Star Power Plentiful as Breeders' Cup Draws Record 221 Pre-Entries
Courtesy of Tom Pedulla of America's Best Racing
Quantity, quality, and questions abound after a record 221 horses, including 51 from overseas, were pre-entered on Wednesday for the 35thBreeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs.
The Breeders’ Cup opens with five races on Nov. 2 that showcase many of the world’s best 2-year-olds as part of the new “Future Stars Friday” format. The drama builds with nine more races the following afternoon, culminating in the Classic. The 14 races total a record $30 million in purses and awards.
Both days will be charged with meaning for all trainers fortunate enough to have a horse pre-entered.
“We worked all season toward this weekend of racing,” said Chad Brown, winner of the Eclipse Award as North America’s leading trainer each of the last two years.
Star power begins with Accelerate, Enable, and Monomoy Girl, among others. Accelerate, winner of four Grade 1 races this season, tops a deep field for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic while Enable, champion of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe each of the last two seasons, leads the European contingent. The 4-year-old has but one misstep in her dazzling 10-race career. She looms as a powerful favorite in the $4 million Longines Turf.
Monomoy Girl has swept eight of her 10 career starts. She returns to the scene of her greatest triumph, in the Kentucky Oaks in May, to face her stiffest test to date in the $2 million Distaff for trainer Brad Cox. He grew up almost in the shadow of the twin spires at Churchill and is sure to be a crowd favorite.
Additional star power comes from five former or defending Cup champions: Mendelssohn, 2017 Juvenile Turf; Oscar Performance, 2016 Juvenile Turf; Roy H, 2017 TwinSpires Sprint; Stormy Liberal, 2017 Turf Sprint; and Talismanic, 2017 Longines Turf.
Accelerate, while the probable favorite in the Classic, is hardly a slam dunk. Although he prevailed against West Coast by 2 ¼ lengths in his most recent start, the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again at Santa Anita, his performance was anything but convincing. He was reluctant to load into the starting gate, broke poorly, and endured a wide trip.
His trainer, John Sadler, viewed that as something positive. “Everything conspired against him,” he said, “and he still won.”
Others might find those misadventures as cause for concern.
Sadler, like his horse, has much to prove. Although he oversees a powerful stable in Southern California, that has not translated into Breeders’ Cup success. He is winless through 41 starts in the season-culminating event.
“I’ve had a lot of seconds and thirds in these races,” Sadler said. “It’s going to happen at some point.”
It does not help that Bob Baffert, his Hall of Fame rival, rattled off successive Classic triumphs from 2014-16 and has two formidable foes in West Coast and McKinzie, assuming both of them can shake off considerable rust.
West Coast, third in the 2017 Classic, made an encouraging comeback in the Awesome Again. That marked his first start since he placed second to Thunder Snow, another Classic entrant, in the Dubai World Cup on March 31.
“West Coast, I’ve seen a lot of improvement in his training,” Baffert said. “One thing about him, he always shows up. He never runs a bad race. He will be in the thick of things.”
Baffert viewed McKinzie, not eventual Triple Crown champion Justify, as his finest 3-year-old before the colt sustained a hind leg injury. “We know the talent is there, a lot of raw talent,” Baffert said of McKinzie.
McKinzie comes off an impressive score in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 22 at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa. It was his first start since he was disqualified and placed second in the March 10 San Felipe Stakes for making contact with Bolt d’Oro during a furious stretch run. Bolt d’Oro was elevated to first, slapping McKinzie with his lone defeat.
McKinzie is 5-for-6 lifetime. He is named for Brad McKinzie, a long-time friend of Baffert’s and an executive at Los Alamitos Race Course who died of renal carcinoma in August 2017 at age 62. The naming of the horse points to how highly Baffert regards the colt.
Baffert nonetheless views Accelerate as the horse to beat. “He’s become a winning machine, but we feel our horses can run with him,” he said. “We are going to need a lot of luck.”
That luck starts when post positions are drawn on Monday.
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