Al Bernstein

All 14 races at 2022 Breeders’ Cup: Top picks include Flightline, Kinross, Jackie’s Warrior and more

1 Comment

When jockeys are in the starting gate, you often hear the starter tell them “Let’s get tied on,” which means they should be ready for the gate to spring open. For people who bet on horse races, the Breeders’ Cup represents the greatest opportunity to “get tied on” in the entire year. Where else will you have two days of 14 world championship races, with large fields and great betting opportunities? Those opportunities are large, as I found out first-hand in 1993, cashing on Arcangues, who was 133-1, representing the biggest winning longshot in the history of the event. It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle, and for every handicapper who has had great Breeders’ Cups, you can be sure that they’ve had some bad ones, as well.  However, we all like taking a shot at the big event, so using the model of Top Pick, Value Pick, and Long Shot, here’s a look at all 14 races and the horses that have caught my fancy in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup.

RELATED: How to watch Breeders’ Cup Classic 2022: Live stream online, TV channel, start time

Friday Races at 2022 Breeders’ Cup

Juvenile Turf Sprint

Top Pick – THE PLATINUM QUEEN (12)

British trainer Richard Fahey has put this one through her paces, including beating older horses in the Prix de l’Abbaye, which usually features the top sprinters in Europe. The performance record of this one has me betting her with confidence.

Value Pick – PERSIAN FORCE (6)

Here’s another strong one from England. The Richard Hannon-trained colt has had 4 consecutive strong performances in top-level European sprint races.

Long Shot – LOVE REIGNS (2)

Huge performance breaking her maiden on the Keeneland course. Also has an impressive win in a Saratoga stakes race for trainer Wesley Ward, a turf sprint expert.

Juvenile Fillies

Top Pick – CHOCOLATE GELATO (10)

Hello, Todd Pletcher. He’s always good with 2-year-olds, and this expensive yearling had a great maiden win at Saratoga which she followed up by winning the Frizette on a sloppy track at Aqueduct. It’s a close race, but she gets the advantage.

Value Pick – RAGING SEA (14)

This Chad Brown trainee posted a nice win at Saratoga before getting involved in a “bumper-cars” finish in the Alcibiades at Keeneland. She was disqualified from 3rd to 4th in the race, but she looks like an improving type.

Long Shot – ATOMICALLY (8)

This is Pletcher’s second-string entrant here, but she has posted big scores against Florida-breds in her last two starts. Could hit the board or produce an upset score.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Top Pick – MEDIATE (10)

An Aidan O’Brian trainee who has finished 1st or 2nd in five consecutive top-graded races for 2-year-old fillies in England and Ireland. Might have the class edge here.

Value Pick – BE YOUR BEST (6)

Young trainer on the rise Horacio DePaz has had back-to-back career-best years. This filly was an impressive winner of the P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga and followed that up by finishing 3rd on a yielding course at Aqueduct in the Miss Grillo. Should hit the board.

Long Shot – DELIGHT (9)

This one was sold for $400,000 as a 2-year-old, and she seems to be coming into her own in her last two races. Her closing win in the Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland was visually impressive.

Juvenile

Top Pick – CAVE ROCK (3)

Baffert is back, and in a big way. This one posted wins by over 5 lengths in each of his 3 starts. Will be a short price, but he deserves it.

Value Pick – NATIONAL TREASURE (10)

$500,000 yearling purchase who was 2nd to his stablemate (Cave Rock) in the American Pharoah Stakes in his last start. He could be 2nd best here, as well.

Long Shot – VERIFYING (5)

Son of Justify who was purchased for $775,000 as a yearling. Trainer Brad Cox has seen him produce a maiden win in his first start, and then he was 2nd in the slop in the Champagne Stakes. Has a license to improve.

Juvenile Turf

Top Pick – VICTORIA ROAD (1)

Will not be favored in the race but has a classic Aidan O’Brien profile for the Breeders’ Cup. Has won his last 3, and has all the marks of a rapidly improving horse.

Value Pick – SILVER KNOTT (4)

Godolphin runner has the experience of 5 races behind him. Has won 3 of last 4, but his only loss of those was on a soft course.  Keeneland should be more to his liking. I expect he’ll be a better price than the 3-1 morning line.

Long Shot – PACKS A WAHLOP (2)

Has won his last 3 for dangerous trainer Jeff Mullins, including his last two in stakes races around two turns. Will be on the pace and dangerous here.

