It is not moving day so much as moving season. The next three weekends will be more influential on Breeders’ Cup futures — even the pari-mutuel, post-time odds in six weeks — than any time of year.
Contenders ranging from Knicks Go to Tarnawa will get their last preps before heading to Del Mar for the championships Nov. 5-6. What is it Scott Hanson says? No, no. Not his ignorant take on hip-hop. The one about the witching hour. Where winners become losers. And losers become winners. That time has come for bettors.
There is no guarantee that horses will duplicate their performances in races like the Pennsylvania Derby, the American Pharoah and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but the efforts will inform the betting market more than any other factor.
Most of the races are automatic qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup. The first two on this list are not.
Cotillion Stakes (Parx Racing), Distaff. Trainer Mike Maker succeeds most with claimers and allowance horses, so it is always a big jump when they graduate to a higher class. Such is the case with Army Wife, a two-time graded-stakes winner who was a competitive third to Malathaat and Clairiere last month in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga. She will be challenged by Bob Baffert’s lightly raced Private Mission, a 6½-length winner in an otherwise forgettable Grade 3 race this summer at Del Mar. The underachieving Clairiere is also in this race for 3-year-old fillies. The question is whether the best finishers here can stand up to older fillies and mares in the Distaff.
Pennsylvania Derby (Parx Racing), Classic. Medina Spirit would have carried the baggage of a Kentucky Derby win that is hanging by the threads of regulators, judges and what is left of a urine sample. But after he was drawn into Post 9, Baffert decided not to ship him from California to bucolic Bensalem. The two horses likely to get most of the handle now, Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon, have to overcome their chronic second-itis. As flashy as this race once looked, the winner might be regarded as an NIT team when compared with Essential Quality and Knicks Go.
FRIDAY, OCT. 1
American Pharoah Stakes (Santa Anita), Juvenile. The small sample in this division will be overly influenced by this race, especially if Corniche shows up. The $1.5 million Quality Road colt won by 4¼ lengths in his Sept. 4 debut at Del Mar, producing a Beyer Speed Figure of 98 that remains the best among 2-year-olds this year. A move up to this Grade 1 race would seem to be a no-brainer, but this could be an early test for Churchill Downs’ edict banning Baffert horses from the next two runnings of the Kentucky Derby. There is also the whole matter of the Breeders’ Cup review that could keep Baffert horses out of the championships, but anyone thinking lawyers will not be involved are naive. Really, the only things missing from this story are a robe and a powdered wig. Don’t bet against one of those.
Chandelier Stakes (Santa Anita), Juvenile Fillies. What was said previously about Corniche applies here to Grace Adler. The 2-for-2 Curlin filly cost $700,000 and won the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante by 11¼ lengths, again for Baffert. If not her, John Sadler could prevail with Electric Ride, a $250,000 Daredevil filly who ran off to an 8½-length score on debut at Del Mar.
Champagne Stakes (Belmont Park), Juvenile. This race could be loaded. Wit carries the hype of lopsided wins offset by a horrible start and a second-place finish this month in the Hopeful, which was won by Gunite. My Prankster won his first race by 10 lengths while hanging a 92 Beyer. So did Jack Christopher when he scored by 8¾. They all stood out at Saratoga. This race could and maybe should produce the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
SATURDAY, OCT. 2
Woodward Stakes (Belmont Park), Classic. Back on Long Island for the first time in 16 years, this race still might have the name, but it lost a lot of prestige leaving Saratoga. It is not an automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup, yet it could be in a de-facto way. Maxfield (20-1) comes in off a runner-up finish to Knicks Go in the Whitney, so this could be a confidence builder for him. A Grade 3 victory last month at Monmouth Park was the first step in the career resuscitation of Code Of Honor (20-1), and showing up here could be another building block. The Woodward winner will get a lot of attention coming from New York, but he also might be overhyped.
