OK, here we go. If there is one thing certain about the Breeders’ Cup every year, it’s that there will be longshots and overlays scattered throughout both days of racing. We’re here to try to ferret out those elusive price horses, based on handicapping angles and daily observations.
Let’s start right at the top with the Distaff, which looks like a battle royal among defending two-time winner Royal Delta and the brilliant 3-year-olds Prince of Sylmar and Beholder.
But wait a minute, that’s not all there is to the Distaff by any means. You have Authenticity, Prince of Sylmar’s stablemate who is coming off a huge second in the Zenyatta Stakes. And there is the sleeper of the day, Close Hatches, who will be ignored in the betting in favor of her more illustrious stablemate Royal Delta.
DISTAFF -- Close Hatches has already defeated Princess of Sylmar pretty handily in the Gazelle Stakes back in April. Since her second to the exciting Midnight Lucky in the Acorn Stakes, Close Hatches romped by 7 1/2 lengths in the Mother Goose Stakes in a swift 1:41 1/5 for the 1 1/16 miles and then defeated the swift Sweet Lulu in the grade I Cotillion Stakes.
On paper, she doesn’t appear to be quite on the level of the favorites at this point in her career, but her last three workouts indicate she just might be developing and reaching her peak right now. Following a :47 4/5 breeze at Belmont Oct. 12, she came back with a five-furlong breeze in :59 4/5, third fastest work at the distance. In her most recent work, she breezed a half in a blazing :46 3/5, second fastest of 38 works at the distance.
She looks in great physical condition, and is built like a filly who will relish a distance of ground, and these last two 1 1/16-mile races, combined with her latest work, should have her razor sharp.
Tactically, she looks the one who should get first run on Beholder and Royal Delta if the two should hook up and possibly compromise each other’s chances. Princess of Sylmar also would benefit, but getting that first run could make Close Hatches a tough horse to run down in the final furlong.
Again, we’re looking for a price and potential overlay, and Close Hatches fits that bill, and should be sneaky-dangerous in here.
MARATHON – Yes, once again, this race is a crap shoot, with any one of a number of horses who can win. Argentine invader Ever Rider is no Calidoscopio, but because of last year’s finish, he will be bet down, possibly as the favorite. The key to the race could be Pool Play’s nagging physical problems. If he’s feeling good on the day, he will be dangerous, based a good deal on his class. Like last year, he looks super.
One of the price horses who we find intriguing is Old Time Hockey, who has only raced on grass horse since March, 2012, but in his last dirt race he did finish second to eventual Travers dead-heat winner Golden Ticket, who is a live longshot for the Dirt Mile. He’s by Smarty Jones, out of an A.P. Indy mare, so he’s certainly bred for dirt.
Being by Smarty Jones, the distance has to be a question, but he was beaten only 2 3/4 lengths in the 1 3/8-mile Del Mar Handicap.
The other son of Smarty Jones in the Marathon, Indian Jones, was beaten a nose in the 1 1/2-mile Greenwood Cup
Another horse worth a play in here is Euro invader London Bridge, who has performed well up to 1 7/8 miles and that was his last start when he finished fourth in the listed Prix Michel Houyvet at Deauville. The son of Arch gets Mike Smith and Lasix, so big improvement naturally can be expected.
JUVENILE TURF – It’s going to take a phenomenal performance to defeat Bobby’s Kitten, who could be something special. His trainer, Chad Brown, certainly thinks so, and would love to win this race with a horse named after his old boss and mentor, Bobby Frankel.
The Europeans are well represented with three top-class colts in Giovanni Boldini and Wilshire Boulevard from the Aidan O’Brien stable and Godolphin’s Champagne Stakes winner Outstrip, who also gets Mike Smith. Any one of these three can certainly win this race.
But in looking for a price, we’re intrigued by the late-running Poker Player, trained by the always dangerous Wayne Catalano, but not crazy about post 11. However, because he comes from so far back and has that devastating late kick, he should be able to drop right out of it and make that one big run.
Also, don’t throw out Bon Accord, who broke his maiden on the grass going five furlongs at Calder before finishing a close third behind Poker Player and Bashart in the Bourbon Stakes, taken off the grass. In that race, he lost a lot of ground making a five-wide run at the top of the stretch and couldn’t get by the top two. With that two-turn race under his belt he should have a lot more bottom and is dropping back to one mile. The big question we have is trainer Antonio Sano, who we know little able other than he’s training at 12% win clip, so who knows?
Both these horses could be out of their class here, but may stick around long enough to get in the exotics. It looks like Bobby’s Kitten’s race to lose, but anything can happen on the grass.
DIRT MILE – Talk about crap shoot, this race is up for grabs. If Verrazano shows up with his “A” game, he is going to take a ton of beating. After Verrazano, you can take your pick among Fed Biz, Goldencents, Hymn Book, Alpha, Pants on Fire, and several others.
Centralinteligence is coming off a poor effort in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, but never seemed to recover from a bumping incident at the start. On his best day, this is a very good horse and will be a huge overlay for a grade I winner.
From a physical standpoint, Golden Ticket looks fantastic, and his best race would put him right there at the finish. And he will be a big price, especially for a Travers winner. He is well muscled out and his coat couldn’t be better.
But our main pick here is Brujo de Olleros, a big, powerful Uruguayan import who was the Monster of Maronas before coming to America, following in the footsteps of Invasor. It took him a while to get acclimated last year, but he’s put in three huge efforts this year, and his race in the Kelso Handicap was extremely impressive. With Graydar allowed to get away with a :47 1/5 half going a flat mile, he cut into his lead in the stretch and looked like a winner at the eighth pole, but the brilliant Graydar had too much left. Brujo de Ollerous came home his last two quarters in a sensational :23 1/5 and :23 2/5, and when you can close your final half in :46 3/5, you are running. There is no reason why he shouldn’t improve off that race, and we feel is very live in here.
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF – Forget it. Between three group I winners from Europe, four Chad Brown heavy hitters, superstar in the making My Conquestadory, and the queen of California, Clenor, good luck coming up with a winner in this race.
We’ll just throw two names at you, both of whom probably will be 30-1 or higher. Colonel Joan is a closing fool who has a huge late kick and was right there behind Clenor and Nesso in the Surfer Girl, rallying from 10th, a dozen lengths back. Although she is a still a maiden, she is improving with every start, and the filly who beat her a head in a maiden race came back to win. Yes, she is well up against it, but will be a huge price.
Secret Sailing is another unknown quantity who is improving. Recently purchased by Team Valor, her recent 6 1/4-length romp in a Keeneland allowance race was impressve.
But the big angle in here, and one worth betting, actually is the fourth highest regarded of the Chad Brown bunch, and that is Granny Mc’s Kitten. An impressive winner of the P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga, she came down with an illness and was pretty much ruled out of the Miss Grillo. But she showed a good deal of improvement as the race neared. Although she missed a work and had to come back off antibiotics, Brown decided to run her in the Miss Grillo knowing she’d probably only be 75-80% fit and would need the race. She made a good run into the stretch and was right there at the eighth pole, but tired in the final furlong, finishing fourth behind stablemate Testa Rossi.
She’s come back with a pair of solid half-mile breezes on the grass and is back to 100%. How many times do you see a trainer run several horses in a race and win it with the least likely one? This could be another of those instances…if she can handle all these stars.