Breeders' Cup July 7 Divisional Update: Dirt Races

July 7th, 2022

June is when the path to the Breeders’ Cup starts to seriously heat up. With the Triple Crown and the spring targets in the U.S. and the Middle East out of the way, the Breeders’ Cup begins to become the focus, especially in North America, where there have been a number of “Win and You’re In” races.

With the Belmont Stakes carnival leading the way, there’s plenty to look over as we assess the likely contenders for the seven Breeders’ Cup races on dirt.

Breeders' Cup Classic

It’s rare to get all the best dirt horses past a mile to the post for the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic. But if that does happen, the 2022 edition could be a vintage one.

Arguably the two most exciting dirt horses in training both have question marks over their stamina for this race. Flightline put up one of the most impressive performances on dirt this year when winning the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (G1) June 11, but he has yet to race past that distance. He is likely to be asked to race 1 1/4 miles in the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar Sept. 4, which will give a good indication of his stamina.

Last year’s Dirt Mile (G1) winner Life Is Good has raced at 1 1/4 miles, but he faded toward the end when finishing fourth in the Dubai World Cup (G1). However, trainer Todd Pletcher says his effort said more about his comfort on the Meydan track than about his stamina, and he’ll continue to be directed toward the Classic. An easy winner of the 7-furlong John A Nerud Stakes (G2) July 2, he is expected to run next in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney (G1) at Saratoga Aug. 7, a distance at which he proved himself in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) in January.

One horse proven at 1 1/4 miles is Country Grammer, who won the Dubai World Cup (G1) at that trip after finishing second in the 1 1/8-mile Saudi Cup (G1). He may resume in the San Diego (G2) at Del Mar July 30 and then possibly take on Flightline in the Pacific Classic. His Saudi Cup conqueror, the Saudi-trained Emblem Road, has been transferred to Alessandro Botti’s French stable and could find his way to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, though his immediate targets are thought to be in France.

Dubai World Cup runner-up Hot Rod Charlie disappointed slightly when defeated by Mind Control in the Salvator Mile (G3) at Monmouth Park June 18, though he was giving away six pounds. The same could be said for Mandaloun when he finished fourth in the Stephen Foster (G2) July 2; however, the winner of that race, Olympiad, is one of the fastest-improving horses in training. The Stephen Foster victory earned him a place in the Classic field, and he looks a genuine contender.

Among the three-year-olds, the top contenders among those that featured in the Triple Crown races are Mo Donegal, Early Voting, Epicenter, Rich Strike, and Zandon; others to emerge since include Woody Stephens (G1) victor Jack Christopher and Dwyer (G2) winner Charge It.

Breeders' Cup Distaff

There are still no standouts among the fillies and mares aiming for the Distaff. There have been several good performances, but none that established a clear leader.

Prior to June, the divisional leader was probably last year’s beaten Breeders’ Cup Distaff favorite Letruska, who won her first two 2022 starts decisively. However, as in the Distaff, she suffered when taken on for the lead at a too-fast pace in the Ogden Phipps (G1) June 11 by Search Results, fading to last. Search Results, last year’s Acorn (G1) winner, fought on better but couldn’t hold off winner Clairiere and runner-up Malathaat, last year’s Distaff fourth and third, respectively.

Clairiere had earlier been second to Letruska in the Apple Blossom (G1), again indicating the impact of the early speed in the Ogden Phipps. But it does indicate that with a similar pattern, last year’s shock Japanese winner Marche Lorraine wouldn’t be out of the running this year. She is still in training; at her only 2022 start, she finished a distant sixth against the boys in the Saudi Cup (G1).

Others to make their mark this past month among older mares include Shedaresthedevil, who gained revenge over La Troienne (G1) winner Pauline’s Pearl in the Fleur de Lis (G2), and Santa Maria (G2) victor Private Mission. Still waiting in the wings is West Coast star As Time Goes By, winner of her three starts since finishing eighth last year.

Standings among the three-year-old fillies are still a little unclear. Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath probably still leads that division, though Oaks runner-up Nest improved her credentials with her Belmont Stakes second, while others to emerge included Summertime Oaks (G2) winner Under the Stars, Acorn (G1) victress Matareya, and Mother Goose (G2) first-place finisher Gerrymander.

Breeders' Cup Sprint

Unlike the Distaff, not too much has changed in the Sprint division — it’s Jackie’s Warrior first, the rest well behind.  Fresh from victories in the Count Fleet (G3) and Churchill Downs (G1), Jackie’s Warrior went to Belmont Park for the True North (G2) and again won decisively, this time by five lengths from Sound Money.

