The 2019 Breeders’ Cup is just about here and while we are missing the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winners and Enable is not making the trip to defend her title, there are still plenty of storylines for this year’s championship event.
The Breeders’ Cup starts Friday at Santa Anita with the juvenile races and concludes Saturday with nine more championship races.
Here is a look at the top storylines for this year’s event:
Horse of Year Race
The Horse of the Year race usually goes squarely through the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but this year it might be decided earlier on the card.
The handicap division is led by McKinzie, but he has won just twice in six starts this year with one Grade 1 victory, coming in the Whitney.
The three-year-old Code of Honor owns two Grade 1 victories, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (thanks to a DQ) and was placed second in the Kentucky Derby. A Classic win would wrap up three-year-old honors but still might not be enough to take down Horse of the Year honors.
Bricks and Mortar will go in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and is perfect in five starts this year including four Grade 1 victories. Midnight Bisou is perfect in seven starts and she has three Grade 1 wins and a pair of Grade 2 wins. A victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff would wrap up an outstanding year.
Mitole is a major player in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and owns three Grade 1 wins including the Metropolitan Handicap at a mile.
Here is an idea: All of the above lose their Breeders’ Cup races and Maximum Security sweeps the Bold Ruler (G3), Clark (G1) or the Cigar Mile (G1) to go along with his Grade 1 wins in the Florida Derby and Haskell.
It’s enough to make my head spin.
Elate vs. The Boys
Only Zenyatta has beaten the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Elate will attempt to join elite company next Saturday. She was beaten by Midnight Bisou three times this year, but the real reason she is headed to the Classic is that she is perfect in three trips at 1 1/4 miles, the distance of the race.
Her Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott won the Classic with Drosselmeyer in 2011. She has earned a pair of triple digit Beyers this year, a 104 in her nose loss to Midnight Bisou in the Personal Ensign (G1) and a 102 in her victory in the Delaware Handicap (G2), the latter at 1 ¼ miles.
She fits with her very best and adds some excitement to what otherwise is not exactly a stellar Classic field.
Stormy Liberal Goes for Hat Trick
Yes, the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) tends to get lost in the shuffle over the two-day event but this year Stormy Liberal is looking to join rarefied air by winning a Breeders’ Cup race for the third consecutive year.
Only the great mare Goldikova won a Breeders’ Cup race three times, taking the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The Peter Miller trainee paid $62.40 in 2017 and last year returned $16.00 in defending his title. This year he comes into the race 0 for 6, landing in the money in five of those outings.
His last start was in the Eddie D. (G2) at Santa Anita where he ran third. The seven-year-old has lost a step or two from his younger days but has landed in the exacta in 14 of his 19 starts at Santa Anita.
Mile or Turf for Bricks and Mortar
Bricks and Mortar appears to be headed to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) in what must have been a pretty tough decision by trainer Chad Brown.
The five-year-old has won 10 of his 12 career starts, is undefeated this year and a Horse of the Year candidate. The only problem is he is best from 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 miles, and there is no Breeders’ Cup race on turf at those distances.
It was either a cut back to a mile, and he is perfect in his three starts at the distance. Or stretch out to 1 1/2 miles. He won the Arlington Million (G1) at 1 1/4 miles in his last start.
With last year’s Turf runner up Magical pointing toward the Filly & Mare Turf this year, it looks as if the Turf was the right decision.
Now the tough decision lies with horseplayers, who have to decide what type of value this talented runner holds as the likely betting favorite at a distance where he is not proven.
PETA Vs. The Industry
The rash of equine deaths at the Santa Anita meeting earlier this year made mainstream news, led to protests by PETA and a three-week shutdown of racing to inspect the racing surface and come up with safety protocols.
The Breeders’ Cup decided to keep the event in Southern California despite the fallout and the potential of more protests next week.
The safety record since racing resumed in Southern California both at Del Mar and Santa Anita has improved, but everyone in the industry will be holding their collective breaths starting Friday.
The safe move would have been to shift the Breeders’ Cup to Churchill Downs in Kentucky.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup will not only be judged by the performances we are about to see from the best horses in the world, but more importantly by whether all the participants come back to their barns afterward safe and sound.