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In the final big weekend of preps for the Breeders’ Cup, Belmont Park in New York and Keeneland in Kentucky will be the epicenters of the action. Beginning on Friday and running through Sunday, the two tracks will host 11 Challenge Series races for the World Championships at Del Mar. Saturday is led by the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont and the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
On Sunday, the older dirt females will take center stage as the division leader Letruska goes for her fifth straight victory in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland. While in New York, a balanced field will contest the Grade 2 Beldame at Belmont, including the defending race champion Horologist.
This week we will focus on Belmont Park and Keeneland, as we handicap three big races from each over the weekend. Each of the six will likely have an impact on Breeders’ Cup events next month at Del Mar.
Fresh out of a stirring battle in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer, Gufo and Japan come together again to headline a solid field of seven set for Saturday’s Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park.
Gufo got the win at Saratoga, holding off Japan by a neck on August 28. It was the second straight win for the 4-year-old son of Declaration of War, and his second win at the Grade 1 level. Trained by Christophe Clement, the big chestnut has won 7-of-12 lifetime, while never finishing out of the top three.
A two-time stakes winner at Belmont, Gufo also accounted for the Grade 1 Belmont Derby last fall.
Japan, meanwhile, will be making only his second career start in the United States. Trained by Aiden O’Brien, the 5-year-old son of Galileo was a multiple Group 1 winner in Europe.
In the Sword Dancer, he found a little traffic in the stretch which may have cost him the victory. Before the Sword Dancer, he had snapped a losing streak with a Group 3 victory in Ireland. The rest of the field for the 12 furlong Joe Hirsch Turf Classic includes five other classy grass horses, topped by the two-time winner and defending race champion Channel Maker and the multi-millionaire Arklow, who won the race in 2019.
Our Pick: Gufo (5/2) – The consistent late runner likes the course at Belmont Park and has never been beaten at the 1 1/2 distance.
The multi-millionaire veteran Firenze Fire returns to the friendly confines of Belmont Park as he looks to defend his title in Saturday’s Grade 2 Vosburgh Stakes.
The 6 furlong Vosburgh is a “Win And You’re In” qualifier, offering the winner an automatic berth into the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint on November 6 at Del Mar.
An impressive winner of the race last year, the 6-year-old son of Poseidon’s Warrior just missed out to Imperial Hint in the 2019 edition.
A 7-time winner at Belmont Park, he will be challenged by a pair of lightly raced, but talented 3-year-olds on Saturday.
The Bill Mott trained Baby Yoda should vie for favoritism off a huge win last time at Saratoga. He’s won 3-of-4 lifetime starts and he received one of the highest speed figures awarded to any horse in 2021 in that 6 ½ furlong allowance romp at the Spa. Trainer Todd Pletcher will target another Vosburgh win with Following Sea.
A son of Runhappy, the 3-year-old has never finished off the board in five starts, including being moved up to second in the Haskell Invitational (G1) and running third well behind Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkens last out.
Our Pick: Firenze Fire (8/5) – Back at his favorite track, look for the veteran to get the best of his younger challengers at Belmont Park.
A long shot when last seen at Keeneland, Order of Australia returns to Keeneland this time with much greater respect. The upset winner of last year’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile tops a deep field of 13 for Saturday’s Grade 1 Keeneland Turf Mile.
Once a winner in five starts in Europe this season, the Aiden O’Brien trained son of Australia has been running against some of the top milers in the world and might find the competition at Keeneland more to his liking. Top American rider John Velazquez will pick up the riding assignment in the “Win And You’re In” event for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Among his many challengers will be a strong pair of South American imports from the barn of trainer Paulo Lobo.
Ivar was a strong winner of this race last year and came back to finish a solid fourth, two lengths behind Order of Australia, in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
He has only started once this year, running a good race, albeit off the board, in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
Joining him will be stablemate In Love, who comes in off a strong win in a stakes race at Kentucky Downs five weeks ago.
Our Pick: Order of Australia (5/2) – Breeders’ Cup champ won at Keeneland last year and has been running against top competition in Europe this year.
Bell’s the One could be the one chosen as the favorite in Saturday’s Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland, but the “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint looks to be a wide open affair. When last seen at the Lexington oval, the millionaire daughter of Majesticperfection was dead-heating for second, beaten less than a length by Kimari in the Grade 1 Madison Stakes. A two-time stakes winner this year, she will face the mare she dead-heated with, Estilo Talentoso on Saturday. That one accounted for the Grade 3 Bed O’ Roses three starts back.
Also figuring prominently in the 6 furlong sprint will be the speedy defending race champion, Inthemidstofbiz, who has won one of two starts so far in 2021, as well as the multiple stakes winner Frank’s Rockette, a three-time graded stakes winner who has only finished out of the top three a single time in her 16-race career. That lone blemish on her record came when facing the males in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland.
Our Pick: Frank’s Rockette (3/1) – The classy daughter of Into Mischief should get the perfect stalk and pounce trip on Saturday
America’s top female runner, Letruska is the headliner in a field of seven fillies and mares entered for Sunday’s Grade 1 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland.
Trained by Fausto Gutierrez, the 5-year-old daughter of Super Saver has rolled through her competition in four straight big races, impressively accounting for the Apple Blossom, Ogden Phipps Fleur de Lis and Personal Ensign, three of which were Grade 1 races.
Having begun her career in Mexico, the bay mare has won 16-of-21 races a lifetime.
Chief among her competition on Sunday will be Bonny South, who actually got relatively close to Letruska last time at Saratoga. Trained by Brad Cox, the daughter of Munnings has been a runner-up twice to the favorite in Grade 1 races this year, including falling just a half-length short six weeks ago in the Personal Ensign.
A two-time graded stakes winner, she earned one of those victories at Keeneland, taking the Grade 3 Doubledogdare Stakes in April.
Our Pick: Bonny South (6/1) – It’s hard to pick against Letruska, but with a huge discrepancy in odds, I will take a shot on the mare who made her work last time.
Royal Flag and Horologist will renew acquaintances when they head a field of eight fillies and mares set to battle it out in Sunday’s Grade 2 Beldame. Royal Flag came from well back to zoom by Horologist in the closing stages of the Grade 3 Shuvee at Saratoga, two starts back for both mares. A 5-year-old daughter of Candy Ride, trained by Chad Brown, Royal Flag has never failed to finish in the money in 11 lifetime starts and comes into the 9-furlong Beldame off a solid third-place finish behind Letruska in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign.
If Horologist can turn the tables on Royal Flag and defeat the six others, which include three recent graded stakes winners in Spice is Nice, Zajeel and Miss Marissa, she will become the first horse to win back-to-back editions of the Beldame since Sightseek turned the trick nearly two decades ago. Last year’s New Jersey-bred Horse of the Year has added two more stakes wins this year to her growing total, including a smashing victory in Saratoga’s Summer Colony in her most recent start.
Our Pick: Horologist (5/2) – She demonstrated an affinity for the trip and track in this race last year and appears to be coming up to this year’s edition in fine fettle.
Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
Email: [email protected]
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