The stars will be out in force Saturday, as California Chrome, Arrogate, Tepin, Lady Eli, Flintshire, Frosted and a host of Aidan O’Brien horses, headed by iron filly Found, will be on display in what promises to be a memorable day of racing.
Let’s cut right to the chase. Remember, I’m looking for prices and potential overlays, so I’m taking several chances on angles rather than simply who is the best horse and likeliest winner.
JUVENILE FILLIES – Like several of the Breeders’ Cup races this year, I have no strong feelings here, other than to say I made up mind who would be high on my list immediately after I watched Daddy’s Lil Darling close from the clouds with a sensational stretch run to finish second in the Alcibiades Stakes despite breaking from the disadvantageous 14 post and dropping to the back of the pack. The daughter of Scat Daddy has run big races in all four of her starts, including an impressive score in the Pocahontas Stakes in the mud and an eight-length romp in a maiden race at Ellis Park. She did not draw well again, but I’ll take a chance she’ll be able to work out a decent trip.
I can’t decide how good the local-based fillies or top Eastern fillies are, so I am going to also focus on two fillies who have a lot to prove, but have shown enough to suggest they could be stars in the making. They are Jamyson ‘n Ginger, who many will feel ran lights out in her maiden victory because of the slop, and Mark Casse’s Keeneland brilliant maiden winner Valadorna.
Forget Jamyson ‘n Ginger’s lofty 103 Beyer speed figure and forget that it was in the slop. This filly is bred to run all day and improved dramatically stretching out to a mile, demolishing her foes by 15 1/4 lengths at Belmont. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez is excellent with young fillies and who knows how good this daughter of Bernardini really is?
The same goes for Valadorna, who was very impressive breaking her maiden by six lengths stretching out to 1 1/16 miles following a terrific effort going a mile at Churchill Downs, in which she broke slowly, dropped back to last in the 10-horse field and closed fast to get the place, beaten one length. She followed up her maiden score with a bullet five-furlong breeze in :59 3/5, fastest of 24 works at the distance. The way this filly ran, opening up in the stretch the way she did, she could very well be something special.
So, just for the heck of it, I’m going to hope these fillies are talented enough to step up in class and perform at this level.
Exacta and trifecta box -- I will box Daddy’s Lil Darling, Jamyson ‘n Ginger, and Valadorna, and bet them to win if they are high enough, especially Daddy’s Lil Darling, who is 12-1 on the morning line. For a fourth horse in the box, I could throw in Chandelier winner Noted and Quoted off her last work, which I thought was very impressive.
FILLY AND MARE TURF – This is a tough one. Aidan O’Brien’s dual Oaks winner Seventh Heaven, conqueror of Found in the Yorkshire Oaks will take a ton of money and no doubt is a very talented filly. But if you’re trying to beat her, she has thrown in several clunkers and was beaten into fifth at 6-5 in the British Champions Filly and Mare Stakes at Ascot in her last start, although she didn't have the best of trips. Some also blame the ground, but it was listed as good and the final time of 2:28 2/5 for the 1 1/2 miles seems pretty solid. She may very well be the best filly in this race and should be in all the exotics, but this race has produced some wild upsets..
Three total unknowns in here are the Chilean-bred Kitcat, the Peruvian invader Ryans Charm, and the Japanese-trained Nuovo Record, all exceptional fillies in their home country. Kitcat made her U.S. debut in the Swingtime Stakes at a mile and finished a good second in fast time, so she should benefit from that effort. And she came back to work a sharp five furlongs in :59 3/5, while Ryans Charm, who has been here since the summer, has been working sharply as well. At odds of 30-1 on Ryans Charm and 20-1 on Kitcat, who knows? Nuovo Record drew post 13, which won’t help, but she may be rounding into form after a productive year last year, finishing second in the Hong Kong Cup to arguably Japan’s best horse, A Shin Hikari. And the majority of her races have been against the boys. I loved the way she gets over the ground, even though she needs to change leads.
But I’m going to stick with the American fillies, headed, of course, by the remarkable Lady Eli. I’m also extremely high on her stablemate Sea Calisi. This ia a filly who last year finished third to the great Treve in France and was beaten two necks in the Yorkshire Oaks. All four of her starts in the U.S. have been superior efforts, including a come-from-the-clouds victory in the grade I Beverly D. In her last start, the Flower Bowl, she was coming off a two-month layoff and did not appreciate the slow pace and then having to outclose Lady Eli, who came home her last quarter in :22 4/5. She fell two lengths short in third, but should improve off that race over a firm course that she loves.
