Road to the 2021 Breeders’ Cup: Prep Bonanza at Santa Anita, Belmont

American Pharoah, with Victor Espinoza riding, won the 2014 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park but missed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; he would go on to win Horse of the Year honors in 2015 and have this race renamed after him in 2018. (Eclipse Sportswire)

After a weekend with no domestic “Win and You’re In” preps, the Road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar picks up a convoy’s worth of momentum over the upcoming weekend, with qualifying preps set for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on both coasts as well as overseas.

In all, 14 races on the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series are scheduled: two at Belmont Park, seven at Santa Anita Park as part of its opening fall meet weekend, and five at Longchamp racecourse in France. 

The first three Santa Anita “Win and You’re In” race are set for Friday: the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes, a qualifier for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance); the Grade 2 Chandelier Stakes, a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies; and the the Speakeasy Stakes, a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint that has yet to have any impact since it began in 2018. On Saturday, Santa Anita hosts Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes (Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic), the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes (Maker's Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf), and the Grade 2 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (Breeders' Cup Sprint). Finally, on Sunday the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes grants an automatic berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff to the winner.

Belmont hosts two qualifiers for 2-year-olds over the weekend: the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes on Saturday and the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes for fillies on Sunday. Those races offer automatic berths to the TVG Juvenile and to the Juvenile Fillies, respectively. 

In France, Five Challenge Series preps are slated for Sunday at Longchamp, headlined by the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, arguably European racing’s most prestigious event and a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races from Santa Anita will be televised on TVG, while the Belmont races will be shown on either FS2 or FS1.

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 as well as several other stakes races that have made an impact on the World Championships:

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.

In 2019, McKinzie finished second in both the Awesome Again and Breeders' Cup Classic, and last year, Improbable won the Awesome Again prior to a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, where he ran a solid second to his stablemate, Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner and eventual Horse of the Year Authentic.

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. Of 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 and 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. 

In 2019, 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 for the year.

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 in 2019, 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.

Amazombie (Eclipse Sportswire)

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 for 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 in 2019 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.

C Z Rocket, winner of last year’s Santa Anita Sprint Championship, checked in second behind Whitmore in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland and may try for a repeat win in this year’s edition on Saturday.

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. Lady Prancealot, third in last year’s Rodeo Drive, finished fourth in the Filly and Mare Turf, defeated by only a length at odds of 73.90-1.

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 classic winner in Nyquist and several other graded stakes winners from his early crops.

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. 

In 2017, 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 retirement, while Firenze Fire continues to thrive on the track after being shortened up to sprint and mile-distance races, building a fan following recently due to some unexpected and unfortunate antics in the homestretch of the Forego Stakes.

Sackatoga Stable’s Tiz the Law dominated the Champagne Stakes in 2019 but skipped the Juvenile at Santa Anita, and he trained on to win the 2020 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and the Runhappy Travers Stakes and finish second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Last year’s Champagne blowout winner Jackie’s Warrior finished fourth in the TVG Juvenile at Keeneland, fading at the top of the stretch after contesting a fast pace. After being shortened up in distance early in 2021, he’s become arguably the top sprinter in training and is a leading win contender in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Frizette Stakes

Belmont’s filly companion race to the 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 above-discussed Champagne with Firenze Fire and Good Magic, 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.

In 2018, Jaywalk became the seventh filly to win both the Frizette and the Juvenile Fillies, romping by 5 ¾ lengths in New York and then backing that up with a 5 ½-length runaway at Churchill Downs. D J Stable and Cash Is King’s charge was an easy choice as champion 2-year-old filly of 2018 based on her late-season efforts.

Covfefe, fourth to Jaywalk in the 2018 Frizette, would excel when shortened to sprint distances, winning the 2019 Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita. The same can be said of the 1-2 finishers in he 2019 Frizette, Wicked Whisper and Frank's Rockette. Both returned in 2020 to win graded stakes races as sprinters, and the latter filly has continued on to perform well this year.

The 2020 Frizette winner, Dayoutoftheoffice, defeated Vequist by two lengths at Belmont and made what momentarily appeared to be a winning move in the Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland nearly four weeks later but was passed in the stretch by her Frizette rival and checked in second. Vequist, trained by Robert Reid Jr., has raced only once earlier this year. Dayoutoftheoffice was retired in August after making two starts as a 3-year-old.

Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

The Arc, Europe’s premier race for older horses, was officially made a Challenge Series race in 2019. Through the years, the Arc has sent  a slew of top-flight runners on to compete at the Breeders’ Cup, usually in the Turf. In 1987, Arc winner Trempolino finished second by a half-length to Theatrical in the Turf, and in 1995 Arc runner-up Freedom Cry was runner-up again by a neck to Northern Spur in the Turf. But in 1996, an Arc shipper broke through in the Breeders’ Cup, as Pilsudski, a hard-trying stayer who gradually ascended to elite status, won the Turf at Woodbine a race after finishing second to Helissio at Longchamp. A year later, Arc third-place finisher Borgia finished second to Chief Bearhart in the Turf, and two years after that, Daylami and Frankie Dettori won the sixteenth running of the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park one start after finishing a desultory ninth in the ’99 Arc, won by the great Montjeu.

In 2001, Arc fifth-place finisher Milan finished three-quarters of a length behind Fantastic Light in the Turf, but the main headlines of that fall’s World Championships, held at Belmont Park shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, involved Arc winner Sakhee, who shipped to the U.S. for a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on dirt. With Dettori aboard, Sakhee took control of the Classic in early stretch and appeared all set to defeat a stellar field. But Tiznow, under Chris McCarron, rallied furiously from behind to edge past the Arc winner and win by a nose, marking the second year in the row Tiznow defeated an elite European horse in the Classic (following Giant’s Causeway in 2000) and setting off pandemonium in the Belmont Park grandstand.  

In 2002 and 2003, High Chaparral took center stage at the World Championships. The Coolmore-owned horse won the ’02 Turf a start after finishing third in the Arc, and then finished in a dead-heat for first with Johar in the ’03 Turf following another third-place effort at Longchamp. The 2003 Turf photo finish, also involving third-place Falbrav, still ranks among many as one of the best Breeders’ Cup races ever.

Two years later, German-bred Shirocco became the third Arc also-ran to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf in his next start, taking the Turf at Belmont Park by 1 ¾ lengths after finishing fourth to Hurricane Run in France. That sequence would continue to surface over the next several years, as Arc also-rans such as Conduit (fourth in 2009) and St Nicholas Abbey (fifth in 2011) would ship over stateside and win the Breeders’ Cup Turf – in Conduit’s case for the second year in a row. 

Found (Eclipse Sportswire)

In 2014, Arc runner-up Flintshire also finished second in the Turf, this time to Main Sequence, in the midst of a sensational, globe-trotting career. Then, in 2015, Arc winner Golden Horn came the closest since Sakhee to scoring a calendar-year double at the World Championships, losing to Coolmore’s super filly Found by a half-length at the first Breeders’ Cup Turf held at Keeneland. Found would train on to win the 2016 Arc but could not repeat in the Turf, finishing third behind Highland Reel and Flintshire at Santa Anita.

Finally in 2018, after so many internationally renowned horses had tried through the years, an Arc winner – not merely an Arc runner – successfully traveled to North America and reached the Breeders’ Cup winner’s circle. Enable had already made her case as one of the best international racehorses of the 21st Century with 2017 wins in the English and Irish Oaks as well as the 2017 Arc at age 3, followed by a repeat Arc win in 2018. The Juddmonte Farms superstar was sent off as the 4-5 favorite in the 2018 Longines Turf at Churchill Downs, and she lived up to that status by outfinishing Coolmore’s Magical by three-quarters of a length in a thrilling stretch duel with Dettori in the irons. Without question one of the best racehorses of the 21st Century, Enable continued to excel after her 2018 Arc-Longines Turf double. She won three out of four races in 2019, her only loss coming in a bid for a three-peat in the Arc when she finished second to Waldgeist, and she then won two out of four starts in 2020, retiring after finishing sixth in the Arc.

With Enable retired, the door was open for another foreign shipper to win last fall’s Longines Turf at Keeneland, and indeed a filly shipped from Longchamp to do just that. Tarnawa, however, prepped for the Turf in the Prix de l’Opera Longines for fillies and mares on the Arc undercard. That race is one of four other “Win and You’re In” qualifiers at Longchamp this Sunday. It offers an automatic bid to the Filly and Mare Turf (last year, the third-place finisher to Tarnawa in the Prix de l’Opera, Audarya, shipped to Kentucky and scored an upset victory in the Filly and Mare Turf). The remaining three preps are the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp Longines (Turf Sprint), Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Juvenile Turf), and Qatar Prix Marcel Boussac (Juvenile Fillies Turf).

