2019 Breeders' Cup Classic Contenders
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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.
Math Wizard (Odds 30/1) - PP 1
After being claimed by co-owner John Fanelli and trainer Saffie Joseph following a blowout win at Gulfstream Park in January, this colt steadily improved his form while holding his own in graded stakes all throughout the eastern U.S.
He nearly won the Grade 3 Ohio Derby in June, losing by a half-length to Preakness Stakes third-place finisher Owendale, and then ran well in the July 13 Grade 3 Indiana Derby, losing by four lengths to dominant Mr. Money.
Math Wizard regressed a bit in his next start when checking in sixth in the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby Aug. 3, beaten 11 3/4 lengths by Mr. Money. The Alogirithms colt trained well after the West Virginia Derby and was pointed to the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby Sept. 21 at Parx Racing and another showdown with Mr. Money.
Preakness Stakes winner War of Will shadowed Mr. Money from his outside flank throughout the Pennsylvania Derby as the former set a leisurely pace. Mr. Money put away War of Will in early stretch but he could not hold off a furious late charge from Math Wizard, who closed from last to first to win by a neck at 31.10-1 odds.
Seeking the Soul (Odds 20/1) - PP 2
Seeking the Soul's net worth isn't anywhere close to that of his owner/breeder Charles Fipke, who made his fortunes in mining precious stones, but the 6-year-old has hit a bit of a mother lode himself, banking over $3.3 million thus far in his career. Fipke has discovered gold and silver all over the world, and even diamonds in Canada, which weren't supposed to exist. In fact, Fipke's former multiple stakes winner, who is now a promising sire - Tale of Ekati - is named after that diamond mine, which is in the Northwest Territory, near the Arctic Circle. The flamboyant owner readily admits his professional life funds his "addiction" and is determined to create top-notch stallions from the ranks of horses he breeds and races.
Seeking the Soul may just be the next one - and he is a true homebred. Fipke also bred and raced both his parents - sire Perfect Soul (IRE) and his dam Seeking the Title. Seeking the Soul's latest personal gold mine claim came when he won the Stephen Foster Stakes on June 15 at Churchill Downs, earning himself a berth in the starting gate for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita as a part of the "Win & You're In" series of stakes races.
"They can't take it away from us, we got our golden ticket," trainer Dallas Stewart told The Bloodhorse. "This is a great horse. He's a 6-year-old who acts like a young horse. He's very energetic about his training and about life. Chuck Fipke, he's got the momma and the daddy, and he's one of the greatest breeders ever."
It was the first win for the season for Seeking the Soul, and his seventh lifetime. The Stephen Foster was his third graded stakes win, as he also won the 2017 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (G1) and last year's Ack Ack Stakes (G3), both at Churchill. After winning the Ack Ack, Seeking the Soul finished second to City of Light in both the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill and the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
Owendale (Odds 15/1) - PP 3
Owendale is a horse who just keeps on improving. After a so-so freshman season, he's putting together a strong resume this year at age 3. The son of Into Mischief won his fourth race of the season with a powerful late run to nail the Oklahoma Derby (G3) at the end of September.
In fact, he's won every other outing this year - with maturity and added distance making a difference. "He's a horse that I've said all along I thought would be better with distance," said trainer Brad Cox, who won his first Breeders' Cup last year when eventual champion Monomoy Girl captured the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1).
After running unplaced in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds in February, he came back after a break from the action to capture the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3) April 13 at Keeneland with a four-wide late move under jockey Florent Geroux. Jumping into Grade 1 company in his next start, he ran third in the Preakness, rallying late once again to just miss finishing second, and beaten only a length and a quarter by winner War of Will.
"Before the Lexington he was really starting to move forward and turn it up in his training," Cox said. "We actually added a shadow roll that he's been running in since the Lexington. I'm not saying it's the shadow roll-it certainly hasn't hurt him-but he's really moved forward since late March. I guess you could say since the beginning of spring he really took off and started developing and just became a bigger, stronger, faster horse."
