Friday is the first day of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup, and in a lot of ways, the four championship races on tap represent the best of what the event is supposed to offer. With big, talented fields going postward that include some of the top horses in training, it makes for a fun Pick Four sequence, as well as four races with standalone wagering value.
These previews, needless to say, will be a bit more substantial than what you’ve seen from me in the past. I’ll have a Pick Four ticket at the end, but given the subject matter, I feel it appropriate to expound on each race. With that being said, here we go!
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
Five of Europe’s top 2-year-old fillies have come across the pond for this one, and the invaders are led by #2 HAPPILY. She comes in off a pair of Group 1 races, including one against the boys at Chantilly. Only one other European filly in this field can approach her top Timeform rating of 105, and if Happily runs her usual race, she’ll be tough to beat.
The most-bet American runner will probably be #11 RUSHING FALL. She’s 2-for-2, and the Chad Brown trainee most recently captured the Grade 3 Jessamine with a huge late move. She rallied from twelfth to win going away, and there appears to be plenty of pace signed on here. This is a much tougher field than what she’s faced in the past, but based on numbers and the likely race shape, she’s a must-use.
There’s a bigger price signed on that I think merits consideration as well. #6 ORBOLUTION is 20-1 on the morning line, but she’d have been less than half of that if this race was held before the Miss Grillo, and in that race, she had a sneaky-awful trip. She’s a smaller filly who had shined going two turns, but in that one-turn race, she was between horses throughout and clearly intimidated. She tried that day, but it wasn’t her ideal trip or route of ground. She gets a two-turn trip today, and 20-1 is way too big a price.
BREEDERS’ CUP DIRT MILE
The big question here is this: Which version of #6 MOR SPIRIT do we get? His Met Mile win was one of the best races we’ve seen all year long, but he hasn’t run since. A repeat of that effort probably means everyone else is running for second money. However, if he’s not ready, that opens the door for another runner in what turned out to be a pretty salty field.
#8 ACCELERATE is incredibly logical. He’s 3-for-4 at Del Mar, and his lone local loss came in the Pacific Classic, when he chased Collected and Arrogate going longer than he wants to go. There’s no doubt he does his best running over this surface, and his last two workouts indicate that he seems to be ready to fire his best shot.
The other logical horse is #3 SHARP AZTECA. He’s cruised to two straight wins since running a distant second behind Mor Spirit in the Met Mile, although it’s worth noting that he hasn’t beaten much in either of those races. However, I put him behind my top two because of the likely race shape. There’s other early speed signed on, including Mor Spirit’s stablemate, #7 CUPID. Sharp Azteca’s best race puts him right there, but in constructing a multi-race wager during cards like these, you need to take stands somewhere. As such, I’m leaving him off of most of my tickets.
I’m also against #10 PRACTICAL JOKE, who’ll likely get some play. In the defense of the multiple Grade 1 winner, though, it’s not his fault that he was caught between two Breeders’ Cup races. The Sprint’s six-furlong distance is a bit short for him, but this year’s Dirt Mile is a two-turn route, which he’s shown isn’t his best game. He could rally for a piece of it, but I’m looking elsewhere on top.
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE TURF
If you’re constructing a Pick Four ticket, my advice is to take a stand somewhere. Why? Because, for my money, the Juvenile Turf is the most wide-open race of the entire two-day event, and I think you may need to hit the “ALL” button here. I wish I could tell you that I had some kind of confidence in something here. The truth is, I don’t, so instead, I’ll recommend two big prices that I feel merit consideration.
#3 SANDS OF MALI comes over from Europe, and he ran a clunker last time out in a Group 1 behind U S Navy Flag (who we’ll see in Saturday’s Juvenile on dirt). However, he was very sharp in two races before that, including one where he earned a 104 Timeform rating. There’s a very real chance his last-out effort was simply a bounce off a new career-best, and I like that he’s shown tactical speed. This race doesn’t appear to have a lot of early pace signed on, so that gives him a potential advantage if Flavien Prat gets him on or near the lead out of the gate. He’s 30-1 on the morning line, and I think that’s too big a price. If I play a contest on this card, chances are I’ll use him and hope for the best.
#4 CATHOLIC BOY, meanwhile, is 2-for-2 and pulled off a 12-1 upset in a Grade 3 last time out. Jonathan Thomas isn’t a household name, but he’s a former Todd Pletcher assistant who has won 30% of his starts this season. His local work on October 29th was very good, and further progression would make this 12-1 shot a major player.
BREEDERS’ CUP DISTAFF
Friday’s main event is the Distaff, and this could settle the races for several Eclipse Awards. #2 STELLAR WIND and #6 FOREVER UNBRIDLED are the leaders among older female horses, while #4 ABEL TASMAN, #5 ELATE, and #7 PARADISE WOODS could secure 3-year-old filly honors with a victory here.
Personally, I’m of the belief that this year’s group of 3-year-old fillies is subpar. Abel Tasman’s recent middle moves raise a big red flag, while Elate was bred up and down for the 10-furlong Alabama and didn’t beat much in the Beldame while running pretty slowly for the level. Of the 3-year-old fillies in this race, the only one I think has a significant shot is Paradise Woods, and that’s because of the race shape. There isn’t much other early speed here, and over a track that’s traditionally very kind to early speed, that one could be a formidable foe if she’s allowed to coast on an easy lead.
However, she’s not my top pick. That distinction goes to Stellar Wind, who has never lost at Del Mar. She’s 3-for-3 over this track and could sit an ideal stalking trip just off the early speed. I have a great deal of respect for Forever Unbridled, but she may be left with too much to do late given the race shape and track tendencies. With all things considered, I’m singling Stellar Wind and hoping she runs her usual Del Mar race.
PICK FOUR TICKET
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6
84 Bets, $42
My thinking here is that Stellar Wind, who is 5/2 on the morning line, almost certainly won’t go off above 3-1. If I’m alive going into the last leg, at worst, those are the odds I’ll get (given how wide-open the Juvenile Turf is). If a price comes in in the third leg and/or Orbolution wins the Juvenile Fillies Turf, I could potentially be alive to a nice, nice score.
There are other ways to make money on the card. For instance, the favorite in the Juvenile Fillies Turf is 7/2, which means exacta wagers could pay well if you’ve got a few horses to key in on. Additionally, if you can narrow down the Juvenile Turf to a few horses, playing doubles starting and ending there could be fruitful given the chaotic odds board we’re likely to see. Simply put, it’s a really good four-race sequence, and hopefully it sets the table for plenty of fireworks on Saturday.