Road to the 2022 Breeders’ Cup: Classic Preps at Del Mar, Saratoga Highlight Holiday WeekendRacing
The upcoming Labor Day weekend is one of the most highly anticipated three-day stretches on the North American racing calendar, as the elite Saratoga Race Course meet concludes, its West Coast counterpart meet at Del Mar reaches its second-to-last weekend, and the boutique all-turf meet at Kentucky Downs opens.
It’s a very important weekend in terms of Breeders’ Cup World Championships “Win and You’re In” races as well. Two of them on Sept. 3 offer automatic berths to the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic set for Nov. 5 at Keeneland Race Course: the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes at Saratoga and the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar.
There are two other “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races set for Sept. 3: the Flower Bowl Stakes at Saratoga (offering an automatic bid to the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf); and the Del Mar Handicap Presented by the Japan Racing Association at Del Mar (a qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf). The final “Win and You’re In” prep for the weekend is a new one for 2022: the Green Flash Handicap, a five-furlong turf sprint set for Sept. 4 at Del Mar. The race is a qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
In addition, several other stakes races in the upcoming seven days have had a significant influence on the Breeders’ Cup, most notably the two final stakes for 2-year-olds racing on dirt at Saratoga: the Spinaway Stakes Sept. 4 for fillies and the Hopeful Stakes Sept. 5.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Flower Bowl both will be shown live on NBC as part of a one-hour broadcast from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET. The Pacific Classic and Del Mar Handicap will be televised on FanDuel TV, formerly TVG (horse racing network TVG underwent a brand transformation on Sept. 1 to more strongly identify with parent company FanDuel and present new content).
Here’s some background on the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races over the Labor Day weekend as well as other important stakes that have had an impact on the World Championships:
The TVG Pacific Classic is Del Mar’s marquee race for horses eyeing the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 1 ¼-mile dirt race was first held in 1991 and has attracted some of the best horses 3 years old and older in the sport since its inception.
It’s not surprising, then, that the Pacific Classic has made a significant impact on the Breeders’ Cup. Twilight Agenda, runner-up to Hall of Famer Best Pal in the inaugural 1991 Pacific Classic, finished second to Black Tie Affair in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs (and 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled was third in both races). Two years later, Pacific Classic winner Bertrando was second best in a Classic that may forever hold the record for the longest-odds winner, as Arcangues scored a 133.60-1 upset at Santa Anita Park.
In 1996, arguably the most popular horse of that decade figured prominently in both the Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Cigar came to Del Mar riding a 16-race winning streak, tied at the time with Citation for the most in the modern era. What occurred in the Pacific Classic left fans across the U.S. stunned, as Cigar and Jerry Bailey stalked Siphon’s hot early pace (six furlongs in 1:09.29), took the lead through the far turn, but then had no response when 39.60-1 bomb Dare and Go swept past them at the top of the stretch. Cigar’s winning streak ended, and three starts later, his career concluded as well when he finished third behind Alphabet Soup and Louis Quatorze in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine, beaten a head. Nevertheless, Cigar won his second straight Horse of the Year Eclipse Award in 1996.
The turn of the century saw Tiznow win two consecutive Breeders’ Cup Classics in 2000 and 2001, and he finished second in the 2000 Pacific Classic to Skimming (Skimming also won the ’01 Pacific Classic). Medaglia d’Oro, one of the best racehorses of the early 2000s, finished second in both the 2002 and 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classics, and he was runner-up to Candy Ride in that horse's record-setting ’03 Pacific Classic win. Pleasantly Perfect, winner of the ’03 Breeders’ Cup Classic over Medaglia d’Oro, took the 2004 Pacific Classic and finished third in that fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, won by Ghostzapper.
As the 2000s continued, many Pacific Classic starters participated months later in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, including fan favorite Lava Man (won the Pacific Classic in 2006, seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic) and high-speed Game On Dude. That gelding was a familiar face in both races from 2011 through 2014, finishing fourth in the ’11 Pacific Classic and then almost winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic under Chantal Sutherland before yielding to Drosselmeyer. In 2012, Game On Dude finished second in the Pacific Classic but a disappointing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He then reached the best form of his long career in the subsequent months and won the 2013 Pacific Classic emphatically. That 8 ½-length win was Game On Dude’s sixth in a row, which made him the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the second consecutive year, but in retrospect it was his career peak as he finished ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and won only one of his final seven starts, retiring after a fourth-place finish in the 2014 Pacific Classic.
