|By JENNIE REES — Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff a record five times and the Breeders’ Cup Classic twice. He again has a top female and male horse, but this year will run the 5-year-old mare Elate against the boys for the first time in a field for the $6 million Classic that includes her stablemate Yoshida.
Owned and bred by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, Elate has won a quintet of Grade 1 or 2 stakes and been second in four other Grade 1 races by a combined margin of less than a length, most recently dropping Keeneland’s Juddmonte Spinster by a half-length to Blue Prize after being nosed out by Midnight Bisou in Saratoga’s Personal Ensign. But if Elate is 0 for 3 against Midnight Bisou, who figures to be a prohibitive favorite in the Distaff, the Mott-trained mare also is 3-for-3 at 1 1/4 miles, albeit against her own sex.
“The fact that she is 3 for 3 at a mile and a quarter is the reason why we chose the Classic,” said Mott, who was Churchill Downs’ all-time win leader until passed two years ago by Dale Romans. “She’s a top-class mare and she’s run very well at the distance, and we want to give her the best opportunity we can at that trip.
“She’s a Grade 1 winner at both distances,” he said, referencing Elate’s 8 1/4-length victory in last year’s Beldame at 1 1/8 miles. “It just seems — for whatever reason — that she cruises along very well and still has run in her going a mile and a quarter. Some horses, they’ll tend to flatten out a little bit at that distance. But she seems to be always coming on strong.”
Zenyatta is the only female to win the Classic, doing so in 2009 when Santa Anita had a synthetic surface. She narrowly lost the 2010 Classic on dirt at Churchill Downs, dropping the only defeat of her career to Claiborne Farm’s Blame.
Elate won Saratoga’s Grade 1 Alabama at 10 furlongs as a 3-year-old and has taken the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap at the same distance the past two years, all three victories coming by open lengths.
Still, Mott acknowledged, “We’re throwing her in deep water. We very seldom run the fillies against the colts unless we think we have a top-class horse and one that would fit the race. I think she fits the conditions of the race very well. She’s proven it. It’s not like it’s a guessing game at a mile and a quarter. Of course we’re running against good competition, so she still has to run her very best race to compete.”
That includes Yoshida, a Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt. While Yoshida has made more than $1.2 million on each surface, his only win in six dirts starts was the 2018 Woodward at Saratoga. However, the Japanese-bred grandson of 1989 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Sunday Silence rallied to be a very close fourth in last year’s Classic at Churchill Downs.
“He finished fourth but ran a very good race to a very good group,” Mott said. “Thunder Snow, (victorious) Accelerate. I think Thunder Snow beat us a nose (for third). If he repeats that race, that’s going to put him in the mix. I think there are a lot of horses in the race that are going to be competitive. I don’t think you can draw a line through that many of them. I think it’s wide open.”
The $2.44 million-earner is an unusual horse who seems as good on one surface as the other, his victories including last year’s Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (now known as the Old Forester Turf Classic) the race before the Kentucky Derby.
“Very versatile horse,” Mott said. “He’s kind of done it all. He’s a Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt. He’s got the pedigree for both, and it should make him an interesting stallion prospect…. With most horses, they’re clearly one or the other. It’s just interesting that sometimes you could have a horse who is so good on the dirt, a champion horse and you run them on the turf and they just don’t do that. We had a horse called Cigar (the two-time Horse of the Year and 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner) who was just so-so on turf and we put him on the dirt and he had a good run.”
Mott also is running Channel Maker in the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. The 5-year-old gelding won last year’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and this year’s Man o’ War at Belmont Park. He most recently was a close second behind Arklow in defense of his Joe Hirsch triumph.
The American turf horses at 1 1/2 miles have taken turns winning the division’s major races all year. The Breeders’ Cup Turf favorites figure to be Arlington Million winner Bricks and Mortar, who is 5 for 5 this year but has never raced farther than 1 1/4 miles, and European horses such as the 4-year-old Irish filly Magical, who was second in last year’s BC Turf won by British superstar mare Enable.
“I think we belong very well with all the domestic horses, all the horses East, West coast,” Mott said. “But when the Euros come in, I think they come in with a loaded hand. And we have to respect that.”
Mott worked his Breeders’ Cup trio Sunday at Santa Anita, with Elate going three-eighths of a mile in 36.80 seconds, Yoshida a half-mile in 50 flat and Channel Maker the same distance in 49.40.
