Are you ready for … the start of the Breeders’ Cup prep season?
With the first of two Event days 50 days hence, a look at the North American stakes on the docket this weekend indicates that some Cup practitioners are doing just that: Getting ready.
The biggest player of the weekend is Woodbine in suburban Toronto. With Sunday’s $1-million Woodbine Mile setting the pace, the Ontario track will stage four additional stakes with Breeders’ Cup implications.
The Mile, as well as the same day Northern Dancer Breeders’ Cup Turf at 12 furlongs, are Canadian Grade 1.
The other three stakes are two for juveniles on turf for colts and geldings and fillies, the G3 Summer Stakes and the G3 Natalma, respectively, on Saturday, and Sunday’s G2 Canadian, for fillies and mares at nine furlongs on turf.
Closer to here, Belmont Park offers the Grade 1 Garden City for three-year-old fillies at nine furlongs on grass and Sunday’s Noble Damsel, a Grade 3 nine furlongs on turf for fillies and mares at a mile.
The restricted Barretts Debutante for fillies and Juvenile for colts, on Saturday on Sunday, respectively, don’t figure to impact the Breeders’ Cup since both Fairplex sprints are ungraded, although one never knows.
Another important feature this weekend at newly christened Parx is for turf runners 3 & up at nine furlongs, Saturday’s Presidents Cup, as Philadelphia Park reaches into racino account and pulls out $250,000.
I don’t think Wendell would approve.
The home team, per usual, will be formidable, the group headed by developing four-year-old Grand Adventure. “The turf is very good now and I expect it to be a fair course on Sunday,” said trainer Mark Frostad on a conference call Tuesday afternoon.
“And I think having experience on it is an advantage,” Frostad explained. “This course is different. Not all horses like courses with wide, sweeping turns. The Europeans like it, as they’ve proven over the years. Experience on it is certainly very helpful.”
A total of 13 were entered, including the lone European, Famous Name. An earner of over $1.2 million, the five-year-old sports an excellent record of nine wins from 19 starts, five at the mile distance.
“He’s a Group 1 winner at nine furlongs but I think a mile is probably his best trip,” said trainer Dermot Weld. Pat Smullen rides the five-time Group 3 winner which drew wide in post 12.
America’s other leading candidate is Court Vision. “He’s doing good and we think he’s sitting on another big race,“ said trainer Rick Dutrow. “I’m hoping he likes that [course] and that he’ll like the one turn.”
But it’s locally based Grand Adventure who figures to use his stalking style and course familiarity to best advantage. “He relaxes and stalks nicely,” said Frostad, who freshened his charge with this event in mind.
So, would a good effort put him in the Breeders’ Cup Mile? “He’s coming off a layoff and that was by design, we wanted him fresh for this. If he runs well, the Breeders’ Cup is the obvious next step.”
Belmont Park’s Garden City on Saturday is the first Grade 1 event of the fall championship meet. The deserving overnight favorite is Check the Label, the three-year-old filly seeking her fourth straight score.
“She’s matured this year and has improved from race to race,” said trainer Graham Motion on Tuesday’s call, regarding the winner of the 2010 Appalachian, Sands Point and Virginia Oaks. “I think it is due to maturity as much as anything else.”
But not all has gone smoothly since her last start. Scheduled to run back in Saratoga’s Lake Placid, she was scratched when the race was rescheduled to the main track.
“I had to work her harder for this,” Motion explained, “a strong seven-eighths [last] Saturday]. But to be honest, I couldn’t be happier with her.”
Unlike other Grade 1 performers this weekend, a victory in the Garden City, even a facile one, won’t necessarily earn her a trip to the Breeders’ Cup where she would have to face her elders.
“If she does well in the Garden City then it’s more likely we’d go to Keeneland next for the Queen Elizabeth II. But stepping up into a Grade I is a big step, as there is a lot more competition. But she’s given me every indication she’s ready.”
One of Check the Label’s major rivals is Negligee, who finished third as the Sands Point favorite before having a chip removed from a front ankle.
Last Sunday, Negligee worked five furlongs in :59.16 on Belmont’s inner turf. She’s been doing wonderfully,” said trainer John Terranova. “I’m looking forward to having her back.”