Shared Belief, winner of the 2014 Pacific Classic in Game On Dude’s final race, was next in line to join Lava Man, “the Dude,” and other popular California-based geldings of recent vintage, and he held that distinction admirably for the next year, only to suffer an injury setback in 2015 and then die far too early from colic. Shared Belief would run fourth in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic after being slammed at the start by race winner Bayern. The horse Shared Belief easily defeated at Del Mar, European-based Toast of New York, finished a nose behind Bayern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The elite racemare Beholder, a dominant winner of the Pacific Classic in 2015 against males, was scheduled to challenge American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland but was scratched after she developed a fever. She would capture the 2016 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff over Songbird in a duel for the ages (Beholder entered the Racing Hall of Fame this year). And in 2016, the popular California Chrome nearly became the first horse to pull off the Pacific Classic-Breeders’ Cup Classic double, defeating Beholder at Del Mar and leading late in the Classic before yielding to Arrogate in the final strides at Santa Anita Park.
Arrogate continued his streak of dominance into early 2017, winning the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the Dubai World Cup, but shocked race fans and a few “bridge jumpers” who filled up the show pool with bets on him when he prepped for the 2018 Pacific Classic in the TVG San Diego Handicap and finished a distant fourth to Accelerate. Juddmonte Farms' superstar returned with a better effort in the TVG Pacific Classic but still came up short, running second to fellow Bob Baffert trainee Collected, and then concluded his career with a fifth-place finish in in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar in November.
Considering all of the champions who had won the Pacific Classic over the years, it was surprising that none of them was able to train on and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic ... but the drought ended in 2018. Accelerate, who as mentioned above first burst onto the national racing scene with his upset of Arrogate in the 2017 San Diego Handicap, was sent off as the shortest-priced favorite in Pacific Classic history at odds of 2-5. Those odds reflected his dominant prior 2018 campaign, which included three wins in four starts and two Grade 1 conquests.
At Del Mar, the John Sadler-trained son of Lookin At Lucky absolutely overpowered six opponents, romping by 12 ½ lengths and cementing his status as the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. Accelerate would next win the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita and then, in perhaps the best race of his career, he overcame an outside post to achieve the Pacific Classic-Breeders’ Cup Classic double in grand fashion, scoring by a length under the Twin Spires. Accelerate was voted champion older dirt male for his brilliant campaign, but finished behind Triple Crown champion Justify in the race for 2018 Horse of the Year. He wrapped up his racing career with a third-place finish in the January 2019 Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is arguably one of the top 10 most important races in the history the sport in North America. It was first run in 1919 and has been won by a group of horses that, taken in total, comprise a good chunk of real estate in the Racing Hall of Fame. Needless to say, the 1 ¼-mile test has been an important Breeders’ Cup Classic prep since 1984. The race moved from Belmont Park to Saratoga in 2021, and is now held around two turns instead of the 1 ½ turns over Belmont’s “Big Sandy” main track that it had been held at since shortening to a mile-and-a-quarter race in 1990.
In the very first running of the Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Slew o’ Gold was part of a three-horse charge to the wire in deep stretch and was bumped hard by Gate Dancer, forcing him into longshot winner Wild Again. Slew o’ Gold, the dominant part of a 3-5 favored entry in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, was placed second. He was voted champion older male of 1984 and entered the Hall of Fame in 1992.
In 1985 and 1986, Jockey Club Gold Cup runners-up Gate Dancer and Turkoman each finished second as well in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and 1989 dominant Jockey Club Gold Cup winner and future Hall of Famer Easy Goer did the same, losing to Sunday Silence in arguably the most exciting Breeders’ Cup Classic ever.
The 1992 Jockey Club Gold Cup was the pivotal race for that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Pleasant Tap won the Gold Cup by a commanding 4 ½ lengths over 1991 Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold, with 1992 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy another 2 ¼ lengths back in third after stumbling at the break. But in the ninth Breeders’ Cup Classic, held at Gulfstream Park, it was A.P. Indy who took command in the stretch to pull away and win by two lengths over Pleasant Tap. A.P. Indy would be voted Horse of the Year in 1992 and subsequently became one of the most influential sires in North American Thoroughbred breeding.
