As always, there are a number of solid favorites in this year’s Breeders’ Cup, some of whom are going to be very tough to beat. But as is also the case every year, there will be several longshots that come in, some at huge prices. The toughest past of the Breeders’ Cup is finding them among the morass of top-class horses who will be competing.
Let’s start with Friday’s card.
JUVENILE TURF – This is the proverbial crap shoot, where you can pick out of a hat. It will also be the first indication of how dominant the Europeans will be this year. Grand Criterium runner-up Cymric and undefeated Hit It a Bomb look to be the two top Euros, but they drew the two outside posts and that certainly is not going to help, especially considering that European horses like to race with cover. Shogun is group II placed and Aidan O’Brien is putting blinkers on him as well as adding Lasix. Birchwood is coming off a third in the group I National Stakes.
The Americans are a grab bag and I’m going to get personal and go with HIGHLAND SKY as my selection. He traces to the family-owned mare, the amazing Highland Mills, who produced two grade I winners, two grade III winners, two stakes-placed horses, and is the granddam of another grade I winner and two grade III-placed horses. Now her great-grandson is in the Breeders’ Cup after finishing a hard-luck fourth in the Pilgrim Stakes after having to check at the eighth pole and still getting beat only 1 1/4 lengths behind three talented horses who are all in the field. This colt is owned by the same family and trained by their longtime trainer Barclay Tagg. Not too bad for a 30-1 shot.
DIRT MILE – As soon as the decision was made to run Liam’s Map in the Dirt Mile instead of the Classic, I proclaimed him the surest thing in the Breeders’ Cup. Run around two turns and more of a mile and 70-yard race, this is right in Liam’s Map’s wheelhouse and he is simply the fastest horse in the race. Although I still don’t see him getting beat, I still have to try to find a potential upsetter or at least a horse or two to use with him in the exotics.
If there is one horse who can match Liam’s Map in the class department it is LEA, who has run some brilliant races, including his huge victory in last year’s Donn Handicap, run in a blazing 1:46 4/5. A trip to Dubai early this year may have compromised his form upon his return, but I feel his most recent second, beaten a half-length, returning to the grass in the Woodbine Mile was a wake-up race and gives him the grass-to-dirt betting angle.
I’m also looking for a big effort from WICKED STRONG. I don’t know if he has the speed to win this race, but he does have the class, and he did show good early lick in the recent Jockey Club Gold Cup and had a clear lead turning for home. He should be in midpack here and could be a factor in the stretch.
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF – One thing is for sure, as good as the American fillies might be, there is no Lady Eli in here, and there are three pretty live Euros, five if you count Frizette runner-up Nemoralia, who was making her U.S. debut at Belmont, and Mirage, who finished third in the Surfer Girl after breaking her maiden at Brighton. Chad Brown trains one of the Euros, group III-placed Last Waltz, who gets Lasix and blinkers off. Alice Springs, from the Ballyodyle stable, is group I-placed and is coming off an impressive victory at Newmarket, but the main Euro danger is Illuminate, coming off a narrow defeat in the group I Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket for Richard Hannon. Any one of these fillies is more than capable of winning.
And any of the Americans is capable of winning as well. As a result, I have no strong feelings in here. If you’re looking for a possible bomb from a powerful stable you can choose between PRICEDTOPERFECTION, a 20-1 shot from the Chad Brown barn, and 30-1 GLIDING BY, trained by Bill Mott. Both these fillies are coming off impressive maiden victories and we really have no idea how good they may be, but their trainers must think enough of them to run them here off a maiden win. Mott, who also has the morning line favorite, Harmonize, took over the training of Gliding By after the daughter of Artie Schiller blew her opponents away at Woodbine for Josie Carroll. Pricedtoperfection also demonstrated a powerful closing kick breaking her maiden at Belmont in her second career start. Both obviously are stepping way up, but could pick up a piece of it. This is really a tough race to handicap.
DISTAFF – Unlike the other Friday races, I really like a longshot and a not-so-longshot in here, despite the presence of Wedding Toast, Sheer Drama, I’m a Chatterbox, and Got Lucky. I feel like STOPCHARGINGMARIA is coming into this race as good as she’s ever come up to a race, based in part on the way she’s been training. I thought she was listed kind of low at 5-1, so the word may be out on her. It is important to note that she is 8-for-15 lifetime and is a dual grade I winner at Saratoga. She definitely looks to be sitting on a big one.
Looking for a big price, you have to love the 30-1 on FRIVOLOUS. She found her best form this spring, defeating Sheer Drama in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs before finishing second to Sheer Drama in the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Handicap, setting all the pace. She then came from ninth in a 10-horse to win the Locust Grove at Churchill by eight lengths with a breathtaking move. She raced wide in the Spinster from the far outside 9-post and ran evenly in the stretch to finish fourth. She bounced back with a :59 4/5 breeze at Keeneland and could be sitting on a big effort. This is a filly who used to be very immature, but she’s starting to put it all together. Although her best races have come at Churchill Downs, there is a lot of speed in here and she does look like a live closer who has the speed to stay close if need be, just in case you want to put some oomph in your exotic bets.
There is a bit of a mystery horse in the field, who is listed at 12-1, has won five of her seven career starts, romped in the grade I Santa Anita Oaks, and looked awfully impressive winning the Torrey Pines at Del Mar in her last start. I’m talking about STELLAR WIND, who has also shown her courage winning the grade II Summer Oaks in a hard-fought battle. We really don’t know how good this John Sadler-trained filly might be, but that’s what makes her intriguing enough to fool around with.
If the speed really develops, an exotics box of I’m a Chatterbox, Stopchargingmaria, Frivolous, Got Lucky, and Stellar wind would pay off extremely handsomely if you’re willing to go five deep in your box and leave out Wedding Toast and Sheer Drama, as foolish as that might seem.