Breeders’ Cup fever will reach new heights this Saturday as Belmont Park features their Super Saturday card and Santa Anita offers five stakes with Breeders’ Cup implications during their opening weekend.
Saturday Santa Anita offers the $250,000 Norfolk Stakes for 2-year-olds, the $250,000 Goodwood Stakes for older horses at 1-1/8 miles; fillies and mares at 1-1/4 miles on grass in the $250,000 Yellow Ribbon presented by Emirates Airline and the $250,000 Lady’s Secret, fillies and mares at 1-1/8 miles. The $250,000 Oak Leaf (gr. 1) for 2-year-old fillies on Sunday will round out the grade 1 action at Santa Anita. All are also “Win and You’re In” races for the Breeders’ Cup.
Typically, the Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont are the spot light races, even during this annually star-studded weekend. Both races are in the heavy weight division of horses racing - older horses going around two turns on the main track. It is also a division that has grown to include the sophomore males, some with Triple Crown race titles, others with credentials from other major derbies and stakes this summer.
But this weekend, both tracks need to toss their spot lights and rely on the glow that will be coming off of all the stars in these races.
The Goodwood looks to be shaping up as a bit of a West Coast championship with the likes of Haskell winner Coil and Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude coming from the Bob Baffert Barn. Twirling Candy, a multiple graded stakes winner that has danced all the marquee dances in Southern California this year is also set to go at it again. Pacific Classic (gr. 1) winner Acclamation, who would be favored if he runs, is also entered Sunday in the Clement Hirsch Turf Championship at Santa Anita Sunday. Trainer Don Warren and part owner Bud Johnston are still deciding whether Acclamation will run in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic or the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Although the Goodwood boys have their Horse of the Year aspirations, perhaps the horse running at Santa Anita with the best chance at the 2011 golden Eclipse Award is a filly. Blind Luck has won three consecutive graded stakes this year including the July 16 Delaware Handicap (gr. 1) over nemesis Havre de Grace. (More on her later) Blind Luck trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has elected to keep his accomplished filly closer to home to prepare for the Breeder’s Cup and has also decided to run against fellow females in the Lady’s Secret. Although Hollendorfer has said he never considered the Goodwood, he had earlier thought of running Blind Luck against older males in the Pacific Classic.
Similar circumstances exist in New York where Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty is the expected favorite in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Although the race has been hit by the defection of Whitney winner Tizway, there remains and interesting and accomplished group.
Flat Out is now the most popular older horse in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, having won the Suburban (gr. 1) at Belmont Park this summer before finishing second in both the Whitney and Woodward (gr. 1) at Saratoga. There are also two stars from last year’s Triple Crown races making grade 1 comebacks in the Gold Cup. Ice Box, the Nick Zito trainee who won the Florida Derby (gr. 1) and was second in the Kentucky Derby behind winner Super Saver last year; and 2010 Belmont winner Drosselmeyer, are both entered.
Just as in California, however, the leading contender for Horse of the Year in New York, is a 4-year-old filly. Havre de Grace, who defeated the boys in the grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga in her last race, now has four wins from five starts this year, two of which are grade 1. Havre de Grace also takes her victory in the Apple Blossom (over Blind Luck BTW) into the Beldame at Belmont.
If ever there was a horse road warrior or an equine frequent flyer, Cape Blanco could easily fit the bill. Based at trainer Aidan O’Brien’s stable in Europe, the son of Galileo has come to the United States and won the Man O’ War at Belmont and the Arlington Million at Arlington Park near Chicago, two races beyond their grade 1 status in significance.
Saturday Cape Blanco will try for his American hat trick in the Joe Hirsch Memorial, where he should be favored over the five challengers that include solid stakes winners Mission Approved and Dean’s Kitten.
Uncle Mo, the brilliant champion 2-year-old last year who nearly went to the Kentucky Derby as the favorite this year before liver problems sidelined him, also makes the second start of his comeback. Last month, Uncle Mo came just a nose short of winning the King’s Bishop Stakes over eventual winner Caleb’s Posse. Despite missing the Triple Crown and all of the summer derbies, Uncle Mo will take plenty of support into the one mile Kelso, perhaps training for the $1 million Breeders Cup Dirt Mile – although the Breeders’ Cup Classic is still under consideration by trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole.
There are more stars to ponder and more races to handicap from Saturday; plenty to keep fans happy and players a playin’.
And to think this is only a precursor…