Saturday is arguably the biggest day of the year in horse racing. It’s the second day of the Breeders’ Cup, and nine Grade 1 races are on tap, most with year-end championship implications. Furthermore, even the sport’s top horses will be bettable prices (most of them, anyway), which gives the event an extra layer of intrigue. I’ll preview all nine Breeders’ Cup races below, and hopefully, we can work our way to a nice score!
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES
Right away, we’re met with a real head-scratcher. The Juvenile Fillies drew a field of 13 2-year-olds, and there are reasons to like most of them. Furthermore, a few of the betting favorites wound up with post positions that were, to be kind, less than ideal.
I’ll get to a few of them in a moment, but my top pick is #7 MOONSHINE MEMORIES. She’s 3-for-3 in her career, and two of those wins came in Grade 1 races. Her first two-turn effort was a sharp one, as she was comfortably best in the Chandelier at Santa Anita. Additionally, when trainer Simon Callaghan gets a horse good, they tend to stay good. Over the past year (through Wednesday), he’s 8-for-17 with last-out winners on dirt, and she’s worked as though more improvement is in the cards on Saturday.
#1 HEAVENLY LOVE and #13 SEPARATIONOFPOWERS also won important prep races, but they’ll bookend the field after getting the worst of Monday’s never-ending post position draw (shoutout to friend Ed DeRosa, who quipped that they’d brought back the Breeders’ Cup Marathon and renamed it the Breeders’ Cup post position draw!). Both can win, but of this pair, I prefer Separationofpowers, who was very green but still powered away late in the Grade 1 Frizette. She runs like a horse that wants two turns, and if Jose Ortiz can save even a bit of ground early and keep this daughter of Candy Ride out of trouble, she can certainly win.
The wild card in this race (to me, at least), is #11 WONDER GADOT, one of three in here for trainer Mark Casse. She’s 2-for-3 and took a major step forward in winning the Grade 3 Mazarine. The caveat here is that she’s never run on dirt, but her works on dirt at Churchill have been quite good. It would not be a shock if she takes to this surface, one that can be very kind to the early speed she’s shown she possesses.
BREEDERS’ CUP TURF SPRINT
The Turf Sprint has drawn some of the fastest horses in the world to go five furlongs. This includes some sharp European invaders, and your favorite is a horse that has made seven starts across three countries.
That’s #3 LADY AURELIA, and when she’s right, she’s probably the top turf sprinter on the planet. Her effort two back at Ascot in the Group 1 King’s Stand was sensational, and she did everything but win last time out in the Group 1 Nunthorpe. She has plenty of tactical speed but does not need the lead, and all signs point to her sitting a dream trip.
This race, though, features a rematch with #6 MARSHA, who won the Nunthorpe head-bob before finishing second in a Group 1 at Chantilly. She’s incredibly consistent, with 15 top-three finishes in 17 lifetime starts, and her best race is certainly good enough to win this (especially given the addition of Lasix in her North American debut).
Of the horses that have spent most of the year in the U.S., I most like #1 DISCO PARTNER, who has won four of five starts this year. The lone defeat came in the Grade 1 Fourstardave, which was run over a very wet turf course at Saratoga going much longer than he wants to go. The rail draw does not scare me one bit, and in fact, it could be an advantage. Deep closers are traditionally up against it going five furlongs, and this could mean Irad Ortiz Jr. keeps him a bit closer to the pace out of the gate.
Of the horses that may get bet a bit in here, the one I want no part of is #12 PURE SENSATION. If this race were contested at Parx, where he’s been flat-out unbeatable sprinting on turf, he’d be one of the favorites. However, this is a far different surface, and horses breaking from the far outside in Del Mar turf sprints traditionally do not do well. He’s got some speed, but if he goes too fast early on, it probably compromises him turning for home. As such, he’s a bet-against for me at his likely price.
BREEDERS’ CUP FILLY & MARE SPRINT
One of the shortest favorites of the day runs in the Filly & Mare Sprint. While that favorite is my top pick, I don’t think she’s unbeatable, and there may be room for a few prices in the exotics.
