We are less than two weeks away from the start of Breeders’ Cup Week, and the purple plunge into handicapping bliss is already in full swing. Now the task at hand is trying to whittle down the “possibles” to the “probables.”
We are going to start by looking at some of those entries who might arrive at Keeneland. Since we did not have a Ryder Cup this year due to COVID-19, in that spirit I have chosen to pit my best United States challenger against an equally measured European one. Granted, some potential entries might not make it for a plethora of circumstances. Keep that present in your mind.
Still, this is a chance for some prospecting, and you might use this as an opportunity to maintenance your own lists of entries. We will get to the dirt races next week!
Here goes our Versus Edition (American-based on the left v. Europeans on the right) …
Juvenile Turf (G1) 1 mile, Turf for 2-yr-olds
Gretzky the Great, M. Casse v. New Mandate, R. Beckett
I am going to cross my fingers and hope that we see a match-up between Mark Casse’s Gretzky the Great and Ralph Beckett’s New Mandate. There is little to criticize in the former, especially if you look at the form. This one can go from very good to great with a win in this BC spot. Eclipse and Gary Barber are sitting on another gold mine with this son of Nyquist. That sire isn’t known for the turf pedigree, but maybe it will be time to start. Only knock as I see it, is can he ship and run well outside of Woodbine? This horse is a Canadian-bred and Canadian-raced, through and through.
Opposing Gretzky would be my European choice, New Mandate. Ralph Beckett does not get the due he deserves in Britain and beyond, and it would be spectacular to see this one show. He has tactical breakaway speed, just like Casse’s horse, and I love an off-the-pace runner who has a turbo late in the classic European style. Maybe Frankie Dettori will show up too, and once again, we could get a chance to see the acrobatic “flying move” in the Winner’s Circle. That was a poignant performance against a smaller field in the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket last out.
Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) 1 mile, Turf for Fillies 2-yr-old
Aunt Pearl, B. Cox v. Pretty Gorgeous (FR) J. O’Brien
Aunty is one tough relative. She is young but has the potential to be one of Brad Cox’s best fillies on the grass, ever. Front-end speed has led to her to a record of 2 for 2, and that last one in the Jessamine (G2) at Keeneland was just a piece of art. The field was a full one, and there were some good quality opponents that chased her to no avail. If this BC field lets her shake loose, it is going to be all taillights for them. Can she rate? Does she possess tactical speed? I have no idea. Retaining Florent Geroux will make her an odds-on favorite, I should think.
I want to see another of Joseph O’Brien’s trained horses at the Breeders’ Cup. He put on quite a performance back in 2011 at Churchill’s BC, riding the graceful St. Nicholas Abbey (IRE) for Dad, Aidan. That horse sadly died of colic in 2014, but the memory of that stretch run against Brilliant Speed will be with all turf fans forever. Then last year he arrived for the first time as a full-fledged trainer with Iridessa (IRE). The foolish betting public in the Filly and Mare Turf lacked trust and sent her off at 13/1 odds. But jockey Wayne Lordan and the younger O’Brien made them pay with a timely win by a neck over Vasilika. My wish is that he brings Pretty Gorgeous (FR), who is owned by John Oxley, over to match wits with Aunt Pearl. That would be a fabulous matchup.
Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) 5 ½ f, Turf for 2-yr-olds
Golden Pal, W. Ward v. The Lir Jet M. Bell
Rounding out my Day 1 “Future Stars” versus list, I cannot wait for these young speedsters to go for it. It’s like having Kid Flash and Super Boy go toe-to-toe (sorry DC fan…). I got the biggest kick out of watching the break this past summer in the Norfolk Stakes during Royal Ascot. Flip it on. You will see Wesley Ward’s (the country boy from Kentucky) gate schooling at its best as Golden Pal hits the grass - “like a bullet from a gun,” was the quote from caller Simon Holt. I love this young colt and his curtain call at the SPA was equally good. Hope he shows and flashes that early stuff.
The first half of the Norfolk went to Golden Pal, but the second was owned by Mike Bell’s charge, The Lir Jet. Once those engines began to fire, this claret-colored closer bested Wesley’s marooned hero right before the wire. I think what we need in this situation is a good ole-fashioned rematch - Breeders’ Cup style. The only issue, as I see it, is whether The Lir can make the flight over. He has a bunch of races under his belt. Could equal to being a bit tired, or it translates to being fit as a fiddle. Watch out young American sprinters, if this one drops in. That goes double for you Pal!
Turf (G1) 1 ½ mile, Turf for 3-yr-olds and up
Arklow, B. Cox v. Tarnawa (IRE), D. Weld
Zulu Alpha, M. Maker
United, R. Mandella
The signature event of the Breeders’ Cup grass races is the Longines Turf. We have had some titanic performances over the years, and visitors from afar have spent some time besting their American counterparts. Running at this distance continues to be a novelty here. It is like a rare species to find a distance miler in this country. I think we have some good ones this time around like Arklow, Zulu Alpha, and United. Whether this group can best any of the Euros remains to be seen. Arklow tried, but ran into the legendary Enable back in 2018, while last year he was far back to Bricks and Mortar.
