The 2018 Breeders’ Cup is upon us. The first of two days of action at Churchill Downs consists of five 2-year-old races, and several of the fields make for real puzzles.
This year’s analysis features insight on my top selections, as well as multi-race tickets for certain sequences and single-race betting strategies for those on a budget. There are prices that come in every year in these races, and hopefully, we’ll be able to catch a few of them.
Here we go!
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE TURF SPRINT
We kick things off with a race few people seemed to ask for, yet one that was miles better than the idea of a Breeders’ Cup Derby and an event staggered over several months (it is our duty as horse racing fans to never, ever, ever forget how dumb those concepts were). This race drew a field of 12, and many of the top contenders are ones coming from across the pond.
I’d be pretty surprised if the 9/2 morning line odds hold up on #2 SOLDIER’S CALL, because he seems like the class of the field. Through seven career starts, he’s yet to run a bad race, and he won a pair of graded stakes races before finishing a close-up third in a Group 1 at Longchamp in France. He’ll get Lasix in this race, which often moves European runners up considerably, and he should be in the mix from the get-go. If he runs the type of race he’s run in Europe, he’ll be tough to beat.
If he doesn’t, though, I think there’s room for a price. Of the American-based runners, I’m most interested in #4 STILLWATER COVE, who cuts back in distance after running a deceptively good race in the Grade 1 Natalma at Woodbine. She led going into Woodbine’s ridiculously long stretch, but faded to fifth in the final furlong. This distance, which she won at two starts ago at Saratoga, should be much more to her liking, and it doesn’t hurt that that day’s rider is back aboard in this race. She’s one of four in here trained by Wesley Ward, and his quartet also includes Royal Ascot winner #7 SHANG SHANG SHANG, who hasn’t run since that event. Having said that, she’s worked well ahead of her return to the races and certainly seems like one of the likely pace-setters in here.
Many of my secondary runners are European imports. Aidan O’Brien will saddle both #8 SERGEI PROKOFIEV and #10 SO PERFECT, and neither would be a shock (though I think it’s telling that Ryan Moore lands on the former following his Group 3 triumph at Newmarket). Having said that, the one I may be most intrigued by, especially given the likelihood for a softer turf course, is #11 QUEEN OF BERMUDA. On firmer going, this filly isn’t anything special. However, she moves way up on a wet turf course, and was just a length behind So Perfect earlier this year over “good to soft” going at Chantilly. Keep her in mind if the skies open up this week, especially given the presence of Flavien Prat and the chance that she’ll be a huge price compared to some of her fellow invaders.
Finally, while I don’t love morning line favorite #1 STRIKE SILVER or #9 CHELSEA CLOISTERS, I feel the need to at least use them as C horses. The former hasn’t run a bad race in three lifetime starts, but I’m not crazy about the race he exits at Keeneland (which seemed to fall apart late). Meanwhile, the latter has run well in her last three starts, but hasn’t won since her debut at Keeneland and almost certainly needs to step it up from a figure perspective.
Betting on a Budget
I’ll use Soldier’s Call in exactas above and below my A and B horses. Additionally, if the turf course comes up wet, I’ll throw an across-the-board bet on Queen of Bermuda, since her likely price will almost certainly be an overlay.
$2 exacta part wheel: 2 w/4,7,8,10,11 ($10)
$1 exacta part wheel: 4,7,8,10,11 w/2 ($5)
$2 WPS: 11 ($6)
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
One of the heavier favorites of the weekend will run here. That’s #6 NEWSPAPEROFRECORD, the Chad Brown trainee that has looked exceptional in a pair of victories in New York. She has ample tactical speed in a race that otherwise seems pretty light on it, and from a Beyer Speed Figure standpoint, she towers over her American counterparts. Only two other runners in the field have Beyers of higher than 78, and she’s never run worse than that. A repeat of the Grade 2 Miss Grillo would make her tough, and improvement would make her very formidable.
Of the Europeans coming across the Atlantic to take her on, I most prefer #3 LILY’S CANDLE, who has improved with every start and most recently captured a Group 1 at Longchamp. She overcame a bit of trouble that day when rated off the pace, and she’s 2-for-2 at a mile, so we know the distance won’t be a problem. We’re likely to get somewhere close to the 8-1 morning line price, and that hits me as a bit of an overlay given the talent she’s shown.
