Road to the Breeders' Cup: Crucial Prep Weekend at Santa Anita

Racing
Accelerate (left) won the 2018 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita one start prior to capturing the Breeders’ Cup Classic. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The first of three consecutive weekends loaded with significant prep races for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland Race Course in November arrives on Sept. 26-27. A total of eight domestic stakes races on Sept. 26 and 27 are pegged as Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifiers that offer automatic berths to Breeders’ Cup races to the winners.

Belmont Park on Long Island hosts one “Win and You’re In” prep Saturday, Sept. 26: the Grade 2 Vosburgh Stakes, an automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

The other seven graded stakes are at Santa Anita Park to kick off its opening weekend. Four graded stakes are on Saturday: the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes (qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic); Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes (TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance); Grade 2 Chandelier Stakes (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies); and Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes (Maker's Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf). Two are on Sunday: the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes (Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff); and Grade 2 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (Breeders' Cup Sprint).

In addition, the Speakeasy Stakes, a “Win and You’re In” prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint added in 2018 to the Challenge Series, will also be held on Saturday after being postponed from last week along with other Santa Anita races due to nearby wildfires.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races from Santa Anita will all be televised on TVG, while the Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont will be shown on FS2. For a full TV schedule, click here.

In addition, there are three overseas automatic qualifiers on tap this weekend – two in England and one in Brazil – and a few other graded stakes in North America that, while not “Win and You’re In” races, still have sent winners on to earn fame and a lot of money in the Breeders’ Cup.

The 14 Breeders’ Cup races attract the best Thoroughbreds in the world to compete for $31 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:

Awesome Again Stakes

The 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again Stakes was formerly the Goodwood Stakes prior to 2012 before being renamed to honor Frank Stronach’s 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. It’s been the most important final West Coast prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic since the World Championships began in 1984, and in 1987, Ferdinand captured both events during his Horse of the Year campaign. The 1986 Kentucky Derby winner took the Goodwood by a length with regular jockey Bill Shoemaker aboard, and then one start later prevailed by a hard-fought nose over ’87 Derby winner Alysheba in a great renewal of the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park. That marked the only Breeders’ Cup win for the legendary “Shoe,” who retired in 1990.

Over the next few years, the Goodwood sent several winners on to respectable finishes in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and in 1996, Alphabet Soup finished first in both races back-to-back – but was disqualified from the earlier win in the Goodwood and placed third in a four-horse field due to early interference, a controversial decision to say the least. In the Breeders' Cup Classic at Woodbine, Alphabet Soup won by a nose over Louis Quatorze that also marked the final start for the arguable Horse of the Decade, Cigar. Popular 1998 near-Triple Crown winner Silver Charm won the Goodwood and finished second to the race’s eventual namesake Awesome Again in that year’s loaded Breeders’ Cup Classic. One year later, Budroyale accomplished the same feat, taking the Goodwood and then running second best in the Classic to Cat Thief.

In 2000, stretch-fighting Tiznow became the second horse to win both races in the same year, scoring in the Goodwood by a half-length over Captain Steve and then outfinishing Europe’s “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway by a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. Tiznow, voted Horse of the Year in 2000, went on to finish third in the 2001 Goodwood before memorably winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the second consecutive year at Belmont Park over another European star, Sakhee.

In 2002 and 2003, Pleasantly Perfect became the first horse to win consecutive runnings of the Goodwood, and in the latter year he also took the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which was held at Santa Anita. His Classic win was one of four Breeders’ Cup tallies on the day for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella.

Game On Dude became the second back-to-back winner of the Goodwood/Awesome Again, scoring in 2011 and 2012. The Bob Baffert-trained speed demon held on well in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic before yielding to Drosselmeyer, and then finished seventh as the favorite in 2012. Mucho Macho Man, runner-up in the ’12 Classic to Fort Larned, achieved peak form the following fall when he became the fourth horse to win both the Awesome Again and Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year, with Gary Stevens aboard for both victories.

In 2016, the Awesome Again Stakes served as what ultimately became the final graded stakes win of California Chrome’s career, as the fan favorite subsequently finished a valiant second to Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, won a minor stakes at Los Alamitos, and then checked in a puzzling ninth in the 2017 Pegasus World Cup Invitational in his final start. And in 2018, Accelerate won the Awesome Again and Breeders’ Cup Classic as the third and fourth consecutive Grade 1 victories during a spectacular streak that netted him the Eclipse Award as champion older male for 2018.

