The Breeders’ Cup has something in common with afternoon delight. Even when they are not terrific, they are still pretty darn good.
Only a publicist would argue next weekend’s renewal of the Breeders’ Cup is one for the ages. With the rash of insanely endowed races around the globe, it could be the Breeders’ Cup is losing some of its allure?
Or maybe it was the problems at Santa Anita? In any case entries are down substantially from a year ago, 221 to 188.
Prominent among the missing are Maximum Security, first under the wire in the Kentucky Derby and Country House, the stewards’ Derby winner. Belmont champion Uncle Winston is another no-show. At least Preakness winner War of Will, who dances all the dances, will give the Classic a shot.
Game Winner, last year’s juvenile champion, is staying in the barn, awaiting his 4-year-old season. Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial winner Tacitus, second in the Belmont and awarded third in the Derby, also is taking the rest of the year off.
Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf Catholic Boy, who was under consideration for three BC races, was instead retired after a dull effort in the Knickerbocker.
Inasmuch as he didn’t launch his 4-year-old campaign until mid-May, then raced only twice more, in July and October, it’s fair to speculate that there never was any intention to bring him back in less than three weeks for the Breeders’ Cup.
Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks winner Guarana, who would have dressed up the Filly and Mare Sprint or the Distaff, was taken out of consideration this past week, supposedly with some sort of ailment, which wasn’t specified.
The biggest loss of all came when the connections of Filly of the World and defending Turf champion Enable was put on the shelf after the Arc.
Only six of the 14 races have limit fields even before final race choices and scratches are factored in.
The Classic, the nominal main event, is headed by McKinzie, who has finished second twice as often as he has won this year, and Code of Honor, twice blessed by the stewards in calls that will be talked about for decades. Not exactly Easy Goer-Sunday Silence; Ferdinand-Alysheba; California Chrome-Arrogate, or super filly Zenyatta taking on the boys.
Nevertheless it will be a scintillating two days of racing. HRI will have a complete rundown with staff selections of all 14 BC stakes next week. In the meantime, these are the three events I am most anticipating.
Filly and Mare Turf—Sistercharlie, winner of six straight including three Grade 1’s this year, looked like a lock. Then Aida O’Brien decided to drop Magical, off a win in the Champions Stakes at Ascot last weekend, into the box. The quick turnaround, with a trans-Atlantic ship, is nothing new to O’Brien.
Magical is cross-entered in the Turf, where she gave Enable all she could handle last year. But O’Brien, who has Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck pointing for the Turf, has indicated Magical will stay against her own kind this season. Her performance will provide an interesting gauge on how Sistercharlie might measure up to Enable.
Sprint—This should be a barn-burner from gate to wire. Mitole, the likely Eclipse winner, is a deserving favorite but last year’s Sprint favorite, Imperial Hint, beat him in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga then took the Vosburgh.
A word of caution about both. Mitole has a string of six furlong wins but against lesser company. The six-furlong Vanderbilt is his only loss in his past four, sandwiched by two Grade 1 wins at seven furlongs and the Met Mile.
Imperial Hint came into last season’s Sprint off wins in the Vanderbilt and Vosburgh and ran third to Roy H, who will not be back.
The wild card is freaky speedball Shancelot, who’s less than a length away from being five-for-five. He got nailed on the money in the seven furlong Jerkens at Saratoga and was run down late by Omaha Beach in the Santa Anita Sprint championship. If anyone can find a few extra feet for his horse, it’s Jorge “The Juiceman” Navarro.
Speaking of Omaha Beach, when Richard Mandella chose the Dirt Mile for him, John Sadler redirected Catalina Cruiser here. Consider the significance of Sadler thinking he has a better shot against Mitole, Imperial Hint and Shancelot than he would have had against Omaha Beach.
Juvenile—No BC race in memory has ever had the bizarre coincidental angle of this year’s renewal. The two big horses, Dennis’ Moment and Eight Rings, are each undefeated in races in which the jockey was able to stay aboard.
Dennis’s Moment threw Robbie Albarado in his debut at Churchill Downs. He bounced back to break maiden at Ellis Park by more than 19 lengths then took the Iroquois at Churchill geared down.
Eight Rings was odds-on in the Del Mar Futurity off a big maiden win when he said adios to Drayden Van Dyke shortly after the start. He, too, came back big, running away with the American Pharoah in his BC prep.
There’s another undefeated contender with a pair of wins, Maxfield, who made an Arazi-type move on the turn to crush the Breeders’ Futurity field at Keeneland.
Whoever emerges on top from these three, or some other Arazi from a talented bunch of young horses, will immediately become the pro tem favorite for the 2020 Kentucky Derby.
What’s going on with Maximum Security and why isn’t he at Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup?
The unofficial Kentucky Derby winner skipped the Preakness and Belmont. After atoning for a loss in a minor Monmouth stakes by running off with the Haskell, he skipped the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby.
Now his connections have opted out of the Breeders’ Cup, where he could have clinched the Eclipse Award for his generation.
There’s no sickness or injury excuse. He’s running Saturday in the Bold Ruler. If he can run seven furlongs at Belmont this week, there’s no reason why he couldn’t run in the Sprint, the Dirt Mile or even the Classic next week. He does have a win—OK, first-place finish—at a mile and a quarter.
There is nothing to gain prestige-wise if he wins the Bold Ruler by a pole. If either Code of Honor or Omaha Beach take their Breeders’ Cup races, they vault over him for divisional honors. Even a win in the Cigar Mile or Clark Handicap, each a Grade 1, might not put him back on top.
The decision to stay back East is extra puzzling inasmuch as his owners, Gary and Mary West, are California people.
Something is not right, so I would proceed with extreme caution when handicapping the Bold Ruler.
Score a Big One for Racing
If baseball is the national pastime, the ratings for the first game of the World Series indicate thoroughbred racing is in a lot better shape than doom-and-gloomers say.
The Fall Classic opener between Houston and Washington (both top 10 markets) on Tuesday attracted an average audience of about 11.6 viewers, according to preliminary Nielsen ratings.
NBC’s telecast of the 2019 Kentucky Derby thrashed that number. Approximately 16.5 million tuned in to the controversy marred Run for the Roses. This was an increase of about 10 percent over the year before when the much hyped Justify headed the field.
Meanwhile, the 2019 World Series opener was down about 8 percent from 2018.
Note that the World Series is telecast in prime time, so called because the available audience is at its peak between 8 and 11 p.m. The Derby is on Saturday afternoon, one of the lowest viewership periods of the week.