Let's start by saying that this year's Breeders' Cup is one of the toughest to handicap in many years, with deep, wide-open fields, none of which, except perhaps one, have a clear-cut favorite that stands far above the others.
JUVENILE TURF - The festivities start off with the Juvenile Turf and this is the first of many crapshoots. The Europeans have an advantage in this race, as their young horses are far more explosive and battle-tested than the Americans. With that said, there are four legitimate Euro contenders (Aktabantay has been scratched, but fellow European Faithful Creek draws in). Wet Sail and War Envoy have never been a mile, which probably doesn't mean that much, but one that has, Commemorative, likely is the one to fear. This Juddmonte homebred possesses a strong stretch kick and both of his victories have come at a mile, so I would give him the advantage. The stakes-placed Faithful Creek now occupies the outside post.
Oddly, the most accomplished horse in the field to race in Europe this year is the American-trained Hootenanny, trained by frequent Euro raider Wesley Ward. The son of Quality Road has never been farther than six furlongs, but does have an easy victory in the five-furlong Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot and a second-place finish, beaten only a half-length, in the group I Prix Morny at Deauville. Quick out of the gate, the question is whether he can stretch his speed out to a mile.
War Envoy has made seven starts and has been a gem of consistency, but hasn't won since his career debut back in April.
Of the Americans, the longshot I like at 20-1 is Danny Boy, who has been training up a storm since arriving early at Santa Anita, with a pair of five-furlong grass works in :59 1/5 and :59 3/5. The son of Harlan's Holiday has a strong stretch punch and will be dropping back to a mile. However, I'm not crazy about the 13-post, although he does move in one with the scratch of Aktabantay. Will he lose too much ground into the first turn or will Julien Leparoux take him back and try to get through 13 horses? Neither proposition seems very inviting. But his exercise rider and assistant trainer, Tammy Fox, says he has the 'Wow' factor and Fox is a great judge of horses.
Danny Boy was spectacular breaking his maiden with an electrifying move on the grass, then finished fourth in the Iroquois Stakes on the dirt at Churchill Downs. Returned to the grass, he closed well to finish second to Juvenile Turf starter Lawn Ranger in the Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. But he did beat Lawn Ranger pretty handily in his maiden score.
So, while I feel he is very live at 20-1, that 13-hole makes him a bit of a risk, so be aware of that when you head to the windows. But I still would take a shot and just hope he can overcome the post.
It is so difficult separating the other American horses, I won't even attempt it, so when in doubt, go with Chad Brown, who has big chances with Pilgrim Stakes third Offering Plan and With Anticipation winner Startup Nation, who closed well to be fourth in the Pilgrim. Brown has had great success in juvenile turf stakes, and his two horses here are listed at 20-1 and 12-1, respectively.
Wesley Ward also has the fast and consistent Luck of the Kitten in addition to Hootenanny, but it's hard winning this race on the front end, which is the only way he knows how to run.
DIRT MILE - I hate having to come up with a longshot in here, because I believe Goldencents is going to be extremely hard to beat, especially controlling the pace from the rail and getting a jump on the field as he did last year, without having to work as hard. He looks fantastic physically and is on his toes, and I just don't see anyone being able to keep up with him, even fast horses like Fed Biz, Pants on Fire, and Vicar's in Trouble, all of whom are mainly stalkers but can go to the front if they have to. But why tackle Goldencents and compromise your chances of being there at the end?
If I wanted to bet a longshot to pull off the upset or to put in the exotics I would go with Golden Ticket at 15-1. He was a strong second to Goldencents in last year's Dirt Mile and you never know when he's going to turn in his "A" game, which puts him right there. He doesn't win often, but on any given day he can run with anyone, as evidenced by his head defeat to Palace Malice in this year's Gulfstream Park Handicap. And let's not forget he did dead-heat for win in the Travers, so you know the class is there. It's just a question of whether he's on his game on that particular day. He's earned $1.3 million and is due to break through one of these days.