#11 UNIQUE BELLA has been sensational, winning her last five starts. She was sidelined for much of the year, but she came back running with a win in last month’s Grade 3 L.A. Woman. Her workouts have been jaw-dropping, and all signs are that she’s ready to go ahead of her biggest test to date.
However, there are reasons to think that she may not be a cinch. Her Beyer Speed Figures don’t tower over this group, although part of that is because of how easily she’s won and how Mike Smith has geared down on her. With that said, he had to ask her in the L.A. Woman, and it’s not like that was a stellar group she beat that day. I’m using her, but I’m not singling her.
#9 FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM had every excuse to run poorly in the Grade 2 TCA at Keeneland. She broke poorly and rated behind slow early fractions that day, but she still found a way to win. She’s 9-for-12 lifetime with two second-place finishes, and 6-1 seems like an overlay for a horse with her talent.
There are several other contenders, especially if you’re looking for “underneath” horses. #2 PAULASSILVERLINING’s race in the Grade 1 Ballerina was too bad to be true, #8 CONSTELLATION goes to Bob Baffert’s barn and could sit a stalking trip at a great price, and #12 SKYE DIAMONDS hasn’t been beaten in five one-turn outings this season. Yes, Unique Bella is a deserving favorite, but I feel like there are ways to find value in this spot.
BREEDERS’ CUP FILLY & MARE TURF
Due to the configuration of Del Mar, this year’s Filly & Mare Turf will be run at a mile and an eighth, as opposed to its usual distance of a mile and a quarter. This benefits a likely favorite immensely, and the draw also helped that one, too.
Of course, I’m referring to #9 LADY ELI, one of the best stories in racing. She can write an improbable ending Saturday with a win in this race, one that seems likely given her recent form. It’s not like she’s incapable of running well at a mile and a quarter, but she’s probably better going a mile and an eighth. If that was last year’s distance, she probably holds off #10 QUEEN’S TRUST, who nailed her on the wire and returns in search of her second straight Breeders’ Cup victory.
Del Mar’s turf course is a bit quirky, and the horses who like it REALLY like it. With that in mind, I think #6 CAMBODIA merits a long look at a nice price. She won both the Yellow Ribbon and John C. Mabee earlier this year over this turf course, and while this spot represents a class test, it’s clear she does her best running here. At her likely price, I’ll at the very least want her on some of my tickets.
The big loser at the post position draw was #14 RHODODENDRON, who will somehow need to work out a trip from the far outside. Essentially, this is a three-turn race given the chute that the field will exit before coming under the wire the first time, so the far-outside post is unfortunate for this one’s camp. With that in mind, she may very well be talented enough to overcome it. She ran second to top-class fillies Enable and Winter in separate Group 1 races earlier this year before breaking through and nabbing such a win in last month’s Prix de l’Opera. If you’re playing exotics, I still think this talented 3-year-old is a must-use.
BREEDERS’ CUP SPRINT
I think this is the most wide-open race of Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup slate. A logical case can be made for as many as seven of the 10 horses signed on, and I’m very thankful that the folks in power kept this race out of the late Pick Four, as it probably would’ve been an “ALL” race for me. It IS the payoff leg of the early Pick Four, and that fact makes that wager very tricky.
#2 DREFONG won this race last year, and he seems like every bit the horse he was 12 months ago. His erratic behavior in the Bing Crosby is a red flag, but he was extremely impressive when romping in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga. Is that enough to make me think he’s a cinch here? Not even close.
We don’t have any idea how good #10 IMPERIAL HINT is. He’s won his last five races and stopped the timer in 1:07 and change when last seen in September. Can he respond to the jump in class and the change in location? #8 ROY H has won four of his last five, and his lone defeat in that stretch was a tough-luck second in the Bing Crosby when he was hindered by a rider-less Drefong. The winner of that race was #9 RANSOM THE MOON, who may have needed his clunker in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship and has worked well since then.