As for the European contingent, we will not know precisely who is slated to show until we know. Aidan O’Brien has a history of sometimes sending his first-string team, and then other times it is the “B Team.” I would for sure like to have Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa walk off the plane in Lexington if that is where his BC ticket routes him. This horse has some serious rating power and Weld is a class guy. Conversely, he could keep the Aga Khan-owned champ from Arc Day at home for the Ascot Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes (Group 1). Stay tuned…
Mile (G1) 1 Mile, Turf for 3-yr-olds and up
Digital Age, C. Brown v. Kameko, A. Balding
This is the race I will be waiting for on Saturday at Keeneland because even though Chad Brown will have his share of runners, the rest of the field should be quality. Digital Age is a favorite of mine when I first liked him back at Tampa last year in the 75k Columbia. He has come a long way since then, and the Klaravich boys sure know how to invest. Of course, if Beau Recall or Factor This, pops up for Brad Cox, we will have another subtext for Brown v. the man from Louisville, which is always good fun. Toss in Starship Jubilee, March to the Arch, Mo Forza, Ivar (BRZ), and Halliday…now we are talking!
I haven’t had the chance to even mention some of the Europeans that might be coming. If they include the well-bred Andrew Balding-trained Kameko, we will be getting a gift. This one is a true miler in the best of European traditions for Qatar Racing. Kitten’s Joy offspring continue to wow on the turf, proving that the Ramsey’s had a magnificent eye for breeding. Balding and the connections specifically scratched him out of the recent 17 Oct QEII Cup at Ascot, so he could avoid the soft ground. It probably was an excellent decision; now it will be a game of chess to see if firm turf will come up for him at Keeneland. If he enters, the return to homeland of Kentucky could be sweet. For sure, he will be a formidable opponent against the Americans—this is the 2000 Guineas Winner from back in the summer!
Turf Sprint (G1) 5 1/2 f, Turf for 3-year-olds and up
Diamond Oops, P. Biancone v. Glass Slippers, K. Ryan
Imprimis, J. Orseno
Got Stormy, M. Casse
Oleksandra, N. Drysdale
This one is always an all-out slug-fest in the best of American bare-knuckle pugilistic traditions. Americans have won this race and dominated it since it became a staple at the BC table. Our Keeneland edition is going to have some major players like Imprimis who burned up the turf over at Kentucky Downs. The versatile sprinter, Diamond Oops has magnificent closing ability. I am not sure Biancone is going to run in this spot because the 5-year-old gelding by Looking at Lucky is also up for the Sprint. Even if he does not enter, we have some talented mares available like Team Valor’s Oleksandra, who will coming off the bench, and the cut-backer, Got Stormy. Tyler Gaffalione won at Keeneland with this one by a whisker last time in the Buffalo Trace Franklin County. More class and rivals will draw in here.
As for the Euros, I would not take any of them lightly because that is the nature of sprints. Sure, the style over there is different, with mounts being taken back before making a giant blast of a run. I am hoping to see Glass Slippers arrive for Kevin Ryan. I liked her late summer/fall 3-yr-old campaign very much, especially in that string of French races. Will she skip this coming weekend’s Ascot Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes (Group 1) and make the trip to Central Kentucky, instead? Not sure, will have to wait and see.
Filly & Mare Turf (G1) 1 3/16 Miles, Turf for Fillies/Mares 3-yrs-old and up
Sistercharlie/Rushing Fall, C. Brown v. Cayenne Pepper, M. Harrington
We saved a good one for the last of the turf races. Will we see the return of 2018 champ Sistercharlie? Chad Brown has her primed, but he also will be bringing Rushing Fall along too. That means double trouble for the rest of the field. The Monmouth-NYRA based trainer who is always impeccably dressed as far as I am concerned, also won this race back in 2012 with Zagora, 2014 with Dayatthespa, and finally, with Stephanie’s Kitten in 2015. He is going to be hard to stop once again. Rushing Fall might get my vote out of the American contingent, especially after that Diana Stakes (G1) win at Saratoga. Can the 5-yr-old mare make it 4 in a row? Watch out for Shug McGaughey’s hot number, Civil Union!
As I said before when I was touting Joseph O’Brien as a trainer and his runner Iridessa (IRE), do not count out the Europeans. People did last year with this duo, and they would be unwise to repeat the exercise with another pair. Whoever signals, my hopes and dreams are saddled with one of Mrs. John Harrington’s lot, an amazing filly named Cayenne Pepper (IRE). Mrs. Harrington, better known to her friends as Jessica, is a trailblazer. She started out with jumpers, and after training champions, she added runners on the flat. If you have not heard of Alpine Star or Albigna, then you have been living under a rock. She may be known as a “Mrs. John Harrington” in the tradition of British racing, but Jessica can flat out train. Will salute her if she comes to Keeneland. Watch out Chad!
Enjoy the turf everyone, hope for great weather, and get those winners! Dirt is coming next week in another edition of Versus…