The fresh images of Tom’s d’Etat and Midnight Bisou are like the glare of summer. Their impressive victories last weekend at Churchill Downs have become the prisms through which we see racing’s immediate future.
But what about the long term? Say, beyond next weekend?
As the most challenging year of our times moves past its halfway point, the assessment of the first six months feels vaguely familiar. It is often muddled, as usual. But some horses have emerged as the ones to watch on the way to the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland.
Because the coronavirus corrupted the 2020 racing calendar, the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series is being made up as it goes along. This month brings four “Win and You’re In” races, and for now that is it. But that is enough to get started into the second half of the year.
Met Mile (G1) — Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile qualifier
Saturday at Belmont Park
Code Of Honor and McKinzie figure to get most of the betting attention. But since neither has been in a one-mile race since about this time last year, how does this race translate to the fall when they both might wind up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1)?
The Met Mile is annually a handicapping challenge since it has become a way station for horses converging from recent sprints and two-turn routes. With two graded-stakes victories at the distance, Mr Freeze actually might have a case to be the most accomplished miler in the bunch.
The relationship between the Met Mile, the Dirt Mile (G1) and a plain old mile has developed into a riddle.
Of the Dirt Mile’s first 13 winners, only two had their last prep beforehand at a mile. Eight cut back from longer distances; three stretched out from sprints. Only three of the Dirt Mile winners used that year’s Met Mile as a prep, and only one of them won it. That was Corinthian before the first-ever Dirt Mile in 2007 at Monmouth Park, where it was actually the Breeders’ Cup Sloppy Mile and 70 Yards.
There is one other square-peg, round-hole aspect to all this. The Met Mile goes around one turn. At Keeneland the Dirt Mile goes around two turns.
Where the Met Mile commands so much respect, the Dirt Mile inevitably feels like the NIT compared with the NCAA feel of the Classic. There is no known futures betting yet for the Dirt Mile. But there is plenty on the Classic with asterisked Saudi Cup winner Maximum Security the 6-1 favorite and Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tiz The Law 7-1 in foreign markets.
Oh, back to last weekend’s Churchill Downs prism. Tom’s d’Etat shortened to 12-1 for the Classic after his first-place finish in the Stephen Foster (G2). And Fleur de Lis (G2) winner Midnight Bisou is the early 2-1 favorite in betting for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
What if Midnight Bisou takes on the boys? Bookmakers have not accounted for that. Yet.
Haskell (G1) — Classic qualifier
July 18 at Monmouth Park
The Jersey Shore’s $1 million run has been a traditional qualifier for America’s richest race. But because it is also a Kentucky Derby points prep this year, September looks like it is a bigger priority than November.
As such the Haskell is turning into a confidence builder for recent losers. Santa Anita Derby (G1) runner-up Authentic will carry Bob Baffert’s hopes for a record eighth training victory in the race. Dr Post will not have to deal with Tiz The Law the way he did when he finished second in the Belmont Stakes (G1). Coming off his fade to fifth in the Belmont, Tap It To Win will try to prove he belongs in graded-stakes company. Été Indien looks to add a second victory this year to the one he earned in the Fountain of Youth (G2).
The only horses to pull off the Haskell-Classic double were Bayern (2014) and American Pharoah (2015), both for Baffert. As much as the Santa Anita Derby cast doubt on Authentic’s ability to win at 1 1/8 miles, Baffert’s track record will stoke conversation about history repeating itself, even if that means looking past a certain race in Louisville that is on the front burner.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1) — Turf qualifier
July 25 at Ascot, England
Enable vs. Magical. Wait a second. Didn’t we already see that in Kentucky? Sure, at Churchill Downs about 1 1/2 years ago.
Their expected rematch this month at Ascot has already attracted betting attention in England. The 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner Enable is a 7-4 futures favorite to win her 6-year-old debut. The 2018 Turf runner-up Magical is 4-1 to score the upset and get the better of Enable for the first time in what will be their sixth head-to-head matchup.
The bigger question is whether either will be brought to America this fall. Even before the coronavirus complicated international travel, neither made the trip to Santa Anita last year. A month beforehand they were both defeated by 13-1 long shot Waldgeist in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), spoiling Enable’s three-peat bid. It was not long after when owner Prince Khalid Abdullah decided to bring Enable back with the stated goal to try again for an unprecedented third win in the Arc.
Magical finished her year for Coolmore two weeks after the Arc by winning the British Champion Stakes (G1). On Sunday she picked up where she left off, starting her 5-year-old season with a first-place finish in the Pretty Polly (G1) at the Curragh.
Keeneland hosting Enable vs. Magical VII or VIII seems like a long shot. It is more likely to see horses such as Chad Brown’s Shoemaker Mile (G1) winner Raging Bull, California’s two-time 2020 Grade 2 winner United and 7-year-old Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) winner Zulu Alpha.
Sussex Stakes (G1) — Mile qualifier
July 29 at Goodwood, England
The pandemic meant that most racehorses in England did not get their seasons started until early last month. But they got into high gear quickly with Royal Ascot. There does not appear to be any downshift in the one-mile Sussex.
Now 5-for-5 after last month’s running of the Irish 2,000 Guineas (G1), 3-year-old Siskin is the 7-4 futures favorite to win in his first test against open company. Despite finishing second as the favorite in the St. James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot, Godolphin colt Pinatubo is the 3-1 second choice on the strength of his unbeaten 2-year-old season.
Even if it proves to be a big season for 3-year-olds over there, past Breeders’ Cup winners like Newspaperofrecord and 2019 Mile defender Uni may be finding their form this summer on U.S. turf, including the Bluegrass of Lexington.