If you think last week looked stuffed on the racing calendar with 18 races worldwide owning potential Breeders' Cup implications, you'd better loosen the belt a notch. This weekend features no less than 24 races to watch, from all corners of America. Opening weekend at Keeneland boasts nine races alone that could play a role in next month's Breeders' Cup World Championships.
Just as we did last week, we'll try to rank the stakes in order of their potential impact on the Breeders' Cup. Races televised on the ESPN family of networks this weekend also are noted, including live cut-ins from college football coverage of Mine That Bird in the Goodwood and Zenyatta in the Lady's Secret.
Lady's Secret (Saturday, Oak Tree at Santa Anita, Ladies' Classic division, ESPN2 & ESPN Classic coverage)
The Skinny: Saturday's race features the one and only Zenyatta in a rematch with Cocoa Beach, last year's 1-2 finishers in the Ladies' Classic. How the Lady's Secret plays out likely will tell us which race Zenyatta will tackle on championship day, thus increasing its importance. Since being inaugurated in 1993, the Lady's Secret has produced every Distaff/Ladies' Classic champion at Oak Tree-held events. Adoration led a 1-2-3 sweep for Lady's Secret alumnae in the 2003 renewal, while Zenyatta captured both races with late-running aplomb last fall. In '93, Hollywood Wildcat and Re Toss went from 1-2 in the prep to 1-3 on championship day. And, over Monmouth's muddy track two years ago, Hystericalady just missed by a whisker, so this race has been highly important regardless of surface affinities.
Goodwood (Saturday, Oak Tree at Santa Anita, Classic or Dirt Mile division, ESPN & ESPN Classic coverage)
The Skinny: Tiago exited last year's Goodwood and topped the American finish when third in the Classic, marking the third straight year a horse from this race has landed in the Classic superfecta (Awesome Gem, Giacomo the previous two years). In 2003, Pleasantly Perfect swept both races at Santa Anita. Saturday's heavyweights include Mine That Bird, Rail Trip, Richard's Kid, Colonel John and that Tiago fellow. It's the prep of the year in the Classic division, hands down.
Breeders Futurity (Saturday, Keeneland, Juvenile division, ESPN Classic coverage)
The Skinny: Square Eddie, Terrain and Pioneerof The Nile parlayed their 1-2-3 finishes in this race last year into strong showings in the Juvenile, finishing second, fourth and fifth. That marked the second time in 3 years that the Breeders' Futurity had produced at least 3 of the top 5 Juvenile finishers. In 2006, the race came back 1-2-3 in the Juvenile with Street Sense, Circular Quay and Great Hunter (on the dirt at Churchill). Tabasco Cat and Alysheba also used this race before placing in Juveniles held at Santa Anita. On Saturday we get to see if Backtalk can handle the distance test vs. unbeaten Arlington ace Dixie Band.
First Lady (Saturday, Keeneland, Mile or F&M Turf division)
The Skinny: Recent renewals of the First Lady have been key points to watch for the Breeders' Cup. In '05, Intercontintental stretched out off her win here to capture the Filly & Mare Turf, while last year's champ Forever Together also turned the trick. The champ is back to defend her title Saturday against Diamondrella, Acoma and others is a fantastic renewal of the First Lady.
Spinster (Sunday, Keeneland, Ladies' Classic division, ESPN coverage)
The Skinny: Spinster winners Carriage Trail (fourth), Take Charge Lady (sixth) and Paseana (second) have failed to live up to expectations in years when the championships have been held at Santa Anita. Still, the Spinster has produced no less than 10 Distaff/Ladies' Classic winners all-time, making it the strongest single prep of any BC event. With Swift Temper and Andre Fabre's Group 1-placed raider Proviso, it gets kicked up a notch, but loses some luster with Icon Project's folks opting to train up to the Ladies' Classic.
Ancient Title (Sunday, Oak Tree at Santa Anita, Sprint division)
The Skinny: At least one Ancient Title alumnus has finished in the Sprint trifecta each of the 4 years the event has been held at Oak Tree, topped by '03 winner Cardmania. Street Boss and In Summation exited this race to finish third and fourth in the Sprint last fall. This race has been productive of late, even away from California as Idiot Proof shipped east to run second in the '07 Sprint and Thor's Echo one-upped his Ancient Title placing by winning the '06 Sprint at Churchill. With west coast leader Zensational in the clubhouse sitting this one out, all eyes will be on last year's Arkansas Derby champ Gayego.