But wait! There’s more. #7 TAKAFUL’s lone loss around one turn came in the Grade 1 Allen Jerkens, and he rebounded from that with a sharp win in the Grade 1 Vosburgh when rating behind talented sprinter El Deal. Furthermore, #5 WHITMORE and #6 MIND YOUR BISCUITS were both highly-regarded earlier in the year, and both could benefit from a pace meltdown (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility given the early speed that’s signed on).
See how one could find this race challenging? I wouldn’t be stunned if Drefong won by daylight, but I also wouldn’t be surprised with any number of other scenarios.
BREEDERS’ CUP MILE
The late Pick Four starts here, and it boasts a guaranteed pool of $3 million. I’d be a fool not to take a shot, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that this race seems like the most likely in the sequence to feature a big price in the winner’s circle.
#10 RIBCHESTER is squarely the one to beat. He’s won three prestigious Group 1 races overseas, and he generally runs the same high-class race every time out, as evidenced by 14 top-three finishes in 15 career starts. His lone start over anything close to a firm turf course this year was a win in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, and if he’s ready to run, he’ll be tough.
Having said that, this will be Ribchester’s third race in three different countries in less than two months. If he turns out to be over the top, the door is wide open for an upset. With the race shape setting up for a closer, my second selection is #8 SUEDOIS, who capitalized on a similar scenario last month in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. They flew home over a pretty slow turf course that day, and while he’s done solid work sprinting on turf, there’s evidence that says he may have been a miler all along. He’s 2-for-3 with a second-place finish in starts at eight furlongs, and given the likely fast pace, I think he’s got a big chance.
It wouldn’t be terribly shocking to see #5 WORLD APPROVAL win. He’s won four of his last five starts, and that stretch includes decisive wins in a pair of Grade 1 races at a mile. He’ll likely get first run at the leaders turning for home, and a repeat of the Woodbine Mile would put him right there. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s because the early pace may be quick enough to fry anyone close to it. Additionally, Woodbine form sometimes does not travel well. That’s a one-turn mile with a very long stretch run, and this race is a two-turn affair with a short stretch. It’s a minor strike against him, but it’s worth noting.
In playing my late Pick Four, I want closers that could come flying in the event of a pace meltdown. That includes #4 LANCASTER BOMBER, #7 OM, and #11 BALLAGH ROCKS, all of whom should be going the right way late. I’ll also throw in #12 ROLY POLY, who’s won three of his last four (with all of those races being Group 1 events at a mile) and goes out for the powerful duo of Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore. That’s seven of 14, and I haven’t even touched on #1 MIDNIGHT STORM, #2 HEART TO HEART, or #13 BLACKJACKCAT, all of whom are talented enough to win on their respective best days but may not get a scenario conducing such an effort. Midnight Storm and Heart to Heart figure to duke it out early, while Blackjackcat has to negotiate a trip from the 13-hole.
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE
Hey, Breeders’ Cup? You know what we handicappers could really use? How about a race with a consensus single, one that would need to regress considerably off of his best effort in order to lose? Think you could make that happen?
Oh, hey, here we are with the shortest-priced favorite of the entire weekend! That’s #11 BOLT D’ORO, who will likely be shorter than his 9/5 morning line odds in the Juvenile. He’s 3-for-3 and was supremely impressive in the Grade 1 FrontRunner, where he stormed away to win by nearly eight lengths in a very fast time. He earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure that day, and only one other horse in the race, #3 FIRENZE FIRE, has earned as high as a 90.
Bolt d’Oro would probably need to regress in order to lose, and one of the others would likely need to run a new career-best as well. Is that impossible? No, but it’s pretty unlikely. Bolt d’Oro will be a single for me (and, I imagine, for many others) in the late Pick Four, and if he doesn’t win, I lose.
