BC Prep Races Heat Up

BC PREP RACES HEAT UP AS 2011 BREEDERS' CUP DRAWS NEAR

By Noel Michaels

The 2011 Breeders' Cup is just around the corner and the fall Thoroughbred stakes racing season is all about prep races for this year's Breeders' Cup. When you're talking about BC prep races, many the best of the best will be part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series, which hits stride from October 1 and continues hot and heavy through the first half of October as horses from around North America and the world point for the 2011 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, which will be held on Friday and Saturday, November 4-5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

Now in its fifth year in 2011, the Breeders' Cup Challenge features a series of 68 officially sanctioned 'qualifying races' from 23 of the world's premier racetracks.  Besides the fact that the Breeders' Cup Challenge schedule is made up of many of the top Breeders' Cup prep races run at important autumn racing venues such as Belmont, Keeneland, and Santa Anita, the main provision that makes BC Challenge races so important is that they are all 'Win and You're In' events, meaning that the winners of each of the BC Challenge races automatically qualify for a spot in the starting gate for their corresponding Breeders' Cup race.

Many of the Breeders' Cup race divisions will be bulging with hopefuls and many of the races on the two-day card could over-fill with entries.  That's where the Breeders' Cup Challenge comes into the picture.  Without a 'Win and You're In' victory, horses must earn their Breeders' Cup entries based on points earned in key divisional races throughout the year or else be selected by an international committee of racing experts in order to avoid being excluded or winding up on the also eligible list.

Some of the headline races that have already been involved in the Breeders' Cup Challenge have included the Arlington Million and Beverly D., the Whitney Handicap, the Pacific Classic, and the Princess Rooney and Smile Sprint from the Summit of Speed card at Calder, and some of the key horses who've already earned 'Win and You're In' Breeders' Cup berths have included Cape Blanco (Turf), Stacelita (Filly & Mare Turf), Tizway (Classic), Acclamation (Classic), and Giant Ryan (Sprint).  Remember that once a horse has won a BC Challenge race, he or she has earned an automatic berth only for that corresponding Breeders' Cup race and not a blanket invitation for any Breeders' Cup race they choose.  However, it is generally understood that these caliber of Grade 1 winners are good enough to earn a spot into whatever race they so choose.  This could be the case for a horse like Acclamation, who won the Pacific Classic on Polytrack, but will probably bypass the Classic (on dirt) in favor of a race like the Turf.  Acclamation, by the way, is also a multiple stakes winner this year on turf.

BC Challenge Schedule (Oct. 1 – October 16)
From here on out, many of the BC Challenge prep races will begin to root out the best horses in the country in every division as the races now will serve as the contenders' final prep races.  Most of the key prep races remaining will be run at a small handful of key tracks including Belmont, Keeneland, Santa Anita, and overseas in France at Longchamp, and in England at Newmarket and Ascot.

It is worth noting that not all key graded stakes races will be a part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge.  Races such as the Cotillion from Parx, the Indiana Derby from Hoosier, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triumphe, and some others are obviously still major Breeders' Cup prep races despite the fact they are not 'win and you're in' BC Challenge races.

With the Breeders' Cup being run at a traditional dirt track again this year (thank goodness!), there will a premium on dirt track prep races for the Breeders' Cup (i.e. pretty much everywhere except Keeneland).  In this regard, it is certainly beneficial for the west coast contingent to see that fall racing at this time of year has switched back to Santa Anita (last year's preps were run at Hollywood).  That is important because Santa Anita now has switched back to a dirt surface.  This will give us a much clearer picture of the California horses and their true chances than we had last year when the west coast horses had to prep on Hollywood's artificial Cushion Track.

Perhaps the most important Breeders' Cup prep races to be run over the course of the next few weeks will be run at Belmont Park.  Notably, this will include the races run on 'Super Saturday' on Saturday, October 1, when the card will feature no less than 6 BC Challenge prep races.  These will include the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Classic), the Vosburgh (Sprint), the Flower Bowl (Filly & Mare Turf), and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (Turf), the Kelso (Dirt Mile), and the Beldame (Ladies' Classic).

If you are hotly anticipating the Breeders' Cup, you absolutely cannot miss 'Super Saturday' at Belmont Park, because so many major Breeders' Cup contenders will all be getting their final prep races in on that day.  This line-up of equine stars scheduled to shine on Super Saturday includes Horse of the Year candidate and Woodward winner Havre De Grace facing the likes of Alabama winner Royal Delta and an all-star cast in the Beldame, and defending Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Big Drama, who is pointing for the Vosburgh.

