Wizard Race and Sports’ expert handicapper, The Wizard, provides you with selections, analysis, and wager suggestions through his picks for some of the biggest cards in thoroughbred horse racing for the 2020 Breeders Cup Stakes.
2020 Breeders’ Cup Selections
Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland – Friday 11/06
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Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland – Saturday 11/07
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What is the Breeders’ Cup?
Casual watchers of Thoroughbred racing usually bow out of the sport after the Belmont (and even sooner if no promise of a Triple Crown arises.) But anyone with an appreciation of the sport knows that the real World Series of the racing, the measure of all champions of both sexes and all ages, is yet to come. The generally regarded end of the North American racing season almost always occurs with fireworks along the rail and heavy gambling action.
The Breeders’ Cup World Championship, consisting of 14 races, takes place over two days in the fall and tests not only three-year-old colts but two-year-olds, fillies, mares, and older horses. Races are run on a dirt track, as well as the turf. All but one of the races are Grade I.
For the most part, no more than 14 entrants can fill the gates in Breeders’ Cup races (the exceptions are the Juvenile Turf Sprint and the Turf Sprint, which only allow 12.) It’s a can’t miss event for bettors and racing fans. Winners of the events typically go on to secure Eclipse Awards in their categories.
Although some facilities have hosted the event back to back, the location of the Breeder’s Cup has traditionally changed every year, roughly rotating through the East, South, and West. In comparison, the 2020 Breeders’ Cup will look a little different– no surprise to a sport which saw a Kentucky Derby in September and the Belmont leading off Triple Crown season– this year’s fields are still shaping up with several exciting entrants. And in these strange days, it’s a comfort to see it taking place at all and at its usual time, if without fans in the stands.
2020 Breeders’ Cup
This year’s Breeders’ Cup will run for the second time at Keeneland Race Course, a grand, historic facility in Lexington, KY. Tickets for the 2002 Breeders’ Cup went on sale as usual in March in the hopes that COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted by the fall, but last week the organization announced that the event would take place without fans in the stands. Only those directly involved with conducting the races may attend.
Purses for the event total $31 million. The 2020 edition marks the 37th running of the Breeders’ Cup.
In the past, the first day of the event was “Ladies Day” and featured fillies, mares, and juveniles, with diverse fields running on Day 2. This year, for the third time, the action is divided by age. The racing taking place on November 6 is dubbed “Future Stars Friday” and features racing for two-year-olds. On November 7, “Championship Saturday,” horses three and up will run.
Here’s a look at the races scheduled for both days of the event:
Friday, November 6: Future Star Friday
Juvenile Turf Sprint: 5 ½ furlongs on the turf for a $1,000,000 purse. Grade II.
Juvenile Turf: One mile on the turf for a $1,000,000 purse. Colt and geldings only. Grade I.
Juvenile Fillies: 1 1/16 miles on the dirt for a $2,000,000 purse. Grade I.
Juvenile Fillies Turf: One mile on the turf for a $1,000,000 purse. Grade I.
Juvenile: 1 1/16 miles on the dirt for a $2,000,000 purse. Colt and geldings only. Grade I.
Saturday, November 7: Championship Saturday
Filly and Mare Sprint: Seven furlongs on the dirt for a $1,000,000 purse. Fillies and mares only. Grade I.
Turf Sprint: Five furlongs on the turf for a $1,000,000 purse. Grade I.
Dirt Mile: One mile on the dirt for a $2,000,000 purse. Grade I.
Filly and Mare Turf: 1 ¼ mile on the turf for a $2,000,000 purse. Grade I.
Sprint: Six furlongs on the dirt for a $2,000,000 purse. Grade I.
Mile: One mile on the turf for a $2,000,000 purse. Grade I.
Distaff: 1⅛ miles on the dirt for a $2,000,000 purse. Fillies and mares only. Grade I.
Turf: 1½ miles on the turf for a $6,000,000 purse. Grade I.
Classic: 1¼ miles on the dirt for a $7,000,000 purse. Grade I.
Next year’s Breeder’s Cup moves to Del Mar in California. Perhaps as compensation for losing the immense economic boost, which comes with hosting a fan-attended Breeders’ Cup, the event will return to Keeneland in 2022. Those who held tickets for this year’s event will have the first crack at purchasing them when the World Championship circles back to Kentucky.
Keeneland, the Breeders’ Cup Racetrack of 2020
Although Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, is more famous, Keeneland in Lexington is more rural and closer to Thoroughbred racing’s cultured roots. In addition to its racing action and greatly anticipated horse sales, Keeneland is considered the American archive of the sport and oversees a comprehensive library detailing Thoroughbred racing history in the United States. In 2009, the Horseplayers Association of North America ranked Kenneland as the best track on the continent.
It hosts two significant meets a year, in the spring and fall. Keeneland also welcomes other traditional equestrian events, such as steeplechasing, horse shows, and dressage competitions. To put on the Breeders’ Cup is a tremendous honor for the facility, a National Historic Landmark, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tourists to Lexington consider Keeneland a must-visit, and attending live action at the facility is on the bucket list of many a gambler.
The first time the Breeders’ Cup was held at Keeneland, in 2015, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah wowed fans by emerging victorious in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which is considered the apex of the event. This cemented the extremely rare Grand Slam of Thoroughbred Racing (the Triple Crown plus the Classic), a feat thus far only achieved by Pharoah.
