Courtesy of James Scully of


The 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be held at Churchill Downs on November 2-3 and the designated races in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series are “Win & You’re In,” awarding each winner an automatic berth and free entry into their respective Breeders’ Cup race.

This is the second of three installments reviewing North American Challenge Series winners; click here to see the first edition. Corresponding Breeders’ Cup race listed in parenthesis:


Sippican Harbor, September 1 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga (Juvenile Fillies):

Sippican Harbor moved to the fore of East Coast two-year-old filly division, overcoming a sluggish start to win the seven-furlong Spinaway (G1) going away by two lengths. After posting a 17-length wire-to-wire romp in an off-the-turf maiden special weight, the Gary Contessa-trained daughter of Orb closed last-to-first in the 11-horse field with Joel Rosario.

“We knew coming into this race that she was going to have to pass the acid test today," said Contessa, who saddled his second career Grade 1 winner and first since Do It With Style took the 1991 Ashland. "She beat up nobody in her last race and this time she had to beat up a lot of 'somebodys' and she delivered…That's the kind of two-year-old you want. One that is versatile, you can send her; she can be on the lead or you can take her back and come from last. She's got a great mind. You see what her mind is like in the stall. She is just the coolest horse in the world. She makes my job easy.”


Abel Tasman, August 25 Personal Ensign at Saratoga (Distaff):

The Distaff (G1) shapes up to be one of the more compelling races of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup and Abel Tasman will take some beating in a projected deep field. Runner-up in the 2017 Distaff, last year’s champion three-year-old filly improved her record to 3-0 versus Elate with a game neck decision in the Personal Ensign (G1). By Quality Road, Abel Tasman had to survive a claim of foul after bumping her rival in the stretch but stewards ruled the contact made no difference on the outcome. Mike Smith was up on the superb six-time Grade 1 winner.

"She's just phenomenal,'' trainer Bob Baffert said. "She's just getting better with age and she's brought us so much satisfaction. I could have easily run her at Del Mar, but I wanted to come to Saratoga. It doesn't get any bigger than this, when you can win here in front of all these people on Travers Day…She's an incredible mare. She was champion and she's one of the best I've ever trained, and she just keeps showing it."


Catalina Cruiser, August 25 Pat O’Brien at Del Mar (Dirt Mile):

Catalina Cruiser cut back in distance and made short of a scratch-reduced field in the seven-furlong Pat O’Brien (G2), rolling to a 7 ¼-length triumph. Campaigned by the brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis, who won their fourth owners’ title at Del Mar in the last six years, the John Sadler-conditioned Catalina Cruiser improved his perfect mark to four-for-four. He’s bred to relish the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Breeder’s Cup Classic (G1) – out of a mare by 2013 Horse of the Year Mineshaft and by 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags – and easily passed his first attempt at two turns when romping in the July 21 San Diego (G2) early in the Del Mar meet. However, Hronis Racing and Sadler have leading Classic contender Accelerate and Sadler reiterated plans to point Catalina Cruiser to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), which will be contested at a one-turn distance this year at Churchill Downs. Among those left in the winner’s wake was runner-up Battle of Midway, the 2017 Dirt Mile victor who was making his first start back after being found infertile at stud.

“He’s something,” Van Dyke said of Catalina Cruiser. “He came away from there well and he was rolling by the second jump. Once he gets going, he’s a little hard to stop. As big as he is and as long as he strides, he’s got good balance to him. He’s professional. He goes about his business well.  I knew what was going on out there today; I knew where I was with him and who he was running against. He is something. I said he was one of the best horses I’ve ever been on. He just might be the best. He’s a cruiser, for sure.”


Marley’s Freedom, August 25 Ballerina at Saratoga (Filly & Mare Sprint):

Marley’s Freedom powered past from her Ballerina (G1) foes in the stretch and confirmed herself as the leading contender for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) with a 3 ¼-length score. Transferred to Bob Baffert this spring, the four-year-old filly has now won four straight and Mike Smith was up on the 9-5 favorite here. Marley’s Freedom likes to race off the pace before offering a strong turn of foot.

