Here are the latest news and notes from Churchill Downs on the Breeders' Cup Classic contenders:
Accelerate – Millionaire Accelerate, the morning-line favorite for the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic, went out early to put in his 1 1/4m morning gallop Wednesday with Javier Meza in the saddle.
The exercise drew a “looked good” from trainer John Sadler, who marveled a bit at the brilliance of the lighting at 5:30. “You know you say you're going out but not in the dark,” the trainer said. “It's as bright as day out there.”
Sadler has scheduled more galloping for Accelerate up to Saturday's Classic at the classic distance of 1 1/4m.
Axelrod – Trainer Mike McCarthy is not one to change what's been working, so his Breeders' Cup Classic prospect Axelrod made his usual 1 1/4m tour around the Churchill Downs main track Wednesday morning with his usual exercise mate, Nikki Diodoro, aboard.
“Everything is as it should be as we come up to the race,” McCarthy said. “He's happy and healthy and that's the way we like it.”
Catholic Boy – To say that trainer Jonathan Thomas was pleased with Catholic Boy's morning of training at Churchill Downs Wednesday would be an understatement.
“He showed that contained energy like he's just a stride away from exploding, like a keg of dynamite just waiting to go off,” Thomas said. “Our job is to hopefully time it for 5:45 Saturday afternoon.”
The 3yo son of More Than Ready, who breezed 5f in 1:01 Sunday, jogged Monday and walked the shedrow Tuesday, galloped 1 1/4m under Tracey Brown in preparation for a start in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic.
“He seems to have an idea when to turn it on and turn it off. You breeze them and you look for a good reaction from the work, their eating, their energy. I thought he reacted well to it,” Thomas said. “He's sharp. He's very aware, kind of knowing its game time.”
Thomas said Catholic Boy's morning of training was the best he's had since arriving at Churchill Downs.
“Today really picked my head up,” Thomas said.
Catholic Boy enters the 1 1/4m Classic off back-to-back 1 1/4m wins in the Belmont Derby on turf and the Travers over Saratoga's main track.
“As trainers, we're always skeptical; we're always unsure; we're always questioning and second-guessing; but the one thing that I can really feel confident about this horse is that a mile and a quarter is his distance,” Thomas said. “He doesn't run like a horse that wants to go over a mile and a quarter, and he's not a miler. He's a good mile-and-an-eighth horse, but the mile and a quarter is when all of his best attributes get to be showcased. He's really getting strong that last eighth of a mile, that's when the stamina kicks in.”
Discreet Lover – The surprise winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 29 and his owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis enjoyed their second day of training at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. Discreet Lover jogged twice around the track clockwise during the time slot reserved for Breeders' Cup entrants.
“He came back, cooled out and that's it, we're here,” St. Lewis said.
Discreet Lover represents the age-old notion that quality horses can come from anywhere. St. Lewis purchased the 5yo son of Repent for $10,000 as a 2yo at the 2015 Fasig-Tipton sale in Timonium, Maryland and the horse has since banked $1,374,685 in 44 starts with his 7-7-7 record.
“We went to the sale looking to buy something for 15 to 25 thousand and we like to buy horses that are their dam's first foal,” St. Lewis said. “He looked smart and one thing led to another and we got him. It was probably luck, too.”
St. Lewis, who with his wife Amanda own the nearly 30 horses he trains at Parx Racing, said he was especially impressed with the horse's demeanor at the auction and surmises that his stature might have deterred buyers.
“He is not real big and robust; he is on the smaller side,” he said. “You can be big and robust and have no sense but he has a lot of sense, a lot of class.”
Discreet Lover continues to maintain a sensible attitude.
“He likes to nibble and bite a little bit but other than that, he is a pussy cat,” St. Lewis said.
Gunnevera – The 4yo son of Dialed In galloped jogged a half-mile and galloped 1 1/2m under exercise rider Victor O'Farrel Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs.
“I feel very, very good about the horse and his condition. I told the rider to finish with an open gallop,” trainer Antonio Sano said. “He came back after the work, breathing normal.”
Margoth's Kentucky-bred colt finished second in the Woodward at Saratoga last time out, closing strongly despite racing wide throughout the 1 1/8m stakes.
“The last race was a mile and an eighth. This race is a mile and a quarter. In his last race he ran 90 feet more than the other horses,” Sano said. “In this race, we have a good inside post position four. He'll like this distance.”
