Breeders' Cup glance: Bellafina favored in Saratoga's Ballerina

Breeders' Cup glance: Bellafina favored in Saratoga's Ballerina
Photo: Benoit

As the 2020 Breeders’ Cup approaches, “Win and You’re In” berths are up for grabs ahead of the Nov. 6-7 championships at Keeneland. This weekly series from Horse Racing Nation highlights upcoming Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races, recaps recent stakes and shows how the fields for each division are shaping up.

Upcoming Challenge Series race

Ballerina Stakes, Saratoga, Saturday (Filly and Mare Sprint)

Bellafina, runner-up in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, is the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the $300,000 Ballerina Stakes (G1). The race goes seven furlongs, the same distance as November’s championship event.

Trained by Simon Callaghan, Bellafina ran second last out July 4 in Los Alamitos’ Great Lady M Stakes (G2). She also made the trip from the West Coast to Saratoga last August, finishing third in the Test (G1).

Serengeti Empress, carrying the high weight of 122 pounds, looks to improve at a shorter distance after a pair of off-the-board finishes in two-turn races. Fellow Grade 1 winner Come Dancing seeks a repeat of her 2019 Ballerina triumph.

2020 Ballerina (G1)

Recent Challenge Series races

Bing Crosby Stakes, Del Mar (Sprint)

3-year-old Collusion Illusion earned trainer Mark Glatt a first Grade 1 victory Saturday when beating a field of older rivals in the Bing Crosby.

Running fourth at the top of the stretch, jockey Flavien Prat angled Collusion Illusion toward the rail with a furlong to go. He rallied by the pacesetters and hit the wire just in time to nip late-charging Lexitonian by a nose.

"When he darted to the rail, I knew he was going to be coming,” Glatt said. “I got a little worried if he was going to find a place to go, but he was able to and came through in the end.”

Collusion Illusion improved to 6: 5-0-0 for his career and 3-for-3 this season. He’ll try to become the first Breeders’ Cup hero for Glatt, who saddled Blackjackcat to a third-place finish in the 2017 Mile.

Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, Del Mar (Distaff)

One day after Improbable won Saratoga’s Whitney (G1) and Thousand Words clinched a Kentucky Derby berth, Fighting Mad capped an excellent weekend for trainer Bob Baffert by taking Sunday’s Clement L. Hirsch (G1).

Facing Grade 1 winners Ce Ce, Hard Not to Love and Ollie’s Candy, Fighting Mad took control from the beginning. Ollie’s Candy chased the 4-year-old Baffert trainee the entire way but was a half-length short.

"To look at her you wouldn’t think she could go (a distance), but when she started opening up, I figured he must know what he’s doing,” Baffert said. “Basically, she ran them off their feet.”

Fighting Mad sports an 8: 5-1-0 record and has a trio of graded stakes wins. Baffert has never won a Breeders’ Cup Distaff, coming closest when Abel Tasman was second in 2017.

Personal Ensign Stakes, Saratoga (Distaff)

Whether you know Saratoga as Graveyard of Champions or Graveyard of Favorites, Vexatious’ upset of Midnight Bisou in Saturday’s Personal Ensign (G1) fit both categories.

Vexatious, winless since 2018 and sent off at 10-1, outlasted 3-10 favorite and 2019 champion older female Midnight Bisou by a neck. Stewards confirmed the result after inquiring into a tight stretch duel.

"It's always a worrisome time when the inquiry sign comes up, but if it wasn't mean to be, we would still be proud of our horse's game effort,” Vexatious trainer Jack Sisterson said. “She ran terrific."

6-year-old Vexatious now stands at 23: 4-3-7 for her career. She became Sisterson’s first Grade 1 winner with the Personal Ensign win and can now become his first Breeders’ Cup starter.

Whitney Stakes, Saratoga (Classic)

Saturday’s Whitney (G1) left racing fans wondering what they could’ve seen had favorite Tom’s d’Etat not stumbled out of the gate. 

The stumble takes nothing away from winner Improbable, however. The Baffert trainee took over coming through the second turn and was eased in the final yards of his second straight Grade 1 triumph.

"Finally, he's grown up a little bit," said jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who also rode Improbable to a fourth-place finish in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. "He turned into a nice horse. … We had a beautiful trip."

Improbable now stands at 13: 6-3-0 with more than $1.5 million earned. He can make a second Breeders’ Cup start after running fifth in last year’s Dirt Mile and can also give Baffert a shot at a fourth Classic win.