"The quality is there and you have to come to Saratoga if you are looking for a championship,” Baffert said. “That is why I brought her, to see how she fits (and) this is a pretty good field. (It was an) unbelievable race today. When I saw her at the top of the stretch on the outside, I felt pretty good. She had an extra gear, that's how she works. She and Abel have been working unbelievably. I didn't think she would win by that far."


Whitmore, August 25 Forego at Saratoga (Dirt Mile):

Whitmore is peaking at the right time for connections and notched his first Grade 1 win when rallying to capture the seven-furlong Forego (G1) by 1 ½ lengths. But while he stamped his Dirt Mile (G1) ticket, Whitmore will be pointed to the October 5 Phoenix (G3) at Keeneland 5, a “Win & You’re In” for the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), and appears likely to target the shorter trip at Churchill. A six-time stakes victor at six furlongs, the five-year-old gelding recorded his first career win at a longer distance in the Forego. Ricardo Santana Jr. has the mount for co-owner and trainer Ron Moquett.

“To run that well here, he's as consistent as they come and he tries every time," Moquett said. "He's made a career out of outrunning his trainer and I just hope he keeps doing it. He's a cool dude. He's fun to be around. He's a challenge. He brings that same tenacity on the track.”


Glorious Empire, August 25 Sword Dancer at Saratoga (Turf):

Glorious Empire proved to be a Cinderella story at Saratoga this summer. The reformed claimer registered his second straight upset when leading all the way in the 1 ½-mile Sword Dancer (G1), surprising onlookers at 15-1 as he was never seriously threatened recording a 1 ¾-length win under Julien Leparoux. Trained by James “Chuck” Lawrence II, who is based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, Glorious Empire was exiting a 15-1 dead-heat triumph in the July 28 Bowling Green (G2) and the seven-year-old gelding is now three for three on Saratoga’s inner turf.

"This is my first Grade 1 and we're going to bask in it," Lawrence said. "Of course, the Breeders' Cup (Turf) is going to be a big option, but we're going to take it day by day and see how the horse is and everything. After this, that's going to be our big goal. Our big goal before was just to win a race at Saratoga with him, so he's exceeded our expectations."


Accelerate, August 18 Pacific Classic at Del Mar (Classic):

Leading Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) contender Accelerate delivered an epic blowout in the 28th running of the Pacific Classic (G1), winning Del Mar’s centerpiece event by a record-setting 12 ½-length margin. Owned by Hronis Racing and trained by John Sadler, Accelerate posted his third convincing win at the Classic’s 1 ¼-mile distance, adding the Pacific Classic to the Santa Anita H. (G1) and Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), and he’s now four-for-five this season. Joel Rosario replaced an injured Victor Espinoza and the five-year-old was favored at 2-5.

“It was very impressive,” Sadler said.” He’s been good on this track, he’s won stakes here every year. He’s better this year so you had to figure he’d be better on this track this year. The only thing I was nervous about was Joel (Rosario). I told him ‘Ride him like he’s the best horse. Don’t let anything cheap get in front of you. Stay in contact with the leaders’. He did that so I knew (Accelerate) would kick in well. I wanted to keep them (Accelerate and Catalina Cruiser) separated. We had the best horse and the second best horse (on the grounds at Del Mar) and we wanted to use them in different races…I woke up this morning refreshed. The toughest thing all day was getting into the parking lot.”


Fashion Business, August 28 Del Mar Handicap (Turf):

An English-bred son of the great Frankel, Fashion Business recorded his first stakes victory when rallying to a convincing win in the 1 3/8-mile Del Mar H. (G2). A fast-closing fifth in the Manhattan (G1) on Belmont Stakes Day, the four-year-old gelding rebounded from a non-threatening eighth in the Eddie Read (G2) earlier in the Del Mar meet. Flavien Prat was up for Phil D’Amato.

