Photo Finish: 2011 Hollywood Gold Cup
That’s right, it’s as simple as that. The Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, which began in April, guarantees the winner of 68 designated stakes races a spot in one of the 15 Breeders’ Cup races this November at Churchill Downs. For those lucky enough to win a challenge race, provided that the horse has already been nominated, the Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fee to their respective BC Race. To sweeten the deal even more, if the winner’s owner chooses to move on to the big show this fall, the Breeders’ Cup will provide a travel allowance of $10,000 to horses based in the U.S. and $20,000 to those who will be coming in from outside of the United States.
Now in its fifth year, the Breeders’ Cup Challenge and the Win and You’re In program, brings a wealth of attention to the Breeders’ Cup during the summer. In the first week of August we will officially be inside of 3 months until Breeders’ Cup weekend on Nov 4-5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY. Even better, between now and the middle of October, a stakes race at a major track with Breeders’ Cup implications will be featured every weekend. With ABC / ESPN owning the rights to the Breeders’ Cup, it will likely result in Breeders’ Cup automatic qualifier TV Coverage as we get closer to the main event this fall. I for one was impressed when ESPN made it to Arlington Park to cover the Beverly D and Arlington Million on Arlington’s biggest racing day of the year. Hopefully, they will be there again this year on Saturday August 13th to cover one of the best days of turf racing in the U.S.
So what have we seen so far this year that is worth noting? Two feature races on Breeders’ Cup weekend, the Ladies Classic and the Classic, have both added their first 2011 automatic qualifiers.
The first was a thriller out west, the Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park (Results). With a birth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the line, we came about as close to a double qualifier, in the form of a dead heat, as you can get. The man behind the stretch duel and photo finish was the Meets Leading Trainer, Bob Baffert. It was Game On Dude with Chantal Sutherland aboard who took control of the race at the top of lane, fending off Twirling Candy, a threat on the near inside. She looked to have this race locked up in impressive fashion when First Dude came storming and nipped his stablemate at the wire. Jockey Martin Garcia was poised down the stretch and got the late jump when he needed it. To make this duel between stablemates even more interesting, both are possible to return in the Pacific Breeders’ Cup Classic on August 28th at Del Mar. This race is also a Breeders’ Cup Classic automatic qualifier, so you can bet on Baffert looking to snatch up another $10k travel allowance and another entry fee waived by the Breeders’ Cup.
Last weekend was another impressive stretch duel for the ages. In a battle between the top two older females in the country, it was Blind Luck who got to the wire first by a nose over Havre de Grace in the G2 Delaware Handicap (Results). After winning the last two meetings, Havre de Grace was ready to even the win count at 3 going in. Coming out, the narrow defeat plays to Blind Luck’s favor as she now holds a 4-2 advantage in the fillies 6 races against each another. The thrilling victory gives Blind Luck, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Jockey Garrett Gomez an automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.
After Blind Luck finished 2nd and Havre de Grace finished 3rd, behind Unrivaled Belle in last years Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, these two fillies have distanced themselves from the competition. On the horizon might be a fall showdown as exciting and talked about as any rivalry on the college gridiron. Except for that Breeders’ Cup race last year, in the 5 races where they faced off, one of them has won each time with the other finishing 2nd on all 5 occasions. The biggest margin of victory: 1/4 Length. It’s unbelievable how close the talent is between them which makes it all the more interesting as we wait to see them go at it again. Rumors are beginning to circle around a potential purse increase for the GI Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga on Aug 28th. It has been mentioned that the $300,000 purse could almost double, bringing the supposive purse to a total of $600,000. If so, it is very likely that the next round between the two will be at Saratoga this summer……..Stay tuned
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge series comes back to American soil on the last weekend of July with three different stakes races at three different major tracks. The one everyone will be talking about is the Haskel Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park on July 31st. At stake will be the second Win and You’re In qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Also on the schedule that weekend will be a Ladies Classic qualifier — Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga and a Dirt Mile Qualifier — San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.
For those of you with Kentucky Derby fever year round, the 2 yr old racing scene and automatic qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile pick up over Labor Day weekend. The first two races to mark on your calendars are the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, Sept 5th and the Del Mar Futurity Sept 7th.
Written by: Little Brink