The path to the 2020 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland Race Course on Nov. 6-7 is a road with plenty of ups and downs as talented racehorses vie for a spot in one of 14 championship races and $31 million in purses and awards.
This blog provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Road to the World Championships and three horses whose Breeders’ Cup chances are not quite as strong as they were a few weeks ago.
In this week’s edition of Three Heating Up, Three Cooling Down, we take a look at some of the big movers over the past week of racing action.
I dabbled with going with the other two in the top three, listed below, for the top spot for different reasons, but ultimately I opted for Swiss Skydiver based upon the quality of her win last weekend in the Preakness Stakes as well as the quickly changing complexion of the Longines Distaff. Let’s start with the latter: standout older female Midnight Bisou, who probably would have been favored in the Distaff, was retired last week; another top older female, Dunbar Road, disappointed when third by 5 ¼ lengths as the even-money favorite in the Beldame Stakes Oct. 4; and Shedaresthedevil, who defeated Swiss Skydiver in the Longines Kentucky Oaks, ran third as the 6-5 favorite in the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes Oct. 3 at Keeneland at the track and distance of the Distaff. Simply put, what looked like perhaps the deepest, toughest Breeders’ Cup race a few months ago suddenly looks pretty wide open. Circling back to Swiss Skydiver’s performance in the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes, she fought the length of the stretch with the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner and just would not let Authentic pass her after she took control from the inside. Sure, she benefitted from a ground-saving trip under Robby Albarado, but Swiss Skydiver showed remarkable tenacity to defeat the leader of the 3-year-old male division and match her career-best Equibase Speed Figure (109). Her other speed figures also painted a promising picture: 105 Beyer Speed Figure, 109 BRISNet speed rating, and 127 TimeForm US rating. My lone concern, and it’s not an insignificant one, is that I did not think Swiss Skydiver ran an especially good race in her lone previous start at Keeneland in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in July, when she finished second at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Distaff. Still, that race was against males and I think if she runs a race similar to what she showed at Pimlico in the Preakness, Swiss Skydiver is the top win threat in the Distaff Nov. 7.
Tarnawa won the Group 1 Prix de l’Opera Longines Oct. 4 on heavy turf on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe card at Longchamp to improve to 3-for-3 this year. She also won the Qatar Prix Vermeille by three lengths at about 1 ½ miles on firm turf at Longchamp in September, so when trainer Dermot Weld confirmed Monday she would be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships she became a key player. Regardless of whether the Keeneland turf is saturated by fall rain in Central Kentucky or on the firmer side typical of North American racing, this standout European invader should be able to deliver a top-notch performance, with the proven class to be a win threat. In fact, Weld said if the ground was firm, he most likely would start the 4-year-old Shamardal filly against males in the 1 ½-mile Longines Turf, but there is a very good chance he will also pre-enter her in the 1 ¼-mile Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and simply wait to see how things play out. “It will be early November and I've been in Kentucky when they've had snow at that time of year, so don't take it for definite the ground would be firm,” Weld told skysports.com. “Those factors will come into my mind. … If it was fast ground, we might look more at the mile and a half [Turf]. … You must remember she's won three group races over a mile and a half. She is very effective over that distance.” Regardless of which race Tarnawa winds up in, she will be a win threat Nov. 7 at Keeneland for owner-breeder The Aga Khan.
I loved Mo Forza’s win in the Oct. 3 City of Hope Mile Stakes and I think Factor This is a serious contender for the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PDJF after an impressive win in a Grade 2 race on the Preakness undercard, but how could I not go with Ivar for the final spot? I mean, the Brazilian-bred 4-year-old colt by Agnes Gold was barely a blip on the Breeders’ Cup radar entering the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes Oct. 3 with an allowance win and a third in the ungraded Tourist Mile Stakes his best results in North America. That all changed in about 22 seconds as Ivar rallied from seventh to first with an explosive finishing kick under Joe Talamo to turn a four-length deficit into a one-length Grade 1 win against a quality field. A two-time Group 1 winner in Argentina, where he was 3-for-3 in 2019 before joining the barn of Paulo Lobo for the 2020 season, Ivar earned a career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure on the course and distance of the Breeders’ Cup Mile Nov. 7. The Keeneland turf course plays a bit different than many of the others in North America as it is not as hard and firm as many, so an eye-catching victory in the Shadwell Mile very likely is indicative of an affinity for this course. His 104 Beyer Speed Figure and 126 TimeForm US rating also were promising, but in turf races it all comes down to the trip and how fast a horse can finish. Ivar’s final quarter-mile in a little more than 22 seconds shows he can answer that second question. With a decent trip in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, he is a serious player for the victory Nov. 7.
