Justify is retired, but Mike Smith has a Classic contender
With the onslaught of happenings populating the Bluegrass State this week, it might have slipped your mind that none other than the 2018 Breeders’ Cup takes place Friday and Saturday at Churchill Downs.
We’re here to offer a gentle reminder plus a list of trainers, jockeys, owners and races to watch this weekend for the Super Bowl of Thoroughbred racing.
The world’s most famous horse trainer won his second Triple Crown in fours years with Justify back in June, but stablemate McKinzie was his expected Kentucky Derby favorite until the talented colt was injured in April. McKinzie returned to win the Pennsylvania Derby and has Baffert positioned with a prime Classic contending duo in McKinzie and West Coast. Baffert also has the 8-5 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile favorite in Game Winner. Some guys have all the luck. Baffert is several steps beyond that.
The 62-year-old California-based trainer lugs an 0-for-41 Breeders’ Cup record into the weekend. He also has the Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite in Accelerate, a multiple Grade 1 winner who has captured five of his last six races, including the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again. Accelerate has raced outside the Golden State only once and never at Churchill Downs, so he must prove he can take his game on the road. If Accelerate accelerates, Sadler will shed his goose egg in glorious fashion.
A walk-on kicker at Kentucky for first Guy Morriss and then Rich Brooks, the Long Island native spent a lot of his down time at Keeneland. Over a decade later, Summers trains Mind Your Biscuits, ranked right behind Accelerate and Justify on the list of top horses for 2018. The richest New York-bred in history, Mind Your Biscuits has finished either first (twice) or second (thrice) in his five races this year. And he loves the Twin Spires. Last out, Biscuits won the Lukas Classic on Sept. 29 at Churchill. He’s entered in both the Classic and the Dirt Mile.
And you thought Tom Brady was the only old guy still getting it done. The 53-year-old Smith was hoping to complete the Grand Slam after riding Justify to the Triple Crown. That was before an injury stamped his ticket to the stallion barn. No problem. Smith is riding McKinzie in the Classic and 8-5 favorite Marley’s Freedom in the Filly and Mare Sprint.
Europe’s most famous jockey storms into Churchill atop even-money favorite Enable in the Breeders’ Cup Turf for trainer John Gosden. Enable hopes to become the first Arc de Triopmhe winner to capture the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year.
WinStar and China Horse Club
The same connections that brought you Justify has Yoshida in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trained by the venerable Bill Mott and ridden by Joel Rosario, Yoshida has won two of his four starts this year, including the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 1. A Classic win would top off an unbelievable year for Kenny Troutt, Elliott Walden and the folks at WinStar.
G M B Racing
New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson passed away in March at age 90, leaving his G M B Racing Stable in the hands of his widow, Gayle. Owner of Benson Farm at Greenwood Lodge in Bourbon County, Gayle will saddle Lone Sailor in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. An upset win would serve as an emotional tribute to her late husband.
The last time Louisville saw the Goldophin Racing star, Thunder Snow was bucking and kicking and flat-out freaking out after leaving the starting gate in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. He has rebounded nicely from that ignominious showing, romping in the Dubai World Cup by nearly 6 lengths. It would be quite the story if on his return trip to Churchill he caused another freak-out by winning the Classic.
The Classic always hogs the attention. And Derby-philes always pay close attention to the Juvenile. That said, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff could be the race to watch. There’s Monomoy Girl, winner of the 2018 Kentucky Oaks. There’s Abel Tasman, winner of the 2017 Kentucky Oaks. And there’s Midnight Bisou, who beat Monomoy Girl through disqualification in the Grade 1 Cotillion on Sept. 22. Over the two days, there’s not a deeper field in the entire Breeders’ Cup.