Here are my thoughts and picks for the Saturday Breeders' Cup races:
It's hard to discount the three Europeans since they have won this event in its first three years, although the group they have sent over here is not their best. And, there is the question if they will like the firm turf. Master of Hounds is the lukewarm favorite at 9-2 in a wide-open race. It's hard to separate him and Montoba.
Soldat and Pluck will likely take most of the American action, with Air Support and Banned also receiving support. I don't have a strong opinion on this race, but a logical upset possibility for me is Madman Diaries, who likes to run on the front end and should be in good position coming off the turn. This is his first time going a mile, but he showed me enough in the Sapling and has been working lights out for Wesley Ward. Ward is a master with 2-year-olds.
1. Madman Diaries
3. Master of Hounds
This might not be the strongest BC Sprint we've seen, but it's a very good betting race. Big Drama nearly always fires and has speed numbers that stack up with any of these. But he might be forced to the front quicker than he wants to by his inside post. Girolamo is the tepid morning-line choice but he has never run here and isn't as experienced at running six furlongs as some of these.
Three horses stand out for me here: Wise Dan, Atta Boy Roy, and Warrior's Reward. All three are proven over the strip. Wise Dan is very sharp right now, as are all of Charles Lopresti's horses. He's lightly-raced, but getting very good at the right time, as he proved in the Phoenix when defeating a very good sprinter in Hollywood Hit. He can sit right off the pace and close on the pacesetters. Atta Boy is a speed burner and loves this track, as he proved in the CD Stakes in May. Calvin is back aboard. Warrior's Reward has never run a bad race at Churchill and will be there to pick up the pieces if the pace melts. Leparoux will time his ride right, we know that much.
1. Wise Dan
2. Warrior's Reward
3. Atta Boy Roy
4. Big Drama
A very deep and strong field this year. Like last year when it was run over Santa Anita's downhill course, I give an edge to the horses that have run well over this course. Five furlongs is a tricky distance at Churchill. Horses that fit that bill are Silver Timber, Chamberlain Bridge, and Stradivinsky.
Silver Timber set the five-furlong course record here is April and his prep at Keeneland last month shows he is sharp. He will be in the mix. Chamberlain Bridge will be making his 31st career start and fires almost every time. He is 3-1-0 from four starts here. Leave him out at your own risk. Stradivinsky was claimed for $50,000 by Michael Dubb (who also co-owns Silver Timber) in May, just before he won wire-to-wire on the Churchill course. He will be on or near the lead and might be hard to catch. The filly Rose Catherine also intrigues me, but I think she is running for minor placings. Also in the mix at a big price will be Due Date, who set the pace and missed by only a half-length to Silver Timber last out.
2. Chamberlain Bridge
3. Silver Timber
4. Rose Catherine
Other than the Classic, I'm looking forward to this race more than any other this weekend. Uncle Mo and Boys At Tosconova could not have looked more impressive in their last races. Uncle Mo has runaway speed and can carry it. Dominguez never had to move a muscle on Boys in the Hopeful and still galloped out very well past the wire. I don't think two turns will be an issue for either. I'm using both horses in my pick 3s, but I'm giving a slight edge to Boys. I think he will have a little more left inside the sixteenth-pole.
Stay Thirsty and Rogue Romance are the value in here as far as exotics go, but I'm not looking any further than the top two for the win.
1. Boys At Tosconova
2. Uncle Mo
3. Rogue Romance
4. Stay Thirsty
Freddie Head didn't care what the condition of the Churchill turf course was for Goldikova--she can run over anything. The one thing he wanted for his super mare was a good draw. He didn't get it. Goldikova drew post 10 and like last year (post 11), she will have to be at her very best to overcome it. She was able to at Santa Anita because she received a good trip and a great ride. I'm not so sure she can do it this time. And I definitely don't think she is a single. This year's field is much better than 2009.
If Goldikova is to be upset, Gio Ponti, Proviso, Court Vision, and Paco Boy, who lost narrowly to Goldikova three times, are the most logical. Gio Ponti was superb at Keeneland in the Turf Mile and if he runs back to that effort I think he wins. He will be coming at the end. Proviso has won four consecutive grade Is--four of them at the distance. She can't be ignored. Court Vision may be getting overlooked here a bit because of the top two. His Woodbine Mile was sensational and he has run well twice here. One mile is right up his ally. Sidney's Candy will have the lead. How far can he carry it?