Challenge Series race winners


, Haskell Stakes, Monmouth Park, July 18

Authentic’s win in the Haskell (G1) made him the first runner from the barn of Baffert – a 15-time Breeders’ Cup winner – to clinch a berth in the 2020 championships. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt is 4-for-5 lifetime. The 3-year-old sits second in the points standings for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby, which is targeted as his next start. Despite Authentic’s Haskell triumph, he doesn’t appear in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings. 

Improbable, Whitney, Saratoga, Aug. 1

Improbable shipped East from Baffert’s California base for the Whitney (G1) and proved best in a field of five millionaires. The Kentucky-bred son of City Zip has now posted back-to-back top-flight wins, also taking the Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes (G1) on June 6 at Santa Anita Park. The 4-year-old ranks third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings.

Mozu Ascot, February Stakes, Tokyo Racecourse, Feb. 23

A Kentucky-bred son of Frankel, 6-year-old Mozu Ascot is a two-time Group 1 winner in Japan. The Yoshito Yahagi trainee last finished sixth May 5 at Funabashi in the Kashiwa Kinen.

Tom’s d’Etat, Stephen Foster, Churchill Downs, June 27

7-year-old Tom’s d’Etat was a dominant winner of the Stephen Foster (G2) for trainer Al Stall Jr. but saw a four-race winning streak snapped Saturday in the Whitney (G1). The Kentucky-bred Smart Strike horse went off favored at Saratoga but stumbled at the start and finished third to Improbable and By My Standards. He’s now tied with Maximum Security for the No. 1 spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings.

Dirt Mile

, Metropolitan Handicap, Belmont Park, July 4

One race after stamping a Breeders’ Cup Sprint “Win and You’re In” ticket by taking Belmont’s Carter Handicap (G1), Vekoma won the Met Mile (G1) to also earn a Dirt Mile berth. Trainer George Weaver and owners will have to choose which way to go with the 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt, who’s No. 10 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings. Next up is the $300,000 Forego (G1) on Aug. 29 at Saratoga.


Fighting Mad, Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, Del Mar, Aug. 1

Fighting Mad entered her 4-year-old season with only five career starts to her name but has become the West Coast’s hottest distaffer. After winning the Santa Maria Stakes (G2) on May 31 at Santa Anita, she backed up 9-5 favoritism in the Clement L. Hirsch (G1). The Kentucky-bred filly shares the same trainer (Baffert), owners/breeders (Gary and Mary West) and sire (New Year’s Day) as Maximum Security. 

Midnight Bisou
, Fleur de Lis, Churchill Downs, June 27

Midnight Bisou looked like her dominant self in the Fleur de Lis (G2), but then took an unexpected loss to Vexatious on Saturday at Saratoga in the Personal Ensign (G1). Steve Asmussen trains the 5-year-old Midnight Lute mare, who was named Eclipse Award 2019 Champion Older Dirt Female. The Kentucky-bred has run twice in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, finishing third in 2018 and second in 2019. Midnight Bisou is the lone female in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings but dropped after her Personal Ensign loss from No. 5 to No. 7.

She’s a Julie, Ogden Phipps Stakes, Belmont Park, June 13

Asmussen trainee She’s a Julie became a two-time Grade 1 winner with her Ogden Phipps victory. The 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Elusive Quality mare then followed that effort July 18 with a seventh-place finish at Monmouth Park in the Molly Pitcher Stakes (G3). She carried 127 pounds in that race, six more than any of her nine rivals.

Vexatious, Personal Ensign, Saratoga, Aug. 1

Never one to duck a challenge, Vexatious has run 14 of her 23 career starts in graded stakes. The 6-year-old Jack Sisterson trainee broke through with her biggest win Saturday when beating Midnight Bisou to the wire in the Personal Ensign (G1). The Giant’s Causeway mare posted a 105 Beyer Speed Figure in that victory, the best number a female runner has tallied this season in a main track race going more than a mile.

Filly and Mare Turf

Almond Eye
, Victoria Mile, Tokyo Racecourse, May 17

Sakae Kunieda trains the Japanese-bred Almond Eye, a 5-year-old Lord Kanaloa mare. A Group 1 winner in both Japan and the United Arab Emirates, she was second last out at Tokyo on June 7 in the Yasuda Kinen (G1).

Queen Supreme, Cartier Paddock Stakes, Kenilworth, Jan. 11

Irish-bred Queen Supreme is a 4-year-old Exceed and Excel filly trained by Mike de Kock, who American racing fans will remember as conditioner of 2015 Kentucky Derby contender Mubtaahij.

