The path to the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar on Nov. 5-6 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 Breeders’ Cup World Championships and three horses whose Breeders’ Cup chances are not quite as strong as they were a week ago.
Let’s get right to it and take a look at some of the big movers over the week of racing action as the focus of U.S. Thoroughbred racing centers on the 2021 Breeders’ Cup.
The turf female division was significantly impacted by the retirement of multiple standouts following the 2020 season. While stateside contender Mean Mary remains a tough-as-nails racemare and several Europeans have invaded and posted elite performances, the $2 million Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf looks pretty wide open a few months before the World Championships. Enter lightly raced Princess Grace. The 4-year-old Karakontie filly closed with a powerful rush to win the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon Handicap Aug. 7 at Del Mar to improve to five wins from six career starts with her only defeat a close second last fall at Keeneland in a Grade 3 race. She’s also a graded stakes winner on dirt, which shows me she has just a ton of talent and class, but for this purpose she appears to be a rising star on the grass. Now 2-for-2 in 2021, she shipped from trainer Mike Stidham’s Fair Hill barn in Maryland to Southern California for her first long trip and posted a new 15-point career top 116 Equibase Speed Figure on the turf course that will host the Filly and Mare Turf Nov. 6. Likewise, her 102 Beyer Speed Figure and 98 Brisnet rating indicate she’s fast enough to compete with the best of this division. She’s raced at six different tracks and won at five, and Princess Grace should have plenty of fuel in the tank for the fall with only two starts this season.
2. Elm Drive
This filly from the first crop of Mohaymen, by leading sire Tapit, improved to 2-for-2 with an incredibly game victory by a head in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes Aug. 6 at Del Mar. Elm Drive won her career debut by eight lengths in June at Los Alamitos, but you don’t really learn much about a 2-year-old until you see how they respond to a challenge or some type of adversity. After setting the pace in her debut, Elm Drive settled in third early under Juan Hernandez in the Sorrento behind a swift opening quarter-mile in :22. She put away the pacesetter on the turn but soon was confronted by Eda on the outside, who appeared to have all of the momentum. Elm Drive pinned her ears back and dig in determinedly and just refused to let her challenger pass her through the length of the stretch. She won by a head and improved her Equibase Speed Figure 11 points from an 82 in her debut to a 93. Her 85 Beyer Speed Figure was quite good for a 2-year-old filly in her second start as was her 96 Brisnet speed rating. I’m a little worried about how she will handle stretching out in distance for trainer Phil D’Amato, but she’s fast and tenacious and that’s what I look for in a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies contender. “She broke on top then Juan got her to rate, make a move and fight off a rival to her outside the length of the stretch. I just thought that’s the epitome of class,” D’Amato said. “Very professional, and I think she’s the type of filly that the longer [the races] the better.”
A 4-year-old filly by English Channel, War Like Goddess came up a bit short in her season debut back in February after a four-month layoff. She has been nothing short of sensational since then. She won the Grade 3 Orchid Stakes by a nose in March at Gulfstream Park, the Grade 3 Bewitch Stakes by 3 ¾ lengths in April at Keeneland, and the Grade 2 Glens Falls Stakes from last to first Aug. 7 at Saratoga. Still last of seven with a quarter-mile remaining in the 1 ½-mile Glens Falls, War Like Goddess unfurled a devastating rally to surge clear by 3 ¼ lengths as the heavy favorite. Trained by Hall of Famer and 10-time Breeders’ Cup winner Bill Mott, War Like Goddess has a win at the 1 3/8-mile distance of the Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf and two wins at 1 ½ miles, so distance will not be an issue. She earned a new career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure for the Glens Falls win, an eight-point improvement. Speed-figure makers seemed to concur that it was a quality victory: 99 Beyer Speed Figure, 122 TimeForm US rating, 100 Brisnet speed rating. Mott said he will point War Like Goddess to the Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Stakes on Sept. 4 at Saratoga, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Filly and Mare Turf.
