Author: Michele Macdonald

EVEN THOUGH there are still Grade One races to be run before the calendar closes on the frenzied roller coaster ride that has been the year 2020, most American championships were all but wrapped up with bows during the two day Breeders’ Cup event at Keeneland. There are clear leaders in most divisions, as will be noted below, but there also are more than the usual number of gaps left by retirements across age and gender divisions that could leave America weaker than usual in the coming months. Looking toward the big winter races that begin in Florida with the $3 million Pegasus World Cup set for 23 January at Gulfstream Park and continuing through the Saudi and Dubai World Cups, there is a decided lack of potential marquee contenders as compared to many previous years.

With Breeders’ Cup Classic and Kentucky Derby winner Authentic having already taken up residence at Spendthrift Farm for stud duty commencing in February, the top American 3yos left in training are Belmont Stakes winner Tiz The Law; the Bob Bafferttrained Charlatan, who is attempting a comeback from the sidelines, and the fillies Swiss Skydiver and Gamine. Tiz The Law is being tentatively aimed at the Pegasus and will have a new jockey aboard when Authentic’s pilot John Velazquez takes the reins in place of Manny Franco, who was booted after his Classic ride displeased trainer Barclay Tagg and the owners involved with Sackatoga Stable. It’s unclear how keen Tagg, who is 82, and the Sackatoga group would be to travel to the Middle East, but managing partner Jack Knowlton indicated, with a caveat, that he could be interested in the Dubai World Cup for Tiz The Law if the Constitution colt runs well in the 1 1/8 mile Pegasus.

“The way the world works, you take one race at a time,” Knowlton said, noting that Velazquez so far has committed to ride Tiz The Law only in the Pegasus. And, of course, the threat of continuing issues with Covid-19 remains a dark cloud on the horizon for everyone. Charlatan’s status appears even more iffy as he has had only two recorded workouts since he was sidelined by a filling in a front ankle that caused him to undergo surgery for removal of bone chips in June and miss the Kentucky Derby. The son of Speightstown led all the way to win the Arkansas Derby impressively in May but later was disqualified for testing positive for a trace amount of lidocaine. Although Charlatan returned to the worktab for Baffert on 26 October and followed up with another drill on 1 November, he had no more timed workouts through 15 November, according to Equibase, which is not generally a good sign. Nonetheless, Baffert had listed the 7f Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita Park on 26 December as a possible goal for Charlatan, whose prowess over the 1 1/8 miles of the Arkansas Derby would seem to make him a good candidate, if he is well physically, for the Pegasus and Saudi Cups.

Baffert also is trying to reignite the career of sidelined Grade Three winner Uncle Chuck, although that colt was not set to return to training until December, a timetable that likely would rule out the son of Uncle Mo for a Middle East sojourn. Baffert also is not likely, based on his typical patterns, to send sprinter Gamine beyond American borders since potential races for her would be limited. While Baffert’s barn was decimated by the post-Breeders’ Cup retirements to stud of Authentic, Classic runner-up Improbable and inaugural Saudi Cup victor Maximum Security, he is hoping for a return to top action for Prince Faisal’s Mucho Gusto. Winner of the 2020 Pegasus World Cup and fourth in the Saudi Cup, Mucho Gusto is aiming at another foray to Riyadh. The 4yo recorded a quartet of workouts in October and drilled 5f in early November. Perhaps the best of America’s other colts that have not yet been scheduled for retirement are Juddmonte Farm’s multiple Grade Oneplaced Tacitus, who was readying at Meydan for the 2020 Dubai World Cup when it was postponed, and multiple Grade Two winner By My Standards.

In the Classic, By My Standards finished eighth while Tacitus was fourth, ahead of Maximum Security (5th) and Tiz The Law (6th). Even as the ranks of older American runners have become lean, at least until new stars emerge, 2020’s likely champions feature some bona fide icons. Authentic will earn the most votes as champion 3yo male and should also be Horse of the Year after collecting three Grade One victories and two of the most coveted trophies on the continent. His stablemate Improbable ran well in the Classic and has lodged what looks like a successful bid for champion older male after scoring in three prestigious Grade One events earlier in the season. On the female side, Swiss Skydiver should be the champion 3yo filly after her historic Preakness, leaving Gamine to settle for the champion female sprinter title, and Breeders’ Cup Distaff heroine Monomoy Girl clearly has secured the older female honours. Monomoy Girl’s standing in the sport was reflected by her sale to Spendthrift for $9.5 million at Fasig-Tipton’s November auction.

Meanwhile turf runners appear to be led by multiple Grade One winners Channel Maker, who finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf behind European invaders Tarnawa and Magical, in the male division and Rushing Fall, who was caught by Englishbased Audarya in the final strides to miss by a neck in the Filly & Mare Turf. Rushing Fall was purchased by Coolmore for $5.5 million at the Fasig-Tipton sale. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies winners, Essential Quality and Vequist, seem virtual locks for the Eclipse Awards in their divisions judging by past voting patterns, and both would deflect glory to Godolphin. Essential Quality is a homebred for the stable and Vequist is from the first crop of young Godolphin stallion Nyquist, propelling him to a sizeable lead in the race for America’s top freshman sire.

Vekoma, a dual Grade One hero who was scratched as the early favourite from the Breeders’ Cup Sprint after incurring a fever, could be the champion in that division as Sprint winner Whitmore recorded only that single Grade One win during the season. As for the human titles, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr and trainer Brad Cox, both of whom topped their peers at Breeders’ Cup after being consistently successful all year, will be the favourites in their respective categories. Spendthrift and, which have pioneered micro-share ownership of runners, could benefit from a wave of voting for their Authentic and pick up the Eclipse Award as outstanding owner. WinStar Farm, which bred Swiss Skydiver, Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil and now retired Grade One winner Global Campaign could be difficult to surpass in voting for the outstanding breeder. But 2020 isn’t over yet. With elite events like the Cigar Mile and Clark Handicaps, the Hollywood Derby, and the Malibu, Starlet and Matriarch Stakes still ahead, there could yet be memorable performances that could alter perspectives. That would be entirely fitting in this year that no one alive could have predicted, or will ever forget.

Michele MacDonald
Award Winning Tacitus Channel Maker International Journalist