The second weekend in October is loaded with “Win and You’re In” qualifying prep races for the 39thBreeders’ Cup World Championships, and in addition to nine of them scheduled at Keeneland Race Course – site of this year’s event a month from now – five more will be held at the Belmont at the Big A meet in New York and at Santa Anita Park in Southern California.
The two preps at Belmont at the Big A (held at Aqueduct while Belmont Park undergoes construction) are the Grade 2 Vosburgh Stakes, a Challenge Series qualifier for the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Saturday, and the Grade 3 Futurity Stakes on Sunday, a qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.
All three preps at Santa Anita are set for Saturday: the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes, a qualifier for the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile); the Grade 2 Chandelier Stakes, a prep for the NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies; and Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes (Maker's Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf).
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.
For more information on the prep races held at Keeneland this weekend, don't miss this complete roundup. Here’s some background on this weekend’s “Win and You’re In” qualifying races as well as several other stakes races this weekend that have made an impact on the World Championships:
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 2 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. Last year, eventual champion 2-year-old male Corniche became the fifth horse to win both the American Pharoah and the Juvenile, taking the former by 3 ¼ lengths and the latter at Del Mar by 1 ¾ lengths. Pappacap finished second in both races. Corniche was retired to stud after one unplaced start this year.
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.
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 the 2020 Rodeo Drive, finished fourth in the Filly and Mare Turf, defeated by only a length at odds of 73.90-1.
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.
Four 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 by a nose over Firenze Fire but missed a third try at the Breeders' Cup Sprint with a minor injury. He was retired in May 2020.
After losing the 2019 Vosburgh and finishing fifth in the Sprint, Firenze Fire won the 2020 Vosburgh to improve his career record at Belmont Park to five wins in eight starts. He finished a late-running third behind the above-discussed Whitmore in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and then came back as good as ever in 2021, tallying two more wins at Belmont – both in graded stakes – and gaining national notoriety by biting his rival Yaupon (the racetrack term is “savaging”) during the stretch of the Forego Stakes at Saratoga. Firenze Fire finished second last year in the Vosburg, his third consecutive start, and then eighth in the Qatar Racing Sprint, his career finale. Vosburgh winner Following Sea checked in third in the Sprint at Del Mar.
The Futurity Stakes was added to the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series schedule in 2018. Uncle Benny, winner of the 2018 Futurity Stakes, actually did not compete in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint but instead started in the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs, where he ran a valiant second to European invader Line of Duty, losing by a half-length and being bumped by that foe in deep stretch.
In 2019, Wesley Ward-trained Four Wheel Drive became the first horse to sweep the Futurity-Juvenile Turf Sprint double, winning at Belmont by three lengths and at Santa Anita by three-quarters of a length.
Other weekend stakes:
The 1 1/8-mile Beldame Stakes at Belmont at the Big A on Sunday is not a Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but its history is deeply intertwined with the top World Championships dirt race for females, starting back in 1984 when Beldame winner Life’s Magic finished second in the inaugural Distaff. Life’s Magic would win the 1985 Distaff over 3-year-old Lady’s Secret, who had taken the Beldame by an easy two lengths and entered the Breeders’ Cup on an eight-race winning streak. It was no contest in the Distaff at Aqueduct, as Angel Cordero Jr. piloted Life’s Magic to a 6 ¼-length win. A year later, Lady’s Secret would win both the Beldame and Breeders’ Cup Distaff to secure Horse of the Year honors. The “Iron Lady” would enter the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Another Reagan-era superstar, Personal Ensign, won the Beldame and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 1988, the latter by a hard-earned nose over Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors. Heavenly Prize won the 1994 Beldame and finished second in the Distaff, and a year later ran second in both events. Serena’s Song (discussed above) won the 1995 Beldame over Heavenly Prize and would finish runner-up to Jewel Princess in the 1996 Distaff en route to Hall of Fame induction in 2002. Ajina was second best in the 1997 Beldame but won the Distaff by two lengths for Allen Paulson and Bill Mott. And in 1999, John Oxley’s Beautiful Pleasure became the fourth filly to win both events in the same calendar year, defeating Silverbulletday in the Beldame and Banshee Breeze in the Distaff.
Nearly every year it seems, the Beldame has continued to be a significant prep for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. 2001 Beldame third-place finisher Spain nearly won the Distaff three weeks later at Belmont Park, yielding to Unbridled Elaine at the finish line. Ginger Punch, third in the 2007 Beldame, rebounded to post a game neck win in the Distaff for Frank Stronach and Bobby Frankel; she would later finish second in the 2008 Beldame. Three years on, Beldame runner-up Unrivaled Belle won the Distaff (then called the Ladies’ Classic) at odds of 7.50-1 in a race that will always be remembered for the actions of Beldame winner Life At Ten, who refused to compete.
Royal Delta, runner-up to Havre de Grace in the 2011 Beldame, won the Ladies’ Classic as a 3-year-old. A year later, the Besilu Stables star won both races – romping in the Beldame by 9 ½ lengths – and secured her second consecutive Eclipse Award. She would finish second to Princess of Sylmar in the 2013 Beldame and then fourth in the Distaff, but receive another championship trophy anyway.
Stopchargingmaria finished a well-beaten second in the 2014 Beldame but a year later won the Longines Distaff at Keeneland. And in 2016, Forever Unbridled won the Beldame impressively before running a solid third behind superstars Beholder and Songbird in the Longines Distaff. The Dallas Stewart-trained racemare returned in 2017 to win the Longines Distaff (Beldame winner Elate was fourth) and earn champion older dirt female honors at the Eclipse Awards.
