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Every sport has a definitive year-ending event to crown its champions. In Thoroughbred racing, the Breeders' Cup World Championships is the culmination of the horse racing season worldwide and the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic is the defining event of the international racing season.The Breeders' Cup Classic, run at 1 1/4 miles, draws the top international Thoroughbreds year after year. It is open to horses 3-years-old and older and is limited to 14 starters.
The bad boy of racing in 2017 has grown into a leading candidate for the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2018.
Thunder Snow, who has done a majority of his running overseas, is best known to American racing fans as the horse who refused to run in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. He came out of the starting gate that day bucking and was quickly pulled up, looking more like a rodeo horse than the well-credentialed Grade 1 winner he truly was.
Owned by one of the biggest powerhouses in all of racing, Godolphin, LLC., Thunder Snow showed promise from the very start when he won his career debut in May of 2016 and ended his juvenile season by winning the prestigious Criterium International at Saint Cloud racetrack in France. He earned his way in the Kentucky Derby by winning the UAE Derby at Meydan in Dubai.
Since his misfortune in the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Snow has continued to prove he belongs among the sport's elite, finishing among the top three in all, but one of his most recent nine starts. He had his coming out party when he defeated the world's best horses in the $10 million Dubai World Cup by 5 ¾ lengths March 31. He has not started since that race, but is expected to make one start in the United States before he returns to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 4, looking to prove his antics are behind him.
This elite European invader has been pointed to the Breeders' Cup Classic by trainer John Gosden to separate him from Gosden's superstar filly Enable, who is headed to the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf and will probably be the shortest-priced horse in the two-day World Championships.
Roaring Lion is 4-for-4 when racing in contests at or close to 1 ¼ miles and ships to Louisville on a four-race Group 1 winning streak. Obviously, the main question regarding his chance of winning the Classic boils down to track surface - he's an elite turf horse, but has never raced on dirt before.
Eleven of his 12 starts have come on grass, and one on Kempton Park's artificial main track - a six-length win in September 2017. If he can handle the surface switch, he has a class advantage over most of the Classic field and looms as a leading win candidate given his proven stamina and stalking running style.
Catholic Boy gave his trainer Jonathan Thomas his first career black-type victory when he won the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes last summer at Saratoga. The colt then handed his conditioner his first Grade one score when he prevailed in a heated stretch duel with Analyze It to capture the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes July 7.
That pair had met in the Pennine Ridge Stakes five weeks earlier, with Catholic Boy rallying back after being passed by the then-unbeaten Analyze It to win by a neck.
"What a stretch drive," said Thomas of the Belmont Derby. "My hat is off to Analyze It. He ran super. It was a hell of a horse race. (Catholic Boy) really has a lot of heart. I didn't expect him to fight back this time. I thought we were going to finish a real good second, (but) somehow he got it done."
The Kentucky-bred son of More Than Ready has a slate of five wins and one second from eight lifetime starts, with all, but one of those wins coming on the turf. His connections may be returning Catholic Boy to the dirt though, as they are strongly considering the prestigious Travers Stakes at Saratoga for his next appearance.
The colt closed out his freshman season with a victory on the dirt in the Remsen at Aqueduct, after finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar.
Thomas grew up on the famed Rokeby Farm in Virginia, and has worked for such trainers at Christophe Clement, J.J. Pletcher and Todd Pletcher. In six years with the younger Pletcher, he traveled the world as that trainer's assistant. Since late 2013, he's been in charge of the training division at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, breaking the farm's babies as well as youngsters for many of the nation's top trainers.
He also started training on his own. He's saddled 191 runners for his own stable, with an amazing 50 percent on-the-board statistic. Catholic Boy is the stable star, with his lifetime earnings of nearly $1.2 million leading the way.
This fan favorite is a grinding closer and usually gives a good effort in his races, but has so far been unable to break through against Grade 1 competition. Four of his six career wins have come at his home track of Gulfstream Park, and in fact he hasn't won outside of south Florida since he turned 3 in 2017. Still, he finished a good second in last year's 1 ¼-mile Travers Stakes behind West Coast, and showed that he was rounding back into top form in his most recent start, when he was runner-up to Yoshida in the 1 1/8-mile Woodward Stakes.
In his only prior start at Churchill Downs, Gunnevera finished a rough-trip seventh in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. He could be very well trailing the field through the backstretch of the Classic if he draws in, and he'll need a fast pace up front and a skillful ride from his jockey to enhance his chances of hitting the board at what should be long odds.
