After a weekend with no domestic “Win and You’re In” preps, the Road to the 2022 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland Race Course picks up a convoy’s worth of momentum over the upcoming weekend, with qualifying preps set for Saturday and Sunday on both coasts as well as overseas.
In all, 12 races on the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series are scheduled: four from the Belmont at the Big A meet in New York, two from Santa Anita Park, one from Churchill Downs, and five from Longchamp Racecourse in Paris, France.
At Santa Anita, the Awesome Again Stakes offers its winner an automatic bid to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, while the Speakeasy Stakes, a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, has yet to have any impact on the World Championships since it began in 2018. Belmont at the Big A, the name for the 2022 early fall meet at Aqueduct (which is holding Belmont Park’s dates while that track undergoes construction), hosts the Champagne Stakes (a prep for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance), the Frizette Stakes (NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies), Miss Grillo Stakes (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf), and Pilgrim Stakes (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf). The final domestic Challenge Series race, the Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs, is a qualifier for the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile but has had little influence overall on the World Championships through the years.
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 FanDuel TV, and both the Champagne Stakes and Miss Grillo Stakes will air on NBC. The remaining Challenge Series races at Belmont and the Big A, plus the Ack Ack, will air on FS2. FS2 will also broadcast the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday.
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 other stakes races that have made an impact on the World Championships:
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 in 2020, 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.
The 2021 Awesome Again winner again served as the runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, as the late Medina Spirit won by an easy five lengths at Santa Anita and then finished 2 ¾ lengths back of front-running Horse of the Year Knicks Go in the Longines Classic at Del Mar.
The one-mile Champagne Stakes was first held in 1867 and it 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 3; 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 the past quarter-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 thrived on the track after being shortened up to sprint and mile-distance races before retiring last year.
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. The 2020 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 Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
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 3, 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. 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.
Last year produced another dual Frizette-Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner – number eight if you’re counting – and a dominant one at that. L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Echo Zulu won at Belmont by 7 ¼ lengths and then, four weeks later, coasted to a 5 ¼-length score at Del Mar. The Steve Asmussen trainee won her first start at 3 this year but then suffered her first career loss when fourth in the Longines Kentucky Oaks. She came back to romp by 5 ¼ lengths last week in the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill.
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 at Belmont Park. With Dettori aboard, Sakhee took control of the Classic in early stretch and appeared all set to defeat a stellar field... only to lose to Tiznow as that horse tallied a repeat victory in front of a thunderous crowd (see above).
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.
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 the 2020 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 (in addition, the third-place finisher to Tarnawa in the 2020 Prix de l’Opera, Audarya, shipped to Kentucky and scored an upset victory in the Filly and Mare Turf).
Tarnawa did run in the 2021 Arc but finished second to longshot Torquator Tasso, and then finished a disappointing 11th in her repeat bid in the Longines Turf, her final start.
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).
The 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.
The 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.
Other weekend stakes:
Two major races this weekend at Santa Anita Park – the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes Saturday and the Zenyatta Stakes Sunday – have been removed from the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series for 2022. Even without this designation, the two races should continue to be very influential in sending winners and also-rans to the World Championships. The six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship was first held in 1985, one year after the inaugural Breeders’ Cup, and it was known as the Ancient Title stakes until 2012. 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.
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 the 2020 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, checked in second behind Whitmore in that year's Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland and in 2021, he finished third and seventh in those respective races. Last year’s 2021 Santa Anita Sprint Championship winner Dr. Schivel nearly won the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar, losing to Aloha West by a nose. C Z Rocket is still in training and is probable to make his third consecutive start Sunday in this now unofficial Breeders’ Cup prep.
As for the Zenyatta Stakes, the race was named the Lady’s Secret Stakes in honor of the 1986 Horse of the Year and 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.
Among the other graded stakes this weekend, Santa Anita’s 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 came back to win both the 2020 and 2021 John Henry Turf, but he finished eighth in the 2020 Longines Turf and missed last year’s edition due to injury. As it turned out, United ended his career with a win in the 2021 John Henry; the gelding was retired earlier this year.
The Lukas Classic Stakes Saturday at Churchill, named after the legendary “Coach,” had significant Breeders’ Cup implications last year as the above-mentioned Knicks Go used it as his final prep for the Longines Classic, which he then proceeded to dominate en route to nabbing Horse of the Year honors. 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 Eddie D Stakes has been a useful West Coast prep for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint 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.
More recently, Stormy Liberal won the 2018 Eddie D one race prior to scoring a repeat win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. The Peter Miller-trained gelding had upset the Turf Sprint at Del Mar in 2017 at odds of 30.20-1, but nearly 11 months later he was the winning 2.20-1 favorite in the Eddie D and then the 7-1 third betting choice in the Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs, which he won by a rallying neck over favorite World of Trouble. Stormy Liberal received the Eclipse Award as 2018’s champion turf sprinter for his late-season excellence.
The Chillingworth Stakes at Santa Anita, for female sprinters, was used by top-class Ce Ce last year as her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. She dominated by five lengths in the 6 ½-furlong Chillingworth and then rallied to win the Filly and Mare Sprint, which clinched her receiving the Eclipse Award for champion female sprinter. Unique Bella won the 2017 edition of this race, then named the L.A. Woman Stakes, and was honored as champion female sprinter as well, but she suffered her only loss of the year in the Filly and Mare Sprint when she faded to seventh after setting a blistering pace (a race won by huge longshot Bar of Gold).
The City of Hope Mile Stakes at Santa Anita has lost some of its luster of late despite historically being a significant prep for the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile. 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.
The Fasig-Tipton Waya Stakes, moved to Belmont at Big A this year, produced a back-to-back winner in hard-trying My Sister Nat during 2020-'21. One start after her 2021 Waya win, My Sister Nat wrapped up her career with a late-charging second to Japanese invader Loves Only You in the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf last November.
And finally, the historic Woodward Stakes has also been temporarily moved to Aqueduct for the Belmont at the Big A meet. Last year, the Woodward was 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 this race has been in determining year-end honors in North American Thoroughbred racing.