After a three-week break, the Road to the Breeders’ Cup resumes on Saturday, July 23, with a significant “Win and You’re In” prep at the Jersey Shore anchoring the weekend's stakes activity that also includes some big races at Saratoga Race Course and a Challenge Series race in England.
The $1 million, Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes Saturday at Monmouth Park is annually a key event in determining standings in the 3-year-old male division, and this year’s 55th Haskell offers a fees-paid berth to the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 5 at Keeneland as part of the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series Presented by America’s Best Racing. Also on Saturday, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes at Ascot Racecourse offers a “Win and You’re In” reservation to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, also on Nov. 5.
Here’s some background on the Haskell, the King George and Queen Elizabeth, and several other stakes races on tap this weekend that have been historically important on the road to the Breeders' Cup World Championships:
As a race restricted to 3-year-olds, the Haskell Invitational has not had a year-in, year-out impact on the Breeders’ Cup Classic since the World Championships began in 1984, but in certain years – especially when a strong crop of sophomores emerges – the Haskell has been a key prep race. In 1988, Haskell winner Forty Niner finished fourth in that fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, but runner-up Seeking the Gold made a bigger splash, fighting valiantly in deep stretch before yielding to eventual Horse of the Year Alysheba in the final strides to finish second. Serena’s Song became the first filly to win the Haskell in 1995; she competed in the ’95 and ’96 Breeders’ Cup Distaffs, finishing second in the latter year. Another eventual Hall of Famer, Skip Away, won the 1996 Haskell en route to champion 3-year-old male honors and then romped in the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Classic to win another championship, this time as champion older male. He then went on to earn Horse of the Year and champion older male honors in 1998.
In 1999, Haskell runner-up Cat Thief posted a 19.60-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Classic under Pat Day, but after that, there was little crossover of note between the two races until 2007. That year was a banner one for 3-year-olds racing on dirt, and the top three finishers in the Haskell Invitational all started in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which was held at the home of the Haskell, Monmouth Park. By that point, Curlin had emerged from his third-place effort in the Haskell to become the dominant racehorse in his class, and he validated that reputation with a 4 ½-length romp in the Classic. Haskell runner-up Hard Spun settled for second again in the Classic, while Haskell winner Any Given Saturday was sixth.
More recently, the Haskell’s profile has been elevated as a Breeders’ Cup Classic prep race (it became part of the Challenge Series in 2015). In 2014, Bayern, the seventh of Bob Baffert’s record nine Haskell winners, scored a front-running upset in the Classic at Santa Anita Park that survived a steward’s inquiry. And one year later, Baffert-trained Triple Crown winner American Pharoah easily won the Haskell, suffered a shocking upset in the Travers Stakes, and then returned to achieve Grand Slam glory by closing out his career with a blowout Breeders’ Cup Classic win at Keeneland.
The 2018 Haskell runner-up, Bravazo, did not compete in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs but did run a solid third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. That year's Haskell winner, Good Magic was the 2-year-old champion male of 2017 due to his win in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he only raced once more as a 3-year-old after the Haskell before he was retired. Spun to Run, third to Maximum Security in the 2019 Haskell at 34.60-1 odds, trained on to win the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park.
In 2020, the Haskell turned out to be a very significant race in determining the final standings of the 3-year-old division as well as the Breeders’ Cup in a year where both were affected (along with the rest of horse racing and society at large) by the coronavirus pandemic.
Bob Baffert-trained Authentic had emerged as a leading 3-year-old with wins in the Sham and San Felipe Stakes and a runner-up effort in the postponed Runhappy Santa Anita Derby in June. The Haskell was held at its regular mid-July date and designated as a qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on “the first Saturday in September,” and Authentic was heavily favored at 3-5 odds. He set a modest pace in the Haskell under Mike Smith but had to fend off a stout challenge from Ny Traffic through the stretch, winning by a nose.
By Derby time, Authentic was somewhat overlooked by bettors based on his slim Haskell victory and the dominance displayed by New York-based Tiz the Law, but as it turned out the Haskell was just what Authentic needed to reach his best form. Authentic won the Derby on the front end by 1 ¼ lengths over Tiz the Law. Following that, Authentic just missed in the Preakness Stakes, losing to the filly Swiss Skydiver by a neck in a thriller, and then shipped to Keeneland for a start in the Longines Classic against a loaded field that included 2019 Haskell victor Maximum Security, Tiz the Law, and several other top-class horses.
Under John Velazquez, Authentic controlled the early pace as he had in the Kentucky Derby and had more than enough stamina to hold off stablemate Improbable for a 2 ¼-length win in the Longines Classic. Having captured arguably the two most prestigious races in North America, Authentic was an easy choice to be voted champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards.
