The Breeders’ Cup returns under the Twin Spires for the first time since 2011.
The two-day racing festival at Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, had a record 221 pre-entered horses, including 51 from overseas ready to compete in the 35th edition of the Breeders’ Cup.
With 14 championship races on tap, five on Friday and nine on Championship Saturday, Louisville will host the Cup for a record-tying ninth time, the same as Santa Anita Race Track. Next year’s Breeders’ Cup will return to Southern California’s great race place for the 10th time.
More than $30 million in purses will be handed out in the 14 races and the races will be televised nationally on NBCSN and NBC.
A change in the race rotation resulted in Future Stars Friday hosting five races exclusively for 2-year-olds. The first day will culminate with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which will likely decide the 2-year-old male champion colt. A new race has been added on Friday, as the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint will make its debut.
Five former or defending champions are pre-entered, including Mendelssohn, 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf; Oscar Performance, 2016 Juvenile Turf; Roy H, 2017 Sprint; Stormy Liberal, 2017 Turf Sprint; and Talismanic, 2017 Turf.
Saturday’s star-studded lineup will conclude with the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, which looks like a wide-open affair with a number of challengers that could claim the biggest purse of the weekend.
With all that excitement, there are five things that I’m looking forward to the most.
1.The Breeders’ Cup Distaff will square off two Kentucky Oaks winners returning to Churchill. Last year’s winner Abel Tasman will be pitted against the likely 3-year-old filly champ Monomoy Girl in a long-awaited matchup that could rival the Songbird-Beholder matchup two years ago at Santa Anita. Add dual Canadian classic winner Wonder Gadot to the mix, and the Distaff is loaded with talent. Mike Smith will ride the 2017 Oaks champion and Florent Geroux will be aboard Brad Cox’s ace filly Monomoy Girl. This one could be one for the ages.
2.Who will emerge as the 2019 Derby favorite coming out of the Juvenile? One of the biggest questions is will a colt separate himself from the others by winning Friday’s big race? Last year’s winner Good Magic ended up being the Derby runner-up and 2015’s Juvenile winner Nyquist was the last to wear the roses coming out of this race. Only Street Sense (2007) and Nyquist have pulled off the Juvenile-Derby double. Some key prep winners that loom large heading into the race are Grade 1 winners Game Winner (G1 American Pharoah), Complexity (G1 Champagne), Mind Control (G1 Hopeful) and Knicks Go (G1 Breeders’ Futurity).
3.The Sprint is a smorgasbord of talent. The six-furlong Sprint has one of the most competitive lineups over the two days. The gate will include last year’s winner Roy H, who is rounding back into form. Ultra-fast Promises Fulfilled will be on the engine early for trainer Dale Romans after following up his two big wins at Saratoga with a victory in the Phoenix at Keeneland. Imperial Hint hasn’t lost on a fast track all year and could be the one to beat. Horse for the course Limousine Liberal, 6-for-8 at Churchill, should be a nice price for trainer Ben Colebrook.
4. Will Mike Smith steal the show again? Big Money Mike can add to his record 26 Breeders’ Cup wins with key mounts in a number of championship races. He should have big chances in the Classic (McKinzie), Distaff (Abel Tasman), Juvenile (Well Defined) and Filly and Mare Sprint (Marley’s Freedom). He’s had big days on the big stage before, dominating the last two Belmont Stakes days. Keep an eye on the Hall of Fame jockey.
5.You’re going to get a nice price in the Classic. As long as you’re not on the likely favorite Accelerate, the prices should be juicy in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The race will be televised on the flagship NBC network at 5:44 p.m. ET Saturday and will have a full field. Accelerate, currently atop the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll, should take a lot of money at the windows, but one should be leery of his record outside of Southern California. The field includes the past two Travers winners in West Coast and Catholic Boy; an improving Mendelssohn; and NY-bred Mind Your Biscuits. The latter hasn’t run a bad race this year and tries the classic distance for the first time. A sleeper could be the Bill Mott-trained Yoshida, who will be coming late. The last Classic held at Churchill was won by the Mott-trained Drosselmeyer, who closed late to win at a big price.
Some of the highly regarded foreign horses to consider include Enable, the two-time Arc winner, a 4-year-old filly who will run in the Turf, and Roaring Lion, who will try the dirt in the Classic for the first time. Thunder Snow, the Dubai World Cup winner, is another potential threat in the Classic.
The two days of racing will culminate a racing season that witnessed the 13th Triple Crown winner and should put a defining stamp on a historic 2018.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.