Alcibiades (Friday, Keeneland, Juvenile Fillies division)
The Skinny: Dream Empress parlayed her Alcibiades win last fall into a strong second at 16-1 in the Juvenile Fillies over the Oak Tree track. Cotton Blossom also ran third at 18-1 in the '06 Juvenile Fillies on dirt coming out of this race. It's been since Cash Run in '99 that an Alcibiades winner has taken the top JF prize, which also happened to end a 3-year winning run by alumnae of this race (Countess Diana, Silverbulletday). Arlington dominator She Be Wild and G1 Spinaway runner-up Beautician square off Friday.
Thoroughbred Club of America (Saturday, Keeneland, F&M Sprint division)
The Skinny: Wild Gams and Baroness Thatcher both finished out of the money in 2007, while no starters emerged from the '08 TCA at Oak Tree. Malibu Mint took on the boys in the '06 Sprint following her win here, but finished 12th. Sensationally quick California filly Carlsbad makes the TCA awfully interesting when she meets Informed Decision.
Shadwell Turf Mile (Saturday, Keeneland, Mile division)
The Skinny: Miesque's Approval used this race prior to his '06 Mile upset, but that was at Churchill Downs over a similar, sand-based turf course. None of last year's 3 Shadwell Mile alumni ran better than seventh at Oak Tree. In '03, Touchoftheblues came out of this race to run second in the Mile at SA. Top 3-year-old Battle of Hastings comes east for this one to meet rising star Justenuffhumor, Mr. Sidney et al.
Frizette (Saturday, Belmont, Juvenile Fillies division)
The Skinny: Sky Diva's third in the Juvenile Fillies last year as the second betting choice was a representative finish behind local star Stardom Bound. And while Californians have owned this gig at Santa Anita over the years, note that in '03 it was Frizette alumnae Ashado and Victory U.S.A. who finished 2-3 behind Halfbridled. There has been at least one New Yorker in the JF trifecta all 4 years the event has been held at Oak Tree. Matron winner Awesome Maria headlines Saturday.
Oak Tree Mile (Saturday, Oak Tree at Santa Anita, Mile division, ESPN Classic coverage)
The Skinny: Hard to believe, but true, this Grade 2 event has not produced a single starter in the past two BC Mile editions. In 2006, Aragorn won the Oak Tree Mile en route to a runner-up at Churchill; and in 2004 Singletary was third here before winning his BC Mile at Lone Star. From 1999-2001, this race was a must, spring-boarding Mile champs Silic, War Chant and Val Royal in succession. Saturday's race may be its strongest in years, though, with last year's BC Mile third Whatsthescript against speedball Monterrey Jazz and east coaster Cowboy Cal.
Champagne (Saturday, Belmont, Juvenile division)
The Skinny: War Pass represented this race well in the Juvenile two years ago, but last year's lone rep on the all-weather track, Munnings, appeared distance-challenged. Regardless of surface, well-backed alumni of this race have fizzled badly at Santa Anita (see Polish Navy, Dehere, Cuvee). With New York leader D'Funnybone training up to the Juvenile, this one becomes more wide-open. Discreetly Mine, second in the Hopeful, likely goes favored.
Clement Hirsch Turf Championship (Sunday, Oak Tree at Santa Anita, Turf division)
The Skinny: Neither Spring House or Out of Control factored in last year's Turf at Santa Anita, while no one made the trip from here to Monmouth in '08. In fact, since Johar dead-heated for the '03 Turf win at Santa Anita, not a single horse to prep at the Oak Tree meeting has hit the board in the BC Turf. The race seems to have fallen out of favor, though note 3 of the 4 Turf editions at Oak Tree have had a very heavy flavor from this race: '93, '03 winners and the '86 renewal saw locals run 2-3. Spring House returns Saturday, but the most interesting entrant is east coast speed demon Presious Passion, who might love the harder west coast grass courses.
