09/23/2015 11:02AM

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile could be West Coast affair

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Benoit & Associates
Nyquist has won the Grade 2 Best Pal and the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity (above).

West Coast-based horses have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in seven of the last 13 years, including the last two with Texas Red and New Year’s Day. Though it’s still early, that trend of West Coast domination could very well continue in the $2 million Juvenile at Keeneland on Oct. 31.

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West Coast horses have dominated the significant stakes races run this year, with Nyquist taking the Grade 2 Best Pal and Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity in Southern California and his stablemate Ralis having upset the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga. Both of those horses are trained by Doug O’Neill, who won the 2005 Juvenile with Stevie Wonderboy.

For good measure, Exaggerator, fifth to Nyquist in a June 5 maiden race at Santa Anita, shipped across the country to win the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in August. Exaggerator is trained by Keith Desormeaux, who won last year’s Juvenile with 13-1 shot Texas Red.

Nyquist, Ralis, and Exaggerator will be among the favorites for the trio of Grade 1 2-year-old races to be run over the next two weekends, which figure to define the field for the 32nd Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race that has produced 23 of the last 31 2-year-old male champions.

Nyquist, a son of 2010 Juvenile winner and champion Uncle Mo, will be favored in Saturday’s Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita. The winner of the FrontRunner – last year it was American Pharoah – earns an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Champagne, at Belmont, and the Breeders’ Futurity, at Keeneland, both on Oct. 3, also are Win and You’re In races for the Juvenile.

In the FrontRunner, Nyquist will be running back just 19 days after his victory in the Del Mar Futurity, but O’Neill preferred that quick turnaround to waiting another week and shipping to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Futurity.

“I like the thought of stretching him out in our own backyard, and if all goes well, we have five weeks to the Breeders’ Cup,” O’Neill said.

Entries for the FrontRunner were to be taken Wednesday. Nyquist’s challengers figured to include Swipe, twice a runner-up to Nyquist in graded stakes; Hollywood Don, who tries dirt for the first time after going 2 for 3 on turf; Blameitonthelaw, who adds blinkers after running third to Nyquist in the Del Mar Futurity; and Justin Squared, a first-out maiden winner for trainer Bob Baffert and Ahmed Zayat, the connections of American Pharoah. On Fire and Who’s Out also were expected to run.

Next week, O’Neill will again send Ralis to New York for the Grade 1 Champagne. O’Neill said the horse traveled so well to New York for the Hopeful that he thought it was a good idea to do it again, and he liked the continuity of keeping Javier Castellano aboard the horse.

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There was no dominant 2-year-old male to come out of Saratoga. In fact, one could argue that the top three juvenile males were all New York-breds. Championofthenile, Get Jets, and Sudden Surprise are all nominated to the Champagne but are likely to run in Sunday’s $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard Stakes for statebreds going seven furlongs at Belmont Park.

If all three run in the Bongard, the $500,000 Champagne could come up a bit light. Maiden winners Greenpointcrusader, Ready Dancer, Sail Ahoy, and Tale of S’avall are among those pointing to the one-mile race.

The Champagne will be run the same day as the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, a race that is around two turns and over the track on which the Juvenile will be run. Exaggerator stayed in New York following the Saratoga Special and then shipped to Churchill Downs to train earlier this month.

The Breeders’ Futurity figures to come up with a large field that is expected to include Mt Veeder, a stakes winner for Baffert, and Sticksstatelydude, a highly regarded maiden winner at Saratoga who had to scratch from the Hopeful after developing a temperature.

Meanwhile, Cocked and Loaded, the winner of the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill, will head to Keeneland next week to begin training toward the Juvenile, trainer Larry Rivelli said.