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Breeders’ Cup Juvenile: Two Down, Two to Go

by Bryan Brinkmeyer

For the Juvenile Division there are four races designated to the Breeders’ Cup Win & You’re In Series.They are the Iroquois Stakes, FrontRunner Stakes, Champagne Stakes and the Breeders’ Futurity. Two races down, two to go; so what do we know so far and what should we expect? Remember, these are juveniles we are talking about so anything is possible (Hint: New Year’s Day).

The first order of business is to determine who we will be racing in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Ahead of that, I should remind everyone what the qualification system looks like. The first way is the easiest to remember; win a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race.

In: Not This Time, Iroquois Stakes winner

In: Gormley, FrontRunner Stakes winner

If you did not win, you still have the chance to earn some points. By this system non-winners of a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race are then ranked by the points they’ve earned in Graded Stakes races. As of 10/03/2016 here are the official points leaders for the Juvenile Division.

Points Horse Trainer
22 Klimt Bob Baffert
10 Practical Joke Chad Brown
10 Straight Fire Keith Desormeaux
6 Gunnevera Antonio Sano
6 Royal Copy D. Wayne Lukas
5 Tip Tap Tapizar Steve Asmussen
4 Big League Peter Miller
4 Bitumen Eddie Kenneally
4 Midnight Pleasure Shelbe Ruis
4 Pretty Boy Flash Steve Asmussen
4 Wellabled Larry Rivelli
3 Recruiting Ready Horacio DePaz
2 Lookin At Lee Steve Asmussen
2 Random Walk Richard Violette
2 Romeo O Romeo Brian Williamson
2 Sonic Mule Todd Pletcher
2 Thirstforlife Mark Casse
1 Star Empire Wesley Ward
1 Zartera Steve Asmussen

Now here’s the tricky part, because remember, this list is way different than the Kentucky Derby, because the experts are always in control of each Breeders’ Cup race. At the Breeders’ Cup a maximum of 14 horses can start in each division. Of those, seven earn their way in through the Challenge Series and graded stakes points, while the other half is selected by the experts to ensure the highest level of competition.

So with these rules, there is still a lot of racing left. In addition, there will be plenty of opportunities for the experts to be swayed in a new direction as they deliberate which lucky 7 outside of the Challenge Series winners and graded stakes points standings will be handpicked to start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Who should we be looking at so far? In my opinion, it’s fitting that the four Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Challenge Series races also represent the first four scoring opportunities for the Kentucky Derby. As it turned out, one of these four races has produced a pair of special horses in the last two editions. To say that their accomplishments were routine would be a striking understatement. To say they did not impact the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or Kentucky Derby in a very big way would also be way off.

In 2014, it was the legendary American Pharoah that won the FrontRunner Stakes, before he ended the Triple Crown drought, and later smashed a Grand Slam for the ages when he took home the Breeders’ Cup Classic last November. Though he was already leading us to believe in his potential, that win and race would ultimately be the last in his 2-yr-old campaign. A minor injury that sidelined him opened the door for a different FrontRunner Stakes starter. Texas Red made the most of the opportunity en route to a thrilling win from off the pace at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Last year, we witnessed Nyquist follow up his opening two acts at Del Mar with a superb victory in the FrontRunner. But that was just the beginning. By the time his undefeated hot streak ended, the Doug O’Neill trainee had become only the second to win both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby, and the first since Street Sense in 2006-2007.

Therefore, the FrontRunner Stakes has featured the last two Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby winners. The advantage for 2016 becoming the third consecutive year that a FrontRunner Stakes starter wins the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is that Santa Anita is once again hosting. Secondly, the top three in the 2016 FrontRunner Stakes should be considered serious contenders if they make it to the starting gate.

Should any other horse look to spoil that party I would submit Not This Time as your leading candidate. The winner of the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs was much the best, so it’s hard to assess the chances of a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory for any of the starters that finished behind him. The good news is that we will have another chance to judge three of them in the upcoming 2016 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on Saturday.

Lookin At Lee, Honor Thy Father and Blame Will are coming back in attempt to gain more points, the attention of the experts or the one thing they really want the most; a win and automatic qualification into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Another trio of 2016 Breeders’ Futurity starters to keep your eye on is the Bashford Manor winner Classic Empire, Saratoga Special winner Gunnevera and Sanford winner Bitumen.

All of the horses that I just mentioned should also be considered Breeders’ Cup Juvenile contenders and potential starters. They have displayed enough talent so far to qualify through points or by selection should they not get to the wire first in the Breeders’ Futurity so keep that in mind heading into and after this race.

But that’s not all because the final Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Challenge Series race is also being run on Saturday. In the 2016 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, look for Hopeful winner Practical Joke to make his case for becoming the eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion. As for the rest of the field in that race all of them will require a very big effort to gain an invitation or qualify by earning enough points.

Last weekend we saw Gormley upset the heaving favorite Klimt, so it is plausible that we will see another upset. If so, add another Win & You’re In candidate to the field that may not have otherwise been handpicked by experts.

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