A record number of pre-entries, an overflow field for the event’s richest race, and the potential for at least two unprecedented feats highlight the 35th Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 2-3 at Churchill Downs, for which pre-entries were announced on Wednesday.
There were 221 individual horses pre-entered in the event’s 14 races, with 25 cross-entered in a second race, bringing the total pre-entries to 246, eclipsing the previous records of 201 individual horses and 229 total pre-entries, both set at Santa Anita in 2014.
That year also marked the last time the maximum 14 horses lined up in the $6 million Classic, the richest and last of the 14 races worth $28 million in purses to be run during the two-day festival. A full field seems certain for this year, as 19 horses were pre-entered in the 1 1/4-mile Classic, and though six of those horses were cross-entered in a second race, 17 are denoted as having the Classic as their first choice.
Included in the Classic field is Mendelssohn, last year’s winner of the Juvenile Turf, who will be trying to become the first horse in Breeders’ Cup history to win a race on the grass and a race on the dirt.
He’s not the only international star looking to make history. The filly Enable, a two-time winner of the Arc de Triomphe, is pre-entered in the Turf and will try to become the first horse to win the Arc and the Turf in the same year.
Mendelssohn is one of five pre-entrants who have won a Breeders’ Cup race. Roy H (Sprint), Stormy Liberal (Turf Sprint), and Talismanic (Turf) are trying to repeat in races they won last year at Del Mar, and Oscar Performance will try to win the Mile two years after capturing the Juvenile Turf.
The Classic field is headed by Accelerate, who will be trying to lock down the Eclipse Award as champion older male. Accelerate has won three major 1 1/4-mile races already this year – the Santa Anita Handicap, the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He is favored at 3-1 on the line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper.
In addition to Mendelssohn, Accelerate’s expected rivals include Axelrod, Catholic Boy, Discreet Lover, Gunnevera, Lone Sailor, McKinzie, Mind Your Biscuits, Pavel, Roaring Lion, Thunder Snow, West Coast, and Yoshida. Bravazo and City of Light are pre-entered in the Classic but have the Dirt Mile listed as their first preference. If that holds, Seeking the Soul, Collected, and Toast of New York will need unforeseen defections to get into the race. Seeking the Soul has the Dirt Mile as his second preference and can go there if he can’t get into the Classic.
The pre-entry stage is the first of a two-step process toward entering Breeders’ Cup races. Pre-entries were due Monday, and a horse could be put in as many as two races.
Next Monday is decision day. That morning, horses must be entered in a single race, and then posts for the 14 races are drawn late Monday afternoon. A maximum of 14 horses can start in each Breeders’ Cup race, with the exception of the new Juvenile Turf Sprint, which is limited to 12 runners.
Both the Juvenile Turf Sprint and the Turf Sprint will be run at 5 1/2 furlongs. Last year’s Turf Sprint at Del Mar was at five furlongs, and now 14 can run in the Turf Sprint, as opposed to 12 last year. Other changes germane to this year’s Breeders’ Cup being at Churchill Downs are that the Dirt Mile is run around one turn, and the Filly and Mare Turf is back to 1 3/8 miles after being shortened to 1 1/8 miles last year.
Of the 14 races, 12 have more than the maximum number of pre-entries, with only the Juvenile Fillies (11 runners) and Distaff (12) failing to overfill.
In the oversubscribed races, the field was determined first by including horses who had secured automatic berths through the Win and You’re In program, then horses who had earned points in graded stakes throughout the year. That combination totaled half the field (seven runners in 14-horse fields, six in the Juvenile Turf Sprint).
The rest of the field was determined by an international panel of racing secretaries. Once the full field was set, the remaining runners were placed on a list in order of preference of the panel. Those horses can only get in if there are defections from the main body of their race.
In the Classic, for instance, Accelerate, Discreet Lover, and Pavel got in via the Win and You’re In program. The next four spots – Axelrod, Lone Sailor, McKinzie, and Mind Your Biscuits – went to the horses with the most points who were declared as having the Classic as their first preference.
Bravazo would have been in the Classic on points, but he was pre-entered with the Dirt Mile as his first preference and thus was relegated to being ranked by the panel per the following Breeders’ Cup rule:
“Once a horse has been ranked among the maximum number of starters, as applicable, in its race of first choice at pre-entry, its ranking in its race of second choice will be based only on the judgment of the Panel regardless of the number of points earned in American and/or Canadian Graded Stakes Races.”
As a result, Bravazo is ranked 15th for the Classic, ahead of, in order, Gunnevera, Seeking the Soul, Collected, and Toast of New York, with the panel preferring Catholic Boy, City of Light, Mendelssohn, Roaring Lion, Thunder Snow, West Coast, and Yoshida.
On entry day next Monday, as many as two also-eligibles will be allowed in 11 of the races where more than the maximum were pre-entered. There will be four also-eligibles allowed in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, which proved the most popular race, with 28 pre-entries.
Scratch time for all 14 Breeders’ Cup races is 8 a.m. Eastern on Nov. 2. After that, also-eligibles cannot get in.
The Breeders’ Cup is returning to Churchill Downs for the first time since the track played host to the event in consecutive years, 2010 and 2011. This is the ninth time Churchill Downs will host the Breeders’ Cup, equaling Santa Anita, which will host it in 2019.
The Classic is the finale on a Nov. 3 card that also includes, in order, the Filly and Mare Sprint, Turf Sprint, Dirt Mile, Filly and Mare Turf, Sprint, Mile, Distaff, and Turf. In addition to Accelerate, Watchmaker’s respective favorites in those races are Marley’s Freedom (5-2), Stormy Liberal (7-2), Catalina Cruiser (9-5), Wild Illusion (7-2), Imperial Hint (7-2), Polydream (4-1), Monomoy Girl (2-1), and Enable (6-5).
The new Juvenile Turf Sprint – which brings this year’s Breeders’ Cup to 14 races, one more than last year – is the first Breeders’ Cup race on Nov. 2, part of a Future Stars Friday card whose five Breeders’ Cup races are all for 2-year-olds. The Juvenile Turf Sprint will be followed, in order, by the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Juvenile Fillies, Juvenile Turf, and Juvenile.
Brad Free, DRF’s Southern California-based handicapper, made the prices for the Nov. 2 card. His favorites in those races are Shang Shang Shang (4-1), Newspaperofrecord (3-1), Bellafina (5-2), Anthony Van Dyck (7-2), and Game Winner (5-2).
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
Visit DRF.com for additional news, notes, wagering information, and more.