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Ten storylines to follow this weekend as the Breeders' Cup returns to Keeneland

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 11/6/2020 By Ben Roberts, Lexington Herald-Leader
a man riding a horse: Florent Geroux aboard Monomoy Girl celebrates after winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff during day two of the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. © Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America/TNS Florent Geroux aboard Monomoy Girl celebrates after winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff during day two of the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Breeders’ Cup is back at Keeneland this weekend. Lexington will host the World Championships of horse racing for the second time, though fans won’t be permitted on track grounds due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

So this second round of the Breeders’ Cup will look a lot different than the event’s debut here five years ago. That’s off the track. On the track, it should be just as exciting, with a Classic field that appears to be among the best in years and some intriguing matchups further down the card.

Here are 10 storylines to follow Friday and Saturday.

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BAFFERT ON THE TRACK

The Hall of Fame trainer has plenty of contenders on both days of racing, but his trio in the $6 million Classic on Saturday evening will get most of the attention. Rightfully so. Bob Baffert has the favorite, Improbable, in that star-studded race. He also has the third choice on the morning line, Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first in last year’s Kentucky Derby and has been dogged by controversy ever since. And don’t forget Authentic, the winner of this year’s Derby and the co-fourth choice in the Classic. Baffert has won this race three times — more than any other trainer in the Breeders’ Cup’s 36-year history. Will he make it four on Saturday?

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BAFFERT OFF THE TRACK

It’s been another year of marquee victories for Baffert, but he’s also been in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Four medication violations in the past seven months have tarnished an already-complicated reputation. Gamine — the heavy favorite in Saturday’s Filly and Mare Sprint — has tested positive twice this year, for lidocaine and betamethasone. There’s still a cloud hanging over 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, who tested positive for scopolamine following that year’s Santa Anita Derby. Baffert released a statement Wednesday morning acknowledging the controversy and vowing to change the way his barn is managed. Whatever happens this weekend, this issue isn’t going away.

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TIZ RETURNS

A bright spot in a trying year, Tiz the Law was the toast of horse racing this spring and summer, with dominant wins in the Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes before falling short as the biggest Kentucky Derby favorite in decades. We haven’t seen him compete since that first Saturday in September, but we’ll see him this Saturday in the Classic, where he’ll get a rematch with Derby winner Authentic and a shot at older stars like Improbable, Maximum Security and Tom’s d’Etat. A victory here would be a fitting end to Tiz’s stellar 2020.

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DISTAFF DUO

Sure, the Classic will be fun. But this year’s Distaff will also give horse racing fans a real treat. It’ll be Monomoy Girl, the 2018 winner of this race and one of the best Thoroughbreds we’ve seen in years vs. Swiss Skydiver, the star filly who beat the boys in the Preakness. Monomoy Girl missed all of last year due to illness and injury. A win Saturday would put an exclamation point on a terrific comeback story. Swiss Skydiver could be one of the sport’s next big stars. This one should be good.

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MCPEEK BREAKS THROUGH?

Lexington-based trainer Kenny McPeek has run 31 horses in Breeders’ Cup races over the years. He has 10 third-place finishes. He has six runners-up. He has zero wins. What a story it would be if the Tates Creek High and University of Kentucky graduate could finally get that first Breeders’ Cup victory at his hometown track. It could happen. McPeek has Swiss Skydiver in the Distaff and 5-2 second-choice Simply Ravishing in Friday’s Juvenile Fillies, as well as three longer shots this weekend. Perhaps this will be McPeek’s year.

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BACK IN TOWN

Saturday’s card will also feature this year’s Blue Grass Stakes winner: Art Collector, who is the 6-1 co-third choice in the Dirt Mile. The 3-year-old colt has local connections — jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., trainer Tommy Drury and owner Bruce Lunsford all have Kentucky ties — and what a treat it would be for that bunch to win a Breeders’ Cup race in Lexington after Art Collector missed out on the Kentucky Derby with a minor injury. He returned to finish fourth in the Preakness, his most recent race.

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A MAGICAL MARE?

Two years ago, Magical almost bested Enable in a thrilling stretch duel featuring two female superstars in the Turf, the Breeders’ Cup’s second-richest race. Magical returns for trainer Aidan O’Brien on Saturday as the 5-2 favorite in the 1 1/2-mile race and looks to put her name next to her former rival as just the fifth female winner of the Turf, which always attracts an international field of stars — this year being no exception. O’Brien has won this race a record six times, and he also has 4-1 second-choice Mogul on Saturday.

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WIDE-OPEN MILE

The Breeders’ Cup can be a gambler’s delight with big fields and quality horses at relatively long odds. But that makes finding the winner in such scenarios all the tougher. Perhaps there’s no better example of that this weekend than the Mile, an absolutely packed race with 14 contenders — none of whom are any shorter than 4-1 on the morning line. The slight favorite is Ivar, a Brazilian-bred colt who won the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last month. Six horses in the field have odds of 8-1 or shorter, and there are some accomplished long shots. Have fun, handicappers.

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DERBY 2021

It’s never too early for Kentucky Derby talk, and the buzz will be elevated after Friday’s Juvenile, a race that rarely produces the Derby winner but always generates some early talking points. The Steve Asmussen-trained Jackie’s Warrior is the undefeated favorite. Other contenders include Brad Cox’s Essential Quality and Chad Brown’s Reinvestment Risk, with trainers like Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Doug O’Neill and Dale Romans bringing some longer shots. Six Derby winners have first raced in the Juvenile. Will we see a seventh Friday?

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WATCHING FROM AFAR

Fans won’t be allowed at Keeneland this weekend due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but track officials are promising “the most robust on-site production of any horse racing event ever” to appease those watching at home. Dozens of television cameras and some unique angles will be available to those who view the races on NBC and want to see even more on BreedersCup.com. It should be quite a show.

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2020 BREEDERS’ CUP

What: World Championships of Thoroughbred horse racing, including 14 races over two days

When: Friday and Saturday

Where: Keeneland Race Course in Lexington (no spectators)

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©2020 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

Visit the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) at www.kentucky.com

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