After five days of countless early morning exercise rides, media events, Louisville partying rivaled only by Kentucky Derby Week, a mint julep (or two if you wisely designated a driver), and more anticipation than a Powerball drawing, the real Breeders’ Cup stars—the horses and riders–put all their work, worry and waiting on display in the five races billed as “Future Stars Friday” Nov. 2.
Day one opens the starting gates to possible glory on the First Saturday in May back at Churchill Downs and into the future and perhaps horseracing legend.
The rebranding places center stage 2-year-old colts and fillies that have been lightly raced and about which little is really known. What is known is that many of the youngsters on display Friday will climb the ladder of racing success, perhaps to a Derby or Oaks win or even a Triple Crown. Many of the older horses racing on “Championship Saturday” first displayed their burgeoning talent in four of Friday’s five juvenile races, all four Grade 1: the $1 million Juvenile Turf and Juvenile Fillies Turf, and the $2 million Tito’s Handmade Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, both on dirt. The fifth race, the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint is having its inaugural running and is the first race on Friday’s card.
As exciting as this new format may prove for Breeders’ Cup organizers, sponsors and racing fans, it’s a bit of a handicapper’s nightmare since all the entrants have raced only often enough to earn a gate with just a handful having earned notable wins. Want another complication? Okay, predictions of rain for Thursday, clearing for the start of the Friday races, but likely softening the turf for races on that oval.
But enough worry and waiting, let’s get to work! Let’s have a look at the 2-year-old future stars in our preview of the five Friday races along with (very tentative) predictions. You can catch the full fields for both days and their post positions in our earlier article on Monday’s post-position draw.
Race 1 (3:21 pm EDT)
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE TURF SPRINT
(Ungraded, inaugural run) – 5 &1/2 furlongs – $1 million
Mark Casse-trained Strike Silver starts from the rail position as the slight 5-1 favorite over filly Shang Shang Shang at 4-1, one of four entries from trainer Wesley Ward, who is based just a horseshoe’s-throw away in Lexington at Keeneland. Ward has clearly targeted this race since he’s fielding a third of the full field of 12.
The field also features three invaders, not surprisingly from Great Britain, Soldier’s Call and Well Done Fox, and Ireland, represented by Queen of Bermuda. What is surprising given the Euros’ turf legacy is all three are well down on the morning line, 9-2, 12-1 and 20-1 respectively. Or perhaps not so surprising since Ward no doubt is familiar with the Churchill turf and any of its quirks.
He certainly thinks he has a winner in Shang Shang Shang. Why? Well, she broke her maiden in her first start at Keeneland in April at 4 1/2 furlongs, besting filly Moonlight Romance by 2 1/4 lengths. The Euro trainers got a close-up glimpse of her when the daughter of Shanghai Bobby journeyed across the pond to beat Pocket Dynamo by a nose in the Eng-G2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. She’s undefeated but only 2-0, a thin resume. Still, beating one of the boys on a huge stage and winning on both sides of the Atlantic is a pretty auspicious start to a promising career.
As often happens in racing, the race that kicks off the Breeders’ Cup doesn’t lack for irony. Both Moonlight Romance at 12-1 and Pocket Dynamo at 20-1 also are entered for another shot at the filly. Shang Shang Shang won at Ascot under Joel Rosario, who has taken the ride on Pocket Dynamo instead for this race. John Velazquez picks up the ride on the bay filly.
Shang Shang Shang starts from post 7, Moonlight Romance beside her in post 6 under Jose Ortiz. Pocket Dynamo is on the far outside at post 12. Oh, and did I mention both Shang Shang Shang and Moonlight Romance are trained by Ward?
Shang Shang Shang has the speed advantage over her stablemate and seems to have grit given her nose win at Ascot. And you have to like her post position with Strike Silver on the rail and Pocket Dynamo on the far outside, though his odds seem a bit long.
While he’s not been mentioned, Bulletin in post 5 at 12-1 had a strong initial outing for Todd Pletcher, who is not particularly well-known for his turf runners. Aidan O’Brien is, and he has Euro riding champion jockey Ryan Moore aboard Sergei Prokofiev in post 8 at 6-1. Still, let’s say yes, yes, yes to Shang Shang Shang in the Breeders’ Cup opener.