The 2021 Haskell will go down as one of the most memorable, with an unfortunate set of circumstances that affected the outcome. At the time of the race, Mandaloun and Hot Rod Charlie were the runner-up and third-place finisher, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, but by then the controversy over first-place finisher Medina’s Spirit’s medication positive had clouded the 3-year-old picture considerably. The pair engaged in a thrilling stretch-long showdown in the Haskell, with Hot Rod Charlie prevailing by a nose, but he was disqualified for swerving in the stretch and causing Midnight Bourbon, who raced behind him, to unseat his jockey.
Hot Rod Charlie would have to wait for a signature Grade 1 win, but he got it one start later in the Pennsylvania Derby and then finished a solid fourth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar. Both colts remain in training at age 4, their positions in the 2021 Kentucky Derby having been bumped up a spot.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes
This mile-and-a-half turf test became a Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifier in 2011, but several of its prior winners made their marks on the Breeders’ Cup in earlier years. Godolphin’s Swain finished third in the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Woodbine and then won the ’96 and ’97 runnings of the King George, and in 1999, Godolphin’s Daylami won both the King George and the Breeders’ Cup Turf with Frankie Dettori in the irons. 2005 King George winner Azamour finished third in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf at Belmont Park, and in ’06 and ’07, two highly regarded European invaders who won the King George – Hurricane Run and Dylan Thomas – both disappointed in their Breeders’ Cup Turf appearances when finishing sixth and fifth, respectively.
That trend was reversed in 2009, though. In fall 2008, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Conduit scored a 1 ½-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita Park en route to winning the Eclipse Award as champion turf male. In 2009, he won the King George at Ascot and then returned to Santa Anita to capture his second consecutive Turf.
Several top-flight turf horses have won the King George since Conduit, but none made the trip to the Breeders’ Cup, even after the automatic berth was granted, until 2016. King George winner Highland Reel was somewhat overshadowed among the Longines Turf starters at Santa Anita by trainer Aidan O’Brien’s other entrant, the filly Found, who had won the 2015 Longines Turf at Keeneland. But Highland Reel dictated the pace under Seamus Heffernan to post a 1 ¾-length win and cement his status as one of the world’s best grass horses. He went on to win two Group 1 stakes in early 2017, finish fourth in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and then third in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar. Highland Reel closed out a phenomenal career with another Group 1 stakes win at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong in December 2017.
During Highland Reel’s 2017 finale, a star filly emerged in Europe who would make history a year later. Juddmonte Farms’ Enable won the English and Irish Oaks in spring 2017 before taking the King George over Ulysses (with Highland Reel finishing fourth, as noted above). She captured another Group 1 in August and then won Europe’s most prestigious turf race, the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, before taking an extended break from racing into late summer. Enable returned in 2018 better than ever, winning a listed stakes and then annexing another Arc at Longchamp. Trainer John Gosden shipped Enable to Louisville's Churchill Downs for the Longines Turf, and the world conqueror became the first Arc winner to win the Turf in the same calendar year, besting Coolmore’s Magical in a thrilling stretch duel. Enable raced for two more years, winning the King George in both 2019 and 2020, but she did not make another trip stateside before concluding her sensational career with a sixth-place Arc finish in 2020.
Other weekend stakes:
At Saratoga, the Coaching Club American Oaks, a key race in determining champion 3-year-old filly honors, has also on occasion helped propel a sophomore to greater glory at the Breeders’ Cup. Open Mind, champion juvenile filly in 1988 and top 3-year-old filly in 1989, was elevated to first in the ’89 CCA Oaks via disqualification and finished third in that year’s Distaff behind superstar Bayakoa. My Flag, the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, went on to win the Coaching Cub American Oaks as a 3-year-old, one start after running third in the Belmont Stakes. My Flag ran fourth in the 1996 Distaff in her final start as a 3-year-old. But the first dual CCA Oaks-Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner came in 1997 when Allen Paulson’s Ajina controlled the pace under Mike Smith to win easily at Saratoga and, after a couple of runner-up finishes, rebounded back into elite form to take the Distaff by two lengths at Hollywood Park. She was an easy choice as 1997 champion 3-year-old filly.
Banshee Breeze received that same honor in 1998 based in part on her game neck win in the CCA Oaks, and the Carl Nafzger trainee checked in second in both the ’98 and ’99 Distaffs. In 2004, one of the best fillies of this century won the CCA Oaks and Distaff: Starlight Racing’s Ashado. She had finished second in the Juvenile Fillies the year prior but raised her game to champion level at age 3 with a win in the Kentucky Oaks in addition to the CCA Oaks-Distaff double. Ashado trained on to win three more Grade 1s at age 4 and ended her career with a third-place finish in the 2005 Distaff and another Eclipse, this time as champion older female.
