With less than two months until the Breeders' Cup kicks off at Churchill Downs it's a good time to take a run through each division to see where things stand. A summary of the major prep races for each division can be found at the file below:
A month ago it still seemed possible that the Zenyatta-Rachel Alexandra showdown would still take place in Louisville but that scenario seems a pretty big long shot at this point. That doesn't mean that the Classic won't have plenty of depth as Blame, Looking at Lucky, Quality Road, and Alfeet Express have all produced big performances in the last couple of months suggesting that it won't be a walk in the park for the defending champ.
3. Lookin At Lucky
4. Rail Trip
t5. Quality Road
t5. Afleet Express
I've got Zenyatta on top of the division since she's the defending champ and she hasn't shown any sign of falling off of her incredible form. Blame, should he stay on target through the Jockey Club Gold Cup, represents the horse most likely to defeat Zenyatta. Lookin At Lucky needs to rebound from injury and it's questionable as to whether 1 ¼ miles is his best distance, but he's the top three year old in the country and his win the Haskell was solid. Rail Trip needs to make the transition to dirt after running in SoCal for his entire career, if he's able to do that he's a prime contender. Quality Road slips down to #5 on my list, and he's barely hanging on to that spot given what appears to be some distance limitations. Finally, Travers winner Afleet Express continues to get better with every race.
Talk about a division that is starting to look loaded at the top, the Ladies' Classic could conceivably feature Rachel Alexandra, Blind Luck and Devil May Care.
1. Blind Luck
2. Rachel Alexandra
3. Devil May Care
4. Life At Ten
5. Malibu Prayer
It was a tough call between #1 and #2 but I think that Blind Luck is the top filly by virtue of her whole body of work at this point in the season. Rachel may have looked out of her element at a mile and a quarter but she'll be all kinds of tough at a mile and an eighth, which is her sweet spot. Devil May Care threw in a clunker in her last start and there's a bit of a concern that she's perhaps past her best form for the season. Life At Ten won't win a match race with Rachel, that's for certain, but she could still be formidable depending on how the field and the pace shapes up for the Ladies' Classic. Finally, I had to put somebody at #5 so I went with the Ruffian winner Malibu Prayer.
My top five for this division is limited to North American runners since it's just a guess as to which Euros will ship over for this race. However, at this point in time I would rank pretty much any horse from Europe that has consistently succeeded at the Group 2 level ahead of any of our turfers. This just doesn't seem like a strong year on the lawn in North America.
1. Paddy O'Prado
2. Al Khali
3. Gio Ponti
5. Marsh Side
Paddy O'Prado has yet to face older horses but I think he's clearly the most consistent and talented of our turf runners. Al Khali finished 3rd in the Sword Dancer and then won the Bowling Green with a powerful late kick...seems as good as any right now. Gio Ponti is always right there at the wire but he just isn't winning races this year. Telling looked good winning the Sword Dancer, while Marsh Side captured the Sky Classic at Woodbine in late August.
UPDATED: As noted in the above FanShot, the connections of Gio Ponti have now indicated that he will likely run in either the Mile or the Classic on Breeders' Cup day and not in the Turf.Mile
The Mile is another division where things are a bit of a guess due to the uncertainty surrounding possible European shippers. One thing is clear, the #1 status of Goldikova (IRE) who has been pointing to a three-peat in the Mile all season long.
1. Goldikova (IRE)
2. Sidney's Candy
3. The Usual Q.T.
5. Get Serious
The emergence of Sidney's Candy has spiced up the Mile division from a North American perspective as the talent this colt showed when making the switch to the lawn was very impressive. The Usual Q.T., if they were to decide to send him back to the lawn and point him towards the Mile, could be one of the better N.A. milers. Tizdejavu is a horse-for-course angle for me; he won the Firecracker at Churchill in early July. Get Serious has been one of the better turf milers on the East Coast in a year without a lot of depth in that category. Twirling Candy could be a sleeper in this division but I wonder if he'll have the seasoning to handle a field that is going to be awfully deep.
A major shakeup in the Sprint division after Majesticperfection was injured and retired following his huge win in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga.