Lukas Classic (Churchill Downs), Classic. This is also not a “win and you’re in,” but it will be the last prep for futures favorite Knicks Go (4-1) before he heads for Del Mar. He is getting in one more race for trainer Brad Cox, whose top 3-year-old Essential Quality (9-2) is training right up to the Breeders’ Cup. Forza Di Oro (12-1) could land here, as could that money pit named Tacitus (25-1). Otherwise, this has “paid workout” written all over it for Knicks Go.
Awesome Again Stakes (Santa Anita), Classic. This race is coming up murky. Idol (25-1), a futures long shot to win the Classic, has been off since he won the Santa Anita Handicap last winter. Rock Your World (33-1) will be out to prove his turf-to-dirt Santa Anita Derby victory was no fluke. Tripoli (16-1) and Tizamagician (25-1) will try to parlay their 1-2 finish from a weak renewal of the Pacific Classic. Come to think of it, this race is aptly named.
Santa Anita Sprint Championship (Santa Anita), Sprint. Since Peter Miller has trained three of the last four winners of this race, and since C Z Rocket won last year, it stands to reason they would do it all over again. Since that 2020 victory, C Z Rocket finished second to the now-retired Whitmore in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, turned 7, won a couple of stakes at Oaklawn and then lost three in a row. If C Z Rocket redeems himself here, his 16-1 futures price will plunge.
SUNDAY, OCT. 3
Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (ParisLongchamp), Turf. Last year’s winner Tarnawa became a wise-guy filly last fall when she overcame a heavy course to finish first in the Prix de l’Opera on the Arc undercard. Now 5, she closed with a late run to finish second Sept. 11 in the Irish Champion Stakes. That was going 1¼ miles. This race and the Breeders’ Cup Turf are 1½ miles. The attractiveness of the added distance explains why Tarnawa is the 11-4 favorite to win the Arc. It also explains why she is now a 4-1 co-favorite with Mishriff to win the Turf. She proved last year she can run on anything when she won at Keeneland. Why not Del Mar?
Zenyatta Stakes (Santa Anita), Distaff. Harvest Moon is an interesting case. As a late-blooming 3-year-old last year, she carried a four-race winning streak into the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. She gave Monomoy Girl everything she could handle before fading to fourth in the deep stretch. Coming back early this year for Simon Callaghan, she did not get a whiff of a win in her two starts. She has been on the bench since, though she was a morning regular this summer, firing a bullet work at Santa Anita this month. At 25-1 in the Distaff futures, Harvest Moon’s fork in the road may come early next month.
SUNDAY, OCT. 10
Spinster Stakes (Keeneland), Distaff. Trainer Fausto Gutierrez has long targeted this race as a Breeders’ Cup dress rehearsal for Letruska. The 5-2 futures favorite has answered every question in the affirmative this year, yet doubters have been waiting for that a-ha result that says she is no Monomoy Girl. Well, Monomoy Girl (5-1) is no Monomoy Girl anymore, seemingly all but ready to begin her breeding career. Swiss Skydiver (12-1) is done for the year. Search Results (10-1) might come back here after she was a beaten favorite in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga. If Letruska wins the Spinster, she still will have doubters, and they will be loud and clear at Del Mar. If she loses, the words “wide” and “open” will be joined at the hip with “Distaff.”
There are other races, including more “win and you’re ins,” all of which will provide important information for horseplayers. This final buildup to the Breeders’ Cup is a lot like classwork. Pay attention now, and the final exams will be a lot easier. Not paying attention now could lead to haphazardly hurried handicapping on the eve of Nov. 5 and 6 at Del Mar.
I would rather stay alert now to make Breeders’ Cup week easier. Besides, it would be nice to have one more round of drinks at the Brig rather than race back to an overpriced hotel room to cram studying PPs.
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 originates from Arlington Park, where general manager Tony Petrillo discusses Saturday’s final race card in the track’s 94-year history. Rampart Casino sportsbook director Duane Colucci handicaps weekend races, including the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.