The 2019 renewal of the Breeders’ Cup is just two weeks away. Returning once more to Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, there are 14 Championship races spread across two days of top class equine action.
Day 1, Friday 1st November, has been designated Future Stars Friday and features all five juvenile races run at the meeting: two each for turf and dirt and for boys and girls, as well as the third running of the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Then it’s over to the more established stars on Saturday. Nine races, culminating with the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will light up the international racing world. Just as many American racing fans rarely engage with the sport beyond their shores, the same is true of a majority of British aficionados. To help with the transition – acclimation as our transatlantic cousins would call it – here are six horses to note from the home team.
Dennis’ Moment – Juvenile
This two-year-old son of Tiznow, the only horse ever to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic twice, out of an Elusive Quality mare, was born to run at the meeting. Trained by Dale Romans in Kentucky, he fluffed his line on opening night, tossing his rider after clipping heels at the start. If that was inauspicious, everything that has followed has gone like clockwork.
Stepping up from that initial abortive five furlong foray to a more appropriate seven-eighths a month later, he blitzed a maiden special weight field by very nearly twenty lengths. Twenty lengths! On what was, to all intents and purposes, his debut. There he barely missed the track record and recorded a commensurately monstrous speed figure.
While it should be noted that the race was at the relative backwater of Ellis Park, nevertheless this was an unambiguous statement of intent ahead of a tilt at more rarefied company.
An inevitable sizeable elevation in grade came on his most recent outing in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs over the Juvenile distance of a mile and half a furlong. Sent off 2/5 favourite, his backers never had a care as he sauntered home, geared down from a furlong out, while still recording a second mammoth speed figure.
He’s a very exciting prospect and a perfectly credible Kentucky Derby / Breeders’ Cup Classic contender for 2020 at this, granted, embryonic stage.
British Idiom – Juvenile Fillies
Staying with the dirt juveniles but switching to the fillies’ division, Brad Cox will saddle unbeaten-in-two British Idiom. Unlike Dennis’ Moment, she has a far from flashy pedigree – by the unheralded Flashback out of a Mr Sekiguchi (who?) mare – but she can run. Boy, can she run. A three-and-a-half length margin in her debut maiden special weight was but a glimpse of what was to follow on her second and most recent outing.
That came in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland, run over the Juvenile Fillies trip of half a furlong beyond a mile. Drawn in the centre of the field, she broke prominently and, despite pulling for most of the first half mile, she made her move in the home turn to join and pass the flagging leader. From there to the line down the short Keeneland stretch, she put six-and-a-half lengths of daylight between herself and the runner-up, the third placed filly a further three back.
Her pedigree is one of the weakest at the entire meeting – she cost just $40,000 a year ago – but she neither knows nor cares about that. She’s already a fairy tale horse for her owners, and now she’ll have the chance to be the horse of a lifetime for them.
Selflessly – Juvenile Fillies’ Turf
This filly is not even entered for the Breeders’ Cup. Yet. But she is very likely to be supplemented into the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf field. Trained by Chad Brown, who has won the JFT on five of the eleven occasions it has been run – and four of the last five, all of the last three – Selflessly represents the same Klaravich Stables ownership as last year’s brilliant winner, Newspaperofrecord.
Moreover, she has followed the tried and trusted route to the JFT, taking in a maiden special weight and the Ms Grillo, exactly the course charted by four of Chad’s quintet of winners. Indeed the only Brown dissenter from this career path was Rushing Fall, and even then only because a minor setback forced her to miss the Ms Grillo.
Although she may struggle to overturn the second there, Crystalle, who was given a lot to do off modest fractions, Selflessly’s connections command the utmost respect. Incidentally, it is worth noting that nine of the eleven instances of this race have remained Stateside and, further, the two Euro wins were coincidentally (?) in the two years where Lasix use was banned in the juvenile events.
Bricks And Mortar – Mile / Turf / Neither
There is a conundrum with the best turf horse in North America right now, and it is this: there is not a grass race at the Breeders’ Cup over his favoured range of a mile and a quarter. As such, connections – Klaravich Stables again – would be forced to go either longer or shorter than ideal. In either case that might compromise his continental preeminence, still more blunt his potency against a perennially strong and deep overseas challenge.
His win in the Grade 1 Manhattan confirmed top status at home; and his win in the Grade 1 Arlington Million saw him repel the Ballydoyle reconnaissance squad. But both victories were at ten furlongs.
Now he has to go down to a mile or up to a mile and a half. Or skip the meeting altogether. While the last-named scenario is possible, it is more likely the son of Giant’s Causeway will run at Santa Anita. But where?
It has even been suggested that, as a son of ‘The Iron Horse’ who came so close to winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic when a beaten a neck by Tiznow in 2000, he might step on to the dirt for the showpiece finale. As appetising a prospect as that would be, and as snug a fit as the distance would be, it seems unlikely. Personally, I’d go long: Bricks And Mortar switches off well in his races and if they went steady fractions in the Turf he’d have every chance of seeing out the trip. There is also generally less – though not no – trouble in running in the Turf than the Mile.
Street Band – Distaff
The Distaff, once called The Ladies’ Classic (oh dear), is a race where British or European interest is rarely piqued. But this year promises to be different. Not because of a horse, but rather her rider, Sophie Doyle. Street Band is a three-year-old home-bred who has had a stellar season, steered throughout by English jockey, Doyle.
Sophie has been riding in the States for a few years now and, like compatriot and Kentucky regular Adam Beschizza, has earned the respect of her peers across the pond. It has not always been easy, a pivotal moment being when she got the better of a ruckus with a male weighing room colleague to show she’s no pushover.
Doyle will rightly want to forget that, and has done a super job of letting her riding do the talking since. Street Band is the filly which has really allowed her to express her talent. Starting out on the Kentucky Oaks trail, the filly cruised home in the Fair Ground Oaks, a local prep, before getting no run in the big race on the first Friday in May.
The partnership has continued its ascendant form profile, most recently when landing the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes, coming from far back and romping clear in the final yards. Quick fractions are what she needs so, if they go hard in the Distaff on Street Band’s first crack at older fillies, she’ll be finishing to some effect. Go Sophie!
Code Of Honor – Classic
It looks a competitive but, at this stage, sub-standard Classic this year. No horse has imposed himself on the field in the way that the likes of California Chrome, Arrogate or Gun Runner has done in recent times. That makes for an interesting puzzle and the one which may go off favourite is Code Of Honor.
Well fancied when a late non-runner in the last year’s Juvenile, Shug McGaughey’s three-year-old has looked a late developer: beaten into a respectable third in the Kentucky Derby he’s since prevailed in the Dwyer and notably the Travers before being awarded the Jockey Club Gold Cup last time. He’s a proven stayer at the ten furlong Classic distance, something the likes of McKinzie and Omaha Beach (should they run) are not; and he’s improving.
But what really catches my eye about this lad is that his sire is Noble Mission. Yes, that Noble Mission: the one who is a full brother to Frankel, and the one who won the Champion Stakes on British Champions’ Day in 2014, ridden by Sophie’s brother, James Doyle.
Code Of Honor is out of a Dixie Union mare – far more dirt in the dam line – but he gets class and stamina from his old man, and he’d be a quirky triumph for that underrated (in my opinion) stallion.
There are so many interesting stories, and brilliant horses, crossing swords at this year’s Breeders’ Cup. These are but six of them. Brrrrrrringiton!