Thoroughbred writer Bill Doolittle delves into this year’s potential Breeders’ Cup winners
By Bill Doolittle
His name is Current, but he doesn’t flow gently like Robert Burns’ “Sweet Afton.”
This Current is a flash flood of a horse that comes on in a hurry – from far back to first. Hooves kicking back clumps of sod as he comes roaring down the middle of the track to get up by inches.
At least that’s the way Current did it at Keeneland, winning a three-horse photo in the last head-bob of the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes. And his people – and hopeful bettor backers – certainly hope he can do it again in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs.
Friday is the first day of the Breeders’ Cup, with five races for two-years-olds that the Breeders’ Cup is calling Future Stars Friday. On Nov. 3, there are nine more championships, climaxed with the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The Juvenile Turf is not one of the most important championships. It’s run at the minimum purse level of $1 million, with plenty of others worth $2 million, on up to the $6 million Classic.
We’ll get to the Classic, and some of the “most important” races. But this story isn’t really about the richest races or showdowns for divisional titles. It’s not about money or people. Or hot handicapping picks. It’s about horses – and the good horse stories that serve as a fan’s guide to this Breeders’ Cup.
And, who knows, a couple of them might win.
But our stories begin with Current, a horse that’s about as cool a cat as you’ll find, even though he’s just a rookie racer.
To start, there’s that Current style, coming from far, far back to get up at the wire. You don’t see many North American horses do that – even on the grassy turf.
But Current doesn’t look like other horses.
At first glance, he looks like a palomino – maybe like the flashy golden horse Trigger, ridden to TV stardom by Roy Rogers.
But he’s not gold all over as much as he has a golden mane. Shockingly blond, like a peroxide-topped surfer boy of yesteryear. To heighten the effect, Current’s people trim his blond mane straight-bottomed, like bangs. Then they braid a little hank that flips down across his face. Like a bad boy.
They don’t do anything with Current’s honey-blond red tail. It just waves in the wind, catching sunshine rays as he flies down the stretch.
OK, we’re getting a little carried away.
And it doesn’t answer the question: Will he win?
Well, … um, possibly. Current could be the best American chance in the race, but the Juvenile Turf is almost always captured by European fly-ins. Euros have won the race in 10 of its 11 runnings, with Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien taking the race four times with Coolmore horses, including last year with Mendelssohn. Coolmore is the international breeding and racing juggernaut based in County Cork, Ireland. One that O’Brien is pointing for this year’s event is Anthony Van Dyck, named for the painter.
Another nicely named horse in the race is Somelikeithotbrown, referencing the colt’s sire Big Brown and his dam Marilyn Monroan with Marilyn Monroe’s movie “Some Like it Hot” and the Brown Hotel’s famous Hot Brown.
But Current doesn’t know from names. And he doesn’t know he’s not supposed to beat Irish horses. Or English, or French. Heck, he’s only been in three races.
And besides, he’s probably feeling pretty good with jockey Jose Ortiz in the saddle. Word around the barn is Ortiz is riding a bunch of live horses in the two days of the Breeders’ Cup.
A Derby Preview?
The big race of Future Stars Friday is the $2 million Juvenile. And if you are thinking that the $2 million Juvenile sounds an awful lot like the $1 million Juvenile Turf – not to mention the $2 million Juvenile Fillies, and so on – you are right. The Breeders’ Cup has a wider array of races than it does race names. Kind of like the small name pool for Kentucky bourbon distillers and French Bourbon kings.
But who cares? As long as you know which races your favorite horses are in, you’re all set.
Which brings us back to the Juvenile – on the main dirt track – which concludes the Friday slate of championships and holds a special cache as a preview look at the top two-year-olds of this fall pointing for the Kentucky Derby next spring.
The Juvenile is usually all about speed, and the hottest speed horse is Complexity, with Game Winner not about to let him get too far away. This is an East-West thing. Complexity blew the doors off his rivals in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park in New York – versus Game Winner, undefeated in three starts in California.
And it matches the aforementioned rider Jose Ortiz on Complexity versus Joel Rosario on Game Winner. That pair may rank as two of the top five riders in America along with Jose’s brother Irad Ortiz Jr., Javier Castellano and Mike Smith.
The forecast here is those five will win maybe half of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, with a couple more going to European riding stars Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore. That doesn’t leave much for the rest of the riders.
Why? That’s a people question.
This story is about horses.
One thing to watch in the Juvenile is post position. (The race was “drawn” on Oct. 30). The one-and-one-sixteenth miles race begins very close to the first turn, and with 14 horses in the field, horses stuck in the outside posts have to run awfully hard early to find position. This might be a chance to consider a “come-along” horse with an inside post. Standard Deviation could be one.
Two Kentucky Oaks winners
On to Saturday, when a crowd of 70,000 or so is expected at the Downs. Cable TV channel NBC-SN carries both days of Breeders’ Cup races, with NBC network coverage of the final four races on Saturday (4 p.m., WAVE 3).
One of the Saturday highlights will be the meeting of the past two winners of the Kentucky Oaks – Abel Tasman, 2017, and Monomoy Girl, 2018, in the $3 million Distaff. Plus, a plucky little filly named Midnight Bisou that was placed first over Monomoy Girl in the Cotillion Stakes in Philadelphia, when Monomoy Girl was disqualified for interference.