After several attempts at securing a graded stakes win against the best of his age group, Lone Sailor broke through with a rallying nose win in the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park on Sept. 30, which was his first victory in over a year and only the second of his career. That record should make him one of the longest shots in the Breeders' Cup Classic field, but on the positive side, he has shown enough stamina to suggest that he should be able to handle 1 ¼ miles.
In his only start at that distance, he encountered some mid-race traffic trouble but still kept running in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve to finish eighth. He also put in decent efforts in the Preakness Stakes (fifth) and betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes (third), but his best performances have come against 3-year-olds in Grade 2 or 3 stakes, and that certainly won't be enough to win the $6 million Classic. Look for him to trail the field along with Discreet Lover and Yoshida, both of whom are faster, and make one late run in the stretch.
McKinzie was one of the brightest stars in the early season preps for this year's Kentucky Derby after three wins in four starts, but ended up missing the entire Triple Crown season and the marquee summer races after a hind leg injury in the spring.
While his stablemate, Justify, carried the banner high for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and went on to become the 13 th winner of the elusive Triple Crown, McKinzie sat on the sidelines,but he's now ready to resume the role of top 3-year-old in the Baffert barn now that Justify is retired.
He made a strong case for that when he won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby Sept. 22 by 1 ¾ lengths in his first race in six months.
"If anything can be taken away from a sting of a Triple Crown horse retiring, it's a horse like this," said jockey Mike Smith, who also rode Justify, after the Pennsylvania Derby. "He is an incredible horse. Really, really proud of him. Bob [trainer Bob Baffert] had him ready. To come off the bench at a mile and an eighth, Bob is just a tremendous trainer. I felt very confident that I could be aggressive early and move a little early."
"He had been training really well," Baffert added after the race. "I always felt like he was the best 3-year-old and then he got hurt and Justify picked it up. He has come back with the time off and has responded really well. It was good to see him get back in the game. It was a pretty tall order to go 1 1/8 miles off that kind of layoff. But you can do it with good horses. I thought we had him pretty tight. I thought we had him pretty tight I felt like he was the best horse. If you had asked me on January 1, I would have told you we were going to win the Kentucky Derby with that horse."
The colt, a $170,000 purchase at Keeneland's 2016 September Sale, was named for Baffert's longtime friend, the late Brad McKinzie, a 30-year executive at Los Alamitos Race Course who died is August 2017.
West Coast went from unknown to champion last year in the span of six-and-a half months, while putting together a string of five consecutive victories. His streak ended when he finished a good third in the 2017 Breeders' Cup Classic behind Gun Runner and Collected, but he had still done enough to secure champion three-year-old honors, becoming the first Eclipse Award winner for long-time owners Gary and Mary West.
The fourth victory in last year's streak came in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga last August. It had been 35 years since the three individual Triple Crown leg winners squared off in the Travers. But, as happened 1982, it wasn't one of them in the winner's circle after the "Mid-Summer Derby."
Left in West Coast's wake in the front-running score were 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, Preakness victor Cloud Computing, and Belmont Hero Tapwrit. West Coast also captured the Los Alamitos Derby and the Pennsylvania Derby last year.
This year, he's run second twice in two of the world's richest stakes. He had the lead in the $16.3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes at Gulfstream only to be passed by reigning Horse of the Year Gun Runner.
Shipped to Dubai in March, he was a game second to Thunder Snow in the $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline at Meydan and is preparing to make his first start since that race.
As a late foal (born May 14), West Coast did not race as a two-year-old, but showed potential early. His connections brought him for $425,000 as a yearling at the 2015 Keeneland September Sale and his earnings stand at a gaudy $5.7 million.
West Coast's mother is champion Caressing, who won the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies en route to divisional honors.
According to trainer Doug O'Neill, Pavel likes an excursion and he certainly seemed to enjoy his first visit to Churchill Downs where he won the Stephen Foster Handicap June 16.
"In his last couple of races, he got really worked up in the paddock and didn't run to his best effort," O'Neill said immediately after the Stephen Foster. "We know he likes to travel and I have to thank our groom and exercise rider for coming (to Churchill Downs) early with him and getting him acclimated to the track."
The gray colt flashed his potential in the summer of 2017 when he won his career debut at Del Mar. Promoted to the stakes ranks a month later, Pavel was fourth in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race before winning the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing Sept. 4, 2017. He then went through what his trainer called "a funky phase" of encountering interference in his races and having pre-race jitters. He returned to his winning ways in the Stephen Foster.