Between the Lexington and Oklahoma Derby, he won the Ohio Derby (G3) and ran fifth in the Travers Stakes (G1), in which he was stuck on the rail.
Owner Jim Rupp, who races as Rupp Racing, is fairly new to the business. He's been an owner for just four years, and is thoroughly enjoying the ride. His first horse Almasty, co-owned with his son-in-law John Wentworth's GenStar Thoroughbreds, won a Grade 3 stakes on the turf.
War of Will (Odds 20/1) - PP 4
War of Will ran a game second in his second career start in the Grade 1 Summer Stakes in September at Woodbine. The War Front colt followed with a fourth-place finish, beaten by only three-quarters of a length, in the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. He then finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf before his connections opted to give him a try on the main track. In his final start at two, War of Will picked up his first career victory with a five-length runaway on a sloppy main track at Churchill Downs in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race.
After a successful initial foray on the dirt, War of Will was pointed to the Triple Crown trail with his first test in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 19. He stalked the pace from third early, moved up to take command on the far turn, and surged away to a dominant four-length victory. He followed with another runaway victory at Fair Grounds, using his high cruising speed to gain ideal position early from post-position 14 in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. From there it was just a matter of lengths between War of Will and the runner-up and he took control on the far turn and left 13 opponents reeling in his wake.
The 50 points earned for winning the Risen Star secured a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve for the War Front colt, who moved on to the Grade 2 Lousiana Derby on March 23. In his final prep for the Kentucky Derby, War of Will came up empty. He was sixth in the early stages of the race between horses and never put in a serious bid, fading to finish ninth.
War of Will trained well leading up to the Kentucky Derby and trainer Mark Casse made the decision to go on to the first jewel of the Triple Crown. He launced a rally on the final turn and looked menacing when Maximum Security ducked out in front of him, leading to some bumping with Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress. War of Will moved up to third in the stretch but faded late to finish eighth. He was moved up to seventh following the disqualification of Maximum Security.
War of Will entered the May 18 Preakness Stakes seeking better racing luck, and drew the rail once again. Facing off against 12 opponents, he broke well and saved ground again, stalking a fast pace set by Warrior's Charge. Tyler Gaffalione moved his charge up through an opening on the inside at the top of the stretch, and War of Will powered clear to an impressive 1 ¼-length win over longshot Everfast. The win gave Gaffalione and trainer Casse their first classic victories.
War of Will became the only 3-year-old to contest all three Triple Crown races in 2019 when he started in the June 8 Belmont Stakes. He tracked the pace in midpack through midway in the far turn but tired in early stretch to finish eighth behind fellow Mark Casse trainee Sir Winston.
Out of stakes winner Visions of Clarity, by Sadler's Wells, War of Will is a half-brother to Group 1 winner Pathfork. Visions of Clarity is a three-quarter-sister to Breeders' Cup Mile winner and multiple European Group 1 winner Spinning World.
Yoshida (JPN) (Odds 8/1) - PP 5
As a Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt, Yoshida (JPN) has blessed his connections with an abundance of options when plotting out his starts. Since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic last November, however, the son of Heart's Cry (JPN) has mostly stayed in the wide-open handicap ranks.
The Bill Mott-trained horse began his 5-year-old campaign on the turf with a sixth-place finish in the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes (G1), a race that was won by Bricks and Mortar. Since that outing, Yoshida has gone back to the main track in search of his first win since taking the 2018 Woodward Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1).
Following a pair of off-the-board efforts in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) and Stephen Foster Stakes (G2), Yoshida reasserted himself a divisional threat by finishing second to multiple Grade 1-winner McKinzie in the Aug. 3 Whitney Stakes (G1). Owned by China Horse Club, WinStar Farm and Head of Plains Partners, Yoshida then headed into this year's Woodward Stakes attempting to become the first horse to score back-to-back triumphs in the race since Lido Palace (2001-02).
The parity among the older horse division ended up winning out in the Woodward as Preservationist crossed the wire in front with Yoshida checking in third.
