The Breeders’ Cup is in the rear-view mirror, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any prime late-season races on the horizon. The end of the year may seem like a racing lull before the calendar flips, but don’t let the last two months of the horse racing season go by without noticing these stellar contests.
Many of these races feature some of 2020’s equine stars along with great duels between up-and-coming horses and established runners. Two of the races provide previews into possible Kentucky Derby contenders.
In chronological order, here are races to keep your eyes – and your handicapping brain – on coming down the 2020 stretch.
Clark, Nov. 27, Churchill Downs
This $500,000, 1-1/8-mile, Grade 1 race headlines Thanksgiving weekend at the Eastern tracks, largely because its winner’s roll includes the likes of Silver Charm, Blame, Shackelford, Wise Dan, and Gun Runner. Tom’s d’Etat won this race last year as a springboard to his stellar 2020. Possibles this year include multiple Grade 1 winner Code of Honor, last year’s runner-up Owendale, and Mr. Freeze. You could also see By My Standards, last seen finishing a poor eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Hollywood Derby, Nov. 28, Del Mar
This is where the 3-year-olds who bypassed the Breeders’ Cup lie in wait. In 2014, California Chrome capped off his Eclipse Award-winning season by winning this 1-1/8-miile turf race. That, after winning the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness Stakes on the dirt. This year, you could see Belmont Derby winner Gufo, Grade 1 winners Decorated Invader and Storm the Court, and stakes-placed Shamrocket.
Kentucky Jockey Club, Nov. 28, Churchill Downs
In a nice piece of foreshadowing on how Churchill Downs disagreed with him, Tiz the Law lost this race last year – his only loss until the Kentucky Derby. This 1-1/16-mile race provides 2-year-olds another showcase on the Derby Trail. Super Saver took the 2009 race five months before he won the 2010 Derby. He was the fifth Jockey Club winner to take the Derby.
Matriarch, Nov. 29, Del Mar
You’ve got 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Newspaperofrecord tangling with the 2019 winner Sharing. Now, throw in Juliet Foxtrot and this mile turf contest for 3-year-olds-and-up fillies and mares lives up to its Grade 1 status. Got Stormy and Uni were your last two winners of this race, further illustrating the field’s quality.
Cigar Mile, Dec. 5, Aqueduct
This celebrated race – won impressively by Maximum Security last year — shapes up to be one of the best of the fall. Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go could go here. So could Tampa Bay Derby winner King Guillermo, who hasn’t run since the Arkansas Derby in May. Stakes winners Firenze Fire and Performer – going for his sixth consecutive win – are likely. And trainer Brad Cox intimated that Monomoy Girl could follow her Breeders’ Cup Distaff win by taking on the boys.
Los Alamitos Futurity, Dec. 19, Los Alamitos
Here’s your second glance at possible 2021 Derby hopefuls. Los Alamitos may be off the A-list Derby Trail, but winners of this race include Real Quiet, Point Given, Into Mischief, Pioneerof The Nile, Violence, Shared Belief, McKinzie, and Improbable. Considering he’s won the last six of these, expect Bob Baffert to play a prominent role, possibly with Spielberg and Classier.
Malibu Stakes, Dec. 26, Santa Anita Park
Horseplayers get to unwrap one of the best sprint races of the year on the Southern California track’s traditional day-after-Christmas opening day. The Grade 1, seven-furlong, free-for-all for 3-year-olds could feature Nashville vs. Charlatan – with a side helping of Independence Hall. Steve Asmussen’s Nashville is 3-for-3 and hasn’t broken a sweat in all three starts. Bob Baffert’s Charlatan was the Kentucky Derby favorite before his injury. And one-time Derby hopeful, Independence Hall, brought new trainer Michael McCarthy an allowance victory last week in his first race in 7½ months.
La Brea Stakes, Dec. 26, Santa Anita Park
If Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint champion Gamine runs again in 2020, here’s where you’ll see her. She’s undefeated around one turn, and the seven-furlong, distaff version of the Malibu provides the Bob Baffert charge the perfect distance and venue. Whether that scares away the connections of fine sprinters like Finite, Venetian Harbor, Frank’s Rockette, Sconsin, or Speech remains to be seen, but if any or all enter, this shapes up to be a monster race. Even without Gamine.