Last year, McKinzie finished second in both the Awesome Again and Breeders' Cup Classic. 

Zenyatta Stakes

Formerly named the Lady’s Secret Stakes in honor of the 1986 Horse of the Year, this 1 1/16-mile qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff was renamed to honor another Hall of Famer, Zenyatta, in 2012. It was first held in 1993, and, along with the other graded stakes this weekend, was a perennial highlight of Santa Anita’s fall race meet during the years the meet was administered by the Oak Tree Racing Association. In fact, the very first year saw a filly score in both races, as Irving and Marjorie Cowan’s Hollywood Wildcat easily took the Lady’s Secret before holding on to edge 1992 Distaff winner Paseana by a nose in a thrilling 1993 Distaff despite jockey Eddie Delahoussaye losing his whip. Hollywood Wildcat would repeat in the Lady’s Secret in 1994 and finish sixth in the Distaff.

Two years later, Lady’s Secret runner-up Jewel Princess won the 1996 Distaff at Woodbine under Corey Nakatani. The next year saw Sharp Cat win the Lady’s Secret but then run second to Ajina in the Distaff. There was a quiet span for several years, and then in 2002 Hall of Famer Azeri captured both races in dominant fashion during her Horse of the Year campaign. The superstar would contest the 2003 Lady’s Secret as well, and was elevated from third to second via runner-up Elloluv’s disqualification.

In 2007, Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Hystericalady finished second in both the Lady’s Secret and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the latter by a neck to champion Ginger Punch. Hystericalady finished second once again in the Lady’s Secret a year later, this time to an even more accomplished rival ... who would become the race’s namesake six years later. Jerry and Ann Moss’s Zenyatta won three consecutive runnings of the Lady’s Secret from 2008 to 2010, and was center stage in the Breeders’ Cup all three years as well. She took the 2008 Distaff (then named the Ladies’ Classic), dominated males in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, and then suffered her only career defeat in her final start when finishing a head behind Blame in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. From her three wins in the Lady’s Secret, her last one – in 2010, held at Hollywood Park that year, one race prior to the Breeders’ Cup Classic – was the closest, as she rallied late to defeat Switch by a half-length to capture her 19th consecutive victory.

Arguably the best racemare to grace North American tracks since Zenyatta, Beholder put together another dominant three-race winning streak in the newly renamed event. B. Wayne Hughes’ champion won the Zenyatta Stakes from 2013 to 2015, and she won the 2013 Longines Distaff as well. Beholder missed the Breeders’ Cup in both 2014 and 2015, but returned for her 6-year-old campaign in 2016. She entered the 2016 Zenyatta Stakes having finished second in her two prior starts, and posted a runner-up finish at Santa Anita to Stellar Wind in her attempt at a four-peat, leading some to wonder if the champion had lost a step. Beholder promptly rebounded to edge Songbird in the Longines Distaff by a nose in one of the most exciting races of this decade – a fitting end to an incredible career.

American Pharoah Stakes

Formerly the Norfolk Stakes, this important West Coast prep for juveniles eyeing the Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown races down the line was rebranded as the FrontRunner Stakes in 2012 and then in 2018 got a new name to honor racing's 12th Triple Crown winner and 2015 Horse of the Year (see below). The race was first held in 1970, and the first horse to win both the Norfolk and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile came in the World Championships’ inaugural year of 1984. Star Crown Stable’s Chief’s Crown, trained by Roger Laurin and ridden by Don MacBeth, took the Norfolk and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in succession during the fall, part of a six-race win streak that extended into his 3-year-old season and ended when he finished third in the Kentucky Derby. The champion juvenile of 1984 would go on to also place in both the Preakness and Belmont, win the Travers, defeat older horses in the Marlboro Cup, and retire after the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Two years later, Capote also claimed both the Norfolk and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and earned champion juvenile honors. The son of Seattle Slew won three out of four starts at two but did not carry his form forward and never won again. Grand Canyon won the 1989 Norfolk and finished second to Rhythm in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Allan Paulson’s Bertrando achieved the same feat in 1991, losing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Arazi. After that, there was a drought of major crossover between the two races until 1999, when Anees finished a well-beaten third in the Norfolk but then pulled a 30.30-1 upset under Gary Stevens in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Gulfstream Park.