The son of graded stakes winner Hilda's Passion, Yoshida won the 2018 Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs in his 4-year-old debut and also captured the Hill Prince Stakes (G3) on the turf during his sophomore season. His Hall of Fame trainer Mott has won 10 Breeders' Cup races with his most recent victory coming with Tourist in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Mile.
Yoshida is a grandson of Hall of Famer and 1989 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Sunday Silence, who went on to become a game-changing sire in Japan.
Elate (Odds 6/1) - PP 6
Top older mare Elate is just one in a very long line of standout racehorses with a pithy, single-word name bred and campaigned by the legendary Claiborne Farm, often in partnership with Adele Dilschneider. (Think Blame - the only horse to ever beat the storied Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.)
Living up to her lofty heritage, the five-year-old Elate secured herself a spot in the starting gate for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) at Santa Anita Park when she captured the June 15 Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs as a part of the "Win & You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge Series.
The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro was fourth in the Distaff in 2017 as a 3-year-old, but missed the main event last fall when sidelined with a splint injury that put her on the shelf for several months. In fact, Elate had only two starts in 2018, one being a victory in the Delaware Handicap (G2) in July. She defended that title this summer, easily besting her rivals with a more than four-length win under regular pilot Jose Ortiz July 13.
"I think she is getting back to her old form," Ortiz said. "Hopefully, she will come out of here well and continue to get better. "She loves a mile and a quarter," Ortiz continued. "I am a little disappointed that there are not more races at the distance. She is the best horse in the Filly and Mare division going a mile and a quarter, but I also think she can cut back to a mile and an eighth (distance of the Distaff) and make it work."
Located in the heart of Kentucky horse country, Claiborne Farm has been one of the leading Thoroughbred breeding farms for more than 100 years. They have foaled or raised 23 eventual Hall of Fame horses, been the birthplace of 10 Kentucky Derby winners and Claiborne sires and their progeny have won 29 Breeders' Cup races. Elate, an earner of more than $2 million, is the third generation of stakes winning fillies bred by Claiborne after purchasing her great-grandmother, Wild Applause, for $1,025,000.
Higher Power (Odds 6/1) - PP 7
After winning three of his first nine starts racing on the Midwest circuit, Higher Power was bought by Hronis Racing and sent to California and John Sadler. He subsequently won a one-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Santa Anita in June 2019 and followed with a runner-up effort in the July 21 Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar.
Higher Power was then entered in the August 17 Pacific Classic Stakes and at Del Mar. Picking up leading jockey Flavien Prat for the Pacific Classic proved a big plus as Prat made a bid for the lead entering the far turn and Higher Power accelerated explosively to take a commanding lead in early stretch en route to a runaway victory. The Medalia d'Oro colt earned his first career stakes win in a Grade 1 race.
Higher Power stumbled at the start of the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes Sept. 28 at Santa Anita and rallied to finish third.
Higher Power is out of multiple stakes winner Alternate, by Seattle Slew, who also is the dam of multiple Grade 2 winner Alternation and multiple stakes winner Interrupted.
McKinzie (Odds 3/1) - PP 8
McKinzie, considered one of the leading contenders early in 2018 for a Triple Crown campaign, didn't get a chance to strut his stuff in any of those spring classics, but is hoping to make up for lost time in 2019. He ended up on the shelf after a hind leg injury last March, while his stablemate Justify went on to sweep all three races and became the 13th winner of the Triple Crown and the second for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who also won one of the most elusive prizes in all of sports with American Pharoah in 2015.
McKinzie, a 4-year-old son of Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, started off this year with a couple of very narrow losses, running second in the Feb. 2 San Pasqual Stakes (G2) and April 6 Santa Anita Handicap (G1). Then, the handsome bay dazzled in the Alysheba Stakes presented by Sentient Jet (G2) May 3 at Churchill Downs, bursting through with a four-wide move for his first win of 2019.
McKinzie first showed a glimmer of this true promise when he won last fall's Pennsylvania Derby (G1) after the six-month hiatus and his trainer couldn't have been happier.
"I always felt like he was the best 3-year-old, and then he got hurt and Justify picked it up," Baffert recalled. "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. If you had asked me on January 1, I would have told you we were going to win the Kentucky Derby with (this) horse."