Race 2 (4 pm EDT)
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
One mile – $1 million
For a country not first off a horseman’s lips when talking turf runners, Americans have fared well in this race, winning eight of the last 10 runnings. The field expands to 14 and is a 3/8-mile shorter for these younger legs than the distance for older horses in Saturdays’ BC Filly & Mare Turf, but the strategy remains the same.
If there is a juvenile race that has “mortal lock” written all over it, this may the one and Ireland’s Newspaperofrecord is the horse. She’s undefeated at only 2-0, but the daughter of Lope De Vega won the G2 Miss Grillo at Belmont over 8 1/2 furlongs or just over a mile, so the distance should be no issue. She breaks from post 6, which doesn’t hurt. Nor does it hurt to have Chad Brown, who has steered Mind Your Biscuits and can seem to do no wrong these days, as the trainer.
The second pick is Just Wonderful breaking from post 4 under Ryan Moore for Aidan O’Brien. The daughter of Dansili is 3-0-1 and has picked up a Eng-G2 win at Newmarket at 7 furlongs and a Ire-G3 at The Curragh, so co-second choice with Concrete Rose seems a bit long for her as well. If she was breaking further out than the rail, Concrete Rose might have fared a bit better with the handicappers.
At 8-1 in post 3, France’s Lily’s Candle has gone 3-0-0 in her five starts, all in France, including the 8-furlong Fr-G1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamps. She’s virtually unknown and completely untested outside her home country. The latter makes a case for her longer odds, but the former suggests she could be a threat.
Other runners have much longer odds, which is always appealing to bettors, but those odds are usually that long for good reason. We’ll go on record with Newspaperofrecord and expect Just Wonderful to be just short of, with Lily’s Candle possibly lighting it up.
Race 3 (4:40 pm EDT)
TITO’S HANDMADE VODKA BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES
One & 1/16 mile – $2 million
We finally get down in the dirt for this one. It’s been a starmaker, with the likes of Ria Antonia, Take Charge Brandi and the magnificent Songbird dancing into the winner’s circle the past three years. Expect some of the 10 entries to find their way back to Churchill Downs for the first Friday in May running of the Kentucky Oaks, with the winner of this race an early favorite.
As long as the odds stretched in the previous race, they stretch longer still in this one with the 2-1 money saying Bellafina is one Fine Beauty, even though she starts from the far outside post 10. The daughter of Quality Road is a sparkling 3-1-0 in four starts progressing from a G2 win in the Sorrento Stakes at Del Mar to her first G1 win in the Debutante on the same track to a second G1 victory in the Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita over progressively longer 6,7 and 8 1/2 furlong distances. She’s ridden for trainer Simon Callaghan by Flavien Prat.
The runner-up in the Chandelier, Vibrance, is back at 10-1 for another chance at The Beauty (there, we’ve nicknamed her!) breaking from post 5.
Reflect, currently at 15-1 in post 1, is likely to get some betting love as post time approaches, though she’s won only one of her four starts. She was runnerup in the G1 Alcibiades over 8 1/2 furlongs at nearby Keeneland. She also has a rich pedigree with the ever-popular Tapit on the side of her sire Trappe Shot and current favorite Scat Daddy on her aptly named dam’s side, Scat Patty. Jose Ortiz will be in the irons for trainer J. Keith Desormeaux.
Johnny V. is steering Vibrance for trainer Michael McCarthy in this one. Jaywalk and Sippican Harbor may also be worth part of a trifecta ticket. A winner other than The Beauty would be a surprise in this one, unless it’s Vibrance or Reflect, in which case their backers will have a fuller wallet and a mouth full of “I told you sos.”
RACE 4 (5:22 pm EDT)
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE TURF
One mile – $1 million
If you’re the kind of fan who likes to pick their winners because you like their name or their jockey’s silks, we have the race for you! Last year’s version was won by Mendelssohn, entered in this year’s Classic. He went on to a runaway victory in the UAE-G2 UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup day to qualify for a gate in a Kentucky Derby where the field slogged away from him on the messiest Derby Day ever. He has redeemed himself somewhat since that mud bath. More about him tomorrow.
If you like the music theme with a slight twang, you might take a listen to Opry at 15-1, running out of post 8 in a full field of 14 for Todd Pletcher, who seems to be getting some grass stains lately on his dirt reputation. You can’t overlook a horse named King Of Speed in a horserace at 8-1 in post 11 with ageless Gary Stevens seeking to add to his trophy case for trainer Jeff Bonde.