Pavel was bred by former Kentucky Governor Brereton C. Jones, who sold him as a weanling for $80,000 at the 2014 Keeneland November sale. The following September at Keeneland's yearling auction, Pavel was listed as not sold on a final bid of $80,000. He then was purchased privately by Paul Reddam, whose roster of O'Neill-trained top-shelf racers includes Kentucky Derby winners I'll Have Another and champion Nyquist, hero of the 2015 Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. A native of Canada, Reddam founded the mortgage company Ditech and sold it to General Motors. He now owns CashCall lending service.Pavel is a son of Creative Cause, who finished third in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
Aptly named for the prominent German composer of the early 1800s, Mendelssohn is almost as famous for his vocal antics as he is for his racing accomplishments. Since his American debut at the 2017 Breeders' Cup where he won the Juvenile Turf, he has amused everyone around him with his whinnying and screaming all the way to and from the racetrack both in the morning and afternoon.
Fortunately, for Mendelssohn, he has been able to back up his vocal talents with strong performances on the racetrack. Owned by the Irish powerhouse Coolmore and trained one of the world's top trainers, Aidan O'Brien, he was the $3 million sales topper at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale and has lived up to his early expectations as the son of top sire Scat Daddy and Broodmare of the Year Leslie's Lady. His half-sister is three-time Breeders' Cup winner and multiple champion Beholder.
Following his one length victory in the Breeders' Cup, Mendelssohn's connections set their site on the Kentucky Derby and the path they chose to get there was through Dubai. Making his debut on dirt, Mendelssohn turned in one of the most impressive prep races when he demolished the field of the UAE Derby by 18 ½ lengths in track record time.
The wet track was Mendelssohn's undoing in the Kentucky Derby and he was eased to the wire after a troubled trip, but the world traveler, who is based in Ireland, rebounded to finish third in the Dwyer Stakes at New York's Belmont Park July 7. He is likely to make at least one more U.S. start before he looks to redeem himself back at Churchill for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
After running his first 10 races on turf, 4-year-old Yoshida became a contender for the Breeders' Cup Classic by switching to dirt and winning Saratoga's Woodward Stakes by two lengths. Piloted by Joel Rosario, the victory pushed his earnings over $1 million and brought his overall record to five wins and three seconds from eleven starts.
Yoshida has excelled on turf. He only finished worse than second once in his first eight races. In June, he finished a respectable fifth in a field of 15 in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. In his next out, he ran fifth again, failing as the favorite in the Fourstardave at Saratoga.
His pedigree indicated he might also succeed on dirt: his grandfather is Sunday Silence, winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic. His mother, Hilda's Passion, won the Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga. Katsumi Yoshida purchased her at the end of her career, and Yoshida is her second foal. He was born in Japan and purchased by WinStar Farm as a yearling. He is now owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, SF Racing and Head of Plains Partners.
"Well, we got our answer. I had a wait and see attitude. The horse had worked well on the dirt. As I said before, he's got a lot of pedigree for the dirt," Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. "This was a pretty impressive run, actually. I don't think you ever really know how they'll run on a surface until you try them. [Winstar's] Elliot Walden has been wanting to try it for a long time. We talked about it and Yoshida has been running so well on the turf and he's a Grade 1 winner on the turf, so you can't say we made a mistake by not running him on the dirt. We were going to do it. [It] was just a matter of at the opportune time and right now there was no turf race that we had in mind in the next 30 days, so we thought, "let's do it."
Mind Your Biscuits, a late-closing speed demon with an unusual name, has come close to garnering a Breeders' Cup title in the last two editions.
In the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita in 2016, he finished third behind Drefong. He again ran third last year at Del Mar. Both times, he got off slow and found his best stride late.
The chestnut son of Posse, with earnings of over $4.1 million, is the richest New York-bred horse in history. He's also very consistent with seven wins, 10 seconds and three thirds from 23 lifetime starts.
Mind Your Biscuits tried a two turn race for the first time Aug. 4, putting in a late run to finish second behind fellow New York-bred Diversify in the Whitney at Saratoga. The Whitney is a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
His good performance in that 1 1/8-mile stake has trainer Chad Summers considering a tilt at the Classic, which is a mile and a quarter.
"We think we're going to love Churchill. We'll see how he comes out of it, (but) I see no reason not to go on. Obviously, you'd like to get one more (Breeders' Cup Challenge) 'Win and You're In' to qualify and get in, but I think he showed up with another big effort here today, so I see no reason not to move forward," Summers said.
Among his numerous stakes wins are back-to-back victories in the Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan Racecourse the past two years.
