What Are The Best Horse Races To Catch Before Christmas?

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Author: Lindsay Griffin

The Breeders’ Cup races are a memory, and next year’s Triple Crown trail has several months before it begins in earnest. What’s a racing fan to do?

Well, as it turns out, there’s a lot of racing between now and 2023. So, in case you want to watch horse racing today you might be lucky. 

Though the Breeders’ Cup races settled several championships and sealed Flightline as our Horse of the Year, there are some year-end titles that are still up for grabs, and many of next year’s potential stars are still waiting in the wings. 

Here are some races that you will definitely want to watch (and bet, via Twinspires.com) this winter.

Grade I Clark Stakes (November 25, Churchill Downs)

One of the Eclipse Awards that is still up for debate is that of three-year-old champion male. Although many believe that the now-retired Epicenter is the de facto leader of the crop, there are two races on this list that could change several voters’ opinions.

The first of these is the Clark Handicap, which Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike looks to use to stake his championship claim. Since shocking the world with his come-from-behind Derby victory, Rich Strike has run well in several good races (including a close runner-up finish against the older Hot Rod Charlie in the Grade II Lukas Classic), but has yet to win again. 

The Clark Handicap, in which he will face older horses for the third time, looks to be a good spot for him; he has already proven a liking for the Churchill Downs surface, and the 1 ⅛ mile distance is no hindrance.

Grade III Comely Stakes (November 25, Aqueduct)

This race looks to be the return for Kathleen O, a talented three-year-old filly who hasn’t been seen on the racetrack since suffering her only career loss in the Kentucky Oaks. Kathleen O, who is by Upstart out of the stakes-placed Blame mare Quaver, had previously won the Cash Run Stakes, the Grade II Davona Dale Stakes, and the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, all at Gulfstream Park. 

However, she won her debut race over seven furlongs at Aqueduct, and although the Comely is two furlongs longer, a win over the surface is always a positive. Her trainer, Shug McGaughey, has had this race in mind for her since July. She has been training in New York over the summer, and looks ready to run after her break. 

Grade I Cigar Mile Handicap (December 3, Aqueduct)

Like Rich Strike, talented three-year-olds Zandon and White Abarrio have been running well in good races without winning them. Although the Eclipse Award is likely out of reach for both of them at this point, both colts could use the Cigar Mile to stamp themselves as standouts for the 2023 season. 

Zandon, a Chad Brown-trained son of Upstart, has had eight career starts. Only two have been wins- his debut and the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes- but in the remaining six races, he has never been worse than a third. Those remaining six races have all been graded stakes races as well, and they include not only the Kentucky Derby but Grade Is in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby.

White Abarrio, Saffie Joseph Jr.’s star son of Race Day, has yet to win since leaving Florida; however, he has shown promise, particularly when running second to Tawny Port in the Grade III Ohio Derby. He looks to use the Cigar Mile to not only rebuild his own reputation, but that of his trainer, whom many dismiss as a Gulfstream Park specialist only.

Grade I Malibu Stakes (December 26th, Santa Anita Park)

Okay, okay- I know that this list was meant for races *before* Christmas, but last year’s Malibu was such a perfect predictor for 2022 that I just had to include it as a race to watch.

Prior to the 2021 Malibu, Flightline was a beautifully bred colt with a lot of potentials, but he lacked experience at the upper echelons of racing and was hardly a household name. The Malibu Stakes put him on the map, however, as the son of Tapit went gate to wire and demolished the field by 11 ½ widening lengths. 

It was a promise of good things to come in 2022, not just from Flightline but from racing in general. If this year’s edition, which looks to be headlined by graded stakes winners Slow Down Andy, Forbidden Kingdom, and championship-hopeful multiple Grade I winner Taiba, is even half as good, it will certainly be a race worth making time for.