It’s Breeders’ Cup time, which means it may as well be Christmas morning for handicappers. Two days of full fields comprised of some of the fastest horses on the planet, many of which will win or run well at big prices, is pretty much all we can ask for as horseplayers, and I’m really excited to dive in.
I’ve done a lot of handicapping elsewhere for Friday’s card. I’m proud to dissect a lot of 2-year-old races for Oddschecker US, and I wrote up quick summaries of all five Breeders’ Cup races over there. Additionally, I did a few videos for The Daily Racing Form, where I offered Pick Five analysis and a look at my top pick in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
However, my analysis for each of the Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday is all below. In addition, there’s another race on the undercard I’m very interested in, and I’ll look at that race as well. As I said on Twitter, this is as much work as I’ll do all year long outside of Saratoga season, but I absolutely love it, and I’m grateful to have an audience that enjoys reading my stuff.
Enough talk; let’s get to it!
RACE #3: Grade 2 Twilight Derby
I’ll never understand why Santa Anita opted to run the Twilight Derby at 11:17 am local time, but alas, here we are. This race came up salty for the level given the restricted condition (it’s only for 3-year-olds), but I think the pace scenario sets up perfectly for one of these runners.
#9 KINGLY has a lot of early speed, and that’s not a trait shared by many other runners in this field. He was last seen in the Grade 2 City of Hope Mile, where he was beaten just a neck by older foes after setting a fast pace. He should not have to go nearly as quickly early on in here, and if he gets brave on the front end, I think he’ll be very tough to catch.
Kingly’s 5-1 on the morning line, and I think that’s an overlay. My hope is that he’ll dictate terms early and have plenty left late, and if he gets home, my day will get off to a flying start.
RACE #4: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint
The first Breeders’ Cup race of the day is one that carries plenty of Eclipse Award ramifications. #1 COVFEFE could very well lock up Champion 3-Year-Old Filly honors with a win in this race, and she’s logical. Her efforts going seven furlongs have been incredibly sharp, and given her two victories ahead of this event, it can be argued she’s never been better.
However, the rail draw is certainly a concern. She has speed, but the rivals directly to her outside aren’t slow. If she doesn’t break perfectly, she could be in big trouble, and for that reason, she isn’t my top pick.
That distinction goes to #4 COME DANCING, the race’s likely second choice. She’s won four of her last six starts, and the two losses came to top-quality foes Marley’s Freedom and Midnight Bisou (neither of which shows up here). Unlike several of her foes, she does not need the lead in order to win. She could sit a picture-perfect trip beneath Javier Castellano, and I think she’ll have first run on the tiring pacesetters turning for home.
Underneath those two, #6 BELLAFINA and #9 SPICED PERFECTION both make sense. I’ll also throw in #5 LADY NINJA, who has won five of her last seven starts and would also benefit from a pace meltdown. She’ll be a price, and if you’re looking for a longshot to throw in, I think she’s the one to use.
RACE #5: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint
Much like the race before it, there’s a lot of early speed signed on here. It certainly seems like they’re going to go very, very quickly out of the gate, which should benefit those who do their best running late.
#10 EDDIE HASKELL fits the bill, and he’s my top pick. He loves this route of ground, and while he has a powerful late kick, he’s also got enough tactical speed to not be too far back. Joel Rosario should have plenty left late, and if he can save some ground from a difficult (but not impossible) post, he should be pretty formidable.
The other intriguing closer is #5 STUBBINS, who comes in off a win in the Grade 2 Woodford at Keeneland. He hits me as a 3-year-old hitting his best stride late in the year, and the presence of Flavien Prat is a plus. The faster they go early, the better his chances figure to be, and at his likely price, I absolutely have to use him.
On wider tickets, I’ll also use #6 STORMY LIBERAL, who won this race a season ago but hasn’t found the winner’s circle since. However, the rider switch to John Velazquez is noteworthy, and he’s another who does not need the lead in order to run well. In a race with tons of early zip, that’s valuable, and while he may be past his peak, it’s not like improvement isn’t out of the question.
RACE #6: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile
I’d love to tell you that I can find a reason to go against #5 OMAHA BEACH, but I can’t do it. He had every excuse to run a clunker in his comeback race, and he instead outdueled Shancelot to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. We know he can handle two turns, and judging by his recent bullet workout over this surface, he may be coming into this race better than he’s ever been.
I respect #2 IMPROBABLE and #4 MR. MONEY. However, Omaha Beach beat the former earlier this year, and the latter would definitely need to take a step up from a figure standpoint. With all of this in mind, I’ll happily single Omaha Beach in multi-race exotics and spread elsewhere.
RACE #7: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf
Unfortunately, this race took a hit when Magical didn’t ship in with the rest of the European contingent. After that defection, #2 SISTERCHARLIE towers over the field and seems to be in great position to record her seventh consecutive victory.
The question is, how do we make money when the favorite appears legitimate? I’m going to key her in exactas with several bigger prices. #1 IRIDESSA won a Group 1 at this distance earlier this year, #8 CASTLE LADY may have needed her run in the Grade 1 QE2 at Keeneland, and #12 FANNY LOGAN has won four in a row, gets Lasix for the first time, and is 5-for-5 at this distance.
