trip under Joe Talamo but did not accelerate when asked and faded to finish last of seven, beaten by 12 ¾ lengths. The Frizette was a difficult test for Quality Response as she was moving from stakes competition to a Grade 1, stretching out from 6 ½ furlongs to a mile, and shipping across the country. I still think Quality Response is a talented 2-year-old filly, but she does not look like a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Of note: After a third-place finish, beaten by 5 ¼ lengths, LNJ Foxwoods retired elite female sprinter Anonymity. A year ago, Anonymity finished third, beaten by only a neck by Shamrock Rose, in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Churchill Downs. She looked like a top contender for this year’s race, but was winless in three starts this year. The 5-year-old Tapit mare was as consistent as they come, finishing in the top three in each of her 10 starts with four runner-up finishes in graded stakes. …Valid Point was defeated for the first time in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes Oct. 5 at Keeneland, where he weakened late and faded to finish 10th. After winning three straight races to begin his career, including a one-length victory in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes for 3-year-olds Aug. 10, Valid Point faced a major hurdle in the Shadwell Turf Mile as he faced older horses for the first time and came up empty late as the 2.20-1 favorite. Sure, the shine of an unblemished record is gone, but considering the depth and strength of the field he faced last weekend at Keeneland, it’s important not to overreact to a single loss against a quality field. This is a colt with a very bright future. … Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott told Daily Racing Form Belmont and Travers Stakes runner-up Tacitus will skip the Breeders’ Cup Classic and get some time off after a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Sept. 28 at Belmont Park. Mott said the Juddmonte Farms homebred is expected to return to racing for a 4-year-old campaign.