By Richard Rosenblatt
As temperatures fall and autumn fades, the racing world is heating up again less than two weeks before the $31 million, 14-race, two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Over the weekend, most of the BC Classic (G1) contenders posted their penultimate workouts at either Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, Santa Anita or Keeneland, the site of the Nov. 6-7 championships.
As usual, the $6 million, 1 1/4-mile Classic is the signature race, this year set to feature Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Authentic, Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law, and possibly Preakness (G1) winner, the filly Swiss Skydiver.
Maximum Security, Improbable, and Tom’s d’Etat are among the top older horses ready for the 3-year-old lineup, plus a handful of long shots. Line ‘em up in the starting gate and the outcome will likely determine several divisional championships as well as Horse of the Year.
Here’s a brief rundown at how the contenders are doing following their most recent works.
On Sunday, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sent out his 4-year-old Classic runners at Santa Anita, Maximum Security and Improbable. Maximum Security, the 3-year-old male champion and winner of the Saudi Cup and Pacific Classic in 2020, worked 5 furlongs in 59.80 seconds, matching the fastest of 71 at the same distance; Improbable, winner of three straight Grade 1s, most recently the Awesome Again, breezed 7 furlongs in 1:25.
Authentic, second in the Preakness after his Derby win and also trained by Baffert, worked 7 furlongs in 1:24.40 at Santa Anita on Saturday (Oct. 24).
“Max doesn’t even take a deep breath,” Baffert told drf.com. “He went nice. All three of mine are doing well.”
Tiz the Law, second in the Derby after winning the Belmont and the Travers, had his first work at Keeneland since arriving from New York last week. The colt trained by Barclay Tagg worked 6 furlongs in 1:13.20 on Friday (Oct. 23), with one more breeze set for the coming weekend.
“I think he gets over any track better than Churchill,” Tagg told the Keeneland press office (Tiz the Law’s two defeats came at Churchill). “I wanted to get him used to the (Keeneland) track. “If he shows improvement next week, even better.”
Tiz the Law skipped the Preakness, the final leg of the 2020 Triple Crown after the racing schedule was reshuffled due to COVID-19.
Higher Power, 0-for-4 in 2020 but the winner of the 2019 Pacific Classic, also worked Sunday (Oct. 25), going 7 furlongs in 1:25.40 over a fast track at Keeneland.
“This was his big work before the Breeders’ Cup,” said Juan Levya, who was aboard for the work and overees trainer John Sadler’s Keeneland contingent of horses. “I am very satisfied with it. He galloped out strong … I had him in 1:39 for the mile.”
Tom’s d’Etat (third in the Whitney after winning his previous four starts); The 7-year-old worked 6 furlongs in 1:12.80 under jockey Miguel Mena at Churchill Downs.
“The schedule with the pandemic got a little awkward with everyone,” trainer Al Stall, Jr., said. “The races didn’t quite work out in the calendar quite right for him. My gut feeling said to go into the Classic fresh anyway and when the last round of stakes races came out I didn’t like the way they were placed so we stuck with the plan to train up to the race.”
By My Standards, a winner in four of six starts in 2020 – most recently taking the Alysheba (G2) on Sept. 4 – worked 5 furlongs in 58.60 at Churchill Downs
Swiss Skydiver, likely to be cross-entered in the Classic and Distaff, worked 4 furlongs in 47.80 at Churchill Downs under jockey Robby Albarado.
“She was pulling today and feeling really good with the cool weather,” Albarado said. “No complaints, she feels amazing. … I’m going to gallop her the last five days before the race as I did at Pimlico. We’re going to see how she’s doing and make a decision (Classic or Distaff) from there.”
Global Campaign, winner of the Woodward (G1) at Saratoga on Sept. 5, breezed 4 furlongs in 48.00 at Churchill Downs.
Tacitus, winner of the Suburban (G2) and still looking for that elusive Grade 1 win, worked 4 furlongs in 48.71 at Belmont Park.
Title Ready finished third in the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland on Oct. 10, and the 5-year-old trained by Dallas Stewart is being considered for the Classic.
As for the long-range weather forecast in Lexington, Kentucky on Nov. 6-7, the temperatures are expected to be in the mid-60s both days, but cloudy and a 40% chance of rain late Friday and into the evening, and sun and clouds with little chance of rain on Saturday.
Pre-entries for the 37th Breeders’ Cup will be announced on Oct. 28. The post-position draw for the BC races is Nov. 2.
Josie Carroll had a feeling about the $400,000 Breeders’ Stakes, a race that featured the trainer’s Mighty Heart attempting to win the Canadian Triple Crown against his stablemate, Belichick.
And wouldn’t you know it? It was Belichick who played the role of spoiler by winning the 1 ½-mile turf race by four lengths, with Mighty Heart finishing seventh.
Belichick ($8.70 for a $2 win bet) broke his maiden in a big way in his fourth career start after previously running second to Mighty Heart in the in Queen’s Plate (the first leg of the Triple Crown).
But Carroll sensed this could be a winning race for her other entry, who was 3-1 to Mighty Heart’s even-money odds.
“I’ve said from the very start that Belichick is a very, very special horse that’s just coming into his own and I think he showed that,’’ Carroll said. “He’s a powerful horse. The Queen’s Plate was a breakout race for him and we couldn’t come back that quickly in the Prince of Wales. A horse needs a little time to regroup from something like that, a young, inexperienced horse. And regroup he did.”
Mighty Heart, a bay Ontario-bred with vision in only one eye, was trying to become the first horse since Wando in 2003 to win Canada’s Triple Crown, three races on three different surfaces for Canadian breds only.
Ridden by Luis Contreras, Belichick took charge in the stretch after Mighty Heart, who took the early lead but was challenged from the get-go, tired, and pulled away from the field for the victory. Meyer, a 54-1 shot, finished second.
“They kind of broke early in the race so I just tried to see them and relax my horse as much as I can,” Contreras said. “He was very uncomfortable; this horse has a different style to run so I just let him be happy wherever he wants to be.
“Turning for home, I was just in hand all the way to the quarter pole and I asked him to run from the stretch home and he did. I was just watching, just feeling my horse at the same time. And he was doing great the whole way. He came into this race very ready, good thing for Josie and all the crew.”
Daisuke Fukumoto, who was aboard Mighty Heart, said he thought the popular colt simply tired in at the end.
“He broke good and I didn’t plan on going to the front,’’ he said. “He was sharp like in the Queen’s Plate, I tried to take hold and he relaxed a little bit in the backstretch, but with the mile and a half you need the stamina. I think he just got tired. He tried hard today.
A son Lemon Drop Kid, Belichick was unraced as a 2-year-old. He finished third in his first start on July 4, then ran second in his second start on Aug. 1 before his runner-up finish in the Queen’s Plate.
“He’s a different horse,” noted Carroll. “He was so distracted the first race. I came over here with high expectations of him, I knew in the paddock I was in trouble … he was looking at a white pony and he was all googly-eyed at them, all over the place. And then off of that race he seasoned a little, and then more so the next race, and then today when I was back at the barn he was sleeping all day, stretched right out in the stall … just crashed. The nerves are all gone, he’s just turned into a real professional.”
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.