Other weekend stakes:

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 the above-mentioned dead-heat thriller with High Chaparral), and Champ Pegasus (won the 2010 John Henry, second in the Turf). The third-place finisher in the 2019 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. United won the 2020 John Henry Turf and is a possible starter in Saturday’s race.

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. The Grade 3 Lukas Classic Stakes Saturday at Churchill, named after the legendary “Coach,” may have major Breeders’ Cup implications this year as Knicks Go is slated to start in the race as he preps for the Longines Classic. Its best prior winner in terms of the World Championships was Fort Larned, who won the inaugural running of the Lukas Classic in 2013, one year after his score in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. 2018 Lukas Classic winner Mind Your Biscuits finished second and third in two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Back at Santa Anita, the Grade 2 Eddie D Stakes, held on Santa Anita Park’s opening Friday 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.

The Grade 2 City of Hope Mile Stakes at Santa Anita Saturday has lost some of its luster of late despite historically being a significant prep for the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PDJF. Top-flight grass horses Silic, War Chant, and Val Royal won both races in 1999, 2000, and 2001 back when it was called the Oak Tree Breeders’ Cup Mile Stakes but recent crossover has been infrequent. One exception from a few years back is Obviously. That West Coast mainstay won the City of Hope Mile in 2012 prior to running third behind superstars Wise Dan and Animal Kingdom in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, also at Santa Anita. He would train on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in his final start back at “The Great Race Place” in 2016.

Structor (Eclipse Sportswire)

On the Sunday card at Belmont, the Grade 2 Pilgrim Stakes for 3-year-olds has without question proven to be the most influential prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in recent years. Three horses – Oscar Performance in 2016, Structor in 2019, and Fire At Will last year – all used the race as a springboard to victory in the Juvenile Turf. In addition to that, Voting Control (second in the 2017 Pilgrim, third in the Juvenile Turf) and Somelikeithotbrown (second in the 2018 Pilgrim and third in the Juvenile Turf) also proved their Belmont form was no fluke in the Breeders’ Cup. Going back almost 10 years, 2013 Pilgrim winner Bobby’s Kitten also finished third in that year’s Juvenile Turf and then won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint a year later.

Saturday’s Grade 3 Miss Grillo Stakes at Belmont has similarly had significant crossover with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in recent years, and it’s all due to the exploits of the top turf trainer in North America: Chad Brown. In 2014, fan favorite Lady Eli won both races, and more recently two more Brown trainees have secured the double – New Money Honey in 2016 and Newspaperofrecord in 2018. Brown’s combined success in the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Filllies Turf goes all the way back to 2008, when Maram scored at Belmont and then won the inaugural running of the Juvenile Fillies Turf to give the eventual multiple Eclipse Award winning-conditioner his first World Champioinships victory. Two more Chad Brown-trained fillies, Watsdachances in 2012 and Testa Rossi in 2013, won the Miss Grillo and subsequently finished runners-up in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Saturday’s Grade 3 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational had its first running in 2016, and its winners have gone on to achieve success in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint although none of them have won the race. Inaugural winner Pure Sensation finished third in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and then Disco Partner won back-to-back Belmont Turf Sprints in 2017 and 2018 also ran third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint both years. In 2019, Belmont Turf Sprint runner-up Shecky Shabazz ran third in the Turf Sprint at Santa Anita, and last year’s Turf Sprint Invitational winner Wet Your Whistle checked in second behind European invader Glass Slippers in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland.

And finally, the historic Woodward Stakes has been moved back to Belmont Park’s fall meet from its closing-weekend slot over the past 15 years at Saratoga (swapped with the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes). It’s not a “Win and You’re In” race, but there have, of course, been many Woodward winners who have figured prominently in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, starting with its famous inaugural 1984 edition at Hollywood Park when 1983 and ’84 Woodward champ Slew o’ Gold was interfered with late by second-place finisher Gate Dancer and was moved up to the runner-up slot behind Wild Again. Alysheba was the first Woodward winner to train on to take the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1988, and Cigar would do the same in 1995. Subsequent dual Woodward-Breeders’ Cup Classic winners in the same year are Ghostzapper (2004), Saint Liam (2005), and most recently Gun Runner (2017). In addition, Skip Away won the 1998 Woodward a year after taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Curlin did the same in 2008. Those eight illustrious names are but a brief indication of how significant the Woodward Stakes has been in determining year-end honors in North American Thoroughbred racing.

newsletter sign-up

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