The was no margin for error in four of the biggest races of the day, three of which were decided by a head, the other by a nose following a stewards’ inquiry.
And for two of the winners, there were automatic berths and all fees paid into their respective races in the 40th Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Nov. 3-4.
Let’s recap Saturday’s close calls:
California-bred The Chosen Vron ($11) stepped up in a big way when he inched past Anarchist in the final yards and won the $403,500 Bing Crosby (G1) at Del Mar. The 5-year-old gelding has won eight straight, the previous seven in Cal-bred only stakes. The win clinched a spot in the BC Sprint (G1), a race that may give him a home track advantage.
The Chosen Vron earned a free entry to the BC Sprint, but since he wasn’t nominated to the Breeders’ Cup the owners would have to pay a $100,000 supplemental entry fee.
Trainer Eric Kruljac is one of four owners.
“We definitely are going to supplement for the Sprint,” Kruljac said. “Especially since it’s at Santa Anita this year. We’ll possibly look for a prep.”
At Ascot Racecourse, Hukum overtook the leader in the final two furlongs and held on to top Westover by a head in the $1.6 million King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1). The 6-year-old horse, sent off at 13-2, earned a spot in the BC Turf and is 2-for-2 this year after coming back from an injury following his win in the 2022 Coronation Cup (G1) last June. Favorite Auguste Rodin finished last in a field of 10.
At Saratoga, Irad Ortiz, Jr., piloted Elite Power ($4.20) to a head victory over Gunite in the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) with a rousing run through the stretch. The 2022 champion male sprinter extended his winning streak to eight for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who turned 70 on Saturday – and won a race at the Spa for the 18th year in a row on his birthday.
An hour later at the Spa, Ortiz came through again, this time in the $500,000 Jim Dandy (G2) with favorite Forte ($3.50) nosing out Saudi Crown and then surviving a stewards’ inquiry. Forte, the 2-year-old male champion scratched the morning of the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 6 with a bruised foot, bumped with Angel of Empire coming into the stretch, then made contact with leader Saudi Crown, who was drifting out from the rail, before winning in the final strides.
“There was a lot going on and he was boxed in there for a little while and pushed his way through,” Forte’s trainer Todd Pletcher said. “The horse on the lead drifted all the way from the rail to the six or seven path and was carrying everyone out with him. They came back together right at the end and fortunately he [Forte] was able to surge and get his head in front.”
The Bing Crosby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth are among 80 races that are part of Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series. The winners of these races earn automatic berths and fees paid to the Breeders’ Cup.
Next up in the BC’s ‘Win and You’re In” challenge series: the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood (BC Mile) on Aug. 2, and the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar (BC Distaff) and the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga (BC Classic), both on Aug. 5.
Cody’s Wish is the likely favorite for the $1 million Whitney seeking a seventh straight victory in what has been a sensational run for the 5-year-old horse trained by Bill Mott.
After a 4-furlong tune-up in 48.24 seconds on Sunday over the Oklahoma training track, Mott said: “I thought it was perfect. If there is such a thing as a perfect work. (Exercise rider) Neil (Poznansky) did a perfect job.”
Cody’s Wish comes into the race off four straight Grade 1 victories – the Forego, the BC Dirt Mile in 2022, and the Churchill Downs and the Met Mile most recently.
Set to challenge is Zandon, who finished second to Cody’s Wish in the Met Mile. In 2022, Zandon won the Blue Grass (G1) and ran third in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Chad Brown.
Other contenders include West Will Power, Charge It, and Giant Game.
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.