Sadler seeks Classic repeat, this time with Higher Power
Trainer John Sadler got the 0-for-44 Breeders’ Cup monkey off his back last year by winning the Classic with Accelerate. And if Higher Power is a long shot to follow Accelerate as champion older male, the 4-year-old colt has credentials to give Sadler and Eclipse Award-winning owner Hronis Racing a second straight victory in the $6 million Classic that concludes the 14-race Breeders’ Cup World Championships this Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita Park.
“We’re excited. We think we have a good shot in there,” Sadler said Sunday morning at Santa Anita.
Higher Power was a useful allowance horse for trainers Donnie Von Hemel and Mike Stidham in the Midwest before being sold for $250,000 to brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis at Keeneland’s April auction. Turned over to Sadler, Higher Power put the Medaglia d’Oro colt on grass for the first time, reaping an allowance victory and good second in the restricted Wickerr Stakes. He returned to the dirt in his subsequent start, with Higher Power taking Del Mar’s 10-furlong Pacific Classic by 5 1/4 lengths under Flavien Prat.
“It was really great,” Sadler said. “He trained really well and had a couple of super works over the track. We didn’t feel any pressure. It was a good week. Mr. Hronis had a little medical procedure on Friday, like the day before he ran. His wife kicked Kosta out of the hospital and said, ‘You’re going to the horse race.’ That went so well that we had a real carefree attitude going in, because the things more important than a horse race were going so well. It was just a fun experience. We thought the horse would run well, and he outran our expectations the way he won so big.”
Higher Power was third in his last start after stumbling at the start of Santa Anita’s Grade 1 Awesome Again, won by 25-1 shot Mongolian Groom.
“He almost lost the rider at the start,” Sadler said. “He went right down to his knees, and then it was like he was eliminated at the start. He still got around there third with a big excuse. Hopefully he’ll get a good do-over.”
McKinzie, Saratoga’s Grade 1 Whitney winner who was second in the Awesome Again as the odds-on favorite, figures be the Classic favorite but remains a bit of a question at 1 1/4 miles.
“It’s an interesting field,” Sadler said. “It’s probably a great gambling race this year because you can take a lot of horses and say they have a pretty good chance. There are question marks on all of them. Can Higher Power repeat that performance at Del Mar and do it again? Can McKinzie go a mile and a quarter? And how do the 3-year-olds stack up against the olders. There are a lot of angles you could look at. Elate is another good story line. She looks like she wants that distance.”
Higher Power is out of the same Seattle Slew mare as millionaire Alternation.
“He’s a Medaglia d’Oro. He can run a mile and a quarter. He’s from a really good family,” Sadler said. “They kind of improve over time as they get older. The people who had him before me did a nice job with him. I got him in good shape. We’ve just been able to move him up a little bit. I think the distance – you don’t get a lot of mile-and-a-quarter dirt races — he showed he handled that really well.”
When asked how satisfying it was to have the conversation centering on defending his Breeders’ Cup Classic title versus questions when he’d finally win a Breeders’ Cup race, Sadler said cheerfully, “like 10,000 percent.
“We’re in good frame of mind. We have fun horses we’re going to run over the week. Some of those races, there are some pretty heavy favorites in there, so you don’t know how well you’re going to do. But we’re bringing good horses.”
One is Catalina Cruiser, Del Mar’s two-time Grade 2 Pat O’Brien winner whose only defeat in eight starts was sixth as the odds-on favorite in last year’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs. This year the 5-year-old horse, also owned by Hronis Racing, is going in the loaded $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at six furlongs.
“We think his speed figures are better going short,” Sadler said. “He set a stakes record at Belmont this year (in the Grade 2 True North), like two-fifths off the track record at 6 1/2 furlongs. We think it’s going to be a good set-up for him. He’s good on this track obviously. It’s a tough race, but he’s a tough horse himself.”
Sadler also is running Del Mar’s Grade 1 Clement Hirsch winner Ollie’s Candy in the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Selcourt in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint.
Eight Rings works half-mile in 47.20 seconds for Juvenile
Eight Rings, expected to be a very close second choice behind Dennis’ Moment in the $2 million TVG Juvenile, worked a half-mile in 47.20 seconds, the second-fastest time of the morning at the distance at Santa Anita.
Jennie Reese, for the KHBPA, Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs, is an HRI contributor