Controlled Enthusiasm

For horse racing fans, Breeders' Cup pre-entries day always has that Christmas morning feel. I like the Kentucky Derby as much as anyone, but as a fan and especially as an avid bettor, having two days of top-quality racing and 15 chances of taking down huge pools, is much more appealing. No matter what the quality of the pre-entries, it's an extraordinarily fun weekend.

On Wednesday, we got our first glance at the 193 horses that will make up the 2011 Breeders' Cup and the handicapping has officially begun.

"Did you see Gio Ponti has first preference in the Classic? What do you think about the new Juvenile Sprint? Who do you like in the Dirt Mile? The Turf came up weak!" Within an hour of the official pre-entries release, these were some of the questions and comments I heard from colleagues and friends. Ahh, Breeders' Cup time.

If we're honest, this has been a very ordinary--some would say disappointing--season, especially for older horses. So not unexpectedly, some of the Breeders' Cup races came up pretty dull. I don't think many would argue that the Turf fits into that category, including the Breeders' Cup who moved it from its regular spot before the Classic to Race 8 on the Saturday card. With all the injuries and no American standout, it's a race that doesn't have much appeal.

Likewise, the Ladies Classic, without Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, lacks a standout older horse and is dominated by 3-year-old fillies. As the anchor on Friday's card, it could be much better.

Earlier in the year the Sprint looked like it was going to be one of the most appealing races, but after the loss of a few top contenders to injury and other stars like Caleb's Posse, Jackson Bend, The Factor, and Trappe Shot presumably heading to the Dirt Mile, it too has lost a lot of its allure. In fact, it has only 12 pre-entries and it looks like a maximum of about eight will go. Breeders' Cup moved it to Race 6 on the card, so it won't even be part of the Pick 6.

If Midday and Sarafina go to the Turf, that would water down the Filly & Mare Turf even more. Overall, Friday's card doesn't do much for me as whole. I don't want to get too negative here, so the spin I'll put on it is this: The 2011 Breeders' Cup is not as loaded in talent as in years past, but that could make things more exciting from a betting perspective. How's that?

I will say that the Classic, which for nine months looked like it was going to be quite average, is going to be a very good race. The shot in the arm came from Havre de Grace taking on the boys and 3-year-old standouts To Honor and Serve and Uncle Mo returning from the sidelines. Having the last two Belmont Stakes winners in there, as well as international star So You Think, makes it even more interesting. And with the Horse of the Year still unsettled, it could produce a champion. I'm glad the Breeders' Cup's signature race is going to have enough star power for a national audience.

Like everyone, I'm also looking forward to the Mile and seeing if Goldikova can pull off a truly remarkable four-peat. She won't have it easy this year. And one race that has grabbed my attention is the Turf Sprint, which has brought together the defending titleholder, the 2009 winner, and a good mix of sprinters from all over the country. West Coast rivals Creative Cause and Drill going up against undefeated Union Rags in the Juvenile should also be exciting. And I already have my semi-longshot Dirt Mile winner picked out.

All in all, it's not the best show they ever put together, but it's still the Breeders' Cup and these next 10 days will be a lot of fun. Tom and I will have the first of three live blogs this Friday, Oct. 28 at noon EDT at I hope you can join in on the discussion, and if not I'll be back early next week with a look at some live longshot plays.

Have fun ‘cappin'!

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