In 2018, Chilean import Wow Cat won the Beldame in her third start in North America and then ran a very good second behind champion Monomoy Girl in her next start, the Distaff at Churchill Downs. Wow Cat finished a well-beaten second to odds-on Midnight Bisou in the 2019 Beldame; the winner entered the Longines Distaff a perfect 7-for-7 in 2019 but saw that streak end at even-money odds when she finished runner-up to Blue Prize. Midnight Bisou still earned the Eclipse Award as champion older dirt female of 2019.
Dunbar Road, third in the 2020 Beldame, also ran on late to nab third behind Monomoy Girl and Valiance in the Longines Distaff at Keeneland. Dunbar Road posted a runner-up finish in the 2021 Distaff at Del Mar.
Saturday's 1 ½-mile, Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Classic Stakes at Belmont, named after the legendary New York turf writer, is also not a "Win and You're In" race for 2022, but it has been arguably the most important domestic prep race for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf since the World Championships began in 1984. Strawberry Road, third in the 1985 renewal, ran second by a neck to Pebbles six weeks later in the second Breeders’ Cup Turf, but that was only the beginning. The next year, powerhouse Manila, a 2008 inductee into the Racing Hall of Fame, posted consecutive wins in the Joe Hirsch (then named just the Turf Classic) and the Breeders’ Cup Turf, edging Theatrical by a neck in the latter event. Theatrical, another one of the sport’s 1980s-era turf stars, won both races in 1987, with a victory in the Man o’ War Stakes sandwiched in between. And another year on, Darby Dan Farm’s Sunshine Forever almost made it a three-peat for sweeping both races, dominating in the Turf Classic and coming a half-length shy of longshot Great Communicator in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs.
1990 Turf Classic third-place finisher With Approval, voted Horse of the Year in his native Canada one year prior, ran second to In the Wings in that fall’s Breeders’ Cup Turf. And in 1992, the order of finish at Belmont in the Turf Classic, won by Sky Classic over Fraise, was reversed in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Gulfstream Park, with Fraise prevailing by a nose. Two years later, Tikkanen, owned and bred by George Strawbridge, made his first start in the U.S. in the 1994 Turf Invitational and won in an upset over Vaudeville. He then pulled off another long-odds win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill, defeating the filly Hatoof by 1 ½ lengths at 16.60-1.
After a decade of dominance, the Turf Classic did not have much of an influence on the Breeders’ Cup Turf for a few years, until 1998, when Buck’s Boy became the fourth horse two win both races in the same year. Bred in Illinois and racing primarily in that state and in Florida early in his career, Buck’s Boy gradually rose to the top of his class, finishing fourth in the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Turf and third in 1999 in addition to his wire-to-wire win in 1998. He received the Eclipse Award for champion turf male in 1998.
As the 1990s ended and a new century began, several Turf Classic Invitational winners continued to perform well in the Breeders’ Cup, most notably 2004’s Kitten’s Joy, who took the Turf Classic Invitational with ease before losing to Better Talk Now in an upset in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Lone Star Park. Kitten’s Joy would be crowned champion turf male at the Eclipse Awards; he became a leading sire of turf and synthetic-surface horses before passing away in July of this year.
The next three years were dominated by English Channel, who finished second in the newly-named Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational in 2005 and then won the next two renewals by a combined 6 ¾ lengths. The Smart Strike horse, a star for owner James Scatuorchio and trainer Todd Pletcher, ran fifth in the ’05 Breeders’ Cup Turf, third in 2006, and then romped by seven lengths in the 2007 Turf on a soft turf course at Monmouth Park. He’s since become another good North American sire.
European shippers won the next four runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Turf until 2012, when Little Mike upset Joe Hirsch winner Point of Entry at Santa Anita Park. Little Mike would come back to win the 2013 Joe Hirsch, but the gelding finished seventh in his bid for a Breeders’ Cup repeat.
In 2014, Main Sequence became the sixth horse to win the Joe Hirsch and Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year. His Joe Hirsch win was actually closer, as the Flaxman Holdings-owned gelding edged Twilight Eclipse by a neck. One start later, he posted a mild 6.20-1 upset at the Longines Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, defeating Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runner-up Flintshire by 1 ½ lengths. Main Sequence was voted both champion turf male and champion older male for his exploits.
Big Blue Kitten won the 2015 Joe Hirsch and then ran a good third behind elite Euro imports Found and Golden Horn in the Longines Turf at Keeneland. And in 2016, the aforementioned Flintshire was runner-up in both the Joe Hirsch (to Ectot) and the Longines Turf (to Highland Reel) but was voted champion turf male at the Eclipse Awards anyway. The 2017 Joe Hirsch winner, Chad Brown-trained Beach Patrol, led in the stretch of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar before succumbing to European invader Talismanic and losing by a half-length.
Over the past four years, Joe Hirsch runners have continued to make an impact on the Longines Turf. Sadler’s Joy, a pure closer, ran third in the 2018 Joe Hirsch and passed tiring horses late four weeks later at Churchill Downs to finish a distant third behind European mega-stars Enable and Magical. The 2018 Joe Hirsch winner, Bill Mott-trained Channel Maker, would finish second in the 2019 Joe Hirsch to Arklow and then win the race again in 2020. He subsequently led into midstretch in the Longines Turf at Keeneland but yielded late to European filly Tarnawa and was then edged out of second by Magical.