Tabasco Cat, fourth in the 1994 Jockey Club Gold Cup, lost by a neck to Concern in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. And then in 1995, a Jockey Club Gold Cup winner broke through to take the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the first time. That horse, of course, was the “unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar,” as racecaller Tom Durkin so memorably described in the ’95 Classic. Cigar merely went 10-for-10 that year, with his closest margin of victory a length in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. By the next fall, Cigar’s streak of perfection had ended in the Pacific Classic (see above), and he finished second by a head to Skip Away in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and then third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in his career finale. Infertile as a stallion, Cigar would instead become one of the most popular residents of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington until his death in 2014.
Skip Away repeated in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1997, setting the stakes record time of 1:58.89, and won the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year as well to join Cigar in the exclusive club. Carolyn Hine’s future Hall of Famer would then finish third in the 1998 Jockey Club Gold Cup and sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but win Horse of the Year for his overall campaign.
Moving on several years, 2005 Jockey Club Gold Cup fourth-place finisher Flower Alley came in second to Saint Liam in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A year later, Bernardini easily prevailed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and then yielded to Invasor in the Classic. Both of those horses did so as 3-year-olds.
In 2007, another 3-year-old went one better and became the third Jockey Club Gold Cup-Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Curlin had already run third in the Kentucky Derby, first in the Preakness, and second in the Belmont as he entered the autumn racing season and had a strong argument to make as champion 3-year-old among a very high-quality group. But then Curlin defeated older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup for the partnership of Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables, Padua Stables, George Bolton, and Midnight Cry Stables, winning by a neck over Lawyer Ron. He came back to defeat many of his 3-year-old rivals convincingly in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on a sloppy Monmouth Park main track. Curlin was named champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year by Eclipse Award voters, and would extend his dominance well into his 4-year-old campaign. He repeated in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and then ran fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Santa Anita Park’s then-artificial main track to conclude his career with another Horse of the Year award.
Claiborne Farm’s and Adele Dilschneider’s Blame finished second in the 2010 Jockey Club Gold Cup to New York mainstay Haynesfield, but he returned in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs to hand champion racemare and eventual Horse of the Year Zenyatta her only defeat in inarguably one of the most exciting races of this century. A year later, it was the Jockey Club Gold Cup runner-up once again who took the Classic at Churchill, as Drosselmeyer backed up his 2010 Belmont Stakes win with another long-distance triumph in the 2011 Classic (defeating the aforementioned Game On Dude). And in 2012, Jockey Club Gold Cup third-place finisher Fort Larned scored a career-defining win when shipped to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, turning back Mucho Macho Man (who would win the Classic a year later) by a half-length at odds of 9.40-1.
Effinex, third to Tonalist in the 2015 Jockey Club Gold Cup, was a distant second to Grand Slam champ American Pharoah in the ’15 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. The 2016 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Hoppertunity finished fourth in that year's Breeders’ Cup Classic. And in 2018, globe-trotting Thunder Snow lost the Jockey Club Gold Cup in the final strides to 45.50-1 longshot Discreet Lover, giving longtime owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis a breakthrough victory. Thunder Snow then ran a good third behind Accelerate in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
The 2019 Jockey Club Gold Cup was one of the most exciting in recent memory, as Vino Rosso edged Travers Stakes winner Code of Honor by a nose after an extended stretch duel. Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s charge subsequently was disqualified by Belmont Park stewards for bumping Code of Honor in deep stretch, but he would clearly establish supremacy five weeks later at Santa Anita, winning the Longines Classic by 4 ¼ lengths (Code of Honor was seventh). Vino Rosso, who made his final career start in the Classic, was voted champion older dirt male at the Eclipse Awards.
The 1 3/8-mile Del Mar Handicap dates all the way back to the racetrack’s opening in 1937, and it was held on dirt until 1969 and again from 1976 through 1985. Soon after becoming a permanent turf fixture the Del Mar Handicap entered the Breeders’ Cup picture. In 1988, Great Communicator entered the Del Mar Handicap after rising through the claiming ranks to become a multiple graded stakes winner in California. He finished second at Del Mar to Sword Dance, but two starts later scored a 12.40-1 upset in the fifth Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs.
