The Breedersâ€™ Cup Championships return home to Kentucky this weekend for a ninth time â€“ and the first at Keeneland Race Course â€“ and the wagering roster features what are arguably the two best horses in the world and a renewal of the $5 million Classic that has the potential to rank among the best in the history of the event.
The marquee stars are Ahmed Zayatâ€™s American Pharoah, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the first American Triple Crown winner since 1978, and Anthony Oppenheimerâ€™s Golden Horn, a top-notch European star with wins in the Epsom Derby and Prix de lâ€™Arc de Triomphe.
American Pharoah is the 6-5 favorite in the $5 million Classic, the main event at 1 1/4-miles on the main track, while Golden Horn is an odds-on 4-5 choice to win the 1 1/2-mile Turf â€“ although he drew the potentially tricky rail post.
But the Classic is the main event of two-days of championship competition, and the field, headed by American Pharoah and future Hall of Fame mare Beholder, appears to be one of the best in more than three decades of Breedersâ€™ Cup competition. My vote for the best-ever Classic remains with the 1998 running at Churchill Downs, won by Awesome Again over Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm. But an intriguing group of 10 has been entered and there is no question that it will provide a memorable finale to the Cup.
Itâ€™s a special thing to see a Breedersâ€™ Cup in horse country and near the home of the late John Gaines, the visionary breeder who proposed the year-end championship in 1982. In just over two years, the Breedersâ€™ Cup Championships were run for the first time in 1984 in one of the quickest concept-to-reality stories in the history of Thoroughbred racing.
European horses have always performed well in the eight Breedersâ€™ Cup races at Churchill Downs, as the weather is not that different than the home climate at this time of year. This weekâ€™s very rainy forecast also provides an advantage to the Euros, who run primarily on courses with a bit of â€œcutâ€ in the ground.Â The weather and course conditions will make a formidable Euro contingent even stronger.
Friday, Oct. 30
$1 million Juvenile Turf (3:30 p.m. â€“ all times EDT) â€“ The Euros should get off to a big start here; although, major hopes Cymric and Hit It A Bomb drew outside posts at a mile. But those two look the best and should run well despite outside trips. And Hit It a Bomb gained valuable experience last out when he won around a left-hand turn.
Choices: Hit It a Bomb, Cymric, Conquest Daddyo, Shogun
$1 million Dirt Mile (4:10 p.m.) â€“ Interesting that Wicked Strong dropped into this spot rather than the Classic, and Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneiderâ€™s Lea is a sentimental choice for the first BC renewal in the 859 area code. But the very fast Liamâ€™s Map is an even-money choice here, and his speed allows him to dictate the terms of this battle.
Choices: Liamâ€™s Map, Lea, Wicked Strong, Tapiture
$1 million Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (4:50 p.m.) â€“ Versatile American Harmonize is favored, but Euro hope Alice Springs is coming off a good win and adds Lasix for her U.S. debut.
Choices: Alice Springs, Harmonize, Illuminate, Last Waltz
$2 million Longines Distaff (5:35 p.m.) â€“ Defending Distaff winner Untapable, who also won the 2014 Longines Kentucky Oaks, was a major contender in a star-studded field but spiked a fever on Tuesday that knocked her out of the race. I like this yearâ€™s U.S. 3-year-old fillies, and Iâ€™m A Chatterbox has been as dependable as any in that good group. The J. Larry Jones trainee is versatile and should be close throughout from her rail post.
Choices: Iâ€™m A Chatterbox, Stellar Wind, Sheer Drama, Wedding Toast
Saturday, Oct. 31
$2 million 14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies (12:05 p.m.) â€“ Unbeaten favorite Songbird drew an outside post but will be in the game quickly for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. Bold Quality is a live long-shot here after a rugged trip in last in Churchill Downsâ€™ Pocahontas.
Choices: Songbird, Nemolia, Bold Quality, Nickname
$1 million TwinSpires Turf Sprint (12:45 p.m.) â€“ Versatile filly Lady Shipman was upset at Keeneland last out â€“ but gets Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle, a five-pound weight concession from males and a good post in what should be a wild one.
Choices: Lady Shipman, Undrafted, The Great War, No Silent
$1 million TwinSpires Filly & Mare Sprint (1:25 p.m.) â€“ Defending winner Judy The Beauty is back after a good, but so-far winless, season and faces a very tough group here. Talented Stonetastic is fresh after two strong starts this year and can post a mild upset.
Choices: Stonetastic, La Verdad, Taris, Super Majesty
$2 million Filly & Mare Turf (2:10 p.m.) â€“ Favored 1000 Guineas winner Legatissimo seems to be improving with each start and should love the damp ground at Keeneland. Get the sharpie out and circle her name. Intriguing long-shot: Queenâ€™s Jewel.
Choices: Legatissimo, Dacita, Stephanieâ€™s Kitten, Queenâ€™s Jewel
$1.5 million TwinSpires Sprint (2:50 p.m.) â€“ Holy Boss looked special in his 2014 debut at Churchill Downs but has been slow in reaching top-level races. He appears poised for an upset in the biggest test of the Steve Asmussen traineeâ€™s career and will be rolling late off a hot pace.
Choices: Holy Boss, Private Zone, Limousine Liberal, Runhappy
$2 million Mile (3:30 p.m.) â€“ This one is usually a European domain, and that should be the case again in the first Mile in the Bluegrass. Two-time Group I winner Make Believe should be a presence during every step of this one for trainer Andre Fabre and jockey Olivier Peslier and runs well on any type of ground.
Choices: Make Believe, Esoterique, Impassable, Tepin
$2 Juvenile (4:10 p.m.) â€“ Churchill Downs-based Dale Romans has two big chances to win this one with Brodyâ€™s Cause and long-shot Unbridled Outlaw, and pre-race favorite Nyquist received no favors when he draw post 13. This is one of the dayâ€™s most competitive races, which is why Greenpointcrusader is the tepid 4-1 favorite. Unbridled Outlawâ€™s troubled runner-up run in the Iroquois was huge, and he has a big upset chance under Mike Smith.
Choices: Unbridled Outlaw, Brodyâ€™s Cause, Nyquist, Exaggerator
$3 million Turf (4:50 p.m.) â€“ Favored Golden Horn is a neck away from being unbeaten in eight races for redoubtable trainer John Gosden, and his win in the Arc de Triomphe was one of his most impressive efforts. Heâ€™s the even-money choice here and must overcome his rail post, but has the talent to be up to the task in his debut on U.S. shores.
Choices: Golden Horn, Found, Twilight Eclipse, Big Blue Kitten
$5 million Classic (5:35 p.m.) â€“ From a tactical standpoint, American Pharoah and Beholder possess the only serious speed in the race. Both can rate off the pace, but Beholder will be forced to come out running from outside post, and American Pharoah canâ€™t let her get away to a comfortable lead. It will be a chess game for riders Victor Espinoza on the Derby winner and Hall of Famer Gary Stevens on Beholder. Iâ€™m a strong believer in the quality of this 3-year-old crop, and that Frosted has been compromised by tactical disadvantages and plain bad luck this year. I donâ€™t think heâ€™ll beat American Pharoah, who has been training brilliantly in California since his loss to Classic rival Keen Ice in the Travers. But if anyone does beat the Triple Crown Winner, I think it will be the gray colt trained by Lexington native Kiaran McLaughlin. Howâ€™s that for a great Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic story? VT
Choices: American Pharoah, Frosted, Beholder, Honor Code