Keeneland Race Course is owned by Keeneland Association, Inc. It began in the 1930s and was carved out of Kentucky farmland. Although located close to Lexington’s center, its atmosphere is still that of a stately establishment in the country.
Its much-vaunted vintage look has made it a movie star. Keeneland is maintained to keep pace with safety advances but carefully to retain its retro appeal. Therefore, it was seen in Seabiscuit, Dreamer, and Secretariat, serving as a stand-in for other tracks that have either been demolished or renovated beyond recognition for the movie’s historical period.
In addition to running the Keeneland Race Course, Keeneland Association also directs a highly regarded horse auction operation, the Keeneland Sales. Some of the finest Thoroughbreds in the world have passed through Keeneland’s sales ring, including 82 Breeders’ Cup World Champions.
The dirt track at Keeneland runs 1 1/16 miles. Its oval-shaped turf course covers 7.5 furlongs and can be configured with a temporary rail. Notable graded stakes that take place at Keeneland include the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes (GI), the Blue Grass Stakes (GII), and the Bourbon Stakes (G III.)
Understanding the Breeders’ Cup
While the Breeders’ Cup is now a highly anticipated event in American racing, and even to qualify for one of its races is a cause for celebration, that wasn’t always the case. Such a well-entrenched sport as Thoroughbred racing tends to regard major changes suspiciously and holds for a long time to old prejudices (despite its gorgeous looks and glorious history, for example, Keeneland was snubbed year after year as a host because Lexington was considered “too small and backwards” to navigate such a major event successfully.)
To successfully launch the Breeders’ Cup, then, organizers knew it had to be exclusive. Appearing in the starting gate had to mean something, and entries were therefore limited. Supplying a fee isn’t enough to earn a berth. Fields must be selected or qualify in preliminary races.
There is little standardization on the order of the races throughout the years except for the last two. These are almost always the Turf and Classic, which are considered the great climax of the weekend.
Breeders’ Cup Qualifier and Why It Matters
Starting just a few weeks after the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup, the Breeders’ Cup Challenge begins. The “win and you’re in” format scatters races throughout the world from the Ascot to France to Tokyo to Argentina. These qualifying races often include well-established, graded events, such as the Shoemaker Mile Stakes at Santa Anita and the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
This approach assures a tremendous variety of participation far beyond North America and eases the “road and points” headaches associated with qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. Qualifying races for the Breeders’ Cup take place right up through the middle of October.
A panel of industry experts invites other contenders in the field. While a points system is used in these circumstances, most of the berths are filled via the Challenge races.
Breeders’ Cup History
Most Americans are familiar with the Triple Crown races as the Thoroughbred season’s highlight, but these are only for three-year-olds. What sets the Breeders’ Cup World Championship apart is that it features horses of all ages and includes races only for two-year-olds, mares, and fillies. Seeing the lack of a punctuation mark at the end of the racing season in North America, the idea was hatched by Thoroughbred owner John R. Gaines in 1982.
Planning for the first Breeders’ Cup began that year, and the inaugural event took place in 1984 at Hollywood Park in California. The venture is run by Breeders’ Cup Limited. Its early years of staging at a different host track helped involve horseplayers in every region.
Although it began as a one-day event, it began spanning two days in 2007. Races that have been dropped from past Breeders’ Cup cards are the Marathon and the Juvenile Sprint. Otherwise, the categories have remained mostly unchanged since its debut.
2019 Breeders’ Cup Review
Given that they took place before the COVID pandemic, the 2019 races look like they’re from another planet–crowds press into Santa Anita without masks, having no idea that next year only a very few spectators will see the championship run in person.
Nonetheless, a shadow was cast over the 2019 proceedings since Santa Anita had suffered a spate of mysterious equine deaths throughout the year. Fortunately, the event went off safely.
Future Star Friday
The Juvenile Turf Sprint was perhaps the most significant race on Day 1 of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup due to its winner’s legacy. Four Wheel Drive, a son of American Pharoah, won wire to wire, returning $5 to win.
Chimney Rock and Another Miracle came in second and third. Four Wheel Drive was the only favorite to win a Breeders’ Cup race in 2019. All of the juvenile race winners except for Sharing, who was bred in Maryland, were Kentucky’s products.
Here are the other winners of last year’s Future Star Friday races:
Juvenile Turf: Structor
Juvenile Fillies: British Idiom
Juvenile Fillies Turf: Sharing
Juvenile: Storm the Court
Winners were far more diverse on the second day of racing at Santa Anita. Although the winners of the two spotlight events, the Turf, and the Classic, were both from Kentucky, other champions were born in Ireland, Great Britain, and Argentina.
The winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic was Vino Rosso, but the Horse of the Year Eclipse Award went to Bricks and Mortar, who ran undefeated in 2019 and won the Turf.
A complete look at mixed-race winners in 2019:
Filly and Mare Sprint: Covfefe
Turf Sprint: Belvoir Bay
Dirt Mile: Spun to Run
Filly and Mare Turf: Iridessa
Distaff: Blue Prize
Turf: Brick and Mortar
Classic: Vino Rosso
The Breeders’ Cup Is Here!
Both days of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup will be broadcast on NBCSports and TVG. Events will also livestream on YouTube and Facebook. Morning workouts and other wall-to-wall coverage can be found on the Breeders’ Cup app and breederscup.com.