Acorn Stakes 2020 at a glance

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The Longines Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park has a long, storied history as a significant race for 3-year-old fillies as it requires a combination of speed and stamina as a one-turn mile. The Acorn Stakes is a Belmont Stakes undercard race on Saturday, June 20 with a post time of approximately 4:15 p.m. ET.

NBC is home to the 152nd Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 20, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV and NBCSports.com before, during and after the main event. Coverage runs from 2:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. on NBC, just hours after NBC’s coverage of the final day of the Royal Ascot in England. Stream the 2020 Belmont Stakes here.

LONGINES ACORN STAKES

Racetrack: Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
Date: June 20
Purse: $300,000
Distance: One mile
Race: 8
Post Time: 4:15 p.m. ET
Notable winners: Top Flight (1932), Dawn Play (1937), Handcuff (1938), Twilight Tear (1944), Gallorette (1945), But Why Not (1947), Bayou (1957), Bowl of Flowers (1961), Cicada (1962), Furl Sail (1967), Dark Mirage (1968), Shuvee (1969), Susan’s Girl (1972), Ruffian (1975), Davona Dale (1979), Bold ‘N Determined (1980), Mom’s Command (1985), Open Mind (1989), Meadow Star (1991), Sky Beauty (1993), Inside Information (1994), Bird Town (2003), Round Pond (2005), Abel Tasman (2017), and Monomoy Girl (2018)
First held: 1931

The Acorn previously was the first race of the New York Filly Triple Crown and remains the leadoff leg of an important three-race sequence of New York races that includes the 1 1/8-mile Coaching Club American Oaks and 1 ¼-mile Alabama Stakes, both Grade 1 races at Saratoga Race Course.

The trio of races has gone through a series of branding and rebranding proposals through the years as the New York Filly Triple Crown and New York Filly Triple Tiara, yet each of the races stands on its own as a coveted jewel for any 3-year-old filly’s resume. From Top Flight in 1932 to Gallorette in 1945 to Shuvee in 1969 to Ruffian in 1975 to Inside Information in 1994 and Monomoy Girl in 2018, the Acorn has historically served as a springboard for dozens of rising star fillies.

This year, the Longines Acorn Stakes drew a field of seven 3-year-old fillies that features multiple accomplished entrants as well as several unbeaten, but unproven up-and-comers with tantalizing potential. Let’s take a closer look at the field for the 2020 Acorn:

1. Gamine (even-money morning-line odds): Into Mischief filly ships in from the West Coast for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert having won both of her two career starts. She enters off a neck victory at 1 1/16 miles as the heavy favorite in an allowance-optional claiming race May 2 at Oaklawn Park. I think there is a high chance she goes off as the overwhelming favorite trying stakes competition for the first time as this $1.8-million auction purchase will not fly under the radar coming out of the Baffert barn while picking up Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Expecting Gamine will offer little in the way of value, so I’ll try to beat her in the Acorn.
JOCKEY: John VelazquezTRAINER: Bob Baffert

2. Lucrezia (9-2): Another Into Mischief filly, Lucrezia enters off a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Park Oaks to Swiss Skydiver, who subsequently won the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes and Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks. Prior to that Lucrezia won the Sandpiper Stakes and one-mile and 40-yard Suncoast Stakes, both at Tampa Bay Downs, with the latter just a couple of ticks off the stakes record. Anticipating she runs a big one in this spot, hopefully at a decent price.
JOCKEY: Julien LeparouxTRAINER: Arnaud Delacour

3. Water White (10-1): Speed figures indicate she would need to take a significant step forward to be competitive here, but she rallied impressively to win the Busher Stakes at this distance March 28 in her most recent start. Conveyance filly could close for a top-three finish but not expecting to see her in the winner’s circle.
JOCKEY: Jorge Vargas Jr.; TRAINER: Rudy Rodriguez

4. Casual (3-1): Filly by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of multiple Grade 1 winner Lady Tak has lived up to her pedigree thus far with two wins in as many starts. She showed me a lot in her April debut at Oaklawn Park when she waited behind horses entering the stretch and then dug in gamely to prevail. Casual then showed a lot of fight again in the stretch May 22 at Churchill Downs when she edged away late to a clear win after almost being headed in the stretch. She has plenty of speed to carve out a nice stalking trip in the Acorn and has shown maturity beyond her years in two starts. The pick.
JOCKEY: Ricardo Santana Jr.TRAINER: Steve Asmussen

5. Glass Ceiling (20-1): Well-beaten in her stakes debut last fall in the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle Stakes, Glass Ceiling returned to one-turn races in 2020 and has won both of her starts by open lengths. This will be another class test as it’s her second try against stakes company, and at the Grade 1 level there is no margin for error. I’m not sure Glass Ceiling is fast enough to win, but a top-three finish is not out of the question.
JOCKEY: Joel RosarioTRAINER: Danny Gargan

6. Pleasant Orb (20-1): Filly by 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb out of 2005 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Pleasant Home finished third behind an elite 3-year-old filly in Tonalist’s Shape in the Hollywood Wildcat Stakes May 15 at Gulfstream Park in her first try against stakes competition. Needs to make serious jump to win, but Pleasant Orb is one I’m adding to my virtual stable to keep an eye on. I think she’s legitimate but I’m skeptical she’s ready to win in this spot. Prefer her at a price underneath.
JOCKEY: Manny FrancoTRAINER: Barclay Tagg

7. Perfect Alibi (5-1): A Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old, she did not fare as well when stretching out around two turns – second by 6 ½ lengths in the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies – but should appreciate cut back to a one-turn mile. Problem is, she has not raced in more than seven months, her speed figures at 2 were not especially inspiring, and trainer Mark Casse wins at only 12% off a 180-day-plus layoff. You never know how a talented 2-year-old filly will progress into her sophomore season, so Perfect Alibi is another that figures to vie for favoritism that I’ll take a stand against in the Acorn.
JOCKEY: Irad Ortiz Jr.TRAINER: Mark Casse

THE PICK: Casual

LIVE LONGSHOT: Pleasant Orb

SUPERFECTA: 4-2-6-3

Watch the 2020 Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 20 from 2:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. 

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

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To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

RELATED: Mo Donegal rewards team’s confidence at Belmont

Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Qatar Prix de Arc de Triomphe
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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.