In 1993, Kotashaan took a similar path to Breeders’ Cup glory, minus the high odds. The French-bred horse entered the Del Mar Handicap having won four stakes in a row, three of them Grade 1s, for eventual Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, but came up a nose short to Luazur as the 2-5 favorite after rallying late. Kotashaan rebounded to win another Grade 1 turf stakes at Santa Anita and then scored by a hard-fought, half-length over Bien Bien in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, again at Santa Anita. Kotashaan made one more start in his career, finishing second in the Japan Cup at Tokyo Racecourse, and was voted Horse of the Year for 1993 as well as champion turf male at the Eclipse Awards.
In 2001, Del Mar Handicap winner Timboroa finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. One year later, popular gelding The Tin Man, another Richard Mandella trainee, finished second by a neck to longshot Delta Form in the Del Mar Handicap. The Tin Man would go on to finish fourth in both the 2002 and 2003 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Turf before reaching his best form at the end of his career when he won six of his final 10 starts and ran second in his other four from 2005 to 2007.
Champ Pegasus, winner of the 2010 Del Mar Handicap, set the pace in the 2010 Turf but yielded late to European invader Dangerous Midge and settled for second. And in 2016, Del Mar Handicap winner Ashleyluvssugar finished a decent fifth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The 2020 Del Mar Handicap was an especially thrilling renewal, as heavily favored United, who had nearly bested eventual 2019 Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in the Longines Turf the year prior, could not get past Red King and lost by a head.
The Flower Bowl Stakes, first held in 1978, has been without a doubt one of the most influential Breeders’ Cup preps in the entire event since the Filly and Mare Turf was first run in 1999. Nearly every year it seems, a filly or mare exiting the Flower Bowl goes on to hit the board in the Filly and Mare Turf, which is contested at distances between 1 1/8 and 1 3/8 miles, depending on the host track (it will be held at 1 3/16 miles this Nov. 5 at Keeneland).
Many Flower Bowl competitors to shine in the Breeders’ Cup have not necessarily been the race winners. But that was not the case in 1999, when James Toner-trained Soaring Softly won the Flower Bowl by a length and then posted a three-quarter-length win in the inaugural Filly and Mare Turf with Jerry Bailey in the irons. The Kris S. filly defeated Irish-bred Coretta in both races.
In 2002, Flower Bowl fourth-place finisher Starine spoiled Banks Hill’s attempt at a Filly and Mare Turf repeat with a 1 ½-length win over that champion, resulting in a Bobby Frankel-trained exacta. And from 2004-’06, the ultra-consistent racemare Film Maker exited the Flower Bowl three times – where she finished fourth, third, and second – to finish second, third, and second again in the Filly and Mare Turf (2006 Flower Bowl winner Honey Ryder finished third in the ’06 Breeders’ Cup behind the great Ouija Board and Film Maker).
In 2007, Lahudood became the second dual winner of the Flower Bowl and Filly and Mare Turf, taking the latter race on a very soft Monmouth Park turf course by three-quarters of a length over Honey Ryder. In 2009, Flower Bowl winner Pure Clan was runner-up to England’s Midday in the Filly and Mare Turf, and Midday returned in 2010 on the heels of three consecutive Group 1 wins in Europe. The Henry Cecil trainee was sent off as the 9-10 favorite at Churchill Downs, but it was Flower Bowl fifth-place finisher Shared Account who won the photo finish by a neck in a 46-1 upset for Sagamore Farm and Graham Motion to spoil Midday’s bid for a repeat.
In 2012, Flower Bowl runner-up and French import Zagora won the Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita by three-quarters of a length for owner Martin Schwartz and trainer Chad Brown. Since then, Brown has won three more Filly and Mare Turfs – in 2014 with Dayatthespa, 2015 with Stephanie’s Kitten, and 2018 with Sistercharlie. Dayatthespa defeated ’14 Flower Bowl winner Stephanie’s Kitten in the Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita, completing an all-Chad Brown exacta in emulation of his mentor Bobby Frankel a dozen years earlier.
A year later, Stephanie’s Kitten closed out what is almost certain to be a Hall of Fame career with a Flower Bowl-Filly and Mare Turf double. Her final win was at Keeneland, which held the Breeders’ Cup for the first time in 2015. Keeneland is also the home base of Stephanie’s Kitten’s owners-breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey, which made for a poignant winners’ circle celebration at the picturesque Lexington track.