Juvenile Turf Sprint

The Lir Jet
, Norfolk Stakes, Ascot, June 19

The Lir Jet improved to 2-for-2 when winning the Norfolk Stakes (G2) at Royal Ascot. The 2-year-old then took his first career loss July 19, finishing second in Chantilly’s Prix Robert Papin (G2). Michael Bell trains the Irish-bred Prince of Lir colt.


Circus Maximus
, Queen Anne Stakes, Ascot, June 16

Circus Maximus, a Galileo colt, won his 4-year-old bow in the Queen Anne (G1), marking the second Royal Ascot victory of his career. He nearly won a second “Win and You’re In” race July 29, finishing runner-up to Mohaather in the Sussex Stakes (G1). The Irish-bred Aidan O’Brien trainee ran fourth last November in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

Gran Alegria, Yasuda Kinen, Tokyo Racecourse, June 7

Kazuo Fujisawa trains the 4-year-old filly Gran Alegria, a daughter of Deep Impact. The Yasuda Kinen marked her second Group 1 triumph in Japan.

Mohaather, Sussex Stakes, Goodwood, July 29

4-year-old Mohaather unleashed a thrilling rally to take the Sussex Stakes (G1), a second straight triumph in group company. Marcus Tregoning trains the Great British-bred Showcasing colt.

Raging Bull, Shoemaker Mile Stakes, Santa Anita Park, May 25

The French-bred Raging Bull secured the first “Win and You’re In” berth of the U.S. racing season with his Shoemaker Mile (G1) score. Chad Brown trains the 5-year-old Dark Angel gelding, who was third last out at Keeneland on July 10 in the Maker’s Mark Mile Stakes (G1). He’s now working at Saratoga, where the $400,000 Fourstardave Handicap (G1) on Aug. 22 would make a logical target.

Vardy, L'Ormarins Queen's Plate, Kenilworth, Jan. 11

Vardy is a 5-year-old Var gelding bred in South Africa. Adam Marcus serves as trainer.


Collusion Illusion, Bing Crosby Stakes, Del Mar, Aug. 2

Trainer Mark Glatt chose to keep the Twirling Candy colt Collusion Illusion on the West Coast facing older in the Bing Crosby (G1) rather than traveling East to run against fellow 3-year-olds in Saratoga’s H. Allen Jerkens (G1). That proved the right move, with the Florida-bred winning and improving to 5-for-6 lifetime.

, Carter Handicap, Belmont Park, June 6

George Weaver trainee Vekoma made his Grade 1 breakthrough with a 7 1/4-length Carter (G1) victory. The 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt also won a “Win and You’re In” race for the Dirt Mile Division July 4 when taking Belmont’s Metropolitan Handicap (G1). Sitting at No. 10 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings, he’s targeting the $300,000 Forego (G1) on Aug. 29 at Saratoga.


Chrono Genesis
, Takarazuka Kinen, Hanshin Racecourse, June 28

4-year-old Bago filly Chrono Genesis scored her second Group 1 victory in the Takarazuka Kinen. Takashi Saito trains the Japanese-bred runner.

Enable, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Ascot, July 25

Enable scored the first win of her 6-year-old campaign when taking the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1) for a remarkable third time. The Great British-bred daughter of Nathaniel has now earned more than $14 million running for trainer John Gosden. The 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf champ didn’t attempt to defend her title last year. Will she make a trip to the U.S. this November?

Lord North, Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Ascot, June 17

Irish-bred 4-year-old Lord North won Royal Ascot’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes in his Group 1 debut. John Gosden trains the Dubawi gelding.

Nao Da Mais, Gran Premio International Carlos Pellegrini, San Isidro Racecourse, Dec. 14

Nao Da Mais is a four-time Group 1 winner in his native Brazil. The 4-year-old T.H. Approval colt last raced March 14 at San Isidro in the Gran Premio Latinoamericano (G1), finishing seventh. Marina Bragante Lopez is the trainer.

Turf Sprint

Hello Youmzain
, Diamond Jubilee Stakes, Ascot, June 20

Kevin Ryan trains Hello Youmzain, a 4-year-old son of Kodiac. The French-bred colt stayed in Group 1 company off his Diamond Jubilee score, running fifth at Newmarket on July 11 in the July Cup.

Oleksandra, Jaipur, Belmont Park, June 20

6-year-old Animal Kingdom mare Oleksandra edged Kanthaka by a neck in the Jaipur (G1), marking her first top-level victory. Neil Drysdale trains the Australian-bred runner, who’s raced in the U.S. since 2018.

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