If Jackie’s Warrior stays in this form, he will be very hard to top — especially as the other horses with the most natural speed in North America, Flightline and Life Is Good, are being aimed at the 1 1/4-mile Classic. Another potential contender, Speaker’s Corner, may be better placed in the Dirt Mile rather than the Sprint. However, the fact Jackie’s Warrior failed in the Sprint last year will give his rivals some hope when the big race comes around again.

Last year’s Sprint winner, Aloha West, was well beaten by Jackie’s Warrior in the Churchill Downs but returned to winning form in the Kelly’s Landing S. at Churchill Downs July 2. Dr. Schivel, just edged into second in last year’s Sprint, hasn’t run since finishing third to Switzerland in the Golden Shaheen (G1) at Meydan in March, and may not return to racing until October. Beyond them, the most impressive has been Gulfstream Smile Sprint (G3) winner Willy Boi.

Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint

The previous update asked whether last year’s Filly and Mare Sprint winner Ce Ce would target this race or the Distaff, as she did two years ago. It now looks like this race is the aim; after a couple of goes at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn, she was taken back to seven furlongs July 2 for the Princess Rooney (G2), a “Win and You’re In” race she won last year. She couldn’t have been more impressive, winning by 6 1/2 lengths, putting herself to the head of this class.

A new challenger to emerge is Becca Taylor, who in the past month won the six-furlong Desert Stormer (G3) and the 6 1/2-furlong Great Lady M (G2) in California. She has missed her surfaces but has only been beaten once in 10 starts, going down a nose in the Irish O’Brien S. on turf. She hasn’t stretched out to seven furlongs yet but looks capable of doing so.

Derby City Distaff (G1) winner Obligatory returned in the Bed O’ Roses (G2) June 10 but couldn’t catch Bella Sofia; the latter was well beaten by Ce Ce when fourth in last year’s Filly and Mare Sprint and didn’t do enough to suggest she’s closed the gap. Also emerging recently was Lady Rocket, who beat Winning Colors (G3) victress Sconsin in the 7-furlong Chicago (G3) at Churchill Downs June 25, with two more good sprinting mares, Bell’s the One and Four Graces, next.

Madison Stakes (G1) heroine Just One Time has been inactive since finishing third in the Derby City Distaff, as has last year’s Filly and Mare Sprint runner-up Edgeway, who was very disappointing in that race. Both can bounce back, while there should also be some three-year-olds that emerge as prospects in this division.

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

This race is extremely difficult to assess as many of the likely candidates could be directed toward the Classic.

The most impressive performers in prep races for this division have been the unbeaten Flightline and last year’s winner Life Is Good. As discussed above, Flightline showed his credentials with an easy six-length victory in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap June 11, while Life Is Good returned to form by winning the John A Nerud at Belmont July 2. Both, however, will have the Classic as their first targets.

The same may well apply to the most impressive three-year-olds in this category in the past month: Jack Christopher, a 10-length winner of the 7-furlong Woody Stephens June 11 and Charge It, who won the one-mile Dwyer at Belmont July 2 by 23 lengths.

If these contenders head for the Classic, it could open a path for Speaker’s Corner, who finished third in the Met Mile and second in the Nerud. At his previous start, he won the 7-furlong Carter Handicap (G1); at this stage, the Mile looks a good target for him, though the Sprint is another possibility.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

The horse that has made the biggest impression has probably been Gulfport. A winner on debut at Churchill Downs over five furlongs, he then contested the 6-furlong Bashford Manor S. June 4 and could not have been more impressive, leading all the way to score a 12 1/2-length victory.

Nearly as impressive was Damon’s Mound. From the first crop of Girvin, he won his six-furlong debut by a very wide margin at Churchill Downs July 2.

Another early stakes winner among the juveniles was Two of a Kind, who won the Tremont S. at Belmont Park June 9. It was his second victory.

As impressive as these two-year-olds have been, it’s too early to make many judgments about the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Many potential runners in the big race will not have faced the starter as yet. However, Gulfport and Damon’s Mound, in particular, look promising, and it will be interesting to follow their progress.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

As with the Juvenile, it’s too early to make any solid judgments about prospects for the Juvenile Fillies. The next month will tell a lot, especially once the Saratoga meet begins.

The most notable race in this division was probably the 6-furlong Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs July 4, won very comfortably by Wonder Wheel. Leading all the way for Tyler Gaffalione, she cruised to the post 6 3/4 lengths clear, making it two wins from two starts. The Into Mischief filly won very well, but whether she can maintain her position at the head of her division remains to be seen.