If Sistercharlie wins, I’ll likely still make a few bucks. However, if she runs second to one of the horses I’ve used, I stand to connect on a nice score.
RACE #8: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint
If #4 MITOLE wins, he may very well have a case for Horse of the Year honors. A win would give him six victories in seven starts on the season, with four Grade 1 triumphs ranging in distances from six furlongs to a mile. He’s had a great year, and he merits respect, but while I’m using him, he’s not my top pick.
The only time Mitole locked up with #9 IMPERIAL HINT was in the Grade 1 A.G. Vanderbilt. That day, Imperial Hint won by four lengths and set a new track record at Saratoga. Mitole bounced back with a win in the Grade 1 Forego, but Imperial Hint also added a Grade 1 win of his own in the Vosburgh.
I think these two are pretty equal, but Imperial Hint will likely be twice the price. With that in mind, give me that one and the potential for a bigger payoff.
If you’re looking for a longshot to use in the exotics, I’d recommend #7 WHITMORE, who ran very well in his comeback race at Keeneland. He stumbled at the start and was forced to race very wide, but he rallied to be beaten just a half-length. There’s plenty of early speed in here, and if he steps forward off of that performance, he could absolutely hit the board at a big price.
RACE #9: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile
Every year, the Mile seems like a true grass grab bag. This renewal is no exception, and despite the presence of #6 GOT STORMY and #11 UNI, a European runner may very well go favored.
That’s #9 CIRCUS MAXIMUS, a two-time Group 1 winner from the barn of Aidan O’Brien. His form is already top-notch, and he’s getting Lasix for the first time, which can’t be ignored. It’s not an easy race to handicap, and it’ll be worth seeing how he’s warming up prior to the race, but I think his best effort would make him tough to beat.
Got Stormy and Uni could both win, but there are red flags with both runners. The former hung badly in the Woodbine Mile without any apparent excuse, and the latter drew a poor post that could cause her to lose ground. Both could win, I suppose, but I think there’s more money to be made betting against them than betting on them.
In addition to Circus Maximus, I’ll also use #1 SUEDOIS, #2 LUCULLAN, and #13 HEY GAMAN. Suedois didn’t have a great trip when third in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland and has shown plenty of talent, while Lucullan is in career-best form and Hey Gaman gets the firm ground he prefers while also adding Lasix for the first time.
RACE #10: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff
Remember the Dirt Mile, where I said I wish I could find a reason to go against Omaha Beach? Substitute #4 MIDNIGHT BISOU, and you have my preview of the Distaff. Simply put, she looks head and shoulders above the rest in here, and she’s my best bet of the entire card.
I’m going to channel former TVG colleague Dave Weaver with my wagering strategy here, which involves an “ice cold” exacta. I’ll use Midnight Bisou on top of #6 WOW CAT, who may be rounding back into form in her fourth start of the season. Wow Cat was the best of the rest behind Midnight Bisou in the Grade 2 Beldame, and she was a fast-closing second in this race a season ago. If they go quickly early on, that will bode well for her chances to hit the board at a big price here.
RACE #11: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf
Here’s the big question, perhaps the biggest of Breeders’ Cup weekend: Can #9 BRICKS AND MORTAR get a mile and a half? If he can, he’ll likely win and sew up Horse of the Year honors with his fifth Grade 1 win of the year. If he can’t, my inclination is that one of two European runners will capitalize.
#5 ANTHONY VAN DYCK has been pointed to this race for a while, and for good reason. This year’s Epsom Derby winner was most recently third behind Magical in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, and if you draw a line through his two-back effort at Ascot over softer going, he hasn’t run a bad race all year. I think he’s matured, and that he’s the horse to beat given his proven ability to get this distance.
Meanwhile, #10 OLD PERSIAN came to North America and rolled to an easy win in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer at Woodbine. Most notably, he won the $6 million Sheema Classic in Dubai earlier this year, and his best race could absolutely be good enough to beat this group. Can he fire that shot if Bricks and Mortar gets the distance? That’s a good question.
RACE #12: Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic
I haven’t been shy about voicing my opinion of this race on Twitter, and I’ll do it again here. Simply put, this race just doesn’t excite me as much as it has in past years. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make money; quite the opposite, actually, as I’m not sold on a few horses that may get action at the windows.
#10 VINO ROSSO was the victim of what I felt was a horrible DQ in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. I don’t think #11 CODE OF HONOR was ever getting by, and because of that, the DQ ensured the best horse didn’t win. Vino Rosso gets another crack at that one here, and he gets it going a route of ground he won at earlier this year. He’s worked well coming into this race, and he’s my reluctant top pick.
#8 MCKINZIE may go favored, and #6 ELATE and Code of Honor will take money as well. I could see any of these horses winning, but I’ll be leaning heavier on #5 YOSHIDA. I think there’s enough pace in here to set up for his late kick, and the presence of Hall of Famer Mike Smith is a big, big plus.