Any horse named Somelikeithotbrown at 12-1 in post 7 has to make you run to a pedigree chart as well as a Hollywood film site and, sure enough, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown was his daddy. The usually light-hearted French have sent over The Black Album and fans of The Beatles in protest have made him a 30-1 longest shot. War Of Will checks in at 12-1 from post 10 while the soldierly theme continues with Ireland’s 10-1 Line Of Duty ridden by William Buick in the royal blue silks of Godolphin for trainer Charlie Appleby.
On a more serious note. Anthony Van Dyke, not to be confused with the painter Anthony Van Dyck (well, not entirely serious) is the 4-1 favorite under Ryan Moore for Aidan O’Brien, even from the far outside post 14.
Todd Pletcher has the co-favorite at 5-1 with Current in post 12 while Forty Under, also at 5-1, is under Manuel Franco for Jeremiah Englehart. For those who like The Royals, Great Britain’s Arthur Kitt breaks from the rail. The son of Camelot (by Ceiling Kitty) seems a bit forgot.
We suggest you dispense with the cute stuff and stick with the (occasionally) smart money. Anthony Van Dyke will paint a pretty picture with Current and Forty Under in the mix and Somelikeithotbrown sprinkles in a dose of sentiment.
RACE 5 (6:05 pm EDT)
SENTIENT JET BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE
One mile & 1/16 – $2 million total
This race indeed showcases future stars. Good Magic had enough of it last year as did Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist in 2015. This richest of all races for 2-year-olds in North America is 1/16 mile shorter than the classic distance run in all three Triple Crown races. This was the race that first brought attention to horses that have since become legend, including Unbridled’s Song, Street Sense, War Pass, Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby.
This year’s edition starts as a horse race between slight favorite Game Winner ridden by Joel Rosario for perennial winning trainer Bob Baffert. He is owned by Gary and Mary West, who also race last year’s Eclipse Award Champion Three-Year-Old Male, West Coast, and leaves post 9 in the full field of 14. He’ll be challenged from post 6 by Chad Brown-trained Complexity with Jose Ortiz aboard.
Third choice Code Of Honor takes off from post 11 at 5-1 under John Velazquez for trainer Claude McGaughey, III. Code is 1-1-0 after breaking his maiden then finishing second to Complexity, now undefeated at 2-0, in the G1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont.
The other Chad Brown entry is Standard Deviation, with a win and a show in his two races. The son of MacLean’s Music could deviate the anticipated order of finish at 12-1. He is yet another highly regarded son of Curlin.
Gunmetal Gray enters gate 12 with a 1-0-1 record but a bit more experience with three races under his cinch, which may account for his slight uptick in odds to 10-1. Flavien Prat is in the irons for Jerry Hollendorfer. Four other entries come in at 20-1, another five at 30-1 so longshot lovers will have a lot of choices.
It’s hard to go against the knowing eye of Bob Baffert and Chad Brown’s current run of success, so we can expect their entries to show fans what they’ve shown their trainers. We also like the added one race experience of Gunmetal Gray. Those four should be there at the end but, with two entries and his current luck-of-the-not-Irish, let’s give a green light to one of the Brown entries.
Whew! Well, they call this Future Stars Friday for a reason. This brief glimpse at these youngsters suggest it’s an apt name for the five races comprising Day One of what promises to be an exciting Breeders’ Cup at America’s most storied venue, Churchill Downs, where the Breeders’ Cup returns for a record-tying ninth time.
While we indicated the variety of ways to catch the races on broadcast, cable and social media in our earlier article on Monday’s post-position draw, there is nothing in North America quite like the pageantry of Churchill Downs and the thrill of seeing horses round the final turn and head for home. The grandstands literally shake. Tickets are still available at breederscup.com for you latecomers and newcomers. No matter which horse you hope makes it to the winner’s circle, let’s hope for good weather, competitive races and that all the horses and jockeys come home safely.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the nine races on Championship Saturday including the mouthwatering Distaff and Classic, and a Turf entry for the ages. We know our readers all love a great human interest story, so we’ll also offer one of those as well, one about both an unusual human and an equally unusual horse. Don’t miss it!