The Euro that’s most likely to be bet is #4 JUST WONDERFUL, an Aidan O’Brien trainee that exits a Group 2 score at Newmarket. She’s shown a strong turn of foot, and her best race makes her a contender, but I’m concerned about the likely race shape. She may need more pace than she figures to get, and while the connections merit respect, I’m more partial to Lily’s Candle, who has shown more of an ability to be close to the pace.
If you have the budget to go deeper, there are a few potential prices to consider. #5 LA PELOSA rallied from way back to take the Grade 1 Natalma in her North American debut, while #12 SUMMERING has worked very well since a disappointing showing at Santa Anita and should be forwardly placed. Finally, #1 CONCRETE ROSE is 2-for-2 to this point in her career, and while I’m not crazy about the group she beat in the Grade 2 Jessamine, it’s not out of the question to think she’ll be fairly close to a moderate early pace given the rail draw.
Betting on a Budget
I’ll box my A and B horses in exactas, and throw those horses on top of the two longshots I put in my third tier in smaller exactas as a saver play.
$3 exacta box: 3,4,6 ($18)
$1 exactas: 3,4,6 with 5,12 ($6)
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES
I found this race to be the most puzzling of the Friday quintet. None of the favorites give me too much confidence, and of the horses that will likely be bigger prices, only one really piques my interest.
That longshot is #8 SIPPICAN HARBOR, who has been training up to this race since a smashing win in the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga. While the first quarter-mile of that race was swift, the interior splits actually weren’t that fast, so her last-to-first rally wasn’t entirely the result of a race totally falling apart. I wish Joel Rosario had kept the mount, but Irad Ortiz, Jr., is no slouch, and there’s a lot of speed signed on in a race with many runners that have questions about how far they want to go. If nothing else, this one will be going the right direction late, and that could be enough.
Of the shorter prices, the one I like most is #4 RESTLESS RIDER, who exits a win in the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland. She’s yet to run a bad race, and she’s bred to run all day long. Perhaps most importantly, she does not need the lead to run well, and she could get first run at the tiring pacesetters turning for home. She was second in the Spinaway behind my top selection, but the move to two turns could help her turn the tables in this spot.
My two second-tier horses are quite similar. #10 BELLAFINA is the likely favorite, and she’s done very little wrong to this point. She hasn’t come home particularly quickly in either of her last two starts, and that’s a concern in a race with plenty of other early speed signed on, but I suppose there’s a chance she could grind her other rivals into submission. Another one that will want to be on or near the lead early is #2 SERENGETI EMPRESS, who exits a pair of runaway wins for trainer Tom Amoss. She, too, went fast early in her last start, which she won by nearly 20 lengths, and it certainly helps that she’s shown she likes this track. However, she didn’t beat much at all in that race, and this is certainly a step up in class.
The other horse likely to take significant money at the windows is #7 JAYWALK. She went wire-to-wire in the Grade 1 Frizette, and did so in a sharp time, but I’ve got some doubts. She’s bred for speed, up and down, being by Cross Traffic and out of an Orientate mare, and I’m not sure she wants to go two turns. Furthermore, that track at Belmont played very quick and was extremely kind to early speed, so it wasn’t a shock that she got out in front and improved her positioning. She’s not completely without a chance, but 7/2 seems like an underlay.
Betting on a Budget
I won’t be playing this race too heavily, and I’ll be spreading in my pick four (which I’ll dive into later). I simply don’t have a ton of conviction, and thankfully, there’s no rule saying one HAS to play every race on a card. Having said that, if Sippican Harbor is 8-1 or higher, I’ll have a win/place bet on her and hope she can pick up the pieces.
$10 win/place: 8
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE TURF
The post position draw made this race very interesting. #14 ANTHONY VAN DYCK drew the far outside post, and while he may be talented enough to overcome it, there’s a chance he gets parked wide going significantly further than he has to this point in his career.
