Accelerate – Trainer John Sadler, in deference to track conditions, chose to send out his morning-line favorite for the Breeders' Cup Classic for a one-mile jog on the sloppy Churchill Downs main track Thursday morning.
“No problem, just a matter of making sure he got the exercise in,” Sadler said. “I'm sure the track will be to his liking on Saturday.”
Axelrod – It was another routine gallop Thursday morning for trainer Mike McCarthy's Classic contender, with exercise rider Nikki Diodoro in the saddle.
“He continues to do well for us,” McCarthy said, “and that keeps us happy and hopeful.”
Axelrod has two wins and two seconds in his most recent four races and McCarthy has voiced confidence that the 3-year-old bay colt will maintain that form.
The trainer had some special fans at the barn for the morning exercises – his wife, Erin, and their daughter Stella.
Catholic Boy– The 3-year-old son of More Than Ready stood in the starting gate and jogged around the sloppy Churchill Downs track in preparation for an attempt to score his third straight Grade I triumph at 1 ¼ miles in Saturday's Classic.
The Jonathan Thomas-trained colt broke through with his first Grade I in the July 2 Belmont Derby Invitational on turf before going back to back with his win in the Aug. 25 Travers Stakes around Saratoga's main track. Catholic Boy's win in the Belmont Derby gave Thomas confidence heading into the Travers, in which the Kentucky-bred colt was asked for early speed leaving the No. 10 post position before pressing the pace and drawing clear by four lengths in the stretch.
“That's kind of why we changed up tactics with him at Saratoga this summer. Knowing that he could get a mile and a quarter, we were more confident about getting more aggressive and placing him more forwardly and taking races by the scruff of the neck a little bit,” Thomas said. “Sometimes, when horses are going a real route for the first time, people are a little more conservative and ride them to get the trip. That's not the case here. That's the one thing I'm not concerned with.”
Javier Castellano has the return mount after going 3-for-3 aboard Catholic Boy, who prepped for the Belmont Derby with a victory in the Pennine Ridge at Belmont.
“At this stage, when you have horses that are numerically a couple points within each other and the way things are drawn, this is going to be a rider and a trip race,” Thomas said. “I think we might look back on this race and find whoever gets the best set up and trip is probably the most likely winner.”
Discreet Lover – The 5-year-old son of Repent jogged two miles clockwise on Thursday morning.
“He is feeling great,” trainer Uriah St. Lewis said. “He was nipping at us this morning and that is a good sign. As long as he keeps doing what he is doing, we are happy.”
St. Lewis said Discreet Lover's training routine Friday and Saturday is contingent on the track condition following the steady rains.
“He is ready for his race so even if he doesn't go back to the track between now and the race, he's good,” he said.
St. Lewis thought Discreet Lover would be special when he was a close fifth in a tough Saratoga maiden race in his third start as a 2-year-old. He rebounded to win a Parx maiden race by eight lengths two weeks later. St. Lewis said he would not have come to Classic if he had not won Jockey Club Gold Cup.
“With him earning a spot, we knew we had a chance,” he said. “He will give a good account of himself. I expect him to finish first, second or third. That is not bragging; he is doing that good.”
Gunnevera – The 4-year-old son of Dialed In took a leisurely gallop around the Churchill Downs track under exercise rider Victor O'Farrel Thursday morning while preparing for a second try at winning the Classic Saturday.
The Antonio Sano-trained colt finished in a dead heat for fifth with Arrogate in last year's Classic at Del Mar.
“I'm so happy with my horse right now. Last year, it was different. The horse was good, but right now he's doing better. He's more mature,” Sano said.
Gunnevera hasn't won a graded stakes since capturing the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream in February 2017, but he was Grade I stakes-placed in the Florida Derby and Travers last year and the Pegasus World Cup and Woodward this year. Gunnevera was forced to race very wide in the Woodward after breaking from the No. 14 post position but closed from 10thin the stretch to finish second, beaten three lengths by Yoshida.
“He's needs to win a Grade I race,” Sano said. “Maybe, it will be this one.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. has been named to ride the deep-closing colt for the first time Saturday.
Lone Sailor – G M B Racing's Lone Sailor, one of two horses from this spring's Kentucky Derby to come back for Saturday's Classic, was on the track at 5:45 Thursday morning to jog in the sloppy mile chute under exercise rider Maurice Sanchez for trainer Tom Amoss.
Amoss, who has had 10 previous Breeders' Cup starters, is sending out his first Classic entrant.
“I think it is easier to prepare for the Breeders' Cup over the Derby,” Amoss said. “He has had a full year and been consistent. You know he can get the mile and a quarter distance. In the spring, they are going the mile and a quarter for the first time and have had only a few races.”
Mind Your Biscuits—As planned, Shadai Farm, J Stables, et al.'s Mind Your Biscuits jogged one mile on Thursday for trainer and part-owner Chad Summers. The son of Posse plans to walk Friday before going to post in Saturday's $6 million Classic.
A two-time winner of the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen over six furlongs, the New York-bred has stretched out since his successful defense in late March, racing three times; all at a mile or beyond. His efforts have been impressive, yielding a victory in the nine-furlong Lukas Classic last out and two seconds in the Metropolitan Mile Handicap and Whitney Handicap.
