As the Nov. 6-7 Breeders’ Cup World Championships approach, stay up to speed on the latest developments with a weekly roundup of news and notes:
- Improbable keeps rolling, but a word of caution for his Classic chances.
- Two of Godolphin’s international stars are eyeing the Breeders’ Cup.
- Rundown of last weekend’s 11 “Win and You’re In” races.
Breeders’ Cup Classic
The Classic scene underwent a major shift on Saturday when Maximum Security—a front runner for Horse of the Year honors—lost to stablemate Improbable in the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita.
The pace may have played a role in the outcome. Whereas Maximum Security tracked fast fractions of :23.33, :46.36, and 1:09.79, Improbable was content to trail the field early on, biding his time while waiting for the leaders to tire.
But focusing on the pace distracts from the visual half of the story. Maximum Security never seemed fully engaged and had to fight hard to secure the runner-up spot. In contrast, Improbable was full of run on the far turn, seized command early in the homestretch, and drew clear easily to win by 4 1/2 lengths.
Having previously scored decisive victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and Whitney (G1), it’s clear Improbable has matured into a major force for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. With three straight Grade 1 wins under his belt, Improbable has emerged as one of the favorites to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and victory in the year-end championship would likely secure Horse of the Year honors for talented 4-year-old.
But keep in mind, Improbable has enjoyed perfect trips in all three of his wins this season. Facing no more than five rivals at a time, Improbable has managed to secure the clean, traffic-free trips he needs to excel. Historically, Improbable has had trouble breaking cleanly from the gate and getting quickly into stride. He’s also shown a hesitance to race in traffic, and this combination is partly why Improbable compiled a frustrating 1-for-7 record as a 3-year-old, including defeats while favored in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1).
Improbable is bound to face a larger field in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so the post draw could be key to his chances. An outside post—giving Improbable time to gather himself and secure a clean trip—would surely be preferable to an inside draw, where Improbable could get buried behind horses.
In other Classic news, Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law will skip Saturday’s Preakness in favor of training up to the Breeders’ Cup. Tiz the Law needed a few weeks to bounce back from his hard runner-up effort in the Kentucky Derby, so watching his upcoming workouts will help us determine whether he’ll be ready for a rebound in the Classic.
In Tiz the Law’s absence, 11 sophomores will head to the starting gate for the Preakness, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Classic. Authentic—who upset Tiz the Law in the Kentucky Derby—is expected to start as the favorite, with Blue Grass (G2) winner Art Collector his most significant challenger.
When Charlie Appleby sends a horse to compete at the Breeders’ Cup, it’s wise to sit up and take notice. A highly successful trainer for Godolphin, Appleby has compiled a 7-3-1-0 record in the Breeders’ Cup, and one of his defeats came when future Epsom Derby (G1) winner Masar suffered a horrendous trip in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
Last week, Appleby announced that four-time Group 1 winner Ghaiyyath is under consideration for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), which is scary news for North American-based runners. A brilliant front runner, Ghaiyyath rattled off victories in the Coronation Cup (G1), Eclipse (G1), and Juddmonte International (G1) during the spring and summer before settling for second in a strong renewal of the Irish Champion (G1).
Ghaiyyath is formidable over distances from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/2 miles, and his abundant speed means he isn’t pace reliant. He’ll be tough to catch if he tackles the Turf.
Appleby is also considering Pinatubo for a trip to the Breeders’ Cup. The speedy three-time Group 1 winner is 7-for-7 sprinting 7 furlongs or less and 0-for-3 racing a mile or farther, though he’s never finished out of the top three. At first glance the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) might seem a bit long for Pinatubo, but the tight turns of U.S. racecourses tend to emphasize speed over stamina, which could place the distance within reach for Pinatubo.
“Win and You’re In” Qualifiers
It was a busy week for the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, both in the U.S. and abroad. Much of the action took place at Santa Anita, where Improbable claimed a second berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic thanks to his victory in the Awesome Again.
But while Improbable’s qualification was redundant, half a dozen others benefited from the “Win and You’re In” designations. Some had to work hard for their titles—most significantly, the rapidly-improving 3-year-old Harvest Moon fought valiantly to win the Zenyatta (G2) over Grade 1 winners Hard Not to Love and Fighting Mad, securing a berth to the Distaff (G1). C Z Rocket was similarly hard-pressed to win a close fight in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2), locking up a spot in the Sprint (G1), while Amanzi Yimpilo nabbed a berth to the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) with a tenacious triumph in the Speakeasy S.
Others were a bit more decisive. While his margin of victory was less than a length, Get Her Number always seemed to have the American Pharoah (G1) measured, earning his way into the Juvenile (G1). Princess Noor emerged as a clear favorite for the Juvenile Fillies (G1) after posting an unchallenged victory in the Chandelier (G2), and Mucho Unusual led all the way to claim the Rodeo Drive (G1)—plus a spot in the Filly & Mare Turf (G1)—by 1 1/4 lengths. (Also worth noting, although not a “Win and You’re In,” is the John Henry Turf Championship [G2] score by Turf contender United.)
Across the country at Belmont Park, Firenze Fire proved a decisive winner of the Vosburgh (G2), stamping his ticket to the Sprint. An 11-time stakes winner, the veteran 5-year-old is set to make his fourth appearance in the Breeders’ Cup after previously competing in the 2017 Juvenile, 2018 Dirt Mile (G1), and 2019 Sprint.
In Europe, the action centered on Newmarket in England, where New Mandate earned a Juvenile Turf (G1) berth in the Royal Lodge (G2) and Isabella Giles qualified for the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) with a triumph in the Rockfel (G2). Finally, Pimper’s Paradise secured a spot in the Turf thanks to a victory in the Grande Premio Brasil (G1).