Road to the Breeders’ Cup: Sneak Peek at Bing Crosby, Jim Dandy, and Other RacesRacing
Another active week of top-class racing is on the schedule for July 29-30, with two Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifiers to be held. On Saturday, Del Mar hosts the 78th running of the $400,000 Bing Crosby Stakes, which offers an automatic berth to the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 4 at Santa Anita Park. Over in England, the $1.6 million King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes Saturday at Ascot Racecourse is a Challenge Series qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, also on Nov. 4.
The upcoming weekend is also populated with several other stakes races that, while not part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, have been influential as preps for the World Championships through its 39-year history.
Where: Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Del Mar, Calif.
When: Saturday, July 29
How to Watch: FanDuel TV
“Win and You’re In” for: Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint
Why it’s important: The Bing Crosby is the first stakes on the West Coast that offers a starting gate berth to the Qatar Racing Sprint. It gained significance on the road to the Breeders’ Cup in the early 1990s and has remained prominent ever since. Three horses have won the Bing Crosby and the BC Sprint in the same calendar year – Thirty Slews (1992), Lit de Justice (1996), and Kona Gold (2000) – and quite a few more have hit the board in both races. One of those, Roy H, finished second in both the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Bing Crosby (to the same horse, Ransom the Moon), but then trained on to win back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Sprints and nab a couple of Eclipse Awards as well.
Best winner during the Breeders’ Cup era: Kona Gold takes the prize as a repeat winner of the Bing Crosby in 2000 and 2001 who, as noted above, also won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2000. Trained by Bruce Headley, the gelding won 14 of 30 starts in his six-year career with seven runner-up finishes, with earnings of nearly $2.3 million. Kona Gold finished third in the Sprint in 1998 and second by a half-length in 1999 to Artax before winning the race by a half-length at Churchill Downs in 2000 and then finishing seventh in 2001 and fourth in 2002. He was a finalist for the Racing Hall of Fame in 2022 but did not make the 50% threshold among voters to be elected.
Last year’s winner: American Theorem rallied strongly and won the Bing Crosby by 1 ½ lengths despite jockey Joe Bravo losing his riding crop in early stretch. The George Papaprodromou-trained ridgling was a nonfactor in the Qatar Racing Sprint, finishing eighth at Keeneland, and made his first start of 2023 last month at Santa Anita Park, finishing last of five in a six-furlong allowance as the 11-10 favorite. He breezed at Del Mar last week and is listed as a probable starter for Saturday’s Bing Crosby.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth QIPCO Stakes
Where: Ascot Racecourse, Ascot, United Kingdom
When: Saturday, July 29
“Win and You’re In” for: Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf
Why it’s important: This mile-and-a-half race became part of the Challenge Series in 2011, but before that, several winners made an impact on the World Championships after shipping to North America, led by Daylami, who won both the King George and Breeders’ Cup Turf in 1999, and Conduit, who won both races in 2009 – repeating in the Turf after also winning in 2008. Since 2011, one horse – Coolmore’s Highland Reel – has won the King George and Longines Turf in the same year, that happening in 2016 when he won at Ascot by 1 ¼ lengths and then led all the way to score by 1 ¾ lengths in the Longines Turf at Santa Anita Park. Highland Reel would finish fourth in the 2017 King George to a rising star filly (discussed below) and then third in the Longines Turf at Del Mar.
Best winner during the Breeders’ Cup era: As good as Highland Reel was – and he earned more than $10.5 million with seven Grade/Group 1 wins – Enable is the clear choice here. The John Gosden trainee emerged as one of the best racehorses of this century in 2017 with wins in the English and Irish Oaks, which preceded a blowout 4 ½-length win over Ulysses in the King George. Enable targeted the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France that fall instead of the Breeders’ Cup, and closed out her campaign with a sixth consecutive win. Rested for the early part of 2018, the now 4-year-old returned to win twice more during summer and fall 2018, including a repeat victory in the Arc, before shipping to Churchill Downs for the Longines Turf. In a thrilling race, Enable gamely prevailed over another star filly, Magical, on a turf course rated good after shifting out to the middle of the course under regular jockey Frankie Dettori to find the most favorable ground. She continued a brilliant career over two more seasons before retiring at age 6 with 15 wins in 19 starts and more than $14 million in earnings, and she won the King George twice more in 2019 and 2020.
Last year’s winner: Pyledriver won the King George by 2 ¾ lengths in his final start of the year, with Mishriff finishing third and 2021 Longines Turf runner-up Broome fourth. Those two runners would ship to Keeneland and finish fourth and sixth, respectively, in the 2022 Longines Turf.
2023 starters: Pyledriver and Broome are both pointed to Saturday’s King George in a competitive renewal that is also expected to attract English and Irish Derby winner Auguste Rodin.
Other weekend races:
The Jim Dandy Stakes Saturday at Saratoga Race Course for 3-year-olds is that historic track’s prep race for its marquee event, the Travers Stakes Aug. 26. No Jim Dandy winner has trained on to win the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic later during their sophomore campaign, but four did finish runners-up: Louis Quatorze in 1996, Medaglia d’Oro in 2002, Flower Alley in 2005, and Bernardini in 2006.
Two sprint races at Saratoga – the Amsterdam Stakes for 3-year-olds Friday and the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap Saturday – have occasionally sent winners on to shine at the Breeders’ Cup. Caleb’s Posse won the 2011 Amsterdam and three starts later took the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, while Orientate and Speightstown captured both the Vanderbilt and the BC Sprint in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Sunday’s Bowling Green Stakes on turf at the Spa is a prep for the Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Stakes but has been influential on the World Championships in its own right, although only one horse has won the Bowling Green and the BC Turf in the same year – champion Theatrical in 1987.
At Del Mar, the San Diego Handicap has become prominent over the past 15 years or so as an early barometer for West Coast dirt horses on the road to the Breeders’ Cup. Skywalker won the San Diego in 1986 and then posted an upset in the third-ever Breeders’ Cup Classic, but most of the crossover has happened more recently. Dakota Phone took the 2010 San Diego and trained on to win the BC Dirt Mile at odds of 37.70-1, while in 2017 Accelerate gave an early indication of his potential with a San Diego victory and would reach peak form a year later when he won the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar and then the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Two more races held this weekend have sent winners on to capture a World Championships later in the same year. Richard Mandella-trained grass standout Kotashaan won the Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar in 1993 three starts prior to winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita Park; the French-bred was voted Horse of the Year and champion turf horse for his season. (Mandella’s United won the Eddie Read in 2020 and 2021 and prior to that lost the 2019 Longines Turf by a head to another grass horse voted Horse of the Year, Bricks and Mortar.)
At Monmouth Park, two 3-year-old fillies won the Monmouth Oaks and subsequently won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in the fall of the same year: Spain, who upset the 2000 Distaff at odds of 55:90-1 at Churchill Downs; and Unbridled Elaine, who posted a less-robust 12.30-1 upset a year later at Belmont Park, denying Spain’s repeat bid by a head.