2021 BREEDERS’ CUP: Day One Handicapping Analysis (11/5/21)

This week’s “Champagne and J.D.,” filmed before news broke about Jack Christopher scratching out of the Juvenile.

It’s Breeders’ Cup time, and I’m going to do things a little bit differently this year. In the past, I’ve written walls of text on every race. This year, I’m going to follow my own advice about being smarter with time and money management.

I’ll still take looks at every race, but I’ll expound far more on ones where I have strong opinions. Friday’s card, for my money, is far more intriguing than Saturday’s, and I’m looking forward to getting things rolling and hopefully setting us up for more success over the weekend. Let’s dive in, shall we?

RACE #1: We’re bringing some firepower right off the bat. #4 TRIPLE TAP is American Pharoah’s younger half-brother, and he’s been on the sidelines since an impressive first-out score in March at Santa Anita. He’s been working very well, and I think he’s well-meant, but I also think the likely race shape may be kind to others. There’s a lot of other speed in this event, and as a result, I’d advise you to use two closers in your exotics tickets.

#2 I’LL STAND TALLER has rounded into form for Doug O’Neill. He’s won two of his last three starts, and the race shape in his most recent effort didn’t set up for a closer. He’s a Cal-bred stepping up into open company, but his connections saw fit to run him in two stakes races earlier this year, and perhaps he’s just getting better as he gets older.

I’ll also get a little crazy and include #8 EL DIABLO ROJO, whose record looks far better if you toss the turf races. I’m not entirely sure why he’s been running on it, since it’s clear he’s better on dirt, and he has back form from early-2021 that would make him dangerous at a price.

RACE #2: I don’t find the Qatar Golden Mile nearly as appealing. Likely favorite #8 READY TO PURRFORM looms large off of an impressive win in a similar spot at Laurel, and the most appealing alternative will be the likely second choice, #3 DEGREE OF RISK. That one exits a decent third in the Grade 1 Summer at Woodbine and adds both blinkers and Flavien Prat.

RACE #3: One of my strongest opinions of the undercard is here, in the Golden State Juvenile Fillies. It looks like a fantastic betting race if you have one of those, and I like a runner enough to single her in multi-race exotics.

#9 VIVACIOUS VANESSA ran exceptionally well in her debut. Gary Mandella’s first-time starters aren’t usually fully-cranked, and going two turns at first asking isn’t easy to do. However, she broke slowly, uncorked a big rally, and won going away. The fast pace did help her that day, but that’s not the kind of effort that can simply be chalked up to a race falling apart.

Vivacious Vanessa goes turf to dirt here, and the dirt works tell me she’ll take to the new surface just fine. I think there’s plenty of pace signed on to set up for the way she wants to run, and if she wins, it’ll provide a nice stake for the rest of the weekend.

RACE #4: The Ken Maddy is a grass grab bag with a 10-horse field, and many of these fillies and mares have shown plenty of talent. #8 SUPERSTITION loves Del Mar and doesn’t need the lead, which are both good things. She’s not a bad favorite, but she also doesn’t tower over this group, and I think there are two others worthy of consideration.

#1 HEAR MY PRAYER is probably my other “A horse” in multi-race exotics. She’s run just once since February, but that was a winning effort at this route, and she’s been training lights-out at Santa Anita ahead of this event. Given the layoff lines, it’s safe to assume she’s had her issues, but when she’s right, she’s very fast.

I’ll also have some saver tickets with #5 TIME LIMIT, who gets a significant class test but hasn’t run a poor race on turf. She’s got plenty of early zip, but showed she can rate a bit in two wins at Saratoga. One of those wins was over a very good turf sprinter named Risky Mischief, who’s run some fast races and wouldn’t have been out-of-place in this race. Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride for Mike Maker, and we’ll likely be assured a square price on a very nice horse.

RACE #5: The brother race to the third event of the day, the Golden State Juvenile for 2-year-old colts has drawn another big field. I do have a lean here, and while it’s not strong enough to single the horse on all tickets, it’s probably a “lone A” situation.

#11 SLOW DOWN ANDY won his debut like a very good horse. He cruised home clear by nearly five lengths, and that day’s runner-up (#10 MOOSE MITCHELL) came right back to win at next asking. Doug O’Neill’s first-time starters aren’t always fully-cranked, but when this barn gets horses on the right track, they tend to stay there. I don’t know if we’ll get 5-1, but I also don’t think he’ll be favored, so we should get a little bit of value.

If Slow Down Andy doesn’t win, I’m not quite sure who does. #1 JOKER BOY will likely be favored, but I just don’t think he beat much in his two wins earlier this year. The bigger price that intrigues me is #4 BILLY’S BET, who led at every call in a five-furlong turf sprint and gets a big class test for a small barn. For a 2-year-old sprint, there isn’t a metric ton of early speed signed on, so maybe he’ll get comfortable and give the field something to think about turning for home.