Kafwain won the Norfolk in 2002 and finished second in his next start to Vindication in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but for the next six years no horse exited the Norfolk to great renown at the World Championships. In 2008, though, during the height of the artificial-surface movement in North American racing, Darley Stable’s Midshipman moved forward after his runner-up finish to Street Hero in the Norfolk to score by 1 ¼ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over Santa Anita’s synthetic main track and earn champion juvenile male honors.

A year later, Lookin At Lucky won the Norfolk and ran a game second to European shipper Vale of York in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which was held at Santa Anita again. Jump ahead to 2014, and the now-named FrontRunner was not only the key race for that fall’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but, as it turned out, a vital cog in shaping the 2015 Triple Crown season and determining the Breeders’ Cup Classic as well.

Ahmed Zayat’s American Pharoah entered the FrontRunner off of a maiden win in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. Facing a competitive field but nevertheless sent off at odds of 1-2, the Pioneerof the Nile colt romped by 3 ¼ lengths. Sidelined by a minor injury, American Pharoah missed the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita weeks later – but the horse that finished third to him in the FrontRunner, Texas Red, turned around and obliterated another deep field in the Sentient Jet Juvenile by 6 ½ lengths. American Pharoah would, of course, go on to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 and add a Breeders’ Cup Classic win in 2015 to boot.

Nyquist became the third horse to win both races in fall 2015, and the J. Paul Reddam-owned colt extended his undefeated streak to eight through the 2016 Kentucky Derby. And in 2018, another talented juvenile took both races back-to-back: Gary and Mary West’s Game Winner. The son of Candy Ride gave Bob Baffert his eighth win in the race now named after his 2015 Triple Crown winner, and subsequently impressed in the Juvenile at Churchill Downs to become the champion 2-year-old male of 2018. 

Last year, Storm the Court finished third in the American Pharoah Stakes at odds of 19.70-1, and then upset the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita at 45.90-1 odds. That final race was enough to net him the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male of 2019.

Chandelier Stakes

The Chandelier Stakes is Santa Anita’s fall prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Formerly named the Oak Leaf Stakes until 2012, the 1 1/16-mile race did not send any winners on to Breeders’ Cup glory until 1991, when Pleasant Stage and La Spia, first and third in the Oak Leaf, finished 1-2 in a thrilling Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs. Pleasant Stage, a Buckland Farm-owned daughter of 1981 Kentucky Derby winner Pleasant Colony, defeated La Spia by a head and was crowned champion 2-year-old filly at the Eclipse Awards.

The 1993 Oak Leaf was also a memorable race, as winner Phone Chatter and runner-up Sardula returned to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup as the two favorites (Sardula as part of an entry) and with only a half-length separating them in the Oak Leaf. The Juvenile Fillies was even closer, as Laffit Pincay Jr. rallied Phone Chatter to the finish line just in time to edge Sardula by a head. Phone Chatter would get the Eclipse Award, and Sardula would continue on to win the 1994 Kentucky Oaks.

Hall of Famer Serena’s Song won the 1994 Oak Leaf but finished a head shy of Flanders in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. In 1998, Golden Eagle Farm’s Excellent Meeting accomplished the same feat, winning the Oak Leaf but finishing a half-length behind champion Silverbulletday in the Juvenile Fillies. And in 1999, another top-class filly kept the near-miss double streak going, as Chilukki won the Oak Leaf to enter the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies undefeated in six starts, only to finish second to Cash Run at Gulfstream Park.

Imperial Gesture in 2001 (second in both races) and Composure in 2002 (won Oak Leaf, second in Juvenile Fillies) kept up the momentum, and then in 2003 and 2004 two consecutive champions won both races back-to-back. The first, Halfbridled, was basically unchallenged in the Oak Leaf and Juvenile Fillies, winning them by a combined margin of seven lengths for trainer Richard Mandella and jockey Julie Krone. Sweet Catomine, a Martin and Pam Wygod homebred, was arguably even more impressive, scoring by four lengths in the Oak Leaf and then by a push-button 3 ¾ lengths in the Juvenile Fillies at Lone Star Park.

