Undefeated Flightline and Rich Strike, an upset Kentucky Derby winner, led a field of nine in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with trainer Todd Pletcher pre-entering two horses for a $6 million race that also includes a horse from the struggling trainer’s barn. Bob Baffert.
Coached by John Sadler, Flightline is 5-0 in his career, winning his starts by a total margin of 62 3/4 lengths.
“We know we really have a super horse,” Sadler said on Wednesday. “The pressure is there because he’s going to be a big favourite, but I’ve been training for quite some time and that’s the pressure you need.”
The 4-year-old Flightline took a record-breaking 19 1/4 length win in its final $1 million Pacific Classic race in Del Mar on September 3rd.
“He just mocked everyone behind him,” said Hall of Famer coach Bill Mott, who will send the Olympics against Flightline. “When you get all these good horses together, he will have to fight the best group he has ever faced. This is the real test.”
Rich Strike hasn’t won in three starts since his shocking 80-1 win in the Derby in May. He was second to Hot Rod Charlie, another Classic member before entering, in his final start, the Lukas Classic on 1 October at Churchill Downs.
Rich Strike is the only winner of this year’s Triple Crown races who is still in competition. Preakness Early Voting winner and Belmont winner Mo Donegal retired.
Classic Course was among the horses tentatively entered on Wednesday for the 28 millionth World 14-Horse Championship taking place Nov. 4-5 at Keenland in Lexington, Kentucky. The track was last streamed in 2020, but without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pletcher’s two pre-entries are “Happy Saver” and “Life is Good” for the classic 1 1/4 mile show, which will launch on November 5 and air on NBC. Classics matter for the Horse of the Year award.
“Clashing with a horse like Flightline is an interesting jockey race,” Pletcher said.
Baffert plans to race Taiba in the Classic, a race that the Hall of Famer coach has won a record four times. The colt won the Pennsylvania Derby and finished second in Haskell. He was 12th in the Kentucky Derby when coached by Tim Yaktin, who took over because Baffert was banned by Churchill Downs for the 2023 Derby.
Other classic pre-records are Cyberknife, Epicenter and Olympiad. Cyber Knife also hit the Dirty Mile.
Baffert has five horses tentatively entered for world championships, his first major event since serving a 90-day ban by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission earlier this year. The penalty was the result of Medina Spirit testing positive for betamethasone after the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Baffert can field the horses at Keeneland since the racecourse is not owned by Churchill Downs. In addition to tracks owned by Churchill Downs, he is banned from New York Racing Association tracks. Both organizations separately suspended him from KHRC punishment and he is suing both.
There were 14 pre-bids for the $4 million Turf tournament, including two each from Irish coach Aidan O’Brien, Graham Motion, Mott and Charlie Appleby.
The $2 million Juvenile competition has 12 pre-entries, including two from Baffert (Cave Rock and National Treasure) and two from Pletcher (Forte and Lost Ark).
The $2 million spinning wheel features a fight between Malataat and Nest, both from Pletcher’s barn.
Trainer D. Wayne Lucas has two bids that will add 167 Breeders’ Cup competitors to his roster. The 87-year-old Hall of Famer has the most wins in BC (20) and is third in money won.
New York coach Chad Brown has 17 preliminary entries. O’Brien, Pletcher and Steve Asmussen, the best North American coach of all time, have 10 points each.
Keeneland hosts the most intense two days of racing in North America for the third time.
The final entries and post-position draw will take place Monday at Rupp Arena, home of the fourth-place Kentucky men’s basketball team.
The World Championship will open with five races for juniors on Friday 4 November and nine races on 5 November.
Twenty-six countries will be offering sweepstakes through the Breeders’ Cup global pool. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong and Mexico will offer separate pool bets.
What is the Breeders’ Cup and what does it mean for Thoroughbred racing? The closest parallel I can think of is the founding of what became the Super Bowl in 1967. The conundrum surrounding this event was how upstarts from the American Football League (AFL) would perform against established NFL franchises. Although the Green Bay Packers dominated the first two games, the victory Joe Namath and the Jets in 1969 were instrumental in forcing a league merger and recognizing the quality of the AFL.