“We sent him to Fair Hill to Bruce and Amy Jackson to let him be a horse in the paddock and recover from the trip,” Summers said. “It all came together well, he got back to training and pointed to the Met Mile. He had some small issues going into the Met Mile, but he ran a huge race and showed everyone he could run longer when he lost by a nose (to Bee Jersey).
“After that, we decided to either wait for the Forego (at seven furlongs in early September) or run in the Whitney (at nine furlongs around two turns in early August). We decided to go after the Whitney and he ran a very good race to finish second to Diversify. Rick (Violette) had done a masterful job with that horse all year long. It's one of those things where I think we had to come here to prove to ourselves that we have the (Breeders' Cup Classic) in mind. The Lukas Classic with two turns and being over the track made it a no-brainer.”
Mind Your Biscuits will hope to emulate Black Tie Affair, who was third in the 1990 Breeders' Cup Sprint behind greats Safely Kept and Dayjur before winning the 1991 Classic, consequently earning himself Horse of the Year honors. Like Mind Your Biscuits, Black Tie Affair lost the Met Mile during his championship season and then used a confidence-building non-G1 as his prep (the Washington Park Handicap).
McKinzie/West Coast – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will have a starter in the Classic for the 10th consecutive year Saturday. His two runners have never finished worse than third in a combined 17 starts and each one owns two Grade 1 victories.
Baffert, a two-time Triple Crown winner, is the king of the richest race in the Breeders' Cup, sitting atop all major statistical divisions. With a record of 20 -3-3-2, he is the leader in starts, wins and purse money earned. His total of $13,864,400 in the Classic is more than double the earnings for the next-closest trainers, Steve Asmussen ($6.25M) and Bill Mott ($6.188M).
Baffert's three wins came in successive years with 3-year-olds: Bayern (2014); American Pharoah (2015); Arrogate (2016). Last year, he had four runners in the $6 Classic: Collected, second; West Coast, third; Arrogate, DH for fifth; Mubtaahij, eighth.
Gary and Mary West's West Coast, last year's 3-year-old champion, will make his final Breeders' Cup appearance before heading off to stud in 2019. He returned from a six-month layoff following his second in the Dubai World Cup on March 31 to finish second to Classic morning-line favorite Accelerate in the Awesome Again on Sept. 29 at Santa Anita. He will have a new rider aboard, Hall of Fame member John Velazquez, who is 17-0-3-0 in the Classic.
McKinzie, knocked off the Triple Crown trail by a hock injury in March, returned to competition on Sept. 22, with a victory in the Pennsylvania Derby. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the leading winner and top-earning rider in Breeders' Cup history will be up. Smith has four wins in the Classic – his record is 20-4-3-2 – and has the record for earnings in the race: $15.392M. Another victory will move him into a tie with record-holding retired Hall of Fame jockeys Jerry Bailey and Chris McCarron at five.
West Coast and McKinzie each galloped 1 ¼ miles on the wet track Thursday morning.
Pavel – Trainer Doug O'Neill said he made an executive decision Thursday morning to just jog Pavel a mile for his exercise.
“The track was safe and in good shape,” O'Neill said, “but I just felt jogging was the way to go.
“He's training well and he's fit, so it shouldn't make any difference in his training.”
Thunder Snow—One day after a strong preparatory half-mile breeze for the Breeders' Cup Classic, Godolphin's Saeed bin Suroor-trained Thunder Snow cantered one mile on the main track. The multiple G1 winner has impressed onlookers this week in the flesh and has his connections confident in a result similar to his gate-to-wire Dubai World Cup victory in March.
“When he worked the week of the World Cup, he worked really very good. He worked like 1:26 in the bridle and it was easy for him. That was scary because he was so good at that time,” bin Suroor said. “Now, he looks brilliant and his work was very, very good. We are looking forward to the race.”
Not known as a particularly good work horse, Thunder Snow has been very tough to beat in a battle—an attribute he may have to call on Saturday when he breaks form the rail post under regular rider Christophe Soumillon.
“He's not lazy in the race,” bin Suroor clarified. “The horse is tough. It looks to me like he is doing really well and I have some confidence that this horse will run a big race. I hope no more rain will happen on Saturday, but he's doing really good and improving. He enjoys it here. Even last year, a week before the race, he handled it well here and nothing bothered him.
“He won the Dubai World Cup and now we are looking for him to run a big race on Saturday in the Classic. Sheikh Mohammed decided that this was the plan after the Dubai World Cup, so we gave him a break for almost five months and then started preparing him for the main race, the Classic. We started with him in the (Juddmonte International) in England, where he lost two shoes in the race on the turf. He came back well and we brought him to Belmont in the Jockey Club and he ran a really huge race. And now, we are looking forward to the Classic and to see a really good result from him again.”
Yoshida—WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and partners' Yoshida continued to train well toward the Breeders' Cup Classic for two-time Classic-winning conditioner Bill Mott. The 4-year-old son of long-winded Japanese champion Heart's Cry galloped a lap in the mud Thursday morning. On Saturday, he will attempt to make it a 3-for-3 in the state of Kentucky following a maiden special weight victory in April 2017 and a determined win on yielding turf in Churchill Downs' Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day.
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