With that in mind, I’ll look to another European as my top selection. That’s #5 LINE OF DUTY, who has won two in a row for trainer Charles Appleby. He’s bred to go long and get better as he gets older, and true to form, he’s 2-for-2 going a mile or longer and has taken significant steps forward in every start. Lasix will be added, and the tactical speed this one possesses could mean a perfect trip at a nice price. He may drift down a few ticks from the 10-1 morning line, but anything at or above 6-1 seems fair.
My other “A horse” figures to be prominent early in a race that doesn’t seem to have much zip. That’s #3 MUCH BETTER, and while it’s been a while since Bob Baffert had a serious turf runner on his hands, this one could be any kind. After a nice maiden win at Del Mar, he tried two turns on turf and went very fast early on. Despite posting a :45 and change opening half-mile, though, he held well for second and was more than two lengths clear of the third-place finisher. He shouldn’t have to go nearly as fast early on, and he could get brave if he’s left alone beneath red-hot rider Drayden Van Dyke.
Anthony Van Dyck can certainly win, and I need to have him on my wider tickets. It’s tough to ignore three straight triple-digit Timeform Ratings, and Aidan O’Brien has to be respected with a good horse in good form. I’ll also throw in a pair of last-out Belmont winners. #2 UNCLE BENNY showed a new dimension in taking the Futurity and is bred to love the added distance, while #4 FORTY UNDER is 2-for-2 on turf (with both wins coming at a distance of ground).
If you have room in your budget, and want to throw in another price, you can do worse than #1 ARTHUR KITT. He chased a solid pace in a Group 2 at Newmarket last time out and gets Lasix here. His second behind eventual Group 1 winner Too Darn Hot two back was pretty good, and his price figures to be inflated given the last-out dud.
Betting on a Budget
While I’ll have Anthony Van Dyck on my pick four ticket, I’ll try to beat him in my smaller wagers. I’ll start $10 doubles with my two “A horses” and single my top pick in the Juvenile.
$10 doubles: 3,5 w/9 ($20)
BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE
We arrive at the day’s main event, and it houses my best bet of the day. That’s #9 GAME WINNER, the likely favorite in the Juvenile. He’s 3-for-3 with a pair of Grade 1 wins to his credit, and he proved he could get this distance with a romp in the American Pharoah last time out. He’s worked well since that race, and he’d need to regress off of that effort to lose this race.
I’m going against #6 COMPLEXITY, who figures to be the second choice. Much like Jaywalk, he rode a speed-friendly track to a win in the Grade 1 Champagne, and there are distance questions given his pedigree. He shouldn’t be alone on the front end, and for that reason, I prefer others underneath.
The two I’d recommend using behind my top pick are #8 STANDARD DEVIATION and #11 CODE OF HONOR. The former had a sneaky-awful trip in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. He didn’t break well, took tons of dirt going into the first turn, and had to set well off of a moderate early pace going a route that included a short stretch run. He did well to salvage third money, and unlike others, the distance won’t get him beat here. I think he has a real chance to outrun his odds and punch up some of the exotic payoffs.
Code of Honor, meanwhile, will likely be this race’s “wise guy horse.” He broke terribly in the Champagne, and rallied from last to be second behind Complexity. Trainer Shug McGaughey doesn’t rush his horses along, so the ambitious spotting is a huge vote of confidence. The post position isn’t ideal, but he’s worked well and has shown versatility, both of which make him one to respect.
Betting on a Budget
I’ll keep this simple and key my best bet on top of my two underneath horses in cold exactas.
$10 exactas: 9 w/8,11 ($20)
I’ll focus on the Pick Four starting in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. I can’t, in good conscience, offer a Pick Five encompassing all of these races. Such a single ticket would simply cost too much money, and I can’t give out a ticket I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing on my own. If you feel like constructing one within your budget, plug my A, B, and C horses into DRF TicketMaker, and that’ll spit out a number of different combinations you can pick and choose from. Having said that, here’s the Pick Four.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6
72 Bets, $36
This ticket uses all of my A and B horses, and also uses a C horse in the Juvenile Turf (simply because he’s a big price and I can afford to throw him in). Game Winner will be a popular single, but if we can get a price or two home along the way, this could still pay pretty handsomely and set us up well going into Saturday.