Phoenix (Friday, Keeneland, Sprint division)
The Skinny: Three alumni finished 10th or worse in '06, no one advanced to the '07 Sprint and Sing Baby Sing was sixth of 8 last year. The last horse to prep here and hit the board in the BC was Bet On Sunshine in 2000, while the race has never produced the Sprint victor. But Friday's race easily is the most intriguing Phoenix in memory, boasting last year's BC Sprint runner-up Fatal Bullet against top 3-year-old Capt. Candyman Can.
Yellow Ribbon (Saturday, Oak Tree at Santa Anita, F&M Turf division)
The Skinny: The Yellow Ribbon has never produced the F&M Turf winner, and in recent years second wagering choices Wait A While, Nashoba's Key, Light Jig, Musical Chimes, Banks Hill and Megahertz all have disappointed their backers. This year's event appears soft in comparison with Magical Fantasy, Black Mamba and Rutherienne scheduled.
Bourbon (Sunday, Keeneland, Juvenile Turf division, ESPN coverage)
The Skinny: This race made an immediate name for itself during the inaugural Juvenile Turf in 2007, when runner-up Nownownow rebounded to win and fellow alumnus Gio Ponti finished a very troubled eighth. In just two years, the Juvenile Turf has sported 6 alumni of this race. Todd Pletcher's Interactif could secure his spot as America's lead actor with another score.
Jerome (Sunday, Belmont, Dirt Mile or Sprint division)
The Skinny: Sophomore Silver Train used his home-field edge to win both the Jerome and BC Sprint at Belmont in 2005. Richter Scale failed miserably as the co-favorite in the '97 Sprint coming out of a Jerome win. Given that 4 sophomores contested last year's Dirt Mile and took home 3 of the top 6 placings, you might see more interest for the 3-year-old class this year. Rising star Girolamo meets Jim Dandy champ Kensei in Sunday's showdown.
Woodford (Saturday, Keeneland, Turf Sprint division)
The Skinny: No horse from the inaugural Turf Sprint used the Woodford as a prep, but that figures to change as the Turf Sprint takes hold in its second season. Veteran Fort Prado is among the leading players here.
Grey BC (Sunday, Woodbine, Juvenile division)
The Skinny: Last year's winner, Mine That Bird, may have tanked in the Juvenile, but his story this year certainly legitimizes the Grey's reputation. Macho Uno swept both the Grey and BC Juvenile in 2000, while Dawson's Legacy came out of this race to finish second in the '97 Juvy.
Jamaica (Saturday, Belmont, Mile or Dirt Mile division)
The Skinny: Upgraded to Grade 1 status this year, the Jamaica could swing a few players in several divisions given its 1-1/8 miles distance on grass. Nobiz Like Shobiz romped in this race in '07 before an even fourth in the BC Mile. Artie Schiller won the '04 Jamaica, but was well beaten in his BC Mile debut, before winning it the next year at age 4. There doesn't appear to be that kind of steam here Saturday, but G1 winner Take the Points and G2 winner Courageous Cat are expected.
Gallant Bob (Saturday, Philadelphia Park, Sprint division)
The Skinny: Abbondonza came from this race to set the '04 Sprint pace, as did '02 pacesetter and eventual Sprint runner-up Thunderello. Quality 3-year-old dashers Custom For Carlos, Everyday Heroes and You Luckie Mann are entered.
Mazarine BC (Saturday, Woodbine, Juvenile Fillies division)
The Skinny: Van Lear Rose won the Mazarine last year before finishing sixth at Oak Tree. Dreaming of Anna came from Woodbine, albeit on turf, to win the '06 Juvenile Fillies, while Primaly was the last from the Woodbine main track to light the board on championship day when third in the '97 event at Hollywood Park.
Oklahoma Derby (Sunday, Remington Park, Dirt Mile division)
The Skinny: Moved on the calendar this year, the 1-1/8 miles event and could have a BC starter in California-based Kelly Leak, a potential Dirt Mile contender with a big effort.
Hawthorne Derby (Saturday, Hawthorne Racecourse, Mile division)
The Skinny: Gun Salute was eighth in the 2005 Turf on the stretch-out from his Hawthorne Derby victory. It's a reach to project any of this year's probables into that scenario, though No Inflation exits a career-best in the Kent at Delaware Park.
Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000 and is the managing partner of the handicapping website Horseplayerpro.com. You can E-mail Jeremy about this topic or anything racing-related at Jeremy@Horseplayerpro.com.