By Gene Kershner
Summer racing has come to an end with the closing of the Saratoga and Del Mar meetings, but horse racing fans and bettors have plenty to look forward to as we are only eight weeks away from the Breeders’ Cup (BC). This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at beautiful Santa Anita Park, located outside of Los Angeles for the first of a two-year run on Nov. 2-3.
The summer meets have set up some interesting scenarios leading up to the Breeders’ Cup and will provide enough pre-Cup drama that should build to a great weekend of racing in Arcadia, Ca. in November. So as the Fall Championship meet starts at Belmont this weekend, Keeneland’s boutique meet will open next month and just to north, Woodbine will provide several key races as preps for the BC.
What are some of the key matchups, races and lingering questions that will be answered in the next 56 days?
-- The Cotillion Handicap at Parx on Sept. 22. Last year’s 2-year-old champion My Miss Aurelia made her comeback from injury at the Spa winning a non-graded $100K stake to remain undefeated. She will face off against Questing, who comes off two Grade 1 wins at the Spa in the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama. Questing won impressively in the Alabama, drawing away from a classy field of 3-year-old fillies by over nine lengths. The matchup will take place in Bensalem, Pa. at Parx Racing in the Cotillion Handicap, run at an eight and one-half furlongs for a $1 million purse.
-- Who will emerge in the Handicap Division? The Bill Mott-trained 4-year-old To Honor and Serve held off a slow-breaking Mucho Macho Man in last weekend’s Woodward Stakes at the Spa and those two horses will represent the strongest East Coast horses. To Honor and Serve will most likely run in the Kelso at Belmont next. Wise Dan has had an impressive season and will be a horse that can’t be overlooked. On the west coast, Game On Dude ran second in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and was last year’s runner-up in the BC Classic. Look for a potential jockey change on the Dude from Chantal Sutherland to Rafael Bejarano. Lastly, I’m a big Ron The Greek fan and he should be a juicy price even though he has won the Stephen Foster and the Santa Anita Handicap this year. Both the Greek and Flat Out are scheduled to return in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at the end of the month at Belmont on Super Saturday according to Mott.
-- Will Royal Delta defend her Ladies’ Classic crown? She won last year’s Distaff finale as a 3-year-old, but has struggled after returning from a trip to Dubai where she ran against the boys and endured the roughest of trips in the $10 million Dubai World Cup. She finished seventh and returned to the U.S. to win the Delaware Handicap in July, but was fully extended to do so. She was upset in the Personal Ensign on the day after the Travers at the Spa after the race was hers for the taking when rival It’s Tricky nearly fell coming out of the gate. How she progresses toward this year’s Ladies’ Classic will be closely watched.
-- Can the decimated 3-year-old division produce a BC Classic challenger? With only Alpha and Dullahan still around (and winning) since the Derby Trail, there doesn’t appear to be a clear cut 3-year old that can pose a challenge in the Classic. While Dullahan defeated older horses (including Game On Dude) in the Pacific Classic, most hold out the fact it was done on polytrack, where he’s also won a Grade 1 at Keeneland in the Blue Grass Stakes. His connections are currently undecided, but look to be pointed to a turf race before the BC. Alpha will go to the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 22 restricted to 3-year-olds and will bypass Belmont’s big Grade 1 race the Jockey Club Gold Cup, where he could have faced older horses for the first time.
-- Major turf racing galore at Woodbine and Keeneland leading up to the BC. Woodbine will host both the Woodbine Mile (next weekend) and the Pattison International (mid-October), representing key races in the BC Mile and BC Turf divisions. The International usually attracts a fair amount of international horses that travel to North America to prep before the BC. Keeneland will host the Queen Elizabeth II, the same weekend as the International at Woodbine and is one of the signature races of the fall meet in Lexington.
-- Did we see the 2-year-old Juvenile champion at Saratoga? Most likely he’ll be a Todd Pletcher-trainee, as the meet winning trainer won 23 two-year old races at the Spa, 21 of which were maiden victories. Those that could challenge include Archwarrior, Hopeful champion Shanghai Bobby, Palace Malice, and Micromanage just from Pletcher’s barn. Spurious Precision, winner of the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Fortify, second place finisher in the Hopeful round out the promising juveniles who ran at the Spa.
It should be an interesting eight weeks leading up to Santa Anita, and we’ll try and keep you up to date every Friday.