Stardom Bound became the fifth filly to pair up wins in the Oak Leaf and the Juvenile Fillies in 2008, taking both on Santa Anita’s synthetic main track. Blind Luck, a clear winner of the 2009 Oak Leaf, finished third in the Juvenile Fillies but won the champion 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award a year later. Weemissfrankie won the Oak Leaf in 2011 and finished third to My Miss Aurelia in the Juvenile Fillies, and Executiveprivilege won the 2012 Chandelier before finishing a length behind budding superstar Beholder in the Juvenile Fillies. In 2013, She’s a Tiger finished second to Secret Compass in the Chandelier and then crossed the finish line first in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, only to be disqualified and placed second for interference very late in the stretch.

Songbird, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame as soon as she is eligible, announced her presence on the national stage with a front-running, 4 ½-length romp in the 2015 Chandelier, which was followed by an even more impressive 5 ¾-length score in the Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland. And in 2016, Champagne Room finished fourth in the Chandelier before posting a 33.60-1 upset at the World Championships.

In 2017, Baoma Corporation’s Alluring Star finished second in both the Chandelier (to Moonshine Memories) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (to Caledonia Road). And last year, Bast won the Chandelier before finishing third behind British Idiom and Donna Veloce in the Juvenile Fillies.

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 to 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 was hands down the most important sprint division prep in 2017-18, as Roy H became the fifth horse to win both races in the same year in 2017, and then repeated that feat in 2018. Roy H was voted champion sprinter for both years at the Eclipse Awards.

One of the most purely talented horses of the current era, Omaha Beach, won a thrilling renewal of the Santa Anita Sprint Championship last year in his first start since the Arkansas Derby in April. The Richard Mandella-trained horse then finished second to Spun to Run in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita and won the Malibu Stakes to close out 2019 but was unfortunately retired in early 2020 without never fully realizing his potential. Shancelot, second by a head to Omaha Beach in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, would subsequently finish second again in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint behind another superstar, Mitole.

Rodeo Drive Stakes

Run as the Yellow Ribbon Stakes until 2012, the Rodeo Drive was first run in 1977 and sent 1985 winner Estrapade on to a good third-place finish in the following year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf in the years before the Filly and Mare Turf was launched in 1999. The first few Yellow Ribbon winners grabbed minor awards in the Filly and Mare Turf, with the best overall showing in the early 2000s coming from 2002 third-place Yellow Ribbon finisher Banks Hill. That elite-pedigreed Juddmonte Farms homebred won the Filly and Mare Turf the year before in her first start in the U.S., and then finished second to Starine in the 2002 Filly and Mare Turf.

Wait a While (Yellow Ribbon winner in 2006 and 2008) and Nashoba’s Key (Yellow Ribbon winner in 2007) both ran respectably in the corresponding Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turfs, although Wait a While was eventually disqualified from third to last in 2008 due to a medication violation. In the years since, generally speaking, Rodeo Drive/Yellow Ribbon winners have been also-rans in the Filly and Mare Turf, usually at the mercy of European or East Coast-based horses, although 2012 Rodeo Drive winner and 2013 runner-up Marketing Mix did finish a solid second behind Zagora in the ’12 Filly and Mare Turf, and the 2016 and 2017 Rodeo Drive winner, Avenge, finished a good third to Queen’s Trust and Lady Eli in the 2016 Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita. 

Vosburgh Stakes

The historic Vosburgh Stakes was run at seven furlongs during the Breeders’ Cup era until 2004, when it was held at 6 ½ furlongs for one year before being shortened to its current six furlongs in 2005. Groovy, winner of the 1987 Vosburgh, became the first horse from the race to perform well in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint when he ran second, albeit by four lengths, to Very Subtle. The Texas-bred was a 4-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup, which was his first loss of the year after winning seven in a row. He was honored with an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter for his body of work.

One year later, the situation reversed as Vosburgh runner-up Gulch rallied late to take the Breeders’ Cup Sprint by three-quarters of a length under Angel Cordero Jr. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee won the Eclipse Award for his division and had some success at stud as well, siring 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Thunder Gulch among others. In 1989, Ogden Phipps’ Dancing Spree finished fourth in the Vosburgh only to post a 16.60-1 upset win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That gave Angel Cordero Jr. back-to-back wins in the Sprint; the Hall of Famer had previously finished second in 1986 and 1987 (aboard Groovy).