RACE #6: And now we punch the accelerator, because this is the first Breeders’ Cup race of the day. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint has attracted plenty of speedy, precocious 2-year-olds that will go five furlongs. Traditionally in these races, speed is king, but there’s so much of it signed on that I need to back a closer, and there’s one in here I really like.

#7 ARMOR had nowhere to go most of the way last time out in a Group 1. Still, once he finally got a seam, he finished very nicely and was beaten less than a length by multiple Group 1 winner Perfect Power. Perfect Power would almost certainly be favored in this spot had he shipped over, so it’s tough to see a narrow loss to that rival as a bad thing.

Between his back class and the likely race shape, I think there’s a ton to like here. I don’t think we’ll get the 6-1 morning line, but 9/2 and up would hit me as a pretty fair value. If you’re looking for a closer at an even bigger price, #11 DERRYNANE’s two-back clunker over a boggy turf course is a total throw-out. Her score at Woodbine was excellent, and while the post is awful, she’s got enough talent to where I’ll still be alive on a few tickets if she pops at a price. Having said that, Armor is the heavier lean.

RACE #7: It stinks that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies only drew six horses. Having said that, it’s headed by the flashy #6 ECHO ZULU, who’s 3-for-3 and has never been truly tested.

On one hand, I’m not crazy about betting a horse, as the favorite, doing something it’s never done before (hi, Harvey Pack!). On the other, she’s bred up and down to get better as the distances get longer. She’s by Gun Runner, out of a Menifee mare, and sure looks like the controlling speed. This race won’t get much of my money, as I think the favorite is legitimate and the field size is too short for vertical exotics to pay much.

RACE #8: I’ve got a play here in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. I don’t think there’s much in the way of early speed signed on, and I think a filly stretching out in distance for a top-class barn will sit an ideal trip.

#5 BUBBLE ROCK broke her maiden like a very good horse two starts ago at Saratoga. She finished powerfully, which is no shock since she’s bred to go much longer than that 5 1/2-furlong route. She’s since added a win in the Matron, and while that was more workmanlike than I anticipated, I think it’s entirely possible she just bounced off of her big performance prior to that. She’s shown sprinter speed, and she’s bred to go two turns. Her second dam is a multiple stakes-winner going two turns, and her dam is a half to Blue Chipper, who ran third in the Dirt Mile a few years ago.

Maybe Bubble Rock turns out to just be a sprinter, or maybe she peaked too early in the season. However, at her 8-1 morning line price, I’ll absolutely pay to find out. She’ll be a “separator single” for me on at least a few of my tickets, and while I respect the likes of #11 HAUGHTY and #13 MISE EN SCENE, Bubble Rock would be a day-maker if she runs like I think she can.

RACE #9: I was looking forward to this race a lot more before the scratch of #1 JACK CHRISTOPHER. I didn’t like him, I thought he was a beatable favorite, and I thought his presence would help set things up for a closer.

Now that he’s out, I don’t know what to think. Bob Baffert has three runners in here, including #12 CORNICHE, who will likely assume the favorite’s role. I actually think #9 PINEHURST has some appeal given his two-turn pedigree and a recent stretch of excellent workouts, but he hasn’t yet shown that he can rate.

I’ll use both of those as well as a pair of runners from the Todd Pletcher barn. #10 COMMANDPERFORMANCE sure seems like a wise guy horse, given how many people on horse racing Twitter seem to love him, but there’s no doubt he made up a lot of ground in the Champagne. I’m also intrigued by #5 DOUBLE THUNDER, who’s bred to run all day and has been taking steps forward with each start. These two would benefit from a pace meltdown, as well as a scenario where the Baffert runners just aren’t that special.

RACE #10: In my opinion, they saved the most puzzling Breeders’ Cup race for last. The Juvenile Turf features several well-meant runners from Europe, and those would be my two “A horses,” but there are two Americans that intrigue me a bit, too.

Charles Appleby has a very powerful hand here. He trains #1 MODERN GAMES and #2 ALBAHR, and they’ve combined to win seven of 10 races with just one off-the-board finish (Modern Games was fifth in his debut). Neither would surprise me, though I’d probably give the slight edge to Modern Games, whose Group 3 win at Newmarket last time out was excellent.

Of the Americans, I prefer #4 TIZ THE BOMB, who has won three straight and has shown some versatility in his two recent stakes wins. I wouldn’t be shocked if he was fairly close to a soft pace, which might be set by the other horse I have my eye on, #10 PORTFOLIO COMPANY. I’m not crazy about him having set a very slow pace last time and still getting beat, but I think he’ll be the controlling early speed in here, and the presence of Flavien Prat is encouraging.

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