The leading contenders for Horse of the Year compete this weekend at Belmont Park in their final tune-ups for the Breeders' Cup series four weeks from today.
Known as Breeders' Cup Preview Weekend, the two-day showcase of racing features five Grade I stakes, two today and three tomorrow. The richest is tomorrow's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, which offers the first meeting of Behrens, the best older horse in training, and Lemon Drop Kid, the best 3-year-old.
Those two, along with the sensational 3-year-old filly Silverbulletday, rank as the top prospects for Horse of the Year, racing's most coveted award. Undefeated this year against fillies her age, Silverbulletday faces older females for the first time tomorrow in the $500,000 Beldame.
Tomorrow's third Grade I stakes is the $400,000 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies. However, the undisputed leader of the juvenile fillies division is the undefeated, California-based Chilukki. Trained by Bob Baffert, Chilukki seeks her sixth straight victory today in the $200,000 Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Today at Belmont, the top-ranked 2-year-old colt, More Than Ready, contests the $400,000 Champagne Stakes, and the No. 1 turf specialist, Yagli, competes in the $600,000 Turf Classic Invitational. Despite their lofty rankings, both lost their last races.
After five victories in a row, More Than Ready faltered for the first time in the Futurity Stakes last month at Belmont. He entered that race after a 52-day layoff and a minor illness. Before the setback some turf writers had called More Than Ready the top 2-year-old this decade.
"Maybe now the pressure's off," his trainer, Todd Pletcher, told reporters this week. "If he'd won the Futurity, he'd have been on the brink of the greatest season a 2-year-old has ever had."
Pletcher, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, said More Than Ready is fully fit and ready for one of the stiffest Champagne fields in years. It includes Lukas' High Yield, five-length winner of the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, and Chief Seattle, a promising colt trained by John Kimmel and ridden by Edgar Prado.
You can watch the five Grade I stakes at Belmont from your living room couch. The Champagne and Turf Classic, along with two major stakes from Keeneland, will be televised today on ESPN2 starting at 3: 30 p.m. Tomorrow, NBC will broadcast the three Belmont stakes beginning at 2: 30 p.m.