History of the Breeders’ Cup
Just as the Super Bowl inspired and unified professional football, the Breeders’ Cup had a unifying effect on horse racing when it began in 1984. Even more rarely, horses were brought from Europe for major races in America. It was a vision John Gaines, John Nerud, and a group of industry leaders to create what will become a true world championship for the sport. As Ray Paulik indicated in Article in Paulik’s 2015 report: “It was an amazing achievement, not only for Gaines, but for the entire Thoroughbred industry to overcome politics and personal agendas and do what was right for the game.” Of course, sacrifices have been made to make the Breeders’ Cup a reality. Take the New York Racing Association, for example, whose fall races often determined year-end awards. Now vital races on both coasts will serve as preparation for the Breeders’ Cup and they will lose some of their prestige. This will extend the traditional racing season by almost a month, meaning that top-level horse trainers will adjust their schedules to culminate in the Breeders’ Cup. In addition, horses from Europe or Japan will need to make significant adjustments to account for travel time and short quarantine period when they first arrived in the US.
Few understood how the event would be received, and he had his share of doubters. One of the biggest questions: Will viewers want to watch seven races in an unprecedented 4-hour TV show? To get some idea of the basis of the event, I spoke with John Gonzalez, who was an NBC TV show producer in the early years. He recounted meetings where Gaines and Nerud discussed why the event required 7 races and big wallets, as well as 4 hours of airtime. Among the NBC staff at these meetings was the president of NBC Sports. Arthur WatsonExecutive producer Mike WeissmanPR specialist Mike Cohenas well as John Gonzalez. One of the main challenges was how to fill the time with just 14 minutes of real action on the track. But each of those seven races required backstory, paddock reports, post-parade, commentary on how the horses were on the track, post-race analysis and trophy presentations. While some questioned NBC’s ability to fill the 4 hours, once Gonzalez began creating the format for the show, he realized it wouldn’t be a problem.
Another important player who made the event a success was Marge Everett, then owner of Hollywood Park, where she was inaugurated in 1984. Her contacts with Hollywood celebrities helped bring attention to the Breeders’ Cup. celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Jack Klugman, John Forsyth, Linda Evans, and many others were on TV. In this era, we’ve come to expect celebrities to appear on the red carpet at major sporting events, but this was a truly unprecedented display of star power for a sports telecast. Everett has also been instrumental in getting the industry to partner with television like never before. When the misstatements were discussed, NBC had cameras showing the discussion of the stewards. If the jockeys were on the phone near the scales, explaining their version of what happened regarding the wrongful claim, the NBC microphones would hear what they were saying. The coverage produced an affinity for the sport that was rarely seen on air.
Another part of the event’s success in the early years was the participation of riders. In those days, no coach was more important to the tournament than D. Wayne Lucas. The Hall of Fame still holds the records for Breeders’ Cup wins (20) and starts (167). Back in 1987, when the competition was still just 7 races (today there are 14), Lucas had an incredible 14 starts. I remember going to his stable to get exterior or “body” shots of his horses. If he had told us to be there at 3:00 pm, his horses would have left the stable with military precision at exactly 3 o’clock. Secret oath to post in the Spinning Wheel at this year’s event.
How does the Breeders’ Cup work?
The Breeders’ Cup has a rich history, however fans who do not delve into the sport other than the Triple Crown are generally unfamiliar with its structure. Here are the basics of the event:
- The 14 World Championship races are held over two days.
- The main goal of the event is to bring together the best horses from all over the world to compete in one place.
- The races are held in a wide variety of categories depending on the distance, the racing surface and the age of the horses.
- The total purses for the 14 races are over $30 million.
I spoke to NBC Kenny Rice, and he gave me some analogies to connect this event with other well-known sports. Rice pointed out that the Triple Crown is just…