Kentucky horsepower in high gear at Breeders’ Cup

     LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky horsepower will be on full display during the 14-race, $30 million Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita Park. The bumper crop headed to California includes several anticipated race favorites.
Juvenile favoite: Dennis’ Moment winning Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes. Coady Photography

At least 36 of the 188 pre-entered horses could be termed Kentucky-based, depending on how one defines where a horse is from. The pre-entrants and their ranking in the case of overfilled races were announced Wednesday by the Breeders’ Cup.

    Dennis’ Moment (trainer Dale Romans) could be favored in the $2 million TVG Juvenile, Mitole (Steve Asmussen) in the $2 million Sprint and Covfefe (Brad Cox) in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint. All spent a significant part of the year training at Churchill Downs and won at least one race this year in Kentucky.
      In addition, the Asmussen-trained Midnight Bisou, likely one of the strongest favorites of the weekend in the $2 million Longines Distaff off her 7-for-7 record this year, did not race in the state in 2019 but trained at Churchill Downs all spring. Similarly, Grade 1 Frizette winner Wicked Whisper’s two starts were in New York but she spent all spring preparing for those starts with Asmussen’s Kentucky divisions at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.
      “Kentucky is the current home base of racing,” Romans said of state’s Breeders’ Cup delegation. “It shows you how good racing has become around here, and it’s only only going to get better.”
Filly & Mare Sprint favorite: Covfefe winning Churchill Downs’ Dogwood Stakes by eight lengths in near-track record time. Coady Photography

Cox pre-entered five horses, including Keeneland’s Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades winner British Idiom, among the favorites in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies. The Louisville product believes the strong representation is the emerging norm.

      “Kentucky racing is as strong as it’s been in years right now,” Cox said. “I’m a firm believer that it’s only going to get better with what’s going on in the state. I want to be a part of the Breeders’ Cup every year, not just when it’s at Churchill. We were fortunate to have four in it last year when it was here. I thought, ‘Well, maybe we’re taking a shot with a couple just because it was here and we could run out of our own stall.’ We’re putting five on the plane this year to go out for the Breeders’ Cup races. All of them ran well in their races leading up, and they deserve the opportunity.
      “It’s just shows the power of horse racing here in Kentucky.”
      The benchmark Breeders’ Cup for Kentucky-based horses is 2012 at Santa Anita. That’s when the Ian Wilkes-trained Fort Larned won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Little Mike (Romans) the Turf, Wise Dan (Charlie LoPresti) the Mile on turf and Groupie Doll (Buff Bradley) the Filly & Mare Sprint. In addition, Cottontail (D. Wayne Lukas) took the short-lived Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. Wise Dan was crowned Horse of the Year for the first of two times, with Groupie Doll also earning her first of two divisional champion titles.
      “This is a good group, up and down,” Romans said. “A lot of good (Breeders’ Cup) horses, good trainers, good jockeys. It could be like 2012 again. Let’s hope one of them is, anyway.”
     Romans was cheerfully alluding to Dennis’ Moment, considered a slight favorite in the Juvenile over the Bob Baffert-trained California standout Eight Rings, whose owners include the Louisville-based Starlight Racing partnership, and Godolphin’s 2-for-2 Maxfield, who gave trainer Brendan Walsh his first Grade 1 victory in Keeneland’s Claiborne Farm Breeders’ Futurity winner. The betting odds are expected to tip toward Dennis’ Moment off of his sheer brilliance in winning an Ellis Park maiden race by 19 1/4 lengths and Churchill Downs’ Grade 3 Iroquois with apparent ease over the promising Scabbard.
      The 3-year-old filly Covfefe burst onto the scene by taking Pimlico’s Grade 3 Miss Preakness by 8 1/2 lengths in track-record time, edging Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Test and romping by eight lengths while nearly matching Groupie Doll’s seven-furlong track record of 1:20.44 in Churchill Downs’ Dogwood.
      The Tom Amoss-trained Serengeti Empress was pre-entered in both the Longines Distaff and Filly & Mare Sprint, with the Distaff the objective. Other leading contenders with strong Kentucky ties include the Dallas Stewart-trained Grade 1 winner and $3.35 million-earner Seeking the Soul in the $6 million Classic; Keeneland’s two-time Juddmonte Spinster winner Blue Prize and Parx Racing’s Grade 1 Cotillion winner Street Band in the Distaff, and Pennsylvania Derby runner-up Mr. Money in the $1 million Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile.
Sprint favorite: Mitole winning Saratoga’s Grade 1 Forego. Coglianese Photography

Other well-regarded Kentucky horses include the Rusty Arnold-trained Totally Boss, winner of Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint and Kentucky Downs’ Grade 3 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint heading into the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint; Peace Achieved ($1 million Juvenile Turf), winner of Kentucky Downs’ $500,000 Gainesway Farm Juvenile and Keeneland’s Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon; Belmont Park’s Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic winner Arklow, making a return to the $4 million Turf for Cox after finishing fourth last year, and the late-running Whitmore, running in the Sprint for the third straight year for trainer and co-owner Ron Moquette. Trainer Eddie Kenneally will saddle the duo of Iroquois runner-up Scabbard in the Juvenile and Woodbine’s Grade 1 Natalma winner Abscond, who won her debut at Ellis Park, in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf.

      Elate, who is expected to take on males in the Classic to take advantage of the 1 1/4 miles (and perhaps the fact that her nemesis Midnight Bisou will be in the 1 1/8-mile Distaff), basically is a dual resident of New York and Kentucky, splitting her time between those circuits for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
      Entries will be taken and post positions drawn Monday, with the five 2-year-old Breeders’ Cup races to be stages Nov. 1, and the other nine events on Nov. 2.
      “I knew with all the planes going out there that there were a bunch of horses from here,” said Bret Calhoun, who trains the quadruple Grade 3 winner Mr. Money for Ellis Park’s two-time leading owner Chester Thomas of Madisonville, Ky. “I think it is a strong group. I think one of the keys will be how all these horses acclimate to that racing surface out there. It might be a big home-field advantage for the California horses. Might be a little tougher for us to go in there this year, since they made it a little bit of a deeper track.
      “(But) the horses who ship out there are used to running in larger fields. Maybe they’re a little bit more professional in their races; maybe they’re more acclimated to larger field size, things that go on. You don’t just have one horse dictating a race. Our horses are battle-tested, taken a lot more traffic and a lot more pressure.”
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Jennie Rees