In 2016, Brown’s champion Lady Eli won the Flower Bowl but came up a nose short to Queen’s Trust in the Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita. And the 2019 Flower Bowl winner, 1-5 favorite Sistercharlie, ran a late-closing third for Brown behind British invader Iridessa two months later in her bid for a Filly and Mare Turf repeat.
The 2020 Flower Bowl winner, Civil Union, ran a solid fifth in the Filly and Mare Turf at Keeneland, beaten only by 1 ¾ lengths. Last year, the Flower Bowl moved to Saratoga along with the Jockey Club Gold Cup and was held on the Spa’s closing weekend prior to Labor Day rather than in late September/early October as it had been at Belmont Park. The race was also extended to 1 3/8 miles from a mile and a quarter. War Like Goddess rolled to an easy win as the 2-5 Flower Bowl favorite, and returned to finish a strong third in the 2021 Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf at Del Mar. Surprisingly, Flower Bowl third-place finisher My Sister Nat improved off of her effort and edged War Like Goddess to nab second in the Filly and Mare Turf, a half-length behind race winner and Japanese invader Loves Only You. Bill Mott-trained War Like Goddess is on track for a repeat bid in the Flower Bowl this year.
Notable Juvenile Stakes
One of Saratoga’s many historic stakes, the Spinaway Stakes was first held in 1881. Now contested at seven furlongs, it is a key prep in unveiling 2-year-old fillies who show the potential to become more than sprinters and has thus made an impact on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies over the past 30-plus years. The first Spinaway winner to hit the board in the Juvenile Fillies was Tappiano, who won at Saratoga and finished runner-up to Brave Raj in the third Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park. 1989 Spinaway winner Stella Madrid finished third in that fall’s Juvenile Fillies at Gulfstream Park behind the great Go for Wand and Sweet Roberta. And in the next year, a filly broke through to win both races.
Meadow Star entered the 1990 Spinaway having won her first three career starts, including two in graded stakes. Carl Icahn’s Florida-bred daughter of Meadowlake took the Spinaway, then run at six furlongs, by two lengths before shipping to Belmont Park. There, she absolutely dominated both the Grade 1 Matron Stakes (by six lengths) and the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes (by 14 lengths), which made her a prohibitive favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, which was also held at Belmont. Under confident handling from Jose Santos, who’d been aboard for her three prior wins, 1-5 shot Meadow Star won going away by five lengths to cap a perfect season. She was a shoo-in recipient of the 1990 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly, and as a 3-year-old would participate in one of the most memorable races of the era when besting Lite Light in what sportswriters termed “the Mother of All Gooses” (Mother Goose Stakes) at Belmont.
In 1994, William T. Young’s Flanders echoed Meadow Star’s brilliance by winning both the Spinaway and the Juvenile Fillies en route to an Eclipse Award. After breaking her maiden at Saratoga, she won the Spinaway by 4 ¾ lengths and then finished first in the Matron at Belmont in similarly dominant fashion, only to be disqualified and placed last due to a medication violation. She came back to pulverize three opponents in the Frizette at Belmont by 21 lengths, and then, in a memorable race under Churchill Downs’ Twin Spires, was all out under Pat Day to hold off future Hall of Famer and fellow D. Wayne Lukas trainee Serena’s Song by a head in the Juvenile Fillies. Unfortunately, Flanders suffered two bone fractures in the Juvenile Fillies and was retired in 1995. She produced champion filly Surfside (second in the ’99 Spinaway and third in the Juvenile Fillies) as a broodmare.
A year later, Spinaway winner Golden Attraction finished third in the Juvenile Fillies, and in 1997 Countess Diana became the third filly to complete the Spinaway-Juvenile Fillies-Eclipse Award championship trifecta. Co-owned and bred by Richard Kaster and trained during her 2-year-old season by Patrick Byrne, the Deerhound filly only lost once in 1997 – by a half-length in the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs – but otherwise dominated the opposition, culminating with an 8 ½-length romp in the Juvenile Fillies at Hollywood Park. In 2003, Ashado won the Spinaway by 1 ¼ lengths and finished second to Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies; she would go on to earn more than $3.9 million and win two Eclipse Awards before entering the Hall of Fame in 2014.