And the ‘Girl was definitely guilty. Midnight Bisou had to run all over the track trying to find a path that Monomoy Girl wasn’t veering in or bearing out to block.
It was a heckuva thing.
Monomoy Girl was tiring but absolutely determined to not let a horse pass her. That’s a fighting spirit that can’t be calculated in speed figures.
With that head scratcher going down in Philly, Abel Tasman decided to throw in the only bad race of her career in California, finishing a desultory fifth behind stablemate Vale Dori. Trainer Bob Baffert says he thinks Abel was catching a barn bug but has since bounced back to health.
Which leaves a lot of question marks.
Enable beat the boys in France
There’s no question of who’s the brightest international star flying in for the Breeders’ Cup. That’s Enable, the solid favorite for the one-and-a-half miles $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf. The stamina-bred, four-year-old filly just captured the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for the second straight year. The Arc is Europe’s biggest race, run on the first Saturday in October at Longchamps Racecourse in Paris.
Enable’s victory is the 24th time in 97 runnings that the Arc has been captured by a filly beating colts. They’re pretty good at it. It was also a record sixth ’Arc victory for jockey Frankie Dettori, whose career has enjoyed a tremendous Renaissance in recent seasons. Dettori is tough in the Breeders’ Cup with 12 victories going back to 1994.
The manner in which Enable won the ’Arc shows just how professional a racehorse she is.
Coming out of the gate, Dettori settled Enable into a spot just behind the pacesetters in the 19-horse field. The field bunched up as they ran down a long, long straightway. Dettori had Enable following Capri, which was following the leader Nelson, in a line, with others finding their own lines of racing.
European horses are used to that, following another horse. One might think it’s similar to drafting in stock car racing, but it’s more about the calmness of following, as in a herd, that relaxes the horses on these long race runs. Dettori kept his filly “covered up,” as they say, for more than a mile – then gathered her up around the “bend” for a burst of speed to the finish.
Into the home stretch, Dettori lifted his lines and Enable glided into high gear and sprinted clear.
Meanwhile, at the back of the field, the race’s second favorite, Sea of Class, came on – slicing between rivals with a furious charge down the straightaway until it was just Enable and Sea Of Class, with Enable stretching out for the final stride, and …
Just enough. Enable was the winner.
Sea of Class won’t be coming across the pond to try the Turf. But another filly, the 25-1 longshot third finisher Cloth of Stars, will.
Of course, the race shape will be all different at Churchill Downs. Rather than Longchamp with its long straightaways, Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course is a seven-furlong oval tucked inside the main dirt track. Three tight turns over the one and a half miles. Will Enable find a horse to follow? You know Dettori would love to “cover her up,” then fly.
The Classic is wide, wide open
Many racing fans hoped undefeated Triple Crown champion Justify would bring the curtain down on his racing career with a final start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. But after winning the Belmont Stakes in June, Justify injured an ankle. There just wasn’t time for the horse to mend up from that injury, work back into racing shape, run in a prep race and make it into the Classic in top form.
While it is regrettable that Justify won’t say goodbye under the Twin Spires, he’s heading on to Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky, as a sound horse ready for a stallion career.
Not regrettably, Justify’s retirement saves the Classic from a “Can he do it?” question to what shapes up as a terrific mile-and-a-quarter race full of top-notch competitors at the world’s most famous racetrack.
Heading the class is Accelerate – who is now five, filled out like a man and hardened up for top-class stakes races at classic distances. This year, Accelerate has won the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic – all at one and a quarter miles. He’ll be tough in the Classic.
Way back in the winter in California, the top star in trainer Bob Baffert’s barn was McKinzie, rated as the winter book favorite for the Kentucky Derby. When McKinzie was sidelined with an injury, Justify picked up the Kentucky Derby gauntlet.
McKinzie came back late this summer with a sharp triumph in the Pennsylvania Derby and could be a challenger in the Classic. He’s been in some fights – disqualified once and put up another time – giving as good as he’s gotten.
Catholic Boy was on the Derby trail, too. But after running up the track in the Florida Derby, his people backed off the Triple Crown chase. In August, he won the Travers Stakes in handsome fashion. Catholic Boy will be ridden by Javier Castellano, a master.
So, you see, the water is getting deep with good horses.
And some rocky shoals many will wish to avoid. Mendelssohn finished last in the Kentucky Derby, and Thunder Snow turned right out of the gate the year before and didn’t run a step.
But one not to be overlooked might be Yoshida, who won on Derby Day 2018, but not in the Kentucky Derby. Yoshida flashed to victory on the grass in the Turf Classic. Along the line, trainer Bill Mott decided to try Yoshida on dirt, and the colt rallied to victory in the Woodward Stakes – like a good horse.
One might rank Yoshida behind the top three, and that’s probably right. But he is a grandson of Sunday Silence, the 1989 Kentucky Derby hero who was exported to Japan and ignited the breeding industry there. Sunday Silence’s son Heart Cry is the sire of Yoshida.
Listed as possible for the race is the nicely-named Mind Your Biscuits.
Also possible is Roaring Lion, a stablemate of Enable. The Kentucky-bred son of Kitten’s Joy has been a top class winner all along but euphemistically described as a “playboy.” Jockey Oisin Murphy has learned to give the horse a sharp canter coming out of the post parade to get Roaring Lion’s mind more … ahem, focused on racing. VT