By Richard Rosenblatt
The race is on at Keeneland and Belmont Park for the final all-fees paid berths into the Breeders’ Cup less than a month away.
Keeneland kicked off it Fall Stars Weekend on Friday, with a pair of BC “Win and You’re In” races televised live by NBC Sports’ NBCSN, the Darley Alcibiades and the Phoenix.
I’s a huge sports weekend with the MLB playoffs joining in with college and pro football, but thoroughbred racing is on the NBCSN menu from Keeneland and Belmont on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which features coverage of 11 WAYI races – two Friday, five on Saturday and four on Sunday.
Fox Sports’ FS1/FS2 also has a weekend full of live racing from Belmont and other tracks, while TVG has its usual full-press coverage nationwide.
On Saturday at Keeneland, NBCSN coverage is 5-6 p.m. ET and features the $750,000 Keeneland Turf Mile headlined by Order of Australia, winner of last year’s BC Mile at 73-1 odds and the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity for 2-year-olds looking for that WAYI free pass to the BC Juvenile.
On Sunday, it’s NBCSN from 4:30-6 p.m., with the $500,000 Spinster Stakes among the top races featuring Letruska, the nation’s top older female and Horse of the Year contender.
On Friday, Special Reserve ($4.40) won the Phoenix (G2) for trainer Mike Maker for a WAYI berth into the BC Sprint.
“I have a lot of faith in the horse,’’ Maker said. “(Jockey) Joel (Rosario) did a fabulous job. I wasn’t expecting to be on the lead today, but the horse was so quick.”
Also, Juju’s Map ($6.80) was a 4 ¼-length winner for trainer Brad Cox in the Darley Alcibiades (G2) to gain an all-fees spot in the BC Juvenile Fillies (G1). The winning rider was Florent Geroux.
“It looked like she broke a touch slow, but she responded well,’’ Cox said. “This filly is worthy of a trip to California as long as she comes out the race OK.”
Here’s a brief look at the weekend races:
Wily veteran Firenze Fire is the 8-5 second choice behind 7-5 Baby Yoda is this WAYI race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Set for his 31st career start, and trained by Kelly Breen, the 6-year-old is attempting to run in the Breeders’ Cup for the fifth time (his best finish was third in the 2020 Sprint). A field of five is entered; 3-year-old gelding Baby Yoda is 3-of-4 for trainer Bill Mott
Bubble Rock, trained by Brad Cox, is the slight 7-2 favorite in this field of 12. On a personal note, I’ll be paying close attention to 20-1 shot Dufresne, trained by Michael Trombetta.
Gufo is the 8-5 favorite over Japan (5-2) in a field of seven. Gufo, trained by Christophe Clement, comes into the race off a victory in the Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 28.
This one takes an interesting twist as trainer Wesley Ward is running a pair of fillies, Chi Town Lady (2-1 favorite) and Poppy Flower (5-2 second choice), in this WAYI for the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint. They were being considered for the Matron.
Horologist is the 2-1 favorite in a field of eight for trainer Bill Mott. The 5-year-old New Jersey-bred mare is coming off a winner in the Summer Colony Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 22.
Chad Brown-trained L’Imperator is the 3-1 top choice in a field of nine. Brown also sends out 7-2 second choice Sacred Life. Todd Pletcher also has a pair in this one, 8-1 shots En Wye Cee and No Word.
Golden Pal is the 4-5 favorite in a field of seven. The 3-year-old won the 2020 BC Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) last year but comes into this one off a seventh-place finish in a Group 1 at York on Aug. 20.
Bell’s the One is the 7-5 top choice in this WAYI to the BC Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). Frank’s Rockette and Estilo Talentoso are each 5-2 in the field of six.
A few of these runners are vying for ‘first lady’ status in 2021, led by 7-2 favorite Althiqa, Regal Glory, Harvey’s Lil Goil and Viadera. A field of 13 is entered for this WAYI to the BC Filly & Mare Turf. Althiqa, trained by Charley Appleby, comes in off Grade 1 wins at Saratoga in the Just a Game and the Diana.
Double Thunder, a winner in three of four starts for trainer Todd Pletcher, is the 4-1 favorite in a field of 13 vying for a WAYI spot in the BC Juvenile (G1). Stellar Tap and Don’t Wait Up are the 9-2 co-second choices.
Look who’s back and vying for an all-fees berth in the BC Mile (G1) – it’s Order of Australia, 73-1 longshot winner of the 2020 BC Mile for trainer Aidan O’Brien. The 4-year-old colt will be ridden by John Velazquez. Also entered in the 13-horse field are Pixelate and Somelikeithotbrown, each at 9-2, and Ivar, last year’s winner, at 5-1.
Averly Jane from the barn of Wesley Ward is the 4-5 favorite in a field of 10 in this WAYI to the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1). Averly Jane is 3-3, including a last-out win in the Skidmore at Saratoga on Aug. 20. Kaufymaker, also trained by Ward, is the 7-2 second choice.
Five-year-old mare Letruska is the 4-5 favorite in a strong field of seven competing for an all-fees paid spot in the BC Distaff (G1). Letruska, trained by Fausto Gutierrez, has won five of six this year, including three Grade 1s – the Apple Blossom, Ogden Phipps and most recently the Personal Ensign. Her lone loss in 2021 was by a head to Shedaresthedevil in the Azeri. Bonny South from trainer Brad Cox, along with Grade 1 winner Dunbar Road, Crystal Ball, and Envoutante are also entered.
Tiz the Bomb tiz the 3-1 favorite in a 14-horse field competing for a WAYI berth into the BC Juvenile Turf (G1). Trained by Ken McPeek, the colt is 2-for-3, including a last-out win in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile Stakes on Sept. 6.
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.