Trainer Todd Pletcher will be heavily represented on Super Saturday, first and foremost by his Mike Repole-owned duo of Travers winner Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo.  Stay Thirsty will go in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, while Uncle Mo will headline a competitive field in the Kelso against horses like the red-hot Jackson Bend and 2010 Cigar Mile winner Jersey Town.

Arlington Million winner Cape Blanco will be on hand to run in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and his female counterpart Stacelita will also be in New York on Oct. 1 for the Flower Bowl.  Both will be receiving their final preps for the Turf and Filly & Mare Turf, respectively, and both could be favorites on Breeders' Cup Day depending on their performances at Belmont on Oct. 1.

For borderline horses, a BC Challenge win and an upset over stars like Havre De Grace, Big Drama, Stay Thirsty, Cape Blanco, and Stacelita could make the difference between an automatic berth into the Breeders' Cup on November 4-5 at Churchill Downs, or spending that weekend at home on the sidelines.

Other key dates on the upcoming fall BC Challenge schedule include Oct. 1 at Santa Anita, which will feature the Norfolk (Juvenile), the Lady's Secret (Ladies' Classic), and the Yellow Ribbon (F&M Turf).  Another giant day of Breeders' Cup preps will be on Oct. 8 at Keeneland, featuring the runnings of the Breeders' Futurity (Juvenile), the Shadwell Turf Mile (Mile), and the TCA Stakes (F&M Sprint).  The Spinster Stakes will then be run the next day on Oct. 9 as a major prep for the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic.

The final major prep race BC Challenge action will take place on Oct. 16 at Woodbine for one of Canada's best days of international racing.  That day's card will feature a trio of BC Challenge races such as the Canadian International (Turf), the E. P. Taylor (Filly & Mare Turf), and the Nearctic Stakes (Turf Sprint).

Oct. 1

Santa Anita

Goodwood Handicap

Breeders' Cup Classic

Oct. 1

Belmont Park

Jockey Club Gold Cup

Classic

Oct. 1

Belmont Park

Kelso Handicap

Dirt Mile

Oct. 1

Belmont Park

Flower Bowl Invitational

Filly & Mare Turf

Oct. 1

Belmont Park

Beldame Stakes

Ladies' Classic

Oct. 1

Belmont Park

Vosburgh

Sprint

Oct. 1

Belmont Park

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic

Turf

Oct. 1

Santa Anita

Norfolk Stakes

Juvenile

Oct. 1

Santa Anita

Yellow Ribbon Stakes

Filly & Mare Turf

Oct. 1

Santa Anita

Lady's Secret Stakes

Ladies' Classic

Oct. 2

Longchamp (FRA)

Prix de l'Opera

Filly & Mare Turf

Oct. 2

Santa Anita

Oak Leaf Stakes

Juvenile Fillies

Oct. 2

Longchamp (FRA)

Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere

Juvenile Turf

Oct. 7

Keeneland

Darley Alcibiades Stakes

Juvenile Fillies

Oct. 7

Keeneland

Phoenix Stakes

Sprint

Oct. 8

Keeneland

Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes

Filly & Mare Sprint

Oct. 8

Belmont Park

Champagne Stakes

Juvenile

Oct. 8

Keeneland

Breeders Futurity

Juvenile

Oct. 8

Belmont Park

Frizette Stakes

Juvenile Fillies

Oct. 8

Newmarket (ENG)

Dewhurst Stakes

Juvenile Turf

Oct. 8

Keeneland

Shadwell Turf Mile

Mile

Oct. 8

Santa Anita

Ancient Title Stakes

Sprint

Oct. 9

Keeneland

Spinster Stakes

Ladies' Classic

Oct. 12

Keeneland

Jessamine Stakes

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Oct. 15

Ascot (ENG)

Queen Elizabeth II Stakes

Mile

Oct. 16

Woodbine

E.P. Taylor Stakes

Filly & Mare Turf

Oct. 16

Woodbine

Canadian International Stakes

Turf

Oct.16

Woodbine

Nearctic Stakes

Turf Sprint

I'll be ready with best bet action on these big races, as well as each racing day at Belmont. Get on board with me for all the winning action.

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