If you’re hell-bent on playing this race in vertical wagers, the one I’m intrigued by for “underneath” purposes is #1 U S NAVY FLAG, who has established himself as Europe’s top 2-year-old following three consecutive graded stakes wins. He’s never tried dirt before, but his last-out Timeform Rating of 112 translates pretty well to this event and he gets Lasix for the first time. If you think Bolt d’Oro can’t lose and want a bit of a price underneath for a Dave Weaver-style “ice cold exacta,” U S Navy Flag may be worth a shot.
BREEDERS’ CUP TURF
This race was marred by the scratch of #5 ULYSSES, who may have gone off as the favorite. He was fourth in this race last year and seems to have gotten better since then. With his scratch, another European looks much more imposing.
#3 HIGHLAND REEL won this race last year thanks to a heads-up, aggressive ride. Some have said he’s taken a step back this year, but I don’t agree with that assessment. Highland Reel has always done his best running over firmer ground. He’s run five times this year. Only twice this year has he caught ground rated “good” or better, and on both occasions, he’s won Group 1 races. He goes second off the layoff in here, and I think he’s every bit the horse he was a season ago when he went wire-to-wire.
Of the Americans, I most prefer #12 BEACH PATROL, who may have wanted to run marathon races all along. He romped in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont last time out, earning a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 109 in the process. Some regression is possible, and if you’re playing a skinnier Pick Four ticket, I could understand leaving him off. However, he’s the last horse I’m throwing onto mine. I simply can’t justify leaving a Chad Brown trainee that finally seems to have put it all together off of this ticket.
BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, this is your main event. $6 million is on the line in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which doubles as the likely spot where a Horse of the Year will be crowned. Bob Baffert has four in here, including 2016 Classic winner #1 ARROGATE, while Steve Asmussen will saddle #5 GUN RUNNER, who has won his last five stateside starts and was a strong second behind Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup.
I’m not getting cute. I’m using the two horses I mentioned in the late Pick Four, and of the two, I narrowly prefer Gun Runner. The son of Candy Ride has never been better than he is right now, and while he has tactical speed, he can sit off the early leaders and make his move turning for home. The classic distance of a mile and a quarter is a bit of an unknown, but it’s not as much of a problem as it could be. Del Mar’s track configuration is such that the stretch is very short compared to other tracks, and as such, horses that may not get 10 furlongs elsewhere can sometimes get it where the turf meets the surf.
Gun Runner gets my top pick, but I’ll be covered if Arrogate channels his previous form. The rail draw does not concern me, as he won the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup from a similar post. His lack of an affinity for Del Mar is a concern, for sure, but it isn’t like he ran a horrible race in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. He earned a 114 Beyer Speed Figure that day, and a similar performance likely puts him right there in this spot.
Of the others who may get bet, the one I do not want any part of on top is #11 COLLECTED. Yes, he won the Pacific Classic at this route. However, there’s other early speed in here, and he won’t have nearly as easy a trip as he did that day. This is a significantly tougher group, and in seeking out key stats, I found a big negative one. Per DRF Formulator, Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia are 0-for-20 together over the past six months with horses going off at odds of 4-1 or higher. That’s a damning statistic, and while I could see Collected hanging on for a piece of it, I’ll be pretty stunned if he fends off all comers once again.
PICK FOUR TICKETS
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #5
60 Bets, $30
I constructed this ticket to where I could hit the “ALL” button in the Sprint without breaking the bank. Unfortunately, this means I could not include Cambodia in the Filly & Mare Turf. I think she’s got a real shot, but Lady Eli is my top pick, and I feel more comfortable singling her than Unique Bella. If you don’t mind spending an extra $30 (or can narrow the Sprint down), Cambodia is the one I’d encourage you to use, and I will be hedging with her in doubles.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9
56 Bets, $28
If the Mile is formful, this may not pay much. What I’m banking on is that the $3 million pool will guarantee a reasonable return on investment, even with the consensus single (Bolt d’Oro) in the second leg. With some luck, we’ll get a price home in the Mile, the rest of the sequence will be formful, and we’ll wind up with a nice score.