Lone Sailor – G M B Racing's Lone Sailor visited the starting gate and then galloped over the main track under Maurice Sanchez Wednesday morning.
On Saturday in the Classic, Lone Sailor will be reunited with jockey James Graham, who rode him to victory in the Oklahoma Derby in his most recent start.
“I like him,” said Graham, who will be seeking his first Breeders' Cup victory. “The Oklahoma race really woke him up. Since then, his works have been steady and that is what you want to see. He does what he has to do. People think he hangs, but he doesn't.”
Lone Sailor drew post position five for the Classic that drew a field of 14.
“Post position doesn't matter,” Graham said. “It will be like the (Kentucky) Derby where we track to the inside and save ground.”
Mind Your Biscuits – Fan favorite Mind Your Biscuits continued to train fluidly Wednesday morning toward his date with the Breeders' Cup Classic. The son of Posse schooled in the gate and then paddock schooled for trainer and co-owner Chad Summers before jogging 2m on the main track. The morning was without rain, which is scheduled to come late in the morning in the Louisville area; weather that could have a significant effect on all Breeders' Cup events.
“The rain really isn't going to bother us at all,” Summers said. “That being said, the paddock has kind of been our Achilles' heel because he knows the difference between the morning and the afternoon. He knows when it's 'game day' and he has this face about him like he's on 'kill mode' before the race.
“We'll have him saddled out in stall 16 away from everyone and with a pony to keep him calm,” he continued. “We'll be the first one on the track, hopefully. It's going to be a crammed paddock and you have six horses in the race who can be bad in the paddock, so it's a concern. You're not going to win the race in the paddock, but you can certainly lose it.”
Mind Your Biscuits is also owned by Shadai Farm, J Stables, Head of Plains Partners, Scott Summers, Daniel Summers and Michael Kisber.
McKinzie/West Coast – The morning after arriving from California, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's Classic horses made their first visits to the track at Churchill Downs for routine gallops.
Jimmy Barnes, Baffert's longtime assistant, said that all of Baffert's Breeders' Cup runners handled their shipping well.
McKinzie, the 3yo co-owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, galloped 1¼ miles under Humberto Gomez at 7:30 a.m. The 4yo West Coast went out at 9 a.m. to gallop 1¼ miles for Dana Barnes.
Watson, Pegram and Weitman, who owned two-time Sprint winner Midnight Lute and have been Baffert clients for many years, purchased McKinzie for $170,000 as a yearling. He was named for Brad McKinzie, a friend of Baffert's from their days as students in the University of Arizona's Racetrack Industry Program. Brad McKinzie, the general manager at Los Alamitos, died of cancer at the age of 62 on Aug. 6, 2017.
McKinzie, a son of Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Street Sense, emerged as a Triple Crown prospect this year, but came out of the San Felipe on March 10 with a hock injury. He returned from a six-month layoff to win the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 22 at Parx. While he was gone, Justify won the Triple Crown for Baffert.
Baffert was able to get McKinzie the Classic prep in the Pennsylvania Derby, which he won by 1 3/4 lengths. While a single start wasn't an ideal scenario for his first test against older horses, Baffert expects a good performance.
“He's working really well,” Baffert said. “Not having to run against Justify kept him fresh. He's a young horse, a 3-year old, but I know how good he is. He's fast and so I think he should run well.”
Meanwhile, West Coast, last year's 3yo champion, who finished third in the 2017 Classic, also had a long break after running second to Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup on March 31 at Meydan. In his comeback race on Sept. 29, he was second to Classic morning-line favorite Accelerate in the Awesome Again.
Baffert will give a leg up to two Hall of Fame jockeys: Mike Smith on McKinzie and John Velazquez on West Coast. A victory on McKinzie would move Smith into a tie with Jerry Bailey and Chris McCarron for the most Classic victories at five.
Pavel – Victory in Churchill Downs' Stephen Foster Handicap during the summer by Pavel continues to hone trainer Doug O'Neill's outlook for the 4yo colt's prospects in Saturday's Classic.
“Winning the Stephen Foster here makes it obvious he likes the racetrack and that can't help but give him a little edge,” said the trainer, who has five Breeders' Cup victories, but none in the Classic. His most recent victory came with Nyquist in the 2015 Juvenile at Keeneland Race Course.