RELATED: The Breeders’ Cup: From Experiment to Tradition

Saturday races at 2022 Breeders’ Cup

Filly & Mare Sprint

Top Pick – ECHO ZULU (13)

Dominant speed. A winner of 6 of 7, her only loss was in the Kentucky Oaks, which might’ve been too long for her. Her return race in the Dogwood Stakes shows that she’s back to her best form.

Value Pick – GOODNIGHT OLIVE (8)

Chad Brown trainee has posted 5 wins and a second in 6 starts. Last time out, handled her first effort in Grade 1 company brilliantly, with an impressive score in the Ballerina at Saratoga. Would not be surprised at all if she took the first prize.

Long Shot – OBLIGATORY (7)

This Bill Mott filly could be closing down the lane in the Juddmonte colors. Should be a nice price at the windows.

Turf Sprint

Top Pick – HIGHFIELD PRINCESS (6)

American fans may love Golden Pal, but this filly has won 3 consecutive Group 1 sprint stakes in 3 different countries. Should beat America’s best.

Value Pick – GOLDEN PAL (8)

America’s best, he has posted 8 wins and 2 seconds from 12 starts. The horse that Wesley Ward calls the best he has ever trained might run into a buzzsaw here in Highfield Princess.

Long Shot – CAMPANELLE (4)

It’s easy to forget how truly accomplished Wesley Ward’s second-string horse is here. In an incredible 2-year-old season, she took down a stakes race at Royal Ascot before scoring in the prestigious Prix Morny in France. This year, she has won two stakes races in Kentucky and lost by less than a length in the Group 1 Platinum Jubilee at Royal Ascot. A solid closer.

Dirt Mile

Top Pick – CODY’S WISH (7)

I always have trouble handicapping the Dirt Mile, but I’ve landed on Cody’s Wish. He has won 6 of his last 7 for Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Seems to be rounding into his best form for this one.

Value Pick – LAUREL RIVER (6)

Three consecutive wins coming into this one for Baffert. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he won the whole thing.

Long Shot – PIPELINE (3)

Third to Cody’s Wish and Jackie’s Warrior in the prestigious Forego Stakes at Saratoga, this one shows he can compete at the highest level. Although he’s never won a graded stakes, he’ll be a solid bet in trifecta and superfecta tickets.

RELATED: What to know about the 2022 Breeders’ Cup World Championships

Filly & Mare Turf

Top Pick – NASHWA (3)

What would a Breeders’ Cup be without a truly classy runner from John Gosden? This one has wins this year in the French Oaks and the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood in England. Her last effort was a second on a very soft course at Longchamp in the Prix de l’Opera. Should like the firmer ground in Kentucky.

Value Pick – TUESDAY (5)

Aidan O’Brien runner was plagued by soft courses in France in his last 2. Has been competitive all year when racing with the best 3-year-old fillies in Europe.  Has a very solid chance here.

Long Shot – ABOVE THE CURVE (4)

This might be the most valuable long shot in the entire Breeders’ Cup. Already a Group 1 winner in France this year, she finished a nose behind Nashwa in the Prix de l’Opera in her last start.  Should be a juicy price against a tough field.

Sprint

Top Pick – JACKIE’S WARRIOR (9)

Among true fans of the sport, this one might be America’s favorite horse. Purchased for a modest $95,000 as a yearling, he’s earned nearly $2.8 million as one of the top sprinters in the country for the past few years. Probably the best bet of the day is that if “Jackie” wins, trainer Steve Asmussen will be in tears in the winner’s circle. He’s the darling of the Asmussen barn, and nothing would make them happier than to see him go to his retirement with a front-running win in the Breeders’ Cup.

Value Pick – AMERICAN THEOREM (4)

Son of American Pharoah seems to be at his best when sprinting. His last two races were a win in the Bing Crosby Stakes and a second in the Pat O’Brien. Both of these races were a leap forward for him, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the pattern continue here.

Long Shot – KIMARI (2)

Wesley Ward has so many good sprinters in his barn that this one seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle. Her last two races, however, have been outstanding wins on the New York circuit, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the pattern continue.