Folklore, champion juvenile filly in 2005, ran second to Adieu in the Spinaway but turned the tables on that foe and had her way with the rest of the Juvenile Fillies field at her home track of Belmont Park when winning by 1 ¼ lengths. Four years later, Beautician was runner-up in both the 2009 Spinaway (to Hot Dixie Chick) and Juvenile Fillies (to She Be Wild). And in 2010 and 2011, Spinaway winners R Heat Lightning and Grace Hall each finished second to eventual Eclipse Award winners Awesome Feather and My Miss Aurelia in the Juvenile Fillies.
More recently, in 2015 Spinaway winner Rachel’s Valentina, the daughter of Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra, finished second behind champion Songbird in the Juvenile Fillies. In 2018, Spinaway runner-up Restless Rider finished second in the Juvenile Fillies, scoring in the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland between those starts.
2019 Spinaway winner Perfect Alibi finished fourth in the Juvenile Fillies, and in 2020, Vequist ended a 22-year drought to become the fourth filly to win both races. She outfinished favorite Frank’s Rockette in the Spinaway and then mustered another strong closing kick to score in the Juvenile Fillies by two lengths. The Robert Reid Jr.-trained daughter of Nyquist earned an Eclipse Award for her efforts.
One year after Vequist’s Spinaway-BC Juvenile Fillies’ double, it happened again, and in highly impressive fashion. Echo Zulu, owned by L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds and trained by Steve Asmussen, turned heads early in the 2021 Saratoga meet when she won her career debut by 5 ½ lengths. She made her next start in the Spinaway and dominated once again, this time by four lengths at odds of 0.65-1. After a third consecutive blowout win in the Frizette Stakes at Belmont, the daughter of Gun Runner finished up a perfect juvenile season with a 5 ¼-length runaway in the NetJets Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar, her first start going two turns. Echo Zulu won her debut at age 3 before tasting defeat for the first time in the Longines Kentucky Oaks, and she remains in training.
Saratoga’s Hopeful Stakes dates back to 1903 and has had just as much crossover with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as the Spinaway has had with the Juvenile Fillies. In fact, the connection started in 1984, the inaugural year of the Breeders’ Cup, when Chief’s Crown won the Hopeful by 3 ¼ lengths and then, four races later, took the Juvenile at Hollywood Park by three-quarters of a length over Tank’s Prospect. He received the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male that year and went on to place in all three Triple Crown races in 1985, win the Travers Stakes, and he then later became a successful sire.
Over the next 25 years, several horses stood out in both the Hopeful and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile during their freshman campaigns: Success Express (third in the 1987 Hopeful, first in the Juvenile); Hennessy (won the 1995 Hopeful, second by a neck to Unbridled’s Song in the Juvenile); High Yield (won the 1999 Hopeful, third in the Juvenile); Macho Uno (third in the 2000 Hopeful, won the Juvenile); the great Afleet Alex (won the 2004 Hopeful, second in the Juvenile); First Samurai (won the 2005 Hopeful, third in the Juvenile); Circular Quay (won the 2006 Hopeful, second in the Juvenile); and Boys At Tosconova (won the 2010 Hopeful, second in the Juvenile). The best 2-year-old from this era was most likely Joseph LaCombe’s Favorite Trick, who won his first five races in 1997 before taking the Hopeful by 1 ½ lengths. He then won the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland before capping off an unbeaten juvenile season with a 5 ½-length romp in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Hollywood Park. That string of dominance was good enough to earn the Patrick Byrne trainee Horse of the Year honors at the 1997 Eclipse Awards in addition to recognition as champion 2-year-old male.
In 2012, Shanghai Bobby became the first horse since Favorite Trick to win both the Hopeful and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, taking the latter race by a head over He’s Had Enough. Logically, he was honored as 2012 champion 2-year-old male. Since then, Strong Mandate (2013) and Practical Joke (2016) buttressed wins in the Hopeful with third-place finishes in the Juvenile weeks later.