I'm still a little perplexed by the Chilean horse Bronzo making his U.S. debut in this race rather than the Classic, considering his races over the past year have been mainly at 1 1/4 miles and 1 3/8 miles, and he is four-for-six since stretching out to longer distances. He is an unknown factor in here, and judging by his consistently sharp works at Santa Anita, he just may be worth a win bet or exotic bet at 12-1, even going a mile.
I'm also perplexed about Big Bane Theory winning Santa Anita's prep for the Mile, the grade II City of Hope Stakes in 1:32 1/5 and then going in the Dirt Mile even though he's never run on dirt. So who knows what he's capable of in here.
And finally, there is the hard-knocking 3-year-old Tapiture, who has matured into a professional racehorse who appears to be on the upswing.
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF - Good luck figuring this one out. I have to start off by saying that Lady Eli, winner of the Miss Grillo Stakes and unbeaten in two starts, is one of the most impressive and dynamic 2-year-old turf fillies I've seen, with an explosive turn of foot that can match any European's. There is no way I would exclude her from any of my bets. Her trainer, Chad Brown, has three other fillies in the race and all three—Partisan Politics, Tammy the Torpedo, and Euro import Soviliere—have a good shot to run big. Partisan Politics breaks from the rail and Tammy the Torpedo is stuck out in the 12-post. Soviliere really intrigues me. A winner of three of her five starts in France, she wasn't training all that exciting in the U.S., but former trainer Jean-Claude Rouget said she never trained that great in France either. But her training has picked up and Brown said he is amazed how quickly her coat has blossomed in the past week. So that, along with having Gary Stevens make his comeback on her, makes her an interesting longshot at 12-1.
On the local front, the top-class Sunset Glow, winner of the Del Mar Debutante and Sorrento Stakes and second in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot, cannot be faulted, but she's 7-2 and we're looking for prices. Two other classy fillies from North America are Conquest Harlanate, Rainha da Bateria and Quality Rocks, making this a killer of a race to handicap. Any one of these can win without anyone being the least bit surprised.
The Europeans, who dominated this race the past two years, will be well represented by group winners Osaila and Qualify and group III-placed Prize Exhibit. Osaila and Qualify will be well backed, but Qualify drew post 14. What draws me to her is that a prominent member of the Coolmore team told me this was a very good filly and that the 14-post will not bother her that much, because Aidan O'Brien's horses often miss the break here and that will help her take back and then make one run. She was brilliant winning the group III Weld Park Stakes at the Curragh in her last start.
So, while I love Lady Eli and will keep an eye on Qualify's odds, I just might look to longshot Soviliere at 12-1 and possibly Rainha da Bateria and Partisan Politics to at least pick up a piece of it.
DISTAFF - What a difference a defection makes. With Beholder out and Close Hatches' form in doubt, this also could be anyone's race. Spinster winner Don't Tell Sophia looks to be the best story in the race, having been purchased for $1,000 as a yearling, and locals Iotapa and Tiz Midnight appear to be the speed. Euro invader L'Amour De Ma Vie has run well on synthetic in France and Peruvian invader Valiant Emilia has 11 victories in 23 starts. Ria Antonia is a Breeders' Cup winner, having won the Juvenile Fillies last year on a disqualification and was second in the Santa Anita Oaks and Spinster Stakes.
And of course there is the queen of the 3-year-old fillies, Untapable, and Belle Gallantey, who romped by 8 1/4 lengths in the Beldame and won the Delaware Handicap by almost three lengths, both wire-to-wire. There seems to be quite a bit of classy speed in here.
I have to admit I don't love anyone, but I'm here to try to find a live longshot, and if Tiz Midnight can keep away from a hot pace and stalk, she did run a bang-up race to Beholder in the Zenyatta Stakes to be beaten only three-quarters of a length, and she's listed at 10-1. And Ria Antonia loves Santa Anita and you know never know when she's going to be at her best. At 15-1, who knows? But I'm basically guessing here with all these fillies. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if Stanwyck, who hasn't won in a year, hits the board at a huge price considering how contentious the pace likely will be.