Just when it looked like it was safe to pencil all the Challenge Series winners into the Breeders’ Cup next month at Del Mar, horse racing’s version of Lee Corso may be firing off a “not so fast, my friend” trope.
Thanks to a sponsorship arrangement and perhaps driven by the desire to give European horsemen just one more carrot for human consumption, two races in England this weekend have been given 11th-hour designation as “win and you’re in” qualifiers for Del Mar.
Is that someone snorting over there that these already were big races on their own? Quite. The British Champion Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes do not need some late-arriving cachet from the Colonies to pile on the pedestal. Scheduled for Saturday at Ascot, they are already season-ending championships in their own right.
If there is an ulterior motive to this late badging of the races for U.S. interests, it might be to give John and Thady Gosden, the father-son training team, one last push to persuade them to send Mishriff and Palace Pier to suburban San Diego rather than call it a season this weekend.
Mishriff already has had a big year for Prince Faisal and the Gosdens. The 4-year-old colt won the $20 million Saudi Cup on dirt, the $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic on turf and the $1.36 million International Stakes this summer on the green grass of Britain. The $1.6 million Champion Stakes would be a worthy conclusion to 2021. Mishriff is the 3-2 favorite in early betting to win the 1¼-mile race.
Gosden has expressed reservations about extending the season and sending Mishriff to race into a short homestretch at Del Mar that might not be to his liking. So why America?
Well, there are 4 million reasons to consider the 1½-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf. Now with the Champion Stakes being given Challenge Series bona fides, that means winning connections and their horses will be offered a fees-waived, expenses-paid trip to suburban San Diego. Not all expenses; those champagne bubble baths at the official hotel might get a red flag. But the incentive is not insignificant, what with $40,000 in travel allowance per horse.
The Gosdens also look after Palace Pier for Sheikh Hamdan. The 4-year-old Kingman colt is the 7-4 top choice to win the QEII going one mile Saturday, and he is already the 3-1 futures favorite to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar, whether or not he shows up. Palace Pier has actually won two Challenge Series races already, so adding a victory this weekend is a moot point.
Mishriff, though, is a different matter. His win in the International Stakes at York qualified him for the Breeders’ Cup. But not the Turf. For the Classic. Go figure. A victory in the Champion Stakes on Saturday would take care of the per diems for the more appropriate division. If only each win meant more expense money for the humans. The Gosdens might be able to bill the Breeders’ Cup for endless room-service desserts and an in-room moviethon.
Horseplayers trying to get a handle on the Breeders’ Cup Mile and Turf would be well-advised to keep their ears open to what the winners say after the QEII and Champion are run and won Saturday, especially if the Gosdens are involved. If they bite on the invites, their odds will shorten considerably.
What’s more, the Breeders’ Cup Turf would turn into a potential European race of the year, matching Mishriff with Tarnawa, the defending winner from last year at Keeneland and the runner-up this month in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Tarnawa is already committed to Del Mar after trainer Dermot Weld decided to skip British Champions Day and go for the American repeat. Tarnawa is the 5-2 favorite to do it again in the Turf; Mishriff is the 4-1 second choice.
If the Gosdens do not win both races Saturday, the microphone might be pointed at Charlie Appleby to hear what he says about taking Adayar across the pond. Or maybe William Haggas will be asked about Baaeed. Or someone associated with a huge upset winner who will be regarded as a fluke if he comes to the States.
The Breeders’ Cup might be seen as bringing an unnecessary casserole to the potluck Saturday in the south of England. But for winning connections on Champions Day, it still might taste pretty good.
In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s episode features Academy Award-winning screenwriter and 10-time National Horseplayers Championship player Eric Roth. Jockey Arnaldo Bocachica talks about the rarity of his eight-win night Saturday at Charles Town. Racing Post writer Lee Mottershead previews Saturday’s British Champions Day at Ascot. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.