This is the start of the late pick 4. I'm going four-deep.
- Gio Ponti
- Court Vision
I was a little bummed the second choice, Crown of Thorns, was scratched because I didn't like him at all. I also do not care for the favorite, Morning Line.
Vineyard Haven should be much sharper than he was in the Forego in his third off a layoff. He never runs a bad race and should receive a nice stalking trip from Garcia for his stretch run. I expect him to win. If he doesn't, Here Comes Ben could do it. Again, Lopresti's horses are just way too sharp right now to leave off tickets. His Forego was huge and he hasn't lost since last year.
Longhots to consider in here are Theskyhasnolimit and Aikenite. Theskyhasnolimit ran very well against Lookin At Lucky and is getting very good at the right time. Aikenite is much better at one turn and nearly set the track record at Keeneland last out. Ran stride-for-stride with Quality Road is latest work.
- Vineyard Haven
- Here Comes Ben
I do not have a strong opinion on this race, but will take a stand against Workforce. It seems as though they have changed their minds about running him every 10 minutes. Al Khali is sharp and I think will run well, but I'm siding with Behkabad, who has faced better. I will go deep in the race in the pick 3 and 4.
- Al Khali
- Dangerous Midge
Let's get Zenyatta out of the way first. Contrary to popular belief I have nothing against the horse and if she wins I will tip my cap and say, ‘job well done.' And if she does win, I won't feel any need to come on here and say ‘I was wrong' or anything to that effect. All I am doing is picking against an 8-5 favorite. Don't take it personally; there is no emotion involved for me. I stand by the opinion that she had a very conservative and disappointing campaign, and even if she wins, I will still feel that way. A victory here earns her Horse of the Year, without a doubt. But a loss, whether by a nose or 10 lengths, takes her out of consideration. That's how I feel.
As for the race, she will be coming at the end; she always does. And I agree that she likes dirt and even improves on it. But in last year's Classic she was running mostly against turf and dirt horses that were backing up on the Cushion Track in the final furlong. With a few exceptions, they were spinning their wheels. That won't be happening this time. The top horses in this race relish dirt. And she will have to pass them on at a track that is very difficult to close on. At 8-5 or lower, I think she's a play against. Bottom of exotics, yes; To win, no. I hope that doesn't offend anyone. It's my money.
I've been back-and-forth on this race for a while now, but have finally landed on the horse I've liked since this time last season: Blame. There is nothing not to like about him. He has never run off the board in his career, he loves the track (3-for-4), he will get first run over Zenyatta at the pacesetters, has a world-class rider, has looked great in his works at Keeneland, and will be a nice price (I'm thinking 6 or 7-1). The Gold Cup, which was his first race at 10 furlongs, is not a problem for me. There was no pace for him to run at and he was still closing willingly at the end. It was a nice prep for him. I think he is the most logical winner.
The other horse I think makes sense is Lookin At Lucky. Like Blame, he is very consistent. He has still never run a bad race when he's gotten a fair trip. In person, he looks like a million bucks. The horse has blossomed since the early part of the year and is a man now. Garcia fits him like a glove. There wasn't much in the Indiana Derby, but the way he closed in the mud on a speed favoring track was brilliant. He is a must use.
I wouldn't be shocked if Quality Road had a three-length lead at the top of the lane and held them off, but there are too many good closers in here for me to back him for the win. I would have liked to see him have a prep for this in his first race at 10 furlongs this year.
Of the true longshots, I prefer Haynesfield, Musket Man, and Paddy O'Prado. If Haynesfield can fend off Quality Road he can take his lead a long way. The Asmussen factor at Churchill helps sway me. Musket Man never runs poorly and has two good efforts over the track. Paddy has been as good as any 3-year-old this year, save Lookin At Lucky, and is a true 10-furlong horse.
- Lookin At Lucky
- Musket Man
I wish everyone the best of luck. Cash a lot of tickets!