Also-Eligibles: Not to disparage any of the top three, but had Bella Sofia been nominated to the Breeders’ Cup the Longines Test Stakes winner would have been a clear number one on my heating up list this week. I thought she was – without question – the most impressive winner of the weekend when she rolled by 4 ¼ lengths in the Aug. 7 Test at Saratoga. Now 3-for-4 with one second in her career, the 3-year-old Awesome Patriot filly has posted back-to-back Equibase Speed Figures of 112 (July allowance win) and 113 for the Test. Her 101 Beyer Speed Figure and 104 Brisnet speed rating for the Test confirm this is an electric female sprinter. With the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at the same seven-eighths of a mile distance as the Test, hopefully her connections will give strong consideration to nominating her to the World Championships. … I profiled Knicks Go in this week’s Getting to Know feature on a Breeders’ Cup contender. He won the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes impressively as the heavy favorite Aug. 7 to cement his status as one of the tip contenders for the Longines Classic Nov. 6 at Del Mar. … Fast Boat has now won three of his last four starts in stakes races at four different tracks and earned a new career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure for winning the Grade 3 Troy Stakes Presented by Horse Racing Ireland Aug. 6 at Saratoga. He needs the right setup as a closer but he should get it in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and looks like a major player at age 6. … Wicked Halo won the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes Aug. 8 at Saratoga by 3 ½ lengths, but I think she’ll need to improve to become a major contender for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. I’m just not sure she’s fast enough yet, but with only three starts she certainly could improve.
The Juddmonte Farms homebred 3-year-old by Into Mischief had firmly established himself as one of the best of his division and a strong candidate for the $6 million Longines Classic with his runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and subsequent wins in the TVG.com Pegasus Stakes and Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes (the latter via disqualification). However, Mandaloun was sidelined this week with a heel injury and will miss the late summer and fall races. Garrett O'Rourke, general manager of Juddmonte’s American racing operation, said Mandaloun will need to be walked for about eight weeks and will target the $20 million Saudi Cup in February 2022.
This talented 3-year-old colt by Galileo made the also-eligible list for my Heating Up section in the July 21 edition, but his return engagement in the U.S. was not nearly as impressive as his convincing July 10 win in the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes. Trainer Aidan O’Brien sent him to Saratoga Race Course for the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes and he faded late and finished fourth, beaten by four lengths by 21.10-1 longshot State of Rest. Now, Bolshoi Ballet was not the recipient of the best of rides in the Saratoga Derby from jockey Ryan Moore, who positioned him a length off a solid pace in second after closing from seventh in the Belmont Derby. He also might have preferred the ground at Belmont Park, which was rated good, rather than the firm turf at Saratoga Aug. 7. But ground is a major factor when considering a horse’s Breeders’ Cup chances, especially a European invader in a year when the World Championships will be held at Del Mar. The turf almost certainly will be firm in Southern California in November, and that combined with a dull effort last weekend make Bolshoi Ballet less appealing as a contender for the Longines Turf.
It would be easy to excuse By My Standards last-of-five finish in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes Aug. 7 at Saratoga because there is no doubt his chances were weakened significantly when he stumbled out of the starting gate. But he recovered well enough and he’s always been at his best from off the pace. The issue I see is that the 5-year-old by Goldencents just can’t quite get over the hump in a Grade 1 race. He’s winless in six tries at that level – although he has finished second twice – and just seems like he’s a cut below the absolute best of the older dirt male division. That’s not really even a criticism. By My Standards is a four-time Grade 2 winner, which means he’s a better racehorse than approximately 99.5% (or more!) of the Thoroughbreds born in 2016. It’s just that for this particular exercise, I’m looking at major contenders for the Breeders’ Cup and the prospective field for Longines Classic looks pretty deep and talented this year. It would be hard to envision By My Standards pulling the upset at Del Mar Nov. 6 based on how he’s performed in Grade 1 races to date.