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 races
Alabama, Saratoga, Saturday (Distaff)
Racing fans last saw Swiss Skydiver run a strong second to Art Collector on July 11 in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes. Now she’ll return to female flight and aim for a first Grade 1 score.
Swiss Skydiver is the most accomplished of seven 3-year-old runners entered for Saratoga’s $500,000 Alabama. The Kenny McPeek trainee has won her last three races against fellow fillies, including June 6 in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2).
Bonny South won the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) on March 21 but finished fourth July 11 in Keeneland’s Ashland Stakes (G1) off a 3½-month layoff. Lightly raced Crystal Ball ran second last out July 18 at Saratoga in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), only her third career start.
Prix Jacques le Marois, Deauville, Sunday (Mile)
Romanised, champion of last year’s Prix Jacques le Marois (G1), aims for another victory in the race’s 2020 edition. The Ken Condon trainee made his 5-year-old debut July 18, winning Curragh’s Minstrel Stakes (G2).
Circus Maximus claimed a Breeders’ Cup Mile “Win and You’re In” berth when taking Ascot’s Queen Anne Stakes (G1) on June 16. Another contender is Alpine Star, who topped 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Fillies winner Sharing on June 20 in the Coronation Stakes (G1) at Ascot.
International Stakes, York, Wednesday (Classic)
Ghaiyyath is set to make the International Stakes his first start since upsetting champion Enable on July 5 in Sandown Park’s Coral-Eclipse (G1). The Charlie Appleby-trained 5-year-old will try to make the International his fourth Group 1 win of the last calendar year.
Kameko looks for another prestigious victory after taking the 2000 Guineas Stakes (G1) on June 6 at Newmarket.
Yorkshire Oaks, York, Thursday, Aug. 20 (Filly and Mare Turf)
Enable, champion of last year’s Yorkshire Oaks (G1) will bypass the race’s 2020 edition, connections recently announced. She’ll instead prep for the Oct. 4 Prix de L’arc Triomphe (G1) with a start Sept. 5 at Kempton in the September Stakes (G3).
With Enable out of the Yorkshire Oaks picture, Love figures to be the one to beat. Aidan O’Brien trains the 3-year-old filly, who’s notched back-to-back wins June 7 in Newmarket’s 1000 Guineas (G1) and July 4 in Epsom’s Oaks (G1).
Recent Challenge Series race
Ballerina Stakes, Saratoga (Filly and Mare Sprint)
The biggest win of Serengeti Empress’ career came at 1 1/8 miles last May in the Kentucky Oaks. But in her last two starts leading into the Ballerina Stakes (G1), the 4-year-old finished off the board in two-turn events.
A cut back to seven furlongs proved the right move for Serengeti Empress. She recovered from a slow start, grabbed the lead, sprinted through quick fractions, then dug in through the stretch to hold off Bellafina by a length.
“I know she was rolling,” Serengeti Empress jockey Luis Saez said. “She was going pretty fast. When we came to the stretch, she was just waiting for the competition and when the horse came outside, she was fighting. She was really running.”
Amoss said he plans to keep the Alternation filly at seven furlongs before November’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at that distance.
Challenge Series race winners
Authentic, Haskell Stakes, Monmouth Park, July 18
Authentic’s win in the Haskell (G1) made him the first runner from the barn of Bob 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. He’s working at Del Mar toward the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby and doesn’t appear in the top 10 of 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. Improbable ranks No. 4 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, including his February victory. 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 Aug. 1 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. Tom’s d’Etat ranks No. 2 behind only Tiz the Law in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings.
Vekoma, 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 also No. 10 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings. Next up is the $300,000 Forego (G1) on Aug. 29 at Saratoga, although he hasn’t turned in a timed work since July 25.
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 Aug. 1 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, checking in at No. 9.
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) while carrying 127 pounds, six more than any of her nine rivals. She’s a Julie returned to the work tab Saturday at Saratoga and has the opportunity to defend a 2019 victory in Churchill Downs’ $500,000 La Troienne Stakes (G1) on Sept. 4.
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 Aug. 1 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 Sprint
Serengeti Empress, Ballerina Stakes, Saratoga, Aug. 8
Tom Amoss trainee Serengeti Empress set blazing fractions, then dug in gamely to win the Ballerina (G1). The Kentucky-bred, 4-year-old Alternation filly is now a Grade 1 winner at both one and two turns, having also won the 2019 Kentucky Oaks. Amoss said he’s looking to give Serengeti Empress one more start before the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, also contested at the Ballerina’s seven furlongs.
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. Since that victory, the 2-year-old has run second in a pair of stakes, including Sunday’s Phoenix (G1) at Curragh. 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, which hosts the $400,000 Fourstardave Handicap (G1) on Aug. 22.
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.
Vekoma, 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). No. 10 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings, he’s targeting the $300,000 Forego (G1) on Aug. 29 at Saratoga but hasn’t worked since July 25.
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.
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.