Jump into the 1990s, and another Vosburgh also-ran, Cherokee Run, achieved peak form in the 1994 Breeders’ Cup en route to championship honors. That Florida-bred son of Runaway Groom could not hold his lead in the Vosburgh, surrendering late to finish third, but then turned it around one race later with Mike Smith in the irons, rallying to post a head win over Soviet Problem in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.

Artax, the first horse to win both the Vosburgh and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in the same year, did so in 1999 when he defeated Kona Gold (subsequent winner of the 2000 Sprint) by a half-length. His wins bookended a score in the Forest Hills Handicap and were enough to garner an Eclipse Award.

Crossover success between the Vosburgh and Breeders’ Cup Sprint continued into the 2000s, as Bobby Frankel-trained Squirtle Squirt, second to Left Bank in the 2001 Vosburgh, returned to Belmont Park in the Sprint and defeated Xtra Heat by a half-length under a well-timed ride by Jerry Bailey. The Vosburgh winner in 2003 was another Bobby Frankel trainee, who took the only renewal of the race at 6 ½ furlongs to pick up his first career stakes win. That horse did not go on to the ’03 Breeders’ Cup. Instead, he came back to dominate in 2004 and score an overpowering win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The name: Ghostzapper.

Speightstown, third in the 2004 Vosburgh, impressively won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Lone Star Park shortly before Ghostzapper’s win in the Classic. A year later, Vosburgh winner Taste of Paradise came up just a head short to Silver Train in the Sprint. And more recently, horses such as Force Freeze (second in the 2011 Vosburgh and Breeders’ Cup Sprint); The Lumber Guy (won the 2012 Vosburgh, second in the Sprint); and Private Zone (won the 2013 and 2014 Vosburghs, third in the 2014 Sprint and second in the 2015 Sprint) have put up good showings in both events.

Two years ago, 2017 Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up Imperial Hint won the 2018 Vosburgh by 1 ½ lengths as the 1-5 favorite and then finished third in the 2018 Sprint at Churchill Downs as Roy H notched a repeat win. The “little rocket,” as so named by trainer Luis Carvajal Jr., came back to win the Vosburgh again in 2019 but missed a third try at the Breeders' Cup Sprint with a minor injury. He was retired in May.

Other weekend races:

Among the other graded stakes this weekend, Santa Anita’s Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship Stakes at 1 ¼ miles on Saturday has produced such long-winded grass stayers and Longines Breeders' Cup Turf participants as Kotashaan (won both races in 1993), Northern Spur (won both in 1995), Johar (second in the 2003 John Henry, won the Turf in a dead-heat thriller with High Chaparral), and Champ Pegasus (won the 2010 John Henry, second in the Turf). Last year’s third-place finisher in the John Henry Turf Championship, United, nearly pulled off an upset of eventual Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in the Longines Turf at Santa Anita, losing by a head.

The Grade 3 Noble Damsel Stakes for fillies and mares Saturday at Belmont Park has some recent crossover with the Breeders’ Cup, as Uni won the 2018 Noble Damsel as a 4-year-old and then last year took the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita en route to winning the Eclipse Award as champion turf female.

In Kentucky, the Grade 3 Ack Ack Stakes, held going a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs on Saturday, was won by Awesome Slew in 2017 one start prior to his third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and in 2018 Seeking the Soul took the Ack Ack one start before returning to his home track and running second in the Dirt Mile. 

Lastly, the Grade 2 Eddie D Stakes, held on Santa Anita Park’s opening day Friday Sept. 25 card, has been a useful West Coast prep for turf sprinters on occasion. It was won three times in four years by the popular California Flag, in 2008, 2009, and 2011. California Flag won the ’09 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint as well. 

In 2018, Stormy Liberal finalized his prep campaign for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, which he had won in 2017 for owners Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen and trainer Peter Miller, with a hard-fought victory by a head in the Eddie D Stakes, his third consecutive win. He then shipped east to Churchill Downs and showed his competitive grit once again, outfinishing favored World of Trouble by a head to tally his second consecutive win in the Turf Sprint.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!