“The other thing that's encouraging with him is that he's such a good traveler,” O'Neill said. “He's a great road horse.”
Thunder Snow – Providing some wow-factor Wednesday morning was Godolphin's Breeders' Cup Classic runner Thunder Snow. One day after an in-the-bridle gallop, the Saeed bin Suroor-trained son of Helmet turned up the heat even more when a planned blowout down the lane turned into a 4f breeze timed in a swift 47 2/5. The move occurred just after 9 a.m. and Ian Burns was aboard for bin Suroor, who has yet to win the Classic from eight tries, but was second with Sakhee in 2001 and third with Swain in 1998.
“It was just a blowout and went very well,” bin Suroor said. “The time was nice. I hope things go good from here. He is ready.”
Thunder Snow, a winner of Group or Grade 1 races at distances ranging from 7f to 1¼ miles, will be reunited with regular rider Christophe Soumillon in the Classic. While Soumillon has not ridden a classic, he has twice started in the Kentucky Derby over the same course and distance. One of those was on Mubtaahij, who was eighth to subsequent Classic winner American Pharoah in 2015, and the other was a dramatic episode with Thunder Snow in 2017, when the bay colt propped and bucked leaving the gate, forcing the veteran rider to pull him up in the first furlong.
Soumillon, a native of Belgium who lives in France, has won some of the world's top races, including the 2005 Turf at age 24, two Prix de l'Arc de Triomphes (2003, 2008) and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2006). In 2017, he set the European record for number of wins in a calendar year with 306.
“For myself, it would mean quite a lot to win the Breeders' Cup Classic as a European jockey,” Soumillon said. “I think the last one I have seen who won was Frankie Dettori for John Gosden (with Raven's Pass in 2008), but that was on an all-weather track. I've also seen Frankie get beaten with (Sakhee) and Mick Kinane on Giant's Causeway, both get beaten by Tiznow on the dirt. For me it's something amazing. Since I was 16 years old, I have been watching the Breeders' Cup on TV in France all the time and was lucky enough to win one Breeders' Cup. This would be even bigger than I can imagine.
“The biggest emotion I've felt outside Europe was for sure the Kentucky Derby and I rode it twice. Mubtaahij didn't jump well or have the power to get into the race early. He ran a good race, but unfortunately not good enough to win,” Soumillon continued. “With Thunder Snow, it was absolutely crazy what happened, but the feeling before the race was really just magic. I don't know what happened that day. I'm not sure it was because the ground was sloppy, because it was raining even in the mornings during track work. Horses can do some quite funny things in racing; not just that. He hasn't done it again and I don't know if he will every do it again. He is an animal and has his own feelings I cannot understand because he's not talking, but we will do everything to make sure this will never happen again.
“It's hard to explain. The horse before the race was brilliant. On the way to the stalls (of the starting gate), nothing bothered him. Suddenly, the drama started. We couldn't believe it and it's really disappointing what happened. Straight away, they took him to Ireland and he was second in the Irish (2000) Guineas on the turf (three weeks later) and after that won a Group 1 in France on the turf. The target for him (then) was the Dubai World Cup and he won and now the goal is the Breeders' Cup Classic. With all the races and experience he has had afterwards, I have confidence that this will not happen with this horse, but you can never say never again. We are quite confident that everything will go great with him.”
The racing public seems to be divided when it comes to whether Thunder Snow is underrated or overrated going into the Classic. Soumillon, who considers Thunder Snow one of his favorite mounts ever, takes a more objective approach.
“Unfortunately, when you are not unbeaten, you can't say the horse is the best ever,” he explained. “Even today, you can see a horse like Winx, where some say she is the best ever and some say she is not. That makes racing interesting because you never really know. Some horses are made for some distances or types of ground and everyone is welcome to have an opinion. My job is a jockey is to ride the horse each time, bring them in the best position possible and then ride them in the straight to give his best.”
Yoshida – WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, SF Racing and Head of Plains Partners' Yoshida galloped Wednesday morning with trainer Bill Mott looking on.
“He just galloped today,” Mott said. “He's doing well.”
Yoshida will be making his second dirt start and first over the Churchill Downs surface in the Classic. His dam, top-level winner Hilda's Passion, was second in the 7f Humana Distaff over the track in 2011.
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