McKinzie, who runs for owners Mike Pegram, Paul Weitman and Karl Watson, was named for Baffert's longtime friend and Los Alamitos Race Course executive Brad McKinzie, who died of cancer in Aug. 2017.
Mongolian Groom (Odds 12/1) - PP 9
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.
Vino Rosso (Odds 4/1) - PP 10
Vino Rosso gave his owners Mike Repole and Vinnie Viola (St. Elias Stable) the perfect reason to host a party with that adult beverage flowing freely last spring, after the Curlin colt captured the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct.
"I've known Vinnie for six or seven years now," Repole told Thoroughbred Daily News' Steve Sherack. "My wife grew up in Brooklyn, Vinnie grew up in Brooklyn. His wife grew up in Queens, I grew up in Queens. I love his story, and he loves mine. We're all about family first and big, Italian families. Winning the Wood with Vinnie was probably one of the best wins I've ever had. It was so awesome having both of our families there. After the race we went back to my house with about 60 other people and we drank a lot of Vino Rosso and had a good time."
Vino Rosso then ran ninth in the Kentucky Derby, fourth in the Belmont, third in Jim Dandy and fifth in the Travers before going to bench for the season. Trainer Todd Pletcher had him ready at first asking for his four-year-old debut, as he made a five-wide move and then fended off Title Ready down the stretch in the Stymie Stakes at Aqueduct in early March.
Two starts later, Vino Rosso captured his first Grade one in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) May 27. With John Velazquez aboard, Vino Rosso loomed up to engage Gift Box at the head of the stretch, and drew off near the wire.
"I knew the pace would be fast early and I just wanted to stay close. He broke very well and we settled in there. When it was time to go, we knew we had to engage Joel (Rosario on Gift Box) to play the game because he was the horse to beat. And we got the job done," said Velazquez. "Vino Rosso seemed to have it all put together today."
A $410,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September Sale, Vino Rosso has earned over $1.2 million.
Code of Honor (Odds 4/1) - PP 11
Code of Honor was such an outstanding 2-year-old that he was among the favorites for the 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), but he was withdrawn from the race because of a mild fever. He returned to Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey's Belmont Park base before wintering in Florida to prepare for the Kentucky Derby (G1). He solidified a Derby spot with his Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) score and Florida Derby (G1) third-place finish.
In the Kentucky Derby, Code of Honor raced in mid-pack before scooting through a wide opening to briefly lead at the top of the stretch. The blazed-faced, white-legged chestnut crossed the finish in third, but was elevated to second upon Maximum Security's disqualification. His connections had planned to bypass the remainder of the Triple Crown if he did not win the Derby, so Code of Honor took a short vacation from racing.
McGaughey said during that time that the colt matured physically and mentally. He lived up his early expectations by winning the Dwyer Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park July 6 in his return.
He further propelled himself to the head of the 2019 3-year-old class with a dominating three-length victory in the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) Aug. 24, the showcase race of the Saratoga meeting each year.
"It doesn't get old, but it can't take that long again," said McGaughey, who has now won four Travers Stakes dating back to his first 30 years ago with Easy Goer. "He's been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde horse. (In the Travers), he put it all together. He trained really well. The Dwyer was a really good race, so we were hoping we were going to see what we saw."
The Travers Stakes is run at the same 1 ¼ mile distance of the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez doesn't see that being an issue for Code of Honor.
"I never had any doubts about distance as a problem, just him putting his mind to running," Velazquez said after the Travers. "I made sure, when I got him out to the clear, he responded right away, so I was very happy for him. Obviously, we've been looking for this kind of performance for a long time. He's a late foal, not really knowing what to do [even though he's] run some really big races. He's never really put it together until (the Travers)."
Code of Honor races for his breeder William S. Farish, who consigned him to the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale, but he failed to reach Farish's expected price and was listed as not sold on a final bid of $70,000. He was sent to Courtlandt Farm in Ocala, Florida where he excelled in his early lessons under saddle.
|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|
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