Mile

Top Pick – KINROSS (13)

This one is my BEST BET of the entire Breeders’ Cup. He has blossomed as a 5-year-old, and he enters on a streak of 4 stakes wins in a row. The most impressive was the Prix de la Foret, a race that has a history as a prep race for the Mile, with winners such as the great Goldikova winning it in the past. His turn of foot in the final furlong of that race was very impressive, and I feel that American fans may not fully appreciate how good he’s gotten.

Value Pick – MODERN GAMES (4)

Legitimate contender who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last year despite being mistakenly scratched by track officials when they confused him with his stablemate. This year, he’s won the French 2,000 Guineas and had a smashing win in the Woodbine Mile. His legitimacy in this spot is unquestionable.

Long Shot – REGAL GLORY (8)

Chad Brown trainee enters with 5 wins and 3 seconds in her last 8 starts. Always gives a solid effort, but I don’t think she’s as strong as Kinross or Modern Games.

Distaff

Top Pick – NEST (6)

The biggest handicapping debate of the week will probably be Nest vs. Malathaat. I lean toward Nest because of her tendency to blow fields away. Her last 3 starts were won on the New York circuit by margins averaging about 8 ¾ lengths. She has 6 wins and 2 seconds in her last 8, and the 2nd place finishes were in the Kentucky Oaks and Belmont Stakes. I think she’s in peak form right now.

Value Pick – MALATHAAT (1)

Doesn’t have the dynamic turn of foot that Nest has, but she usually gets the job done. Career record in 13 starts is 9 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. It’s rare that a Kentucky Oaks winner who has never finished out of the money is not favored, but it may happen here.

Long Shot – SOCIETY (8)

This one represents the next generation of U.S. fillies. A winner of 5 of 6 lifetime, she is sired by Gun Runner and the mare that produced her is by Tapit. Breeding doesn’t get much better than that, and the fact that she is a 3-year-old facing older horses for the first time will produce good odds. An upset is not out of the question.

Turf

Top Pick – NATIONS PRIDE (7)

Godolphin runner is a proven factor against U.S. horses, having 2 wins and a second in 3 races in the states this year. A strong 3-year-old on the rise, he won his only start at this distance by a large margin.

Value Pick – WAR LIKE GODDESS (2)

Beaten by a half-length in last year’s Filly & Mare Turf, trainer Bill Mott has entered her against the boys this year, feeling that the longer distance will be more to her liking. To prove that she’s ready, her last race was a powerful win against males in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, going the same mile and a half that she will have to travel in this race. It was hard to separate the top two.

Long Shot – MASTER PIECE (8)

War Like Goddess is the best closer in the field, but as she makes her move, this one should be right on her tail. Might be a 20-1 price or more at the windows.

Breeders’ Cup Classic

Top Pick – FLIGHTLINE (4)

The undefeated and future King! Will be a huge favorite, and I see no way he can be beaten.

Value Pick – EPICENTER (6)

In 9 races at a mile or more, he has posted 6 wins and 3 seconds. If Rich Strike didn’t run the race of his life, Epicenter would be the Kentucky Derby winner. It’s a shame that such a reliable horse has to run into Flightline in this spot.

Long Shot – LIFE IS GOOD (2)

Another truly great horse who has had the misfortune to end up in the same race as Flightline.  A winner of 9 of 11, the only question mark is the mile and a quarter he’ll have to travel in this spot.  He may not win here, but he won’t embarrass himself.

The Challenge

Now you know the horses I am betting in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup. You can bet them if you like, but I would prefer that you go through your own handicapping process. Handicapping opportunities like this are rare, and you should enjoy the challenge of the process. Picking winners is not easy, but when you succeed against 14 races like this, you feel like you are on top of the world!

How to Watch the 2022 Breeders’ Cup

NBC Sports is home to the 39th Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Coverage begins today, Friday, Nov. 4 from 2 to 6 p.m. ET on USA Network and resumes on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 1 pm ET on USA Network before jumping to NBC and Peacock from 3:30 to 6 p.m. ET.

Big Event Weekend

The Breeders’ Cup: From Experiment to Tradition

0 Comments

What is the Breeders’ Cup, and what has it meant to the sport of Thoroughbred Racing? The closest parallel I can think of is the founding of what has become the Super Bowl, in 1967. The mystery surrounding the event was how the upstarts of the American Football League (the AFL) would do against the established franchises of the NFL. Although the Green Bay Packers dominated the first two editions of the game, the victory of Joe Namath and the Jets in 1969 played a major role in forcing a merger of the leagues and a recognition of the quality of the AFL.

