Racing journalist Jon Lees’ tips for Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup races
We’re five races down at this year’s Breeders’ Cup, still nine to go, so settle in for a marathon session! For Flat fans, it’s arguably the most exciting single race day there is.
Bob Baffert will be hoping to strike first on the main Breeders’ Cup card and his candidate Gamine has a standout chance.
The beaten odds-on favourite from the Kentucky Oaks is as much known for having failed two dope tests as for her track performances, but when things have gone right she has been spectacular.
Back in June she posted the best speed figure of any three-year-old in the US in a record breaking 18 and three quarter length romp on her first G1 start.
She won by seven lengths on her next outing, She didn’t stay the extra distance of the Oaks and back at 7f she should be uncatchable.
According to the race title this is on the grass but don’t be holding your breath for a Euro winner. It’s never happened and is unlikely to happen again.
In Europe Glass Slippers is a top class G1-winning filly who often comes good in the autumn, but she is going to find the ground very different from the heavy she ran on in the Prix de l’Abbaye.
Like many European sprinters she is likely to find the Americans just too quick away from the gates to threaten a win. That said, I wouldn’t be ruling out a place finish for either her or Equilateral, runner-up in the King’s Stand Stakes to stablemate Battaash in June, but even that hasn’t been achieved by a Euro since 2008.
My wild card for this is Wildman Jack. For those who follow the Dubai Carnival, this horse easily won a Meydan G3 in March and then went home to California to win another in May.
The 14 draw may be off-putting but Mongolian Saturday won from exactly the same slot at the last Keeneland Breeders’ Cup.
Selections: Wildman Jack, Glass Slippers, Equilateral
Last year’s Preakness winner War Of Will plus Jesus Team and Art Collector, third and fourth in this year’s version, are in here in what looks quite a deep contest.
It’s deep enough to suggest that none may be up to taking a hand in the finish. That’s because of the form of Complexity and Knicks Go, who are likely to head the betting. Complexity has the more progressive profile with five wins from nine starts, the latest in the G2 Kelso at Belmont, where he is unbeaten.
Trainer Chad Brown has struck in every Breeders’ Cup since 2015, registering an extraordinary 13 wins. Pegasus World Cup runner-up Mr Freeze is the choice for the exacta.
Selections: Complexity, Mr Freeze
Over the last eight years the prize has interchanged between Europe and Chad Brown and Brown has the favourite, Rushing Fall, plus 2018 winner Sistercharlie.
This was the race in which Iridessa prevented a US whitewash of the Euros 12 months ago and though this year’s raiding party lacks a bit of star quality, there is still reason to be optimistic.
Of the European quartet, Cayenne Pepper who comes into the race in decent form. She finished second in the Irish Oaks and second to Tarnawa in a 1m4f G3 on her next start.
Either side of those runs she chased home Magical and most recently was an emphatic winner of the Blandford Stakes over 1m2f. Terebellum’s season tailed off after a bright star but a return to quicker ground should suit.
While Canada’s top horse Starship Jubilee, beaten only once in 2020, is another candidate who could keep the Americans at bay. Let’s hope so.
Selections: Cayenne Pepper, Terebellum, Starship Jubilee
There are a lot of 1s against the principals in this race, and only 1s in Youpon’s form figures. He has been winning quite easily but is untested in top company. C Z Rocket is unbeaten since moving to the barn of sprint specialist Peter Miller but is also untried at this level in sprints.
There will be no prisoners taken so previous experience will count and there is none better qualified than Whitmore.
At his best on his home track of Oaklawn Park, the seven-year-old has been placed in the last two runnings of this race and has shown little signs he is in decline yet. Slow starts have undermined his chance in the last two years but if he can overcome that, Irad Ortiz is a very positive booking.
If the Europeans get to this race without having not entered the winners’ circle then a lot will be riding on Kameko. The 2,000 Guineas winner has had a stuttering and has been sent to Keeneland for the final start of his career.
But the Europeans finished off the board last year with Circus Maximus first home in fourth, behind defending champion Uni. That is not out of the question again with another decent US contingent.
Circus Maximus has not been as consistent this year and all the form shown by the admirable Safe Voyage has been on good going or softer.
Siskin’s presence seems a bit of an afterthought and a past history of stalls problems is not a positive in the US. So what does that leave? Maybe Lope Y Fernandez under Frankie Dettori?
He has raced exclusively in G1s this year without winning but nearly always running with credit. And alongside him I would toss in three double digit possibles, all American, in Raging Bull, running on late in the Shadwell Mile last time, Factor This, who has won five out of six this year, and Halladay, who had Uni behind him when winning at Saratoga in August.
Selections: Lope Y Fernandez, Raging Bull, Factor This, Halladay
Often one of the highlights of the night, this year’s Distaff features a face-off between top older mare Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver, the Kentucky Oaks winner who beat Kentucky Derby winner Authentic to land the Preakness Stakes.
Monomoy Girl won the Distaff two years ago but then had a year off and was unable to defend her crown. This is her chance. She has looked as good as ever this year in three starts, but Swiss Skydiver has developed into a special filly under trainer Kenny McPeek’s bold campaigning.
Her three-year-old age allowance may give her an edge, as long as she is not feeling the effects of a long season. Ce Ce and Ollie’s Candy, a head apart in a G1 in April, could also be figuring at longer odds.
Selections: Swiss Skydiver, Monomoy Girl, Ce Ce, Ollie’s Candy
Surely, surely the Euros are guaranteed this one. Magical, Tarnawa and Mogul are about the best you could ask for, now both Enable and Ghaiyyath have been retired.
Magical’s head-to-head with Enable in this race two years ago was one of the most memorable editions of the Turf there has been.
A year ago Magical was headed to retirement but she returned to training this year after a change of heart. She has been as good as ever and became the only horse to beat world number 1 racehorse Ghaiyyath in the Irish Champion Stakes. She can be forgiven her defeat in the Champion Stakes, which was run on desperate ground.
So with Grand Prix de Paris winner Mogul, who was forced to miss the Arc, beginning to fulfil his $4.4 million price tag the O’Brien team will be confident of winning this prize for the seventh time.
Tarnawa will be a major threat. She comes into the race in top form and Dermot Weld has been bold in picking this race over the Filly & Mare Turf.
He’s rarely wrong. Lord North looked a star in the making when winning at Royal Ascot and is not one to dismiss yet, while if there is to be any US threat, that could come from Channel Maker.
Selections: Magical, Mogul, Tarnawa, Lord North, Channel Maker
This looks like Bob Baffert’s to lose. He has three of the top four in the market, each of them top notch.
Improbable completed a G1 hat-trick over the summer, which included an emphatic verdict over stablemate Maximum Security.
That was Maximum Security’s only defeat of the year and the Saudi Cup winner is not a horse you can easily write off.
Baffert’s other challenge is Authentic, the Kentucky Derby winner no less. He was the colt who knocked Tiz The Law off the Triple Crown trail.
The Classic winner should come from one of these horses plus Tom’s D’Etat, who finished third behind Improbable after stumbling leaving the stalls.
I’m leaning towards Tiz The Law whose veteran trainer Barclay Tagg abandoned the idea of a Preakness run after the Derby to prepare for the Classic.
Selections: Tiz The Law, Authentic, Tom’s D’Etat