Mind Your Biscuits was purchased by Shadai Farm shortly after he won the Dubai stake this past March. Plans call for the chestnut to continue racing through the rest of 2018 and then enter stud in Japan next year. Shadai leased back 50 percent of the horse to the previous ownership group, which includes J Stables, M. Scott Summers, Daniel and Hope Summers, Head of Plains, and Michael Kisber. Mind Your Biscuits will continue racing in Shadai's silks.
Recognizing talent and stallion prospects, newly-formed racing investment fund Phoenix Thoroughbred, which has spent over $25 million in bloodstock while establishing stables in the United States, Europe, Australia and the United Arab Emirates, purchased Axelrod after his second place Pennsylvania Derby finish. The group plans to run him in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"He's a nice horse, strong horse with a big stride," Tom Ludt, the head of equine operations for the fund, said. "We're looking at running him in the Breeders' Cup Classic."
In the Pennsylvania Derby, Axelrod fought traffic and finished second to McKinzie, trainer Bob Baffert's original Kentucky Derby favorite. McKinzie returned after a six-month layoff due to the injury that took him out of the running for the first Saturday in May. Axelrod finished 7 ½ lengths ahead of third-place Trigger Warning.
Axelrod posted two victories prior to the Pennsylvania Derby. The first was in the Indiana Derby, his first start outside of California. He followed this win with a convincing victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx, where hit the wire four lengths ahead of the competition. This win was even more impressive since jockey Joe Bravo had to swing six wide to get to the front.
Before the Indiana Derby, Axelrod finished second at 23-1 odds in the Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita. In this effort, he earned a then career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure, which he tied in the Smarty Jones.
This is the first year trainer Michael McCarthy will saddle Breeders' Cup contenders, and he is bursting on the scene with five possible runners. In addition to Axelrod, he sends out City of Light in the Dirt Mile, Liam the Charmer in the Turf, Paved in the Filly and Mare Turf and Vibrance in the Juvenile Fillies. McCarthy went out on his own in 2014 after spending eleven years as a Todd Pletcher assistant.
Jockey "Jersey" Joe Bravo has finished third in two Breeders' Cup races: aboard 2016 Sprint contender A.P. Indian and 2015 Turf contender Big Blue Kitten.
This hard-trying horse brings one of the best storylines into the 2018 Breeders' Cup, as owner and trainer Uriah St. Lewis will be represented by the first graded stakes winner in his 30-year career at the World Championships.
On Sept. 29, Discreet Lover won the 1 ¼-mile, Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup - one of the most tradition-rich stakes in North America - by closing from from the clouds to edge Thunder Snow by a neck, triggering a joyous celebration in the Belmont Park winner's circle by St. Lewis, his family, and friends. Discreet Lover had enjoyed a certain amount of regional success in tracks up and down the Atlantic coast prior to this year, but stepped up his game with a Grade 3 win at Aqueduct in April before competing in Grade 1 and Grade 2 races over the summer, posting two third-place finishes.
A one-dimensional closer, he capitalized on a swift pace in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and will need to get another one just as fast, or faster, in the Breeders' Cup Classic against a field that includes Gold Cup runner-up Thunder Snow and third-place Mendelssohn.
Accelerate made a name for himself when he upstaged 2016 Breeders' Cup Classic winner and champion Arrogate in the 2017 San Diego Handicap. He was on target for a repeat in the San Diego, but his connections opted to scratch to avoid competing against eventual winner Catalina Cruiser also owned by Kosta and Pete Hronis and trained by John Sadler. Accelerate now is aiming for the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Race Course August 4 or the Pacific Classic at Del Mar August 18.
In last year Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, the ultra-consistent Accelerate finished worse than third for only the second time in his 19-race career. He rebounded to be first or second in his next five starts including a victory in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes May 26.
Except for his close runner-up effort in the Oaklawn Handicap, Accelerate has never raced outside California.
He was sold at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale for $380,000. His maternal grandfather Awesome Again won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
|Breeders' Cup Race||Grade||Purse||Date|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint||II||$1,000,000||November 1|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf||I||$1,000,000||November 1|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies||I||$2,000,000||November 1|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf||I||$1,000,000||November 1|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile||I||$2,000,000||November 1|
|Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint||I||$1,000,000||November 2|
|Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint||I||$1,000,000||November 2|
|Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile||I||$1,000,000||November 2|
|Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf||I||$2,000,000||November 2|
|Breeders' Cup Sprint||I||$2,000,000||November 2|
|Breeders' Cup Mile||I||$2,000,000||November 2|
|Breeders' Cup Distaff||I||$2,000,000||November 2|
|Breeders' Cup Turf||I||$4,000,000||November 2|
|Breeders' Cup Classic||I||$6,000,000||November 2|