History of the Breeders’ Cup

Just as the Super Bowl energized and unified pro football, the Breeders’ Cup had a unifying effect for horse racing when it began in 1984. Prior to the Breeders’ Cup, it was not as common for horses to ship cross-country, and it was even more rare for horses to ship from Europe for major American races. It was the vision of John Gaines, John Nerud, and a group of industry leaders to create what would be a true World Championship event of the sport. As Ray Paulick pointed out in a 2015 Paulick Report article: “It was an amazing accomplishment, not just for Gaines but for the entire Thoroughbred industry, overcoming politics and personal agendas and doing something that was the right thing for the game.”  To be sure, there were sacrifices made in order to make the Breeders’ Cup a reality. Consider, for example, the New York Racing Association, whose races in the fall frequently determined year-end awards. Now, vital races on both coasts would serve as prep races for the Breeders’ Cup, and they would lose some of their prestige. It would extend the traditional racing season by nearly a month, which meant that trainers of top-level horses would adjust their schedules to culminate in a Breeders’ Cup appearance. In addition, horses from Europe or Japan would have to make significant adjustments to allow for travel time and a brief quarantine period when they first arrived in the U.S.

RELATED: Private Creed powers to Indian Summer Stakes win

Few people understood how the event would be received, and it had its share of doubters. One of the biggest questions: Would the viewing public be willing to watch seven horse races in an unprecedented 4-hour telecast? To get some perspective on the founding of the event, I spoke to John Gonzalez, who was the producer of NBC’s telecasts in the early years. He spoke of meetings where Gaines and Nerud would discuss why the event required 7 races and large purses, as well as 4 hours of broadcast time. The NBC personnel at these meetings included NBC Sports President Arthur Watson, Executive Producer Mike Weisman, PR expert Mike Cohen, and John Gonzalez. One of the main concerns was how time would be filled with only 14 minutes of real action on the track. But each of these seven races required back stories, paddock reports, a post parade, commentary as the horses were on the track, post-race-analysis and trophy presentations. While some doubted NBC’s ability to fill the 4 hours, once Gonzalez started to create a format for the show, he realized it wouldn’t be a problem.

Another major player in making the event a success was Marge Everett, then the owner of Hollywood Park, which hosted the inaugural in 1984. Her contacts with Hollywood celebrities helped to put the Breeders’ Cup on the map. Celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Jack Klugman, John Forsythe, Linda Evans, and many others were on the telecast. In this era, we have come to expect a celebrity red carpet at major sports events, but this was truly an unprecedented display of star power for a sports telecast. Everett was also instrumental in having the industry cooperate with television as it never had before.  When foul claims were debated, NBC had cameras showing the deliberation of the stewards. If jockeys were at the phone near the scales explaining their version of what happened in regard to a foul claim, NBC microphones heard what they were saying. The coverage produced an intimacy with the sport that was rarely seen on a broadcast.

Another part of the success of the event in its early years was the involvement of horsemen. No trainer was more important to the event in those days than D. Wayne Lukas. The Hall of Famer still holds the records for most Breeders’ Cup Wins (20) and starters (167). Back in 1987, when the event was still composed of only 7 races (there are 14 in the present day), Lukas had an incredible 14 starters. I remember going to his barn to get conformation, or “body” shots, of his horses. If he told us to be there at 3 pm, his horses would emerge from the barn with military precision at the stroke of 3. Forty-five years later, at age 87, he is likely to send Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath to the post in the Distaff at this year’s event.

RELATED: Andthewinneris’ late charge wins Bourbon Stakes

How does the Breeders’ Cup work?

The Breeders’ Cup has a great history, yet fans who don’t delve into the sport beyond the Triple Crown generally aren’t familiar with its structure. Here are the basics of the event:

  • 14 World Championship races are conducted over two days
  • A primary purpose of the event is to gather the best horses from all over the world to compete in the same venue
  • The races are conducted in a broad variety of categories based on distance, racing surface, and the age of the horses
  • Total purses for the 14 races is over $30 million

I spoke to NBC’s Kenny Rice, and he gave me some analogies to relate the event to other marquee sports. Rice pointed out that the Triple Crown is only for 3-year-olds racing on the dirt, and at that age many horses have not reached the peak of their capabilities. The Breeders’ Cup, however, includes 14 different races that encompass all the “divisions” or categories of racing. As an example, there are 5 races for 2-year-olds, and they vary based on the sex of the horses, the distances, and the racing surface (turf or dirt). He says that the Triple Crown is similar to a high-level college sports event, while the Breeders’ Cup, with all its divisions, is comparable to the NFL playoffs, with the best of each division facing off. Others have compared it to Olympic Track and Field, with athletes competing to be the best across many different categories of events.