“I thought he was going to come running,” D’Amato said. “I think Flavien just sensed they were going so slow it was a now or never type move. His race at Belmont was actually way better than it looked. He was in a blanket finish and then the horse that finished behind him came back and won the Arlington Million. So it was a very productive race. The last race (Eddie Read Stakes) -- the mile and an eighth -- we used as a prep for this race and it just worked out perfect.”


Robert Bruce, August 11 Arlington Million (Turf):

Robert Bruce displayed a dynamic turn of foot into the stretch, blowing past foes into the lead, and withstood the late charge of stablemate Almanaar to prevail by a half-length in the Arlington Million (G1). A Chilean-bred standout who joined Chad Brown’s stable this year, the four-year-old colt improved to eight-for-nine lifetime and headed a Brown-trained exacta in the prestigious Million. Irad Ortiz Jr. provided the well-timed ride on his 26th birthday.

“He’s got an unbelievable kick (Robert Bruce), but so did the losing horse. They both ran tremendous,” Brown said. “I may run him once before the Breeders’ Cup, possibly the Joe Hirsch (Turf Classic at Belmont Park on Sept. 29).”


Sistercharlie, August 11 Beverly D. at Arlington (Filly & Mare Turf):

Sistercharlie won the rubber match with Fourstar Crook in the Beverly D. (G1), scoring by a half-length. The Chad Brown-trained turf distaffers had taken turns beating each other in a pair of meetings this season, with Sistercharlie proving best in Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland and Fourstar Crook taking the New York (G2) at Belmont Park, and both possess a stout closing kick. Irish-bred Sistercharlie, a four-year-old daughter of Myboycharlie and a French Group 3 winner in 2017, got the jump on her stablemate to score beneath regular rider John Velazquez.

“It’s very rewarding for my staff and my owners and my mentor, I’m thinking about him right now, Bobby Frankel. He loved this race,” Brown said. “He loved coming to Arlington, a big supporter. He taught me so much and to be able to come back and use his training techniques, everything he taught me, to come here and have success in this race is really special…(Sistercharlie)’s very consistent. She’s the type of mare any trainer would love to have.”


Diversify, August 4 Whitney at Saratoga (Classic):

Diversify solidified his status as the top Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) prospect on the East Coast with a decisive wire-to-wire triumph in the Whitney (G1) over a sloppy track. A New York-bred gelding, Diversify was exiting an impressive 6 ½-length blowout in the 1 ¼-mile Suburban (G2) and the five-year-old will bring a three-race win skein into his title defense in the September 29 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Irad Ortiz Jr. pilots the confirmed front-runner for Richard Violette Jr. Mind Your Biscuits, the 2017 New York-bred of the Year, finished second.

“I wanted to be on the lead,” Ortiz said. “He did everything right for me. He was ready. I knew somebody was going to be coming, no matter what. It's a Grade 1, and there's nice horses who want to win the race. He proved he could keep going. Only nice horses can do that. He was steady; he wasn't dying at the end, he'd keep trying. He did it the right way."


Ransom the Moon, July 28 Bing Crosby at Del Mar (Sprint):

Ransom the Moon made a successful title defense in the six-furlong Bing Crosby (G1), rallying from off the pace to win going away by 2 ¼ with Flavien Prat. Fifth in the 2017 TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), the six-year-old appears more formidable than ever. Ransom the Moon easily handled runner-up Roy H, the 2017 Sprint winner and reigning sprint champion, and Phil D’Amato has trained the well-traveled son of Malibu Moon for the last two seasons.

“This horse beat this field on the square,” D’Amato said. “Roy H is a great horse, hats off to him. But my horse, since I gave him a freshening awhile back he has kind of become the horse of old. I was more focused on (his other horse, the third-place finisher) Touching Rainbows as the race developed, because he was in (contention) but then I saw Flavien (Prat) tip Ransom the Moon out and saw them steadily pick up speed. By the time they hit the top of the lane I thought Ransom the Moon was going to run them down.”


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