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Breeders’ Cup preps abound five weeks before the World Championships at Del Mar. Led by important races in New York, California, and Kentucky, favoritism for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic will likely be determined by this weekend’s action. At Belmont, Maxfield faces tough competition in the Woodward, while Knicks Go and Medina Spirit will look to carry their speed in races in Kentucky and California respectively.
It’s not only the older males who will highlight the action the next few days, as graded stakes races with implications for most of the Breeders’ Cup races will be played out across the country. All told, this weekend is the most prolific series of prep races for the Breeders’ Cup of the year.
This week we will focus on Belmont Park and Santa Anita, as we handicap three big races from each on Saturday. Each of the six will be a key race for Breeders’ Cup events next month at Del Mar.
Some of the leading older males in the nation, including Maxfield and Art Collector, make up a solid field of six sets for Saturday’s Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park. A Godolphin homebred, Maxfield was a stylish winner of a pair of Grade 2 races at Churchill Downs earlier this season in the Stephen Foster and Alysheba but will be looking for his first Grade 1 victory of the year. Adding blinkers for the Woodward, the strapping Brendan Walsh-trainee is coming in off a second-place finish behind Knicks Go in the Grade 1 Whitney, which was only his second career defeat in 9 starts.
A prime candidate for last summer’s Kentucky Derby, Art Collector was forced to miss the race but has returned strong this season. The winner of the Grade 2 Blue Grass in 2020 is undefeated in four starts at the 9-furlong distance of the Woodward, including an easy win in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic most recently. The son of Bernardini is also 2-for-2 since joining the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott barn this summer.
Our Pick: Maxfield (8/5) – Look for the handsome son of Street Sense to prove best in here for his first Grade 1 victory of 2021.
In a race with great historical significance in determining the nation’s best juvenile, it’s hard to pick out a horse to beat in Saturday’s Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park. A “Win And You’re In” qualifying event for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 5 at Del Mar, this year’s edition of the one-mile Champagne is topped by a pair of flashy debut winners in Jack Christopher and My Prankster, taking on a pair of graded stakes winners in Wit and Gunite.
While all four should receive serious support at the betting windows, it is Jack Christopher who has been tabbed as the morning line favorite. A son of Munnings, trained by Chad Brown, he won his debut going away at Saratoga on August 28. One week earlier it was My Prankster who impressed at the Spa with a 10-length debut romp. Gunite is the most experienced horse in the race and comes in off a big win in the Grade 1 Hopeful, where he handed Wit his first career loss. The latter got off to a bad start and rallied for the place in the Hopeful.
Our Pick: Wit (2/1) – Back at Belmont Park, the son of Practical Joke should have plenty of time to unwind his powerful late kick.
America’s top turf trainer Chad Brown will send out the promising duo of McKulick and Kinchen in Saturday’s Grade 2 Miss Grillo at Belmont Park. A 1 1/16-mile grass race for 2-year-old fillies, it has consistently been a key prep for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf to be contested this year on November 5 at Del Mar.
McKulick, a bay daughter of Frankel, rallied wide to win nicely in her debut in a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden on August 8 at Saratoga over next-out winner Consumer Spending. Kinchen, meanwhile, was beaten in her debut but also showed a strong rally the first time out. A daughter of Lope de Vega, she came on late to finish second on August 29, also going 1 1/16 miles on the Saratoga turf. Hail To was the filly that beat Kinchen that day and could offer the biggest danger to the Brown pair. A well-bred daughter of Kitten’s Joy, she won by ¾ of a length while making her second career start.
Our Pick: McKulick (1/1) – The good looking daughter of Frankel looks to be the most talented one in the field and should win on Saturday.
Medina Spirit, still the winner of the Kentucky Derby until the courts say otherwise, will face older horses for the first time as the headliner in a strong field of eight ready to contest the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita. A “Win And You’re In” qualifying event for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6 at Del Mar, Saturday’s feature will also feature the top older males in California, including the Pacific Classic winner, Tripoli, and the Santa Anita Handicap winner, Idol.
When last seen, Medina Spirit rebounded from a third-place finish to handle his competition in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar five weeks ago. It was the Bob Baffert-trained colt’s third stakes win of the season. Tripoli has been a new horse since switching to dirt three starts back for trainer John Sadler and comes in off his biggest win by far last time in Del Mar’s signature race. Finally, Idol has been away since winning the Grade 1 Big Cap in March, but has been working well for his return for trainer Richard Baltas.
Our Pick: Idol (7/2) – Late developing Curlin colt should be primed and ready off the layoff to show he is one of America’s leading older horses.
The streaking Dr. Schivel will be in search of his fifth consecutive win on Saturday when he tops a contentious field of six sprinters set for the Grade 2 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. A son of Violence, trained by Mark Glatt, he comes into the 6-furlong test off a neck victory in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby on July 31 at Del Mar. He also counts last season’s Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity among his four straight wins. Glatt also trains Collusion Illusion, which is one of five multiple-stakes winners in the field.
The biggest threat to the Glatt pair in the Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” qualifier for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint on November 6 at Del Mar, could be the race’s defending champ, C Z Rocket. A hard-fought winner in the 2020 edition, the 7-year-old son of City Zip looks to return to his winning ways after three consecutive losses. He’s run well in each, though, and his rally came up narrowly short to Dr. Schivel in the Bing Crosby two starts back.
Our Pick: Vertical Threat (10/1) – The long shot has the most speed in a race without much early pace and should be ready to fire a big shot in his third start of the year.
Mo Forza, Smooth Like Strait, and Hit the Road, the top three finishers in the August 21 Del Mar Mile (G2) respectively, renew acquaintances in a compact field of five set for Saturday’s Grade 2 City of Hope Mile at Santa Anita. As a key prep for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile next month at Del Mar, the trio will be looking to enter the World Championships on a winning note. Mo Forza is the likely favorite of the recent win, which was his seventh victory in his last eight starts. It was also the son of Uncle Mo’s first race of 2021.
A 4-year-old colt by Midnight Lute, Smooth Like Strait is another consistent grass horse who has already won four times running a mile at Santa Anita. A solid second, beaten just a head by Mo Forza last time, he was an impressive winner of the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile in his most recent start at Santa Anita. Meanwhile, Hit the Road was a game neck winner of the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile in March and was beaten by only one length in the Del Mar Mile in his first race in 4 ½ months.
Our Pick: Mo Forza (1/1) – Hard to look past the Peter Miller-trained horse who just keeps winning.
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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