The idea of gathering the best horses in the world in each division is at the heart of the Breeders’ Cup concept, and it has given the sport a truly international showcase. There has always been consistent competition from Europe, but last year, two of the races were taken by horses based in Japan. One of the goals from the beginning was to enhance the international feel of the event, and that surely has happened. In addition to the Japanese successes in 2021, consider that the trainer with the 4th highest win total in the history of this U.S.-based event is Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien. Also, the jockey who is tied for the 4th highest win total is England-based Frankie Dettori.

RELATED: Knicks Go wire-to-wires the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic

Another common question about the event is why 14 races are necessary. The best answer that I can give is fairness. Among sprinters, for example, it is generally accepted that males will be just a bit faster. It is true that in the early years of the event, the great fillies Very Subtle and Safely Kept were good enough to beat the boys in the Sprint. It is logical, however, that if there are separate sprint races for male and female horses throughout the year, there should be separate Breeders’ Cup races for male and female horses.  Similarly, the Filly and Mare Turf, which debuted in 1999 as the 8th Breeders’ Cup race, created a separate category for female turf runners over a distance of ground. It would be over slightly less distance than the Turf, and it would eliminate the need to have a top-level female turf horse face the best males over a mile-and-a-half. Kenny Rice points out that while there has been some skepticism when new races were introduced, the changes have worked out. He points out the success of Future Stars Friday, with championship races limited to 2-year-olds, as a key example.

Rice also feels that the success of the Breeders’ Cup has brought renewed emphasis to breeding in the sport. Celebrity owners and breeders like Bobby Flay and Bill Parcells are notable examples. On the inaugural telecast of the event in 1984, every winner was acknowledged not only for its racing success, but also for its breeding influence, with video shown of the sire of the winner at its breeding farm. There is no question that the Breeders’ Cup has brought focus onto the breeding side of the industry.

RELATED: Cyberknife spoils Baffert’s return to win Haskell

What to watch for in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup

One of the greatest aspects of the Breeders’ Cup is that every year it is held, it is almost inevitable that there will be great and unforgettable moments. The inaugural event in 1984 was clearly helped by a memorable three-way battle down the stretch that ended with the longshot Wild Again winning the Classic by a head. The elation of victorious jockey Pat Day as he held his riding helmet to the heavens is the signature image in the history of the event. Having such a memorable climax to the inaugural played no small part in boosting the consciousness of the Breeders’ Cup to casual fans. This year, many fans are expecting another great moment as the undefeated Flightline will go to the post as a big favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. NBC’s Randy Moss has said that the performance of Flightline in his most recent race (the Pacific Classic) was as great a performance as has been seen on an American racetrack since Secretariat’s 31-length win in the Belmont Stakes.

Rice spoke to John Gaines before the first Breeders’ Cup and says that Mr. Gaines knew several things would have to go right for the event to succeed. When he spoke to Mr. Gaines in the aftermath of the inaugural, he had a sense of relief that it had all worked out.

I believe I am the only person left on the production side who worked on the first Breeders’ Cup and is still working on it. When we got off the air on November 10th of 1984, I remember going out to the apron of the track at Hollywood Park with wonderment in my eyes. None of us knew exactly what it would be like, but when it was all over, we knew this was a special event with great promise for the future. Although the Breeders’ Cup has evolved significant to its current format, I have a feeling that Mr. Gaines and Mr. Nerud would’ve approved. The purpose of the event was to unify the industry around true World Championship races, and it has done just that.

If you’ve never seen the Breeders’ Cup, reserve some time on November 4th and 5th. Words do not do justice to the idea of one great and important race after another, about 35 minutes apart.  The Kentucky Derby may be viewed as the greatest two minutes in the sport, but the Breeders’ Cup is surely the greatest two days on the annual calendar. Have a great time watching it, and as you do, pick some winners along the way.

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

0 Comments

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.