The return of Rich Strike plus 12 Breeders’ Cup events highlight huge horse racing weekend

Grace Ramey/photo@bgdailynews.com

The start of the Keeneland Fall Meet is less than a week away, and that can only mean the 2022 Breeders’ Cup World Championships in Lexington are not far behind.

As the calendar flips to October this weekend, we’ll witness an outbreak of 12 horse races around the globe over the next two days whose winners will earn automatic berths here in November.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series resumes, with seven “win-and-you’re-in” events in the United States and five overseas. Those victors will be part of the 39th annual Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland Nov. 4-5. The Fall Meet at Keeneland takes place Oct. 7-29.

This weekend also features the return of 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike to Churchill Downs for the first time since his stunning victory as an 80-1 long shot on May 7.

Saturday’s $500,000, Grade 2 Lukas Classic is not directly linked to the Breeders’ Cup but because it’s taking place right down the road in Louisville and could conceivably send a contender to Lexington, let’s start there.

Rich Strike, who has not hit the board in his two starts since the Run for the Roses, is the 6-1 fourth choice in a field of six 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles in the Lukas Classic, which is named in honor of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Hot Rod Charlie, who ran third in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and second in this year’s Dubai World Cup, is the 8-5 morning-line favorite for the Lukas.

Art Collector, winner of the 2020 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and a winner of 10 of his 19 career races including his two most recent outings, is second choice at 2-1. Happy Saver, runner-up in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga in August, checks in at 5-2.

Rich Strike, who has run sixth in the Belmont Stakes and fourth in the Travers since his shocking Kentucky Derby win, rounds out the field along with King Fury (15-1) and Chess Chief (20-1).

Churchill Downs is also the site of one of this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series events. Trainer Bill Mott’s Speaker’s Corner is the even-money morning-line favorite for the $300,000, Grade 3 Ack Ack Stakes on Saturday. The winner earns an automatic spot in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 5 at Keeneland.

Aqueduct Racetrack in New York is the site of three Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races this weekend.

On Saturday, trainer Brad Cox’s Verifying is the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the $500,000, Grade 1 Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds, a primer for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4. The Juvenile will provide an early look at the top contenders for the 2023 Kentucky Derby.

Also Saturday, Aqueduct hosts the $200,000, Grade 2 Miss Grillo Stakes, whose winner moves on to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Nov. 4. Irish-bred Be Your Best is the 6-5 favorite in a field of six.

On Sunday, Aqueduct has the $200,000, Grade 2 Pilgrim Stakes, a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and the $400,000, Grade 1 Frizette Stakes, a win-and-you’re-in event for the Juvenile Fillies.

Santa Anita also gets in on the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series with a pair of weekend races. Bob Baffert’s Country Grammer is the 8-5 favorite in a field of eight going 1 1/8 miles in the $300,000, Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday. The winner earns a berth in the signature event of the Breeders’ Cup, the $6 million Classic on Nov. 5.

On Sunday, Santa Anita hosts the $100,000 Speakeasy Stakes, a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.

Taking a look overseas, Longchamp Racecourse in Paris, is the site of this weekend’s other five Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races, all of which take place Sunday. Their winners will deliver contestants to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, the Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Juvenile Turf, the Turf and the Turf Sprint.

Saturday on TV

4:39 p.m.: Miss Grillo Stakes (NBC-18)

4:55 p.m.: Ack Ack Stakes (NBC-18)

5:26 p.m.: Lukas Classic (NBC-18)

5:45 p.m.: Champagne Stakes (NBC-18)

7:08 p.m.: Awesome Again Stakes (FanDuel TV)