The 2021 Hopeful champ Jackie’s Warrior was the 9-10 favorite in the TVG Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland, but he tired late to finish fourth behind Essential Quality. While he turned out to be unsuited for two-turn route races, Jackie’s Warrior has hardly disappeared; he’s gone on to win eight more graded stakes races and is a leading contender to win the 2022 Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
The Green Flash Handicap and holiday weekend races:
The final “Win and You’re In” prep for the weekend, Sunday’s Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar, a five-furlong turf sprint, dates to 2003 and has been won by some of the best turf sprinters in California through the years, including California Flag in both 2009 and 2010. That popular gelding won the second Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in ’09 by dictating the pace on Santa Anita's downhill turf course. Another one of the top California turf sprinters of the past 15 years, Stormy Liberal, won the 2018 Green Flash by a rallying nose. That came about nine months after his first win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs and just short of three months before he won the Turf Sprint again, this time at Santa Anita. Last year’s Green Flash winner Lieutenant Dan finished a clear second behind Golden Pal in the Turf Sprint at Del Mar.
Other graded stakes this holiday weekend include the Caesars Sportsbook Del Mar Derby for 3-year-olds on turf, which has been won by future Breeders’ Cup victors Da Hoss and Val Royal. Over at Saratoga, the Bernard Baruch Handicap has been won by Breeders’ Cup Mile winners such as Steinlen and Lure – and in 2014, two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner and Horse of the Year Wise Dan held on to win the Baruch in the second-to-last start of his incredible career. Breeders’ Cup stars such as Indian Blessing, Safely Kept, and Xtra Heat have won the Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga, which will be held this year on Friday, Sept. 2.
The Del Mar Mile Handicap on turf will be run on the Pacific Classic undercard. The race was held on dirt prior to 2004 and has been won by such notables as Hall of Famer and 1985 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Precisionist in 1988 and by 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup in 1995. Since switching to grass, the race has produced a few winners who went on to perform in the Breeders’ Cup, with the best obviously being ... Obviously. That accomplished gelding won both the 2012 and 2013 Del Mar Mile Handicaps and finished fourth in 2014. He also ran in four consecutive editions of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, with his best finish coming in his 2013 debut when third. In 2016, Obviously skipped the Del Mar Mile Handicap and was shortened up by trainer Phil D’Amato for a try in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita, which he won by a nose.
In 2017, Blackjackcat won the Del Mar Mile Handicap by a head over Vyjack and followed that with a listed stakes win at Santa Anita. He then outran his 19-1 odds with a very good third-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Del Mar, won by World Approval. And in 2018, Catapult took the Del Mar Mile under Drayden Van Dyke and then trained up to the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs, where he ran a gritty second to European invader Expert Eye, losing by a half-length.
Last year’s Del Mar Mile runner-up Smooth Like Strait returned to the same course and finished second again against a far tougher field in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PJDF, only a half-length behind European shipper and favorite Space Blues (Mo Forza, who won the Del Mar Mile in both 2020 and 2021, was roughed at the start of the 2021 FanDuel Mile and finished last).
On the Sept. 4 card at Del Mar, the Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies has been won by the likes of the aforementioned Beholder in 2013 (a year after she posted her first Breeders’ Cup win in the Juvenile Fillies and two months before she captured her first Distaff); Stellar Wind in 2015 (she would come up just short in that fall’s Distaff); and Belvoir Bay in 2016 (she would upset the Turf Sprint three years later).
The With Anticipation Stakes for 2-year-olds on turf at Saratoga kicks off the action for this time period on Wednesday, Aug. 31. The 2021 race winner did so on Saratoga’s dirt track as the With Anticipation was washed off the grass. That colt, Fire At Will, next won a Grade 3 race on turf at Belmont Park but still entered the 2020 World Championships under the radar. Sent off at odds of 30.20-1 in the Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America at Keeneland, Fire At Will powered clear in midstretch to score by three lengths under Ricardo Santana Jr., giving trainer Mike Maker his third career Breeders’ Cup victory.
Finally, the Sept. 3 card at Kentucky Downs features the WinStar Mint Million, which was won by Tourist in 2015 when it was named the More Than Ready Mile Stakes. The Bill Mott trainee finished eighth in that fall’s Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland, but trained on in 2016 to win the Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga and, in his final career start, the BC Mile at Santa Anita. In honor of his accomplishments, Kentucky Downs changed the name of its one-mile event to the Tourist Mile Stakes in 2017; it was renamed in 2021 to reflect its seven-figure purse and a new sponsor.