Also-Eligibles: I mentioned Mo Forza and Factor This in Ivar’s capsule above, but both earned speed figures that indicate they can win the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PDJF Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Mo Forza has earned 121 and 119 Equibase Speed Figures for back-to-back Grade 2 wins and his 106 Beyer Speed Figure for the City of Hope Mile Stakes was solid. Factor This earned a career-best 118 Equibase Speed Figure for winning the Grade 2 Dinner Party Stakes and now has five wins and a second in his last six races. Both Beyer and TimeForm US had him with the highest winning speed figure on the Preakness card with a 110 and 131, respectively, making this front-runner very fast and potentially very dangerous in the Mile. … Before I dive headfirst into a busy weekend of stateside winners, two French Group 1 winners warrant mention in the event they make the trip to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup: Sealiway and One Master. Sealiway won the Group 1 Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere by eight lengths on the Arc de Triomphe undercard for his fourth win in six starts in 2020, and the Galiway colt would be a top contender for the Juvenile Turf if his connections opt to ship him to Keeneland, which is reportedly a consideration. One Master is a 6-year-old Fastnet Rock mare owned and bred by Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stables (Barbaro’s owners). She ran fifth, beaten by a length, in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs and is a candidate for the race this year after winning the Group 1 Qatar Prix de la Foret Oct. 4 at Longchamp. … Having a win on the track/course of the host track can be incredibly important when handicapping the Breeders’ Cup. At the very least it’s one component to the puzzle and there were a number of standout performers over Fall Stars weekend at Keeneland who profile as major contenders at the Breeders’ Cup, including Darley Alcibiades Stakes winner Simply Ravishing (Juvenile Fillies), Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity winner Essential Quality (TVG Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare), Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes victor Diamond Oops (Sprint), and Bourbon Stakes winner Mutasaabeq (Juvenile Turf). Two additional Keeneland winners who I was impressed by are Uni and Leinster. The former had not looked herself this season until a win Oct. 3 in the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes Presented by UK HealthCare, which was her first victory in three races since winning the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Mile. Back in good form and 2-for-3 on the grass at Keeneland, Uni could help bolster what looks like a terrific field for the Mile. Likewise, Leinster has three wins and one second on the turf at Keeneland and powered to victory in the Grade 2 Woodford Stakes Presented by TVG on a course he clearly loves. Leinster will be tough to beat in the Turf Sprint, a race he ran third in a year ago at Santa Anita Park.
1. Dunbar Road
A 4-year-old filly trained by Chad Brown, Dunbar Road posted a clear win in her first start of 2020 following a 6 ½-month layoff and then improved in her next race when winning the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap by three lengths July 11. She looked poised to take the next step into the upper echelon of the older female division and had a chance to do so as the even-money favorite in the Grade 2 Beldame Stakes Oct. 4 at Belmont Park having won five of her last seven starts. Instead, Dunbar Road turned in a disappointing effort when third, beaten by 5 ¼ lengths after dropping well back of a fast early pace. The 97 Equibase Speed Figure was 12 points off her career top. It’s not the type of race that inspires confidence entering the Longines Distaff. The Beldame was a strangely run race with a pacesetter who went exceptionally fast early, forcing Dunbar Road to drop farther back than her customary stalking position, but the fact that she finished 2 ¼ lengths behind runner-up Point of Honor, who trailed early, is a troubling.
Perhaps missing some training after sustaining a heel injury before the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which forced him to miss the run for the roses, led to a somewhat flat race in the Oct. 3 Preakness Stakes as Art Collector pressed a moderate pace from second but had little punch late in the 1 3/16-mile classic. His fourth-place finish was far from a disaster, but I must admit I was expecting the Bernardini colt to be very competitive in the Pimlico classic, not to lose by 10 lengths. I’m not sure what will come next for Art Collector, who ran one of the best races of his career in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, host of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup. It’s hard to go into the 1 ¼-mile classic off that type of race in the Preakness – his 95 Equibase Speed Figure was 11 points off his career best – and feel good about his chances to win, even if he is eligible to improve in his second start off an eight-week layoff. The Classic looks like a deep, talented group this year, but perhaps the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile might be a nice alternative if the Classic waters look a bit too rough.
This Speightstown colt ran a terrific race last fall at Keeneland in the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes when third by a half-length after leading in the stretch. He had been very good this year with a May allowance win at Churchill Downs and a fast-closing second by a nose in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes Aug. 1 at Del Mar. I was willing to forgive a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Forego Stakes Aug. 29 when he lost by less than three lengths on a sloppy track, but Lexitonian just didn’t fire in a return engagement in the Phoenix Stakes Oct. 2 at Keeneland, where he finished last of nine. I’m not sure he can move on to the Sprint off a race like that.
Of note: Midnight Bisou, the 2019 champion older female, was retired Sept. 30 after she sustained an injury during a morning workout. The probable favorite for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff retired with legitimate Hall of Fame credentials having won 13 of her 22 lifetime starts and never running out of the top three while amassing more than $7.4 million in purse earnings. Perhaps the most memorable triumph for the five-time Grade 1 winner was a determined nose victory over Elate in the 2019 Personal Ensign Stakes Presented by Lia Infiniti after a thrilling stretch duel. She was a fantastic racemare who left fans with many great memories.