1. Big Drama
2. Here Comes Ben
3. Discreetly Mine
4. Bribon (FR)
5. Atta Boy Roy
I tend to favor horses that have been successful at 6f vs 7f when looking at Sprint contenders which is why I have Big Drama over Here Comes Ben even though Here Comes Ben beat Big Drama last time out. Discreetly Mine's last performance has me wondering if his big figure win in the Amsterdam was a bit of a fluke. Bribon (FR) has a nice off-the-pace style that could work at Churchill and he's been pretty consistent all year long against quality competition. Atta Boy Roy is a sentimental pick (he's a WA-bred) and a horse-for-course play (he won a Grade 2 at Churchill this past spring)
I've got a bit of cross-over between this division and the Sprint as there are a couple of horses that could conceivably show up in either spot.
1. Here Comes Ben
2. Sand Cove
3. Duke of Mischief
4. Concord Point
I think Here Comes Ben would be awfully tough in this spot if he were to spurn the Sprint for the Dirt Mile. I doubt, however, that he enters this race. Sand Cove is a horse that I think would fit in well in this race after his win in the Seagram Cup up at Woodbine. Duke of Mischief is a fringe candidate for the Classic but would be a solid contender in this race. West Virginia Derby winner Concord Point probably has eyes on the Classic but he'd have a better shot in this race. Gayego is clearly a step off what he was last year but might take to a one-turn mile.
Filly & Mare Sprint
1. Rightly So
2. Champagne d'Oro
4. Sweet August Moon
5. Secret Gypsy
I've got Rightly So just a smidge ahead of Champagne d'Oro in my rankings, although I think both are the clear class of this division. Warbling is a consistent each time out, as is Sweet August Moon, although the latter will be making a synthetic-to-dirt switch. Secret Gypsy backed up her win in the Honorable Miss with a score in the Endine at Delaware, so she's another filly that has been pretty consistent.
I still don't have much of a clue as to the make-up of this division. Chamberlain Bridge has put up some flashy numbers and Smokey Fire just ran a huge race at Woodbine in the Play the King Stakes. Either of those two make logical top contenders. I wonder if the connections of Informed Decision, last year's champion filly and mare sprinter, would consider switching her to the turf and trying the boys in this spot rather than attempting to run on the main track, which is clearly not her preferred surface.
Filly & Mare Turf
2. Éclair de Lune (GER)
3. Evening Jewel
5. Proviso (GB)
We know Midday will be back to defend her title so she makes an easy #1. The North American contingent, like their counterparts in the Turf division, look a bit average this year. Beverly D. winner Éclair de Lune(GER) is, for me, at the top of N.A. runners. Evening Jewel might be better suited for something a bit shorter but she's a proven grass runner. Dynaslew looked good winning the Ballston Spa a couple of weeks ago at Saratoga. Proviso (GB) at least has a Grade 1 win under her belt.
The injury and retirement of Kantharos has left this division a bit lighter but there are still some pretty nice looking colts prepared to head to Louisville.
1. J P's Gusto
2. Boys At Tosconova
3. Uncle Mo
Most rankings have Boys At Tosconova at the top but I'm really coming around on J P's Gusto, even with the prospect of him making a surface switch. Boys At Tosconova has done nothing wrong in his brief career and could be the favorite heading into the juvenile. Uncle Mo has only run once but he was impressive enough to suggest he's one of the best juveniles in the country. The Norfolk, the Breeders' Futurity, and the Champagne all will run in early October which should provide more clarity to this division.
1. Tell a Kelly
3. R Heat Lightning
Like the juvenile division, a defection of the top contender (Position Limit) along with a bunch of upcoming stakes races (Oak Leaf, Alcibiades, Frizette, and Mazarine) has this division wide open.
UPDATED: According to an article at the Daily Racing Form (Major Gain may veer towards grass), Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Wonderlandbynight is not currently Breeders' Cup nominated and would require a $180,000 supplemental fee to gain entry. However, trainer Mike Reavis tells the DRF that the owners would be willing supplement the filly should she prove worthy of a Breeders' Cup start. Additionally, Reavis plans to work Wonderlandbynight over the lawn at Hawthorne Race Course this week suggesting that the filly might be pointed to the Juvenile Filly Turf instead of the Juvenile Filly.
Juvenile Turf & Juvenile Filly Turf
Uh, yeah, how about we try to rank these divisions in early November...that might be a bit easier.
1. Temple City
3. A.U. Miner
The top three are the current "Win and You're In" horses for the Marathon. Of the three, Temple City and Eldaafer are primarily synthetic horses, while A.U. Miner won on dirt at Philadelphia Park. This is another division that is hard to have an opinion about at this point in time.