2007 CCA Oaks winner Octave finished third in the Distaff won by Ginger Punch, and four years later, CCA Oaks third-place finisher Royal Delta made rapid progress over the next three months to emerge as a bona fide superstar, finishing her 3-year-old season with a 2 ½-length win in what was then called the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs. Royal Delta would win the Ladies’ Classic again in 2012 and retire a year later after a fourth-place Distaff finish with a total of three Eclipse Awards. She was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.
Stopchargingmaria won the CCA Oaks in 2014 and a year later scored a mild upset in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland. In 2016, unbeaten Songbird romped in the CCA Oaks by 5 ¼ lengths. Rick Porter’s filly had won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies a year prior and by fall of her 3-year-old season was earning superlatives from turf writers who had seen such legends as Ruffian and Personal Ensign run. Her winning streak extended to 11 before the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park, where she tasted defeat for the first time at the hooves of fellow champion Beholder in one of the most thrilling races of this century.
Abel Tasman, winner of the 2017 CCA Oaks, ran a fine second to Forever Unbridled in that fall’s Distaff at Del Mar, and a year later, Monomoy Girl became the third 3-year-old filly to win the CCA Oaks and the Longines Distaff. She was kept in training by her ownership group and trainer Brad Cox for a 4-year-old campaign, but ended up missing all of 2019 and did not return to the track until July 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Monomoy Girl commenced to win all three of her 2020 starts, including another Longines Distaff score, and was retired after two more starts and another win in 2021, with a definite reservation to the Hall of Fame on the horizon.
Last year, Shadwell Stable’s Malathaat lost the CCA Oaks by a head to Maracuja in an upset at the “Graveyard of Champions.” She recovered to win the Alabama Stakes at the Spa and finished what ended up being a championship season with a very good third in the Distaff behind another upset victress, Japan’s Marche Lorraine.
Also at Saratoga, the Shuvee Stakes has had crossover with the World Championships, although less so in recent years. It moved upstate from Belmont Park in 2013.
Back in 1985, the second year of the Breeders’ Cup, Life’s Magic entered the Shuvee at Belmont having already run second in the inaugural Distaff behind legendary Princess Rooney. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly romped in the Shuvee by two lengths only to go on a seven-race winless streak after that, while racing against males in Grade 1 stakes three times. She then capped off her career with a dominant 6 ¼-length victory over stablemate Lady’s Secret and received the Eclipse Award as champion older female to accompany her 1984 hardware for 3-year-old filly honors. Life’s Magic also finished second in the aforementioned Coaching Club American Oaks in 1984.
One year later, Lukas’s Lady’s Secret scored the Shuvee-Distaff double as well. The splendid daughter of Secretariat was voted both 1986 Horse of the Year and champion older female based on a campaign where she won 10 of 15 starts and earned more than $1.8 million. Another elite racemare, Personal Ensign, took both races in 1988, her win in the Distaff capping off a perfect 13-for-13 career and ensuring an eventual spot in the Hall of Fame.
Shug McGaughey trained Personal Ensign, and he also managed another dual winner in 1995 in Inside Information, who was honored with the Eclipse Award as champion older female. Five years later, Beautiful Pleasure won the Shuvee in 2000, which occurred a year after she took the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and earned her own Eclipse Award.
Other notable horses that shone in the Shuvee and Breeders’ Cup include Storm Flag Flying (won the Juvenile Fillies in 2002, won the Shuvee and ran second in the Distaff in 2004) and Society Selection (won the Shuvee and was runner-up in the Distaff in 2005). The last dual Shuvee-Distaff winner was the aforementioned Stopchargingmaria, who took both races in 2015.
The United Nations Stakes, a prestigious Grade 1 race on turf at Monmouth Park held in late June/early July most years, is scheduled on the July 23 Haskell undercard this year. The 1 3/8-mile race has been won by some of the most accomplished grass horses in North America through the years, including Breeders’ Cup winners Manila (1986 and ’87 United Nations, 1986 Turf), Steinlen (1989 Mile, 1990 United Nations), Lure (1992 and ’93 Mile, 1994 United Nations), Better Talk Now (2004 Turf, 2005 United Nations), English Channel (2006 and ’07 United Nations, 2007 Turf), Main Sequence (2014 United Nations and 2014 Turf), and World Approval (2016 United Nations, 2017 Mile).
Other Monmouth Park stakes this weekend with recent influence on the Breeders’ Cup include the Molly Pitcher Stakes, won back-to-back in 2007 and ’08 by Hystericalady, who just missed winning the ’07 Distaff at the same track, and won by eventual Distaff runner-up Midnight Bisou in 2019; and the Monmouth Cup Stakes, won in 2017 by Sharp Azteca, the eventual runner-up in that year's Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.