I’m also going to include the E.P. Taylor winner Al’s Gal, who turned in perhaps the gutsiest effort I’ve seen all year winning at Woodbine. She can stalk the pace or come from way out of it, as she did when beaten a half-length by Sea Calisi in the Beverly D., and is as consistent as they come and could pick up a piece of it.
Exacta and trifecta box – Lady Eli, Sea Calisi, Al’s Gal, and just for the heck of it I’ll throw in Nuovo Record at a price. My win bet at 8-1 would be on Sea Calisi.
SPRINT – This race has been decimated with the loss of Lord Nelson and Joking, reducing the field to seven. Lord Nelson had been my selection all year, going all the way back to last year when he beat Texas Red in the San Vicente. To me, this race no longer is worth betting, as there will be no value. If Drefong, Masochistic, and Delta Bluesman manage to cook each other, it could sit up for A. P. Indian or if you want a price, Mind Your Biscuits, although he’s been running against 3-year-olds.
Drefong and Masochistic are coming off seven-furlong races, while Delta Bluesman is coming off a five-furlong race, so perhaps he can outrun both of them.
If forced to make a bet, I’d probably go with Drefong, because he’s proven he can win from just off the pace and Masochistic probably will be the favorite. So how about a straight exacta box of Drefong and A.P. Indian and that’s it.
TURF SPRINT – Pure confusion. I’m not even going to analyze this one, as it is a pure crap shoot. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Washington DC has a monster closing kick that could be ideal for this race, I love horses coming off a big effort in the Prix de l’Abbaye, and he’s dropping 13 pounds off that race, in which he was narrowly beaten in a 17-horse field and closing fastest of all.
I also believe this could set up for Undrafted, who can beat anyone on his best day, and his last, the Woodford Stakes, was much better than it looks on paper. This race normally is won by local horses used to coming down the hill, but he did close like a powerhouse in this race two years ago, finishing third by a half-length. He also gets John Velazquez back and will be coming fast at the end.
For the horses more likely to be racing in midpack, I’m looking for a big effort from Om, dropping back in distance from mile races, and I’ll throw in Obviously, even though this may be too short for him. But he’s a tough old warrior, and what a story if he can win this race after four attempts at the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
There are several other talented Europeans, but I’m not sure they are fast enough, not being familiar with coming down the hill.
Exacta and triefecta box – Washington DC, Undrafted, Om, and Obviously box. And I would bet Om, Undrafted, and Washington DC to win at decent prices.
JUVENILE – I devoted an entire column to this race earlier in the week. This race is so competitive and deep it’s difficult separating all the talent, which will be coming from all over. Based on that column I am going to take a shot that Syndergaard, breaking from post 2, can be the speed of the speed and outrun Gormley and Three Rules into the first turn. A one-turn mile at Belmont is more grueling on a horse than 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita, and if Syndergaard is as fast and game as he was in the Champagne, he just might love his first crack at two turns and be able to take this field wire to wire.
Beating Derby-type horses such as Not This Time (who looks like the wise guy horse, especially after his impressive work over the track), Classic Empire, Practical Joke, Theory, and Klimt, as well as the brilliant pace horses Three Rules and Gormley is no easy assignment, but I need some kind of angle and I just can’t separate the others, and that includes Lookin At Lee getting blinkers.
This time I’ll probably just bet Syndergaard to win or, depending on his price, wheel him on top with the others mentioned above. If you want to protect yourself you can box him in the exacta with those others instead. But I’ll just go all in with him, and also put a saver on Practical Joke, because I believe he's going to be overlooked and is a much better horse than people think. If I bet another exotic it'll be a Practical Joke - Syndergaard exacta box, or the Champagne again both ways. I would also put a saver on Three Rules in case he is really as good as he’s looked. He has all the makings of a class horse, Florida Stallion Series races or not.
If Syndergaard can’t shake free from Gormley and Three Rules and gets inhaled by the others, then it’s simply time to start thinking Derby and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for now, I'm looking at Syndergaard to take this field on a merry, but futile chase. And remember, Pletcher horses always break like a bullet, so he should get the jump on everyone out of the gate.
TURF – Is it possible that back-to-back Todd Pletcher horses can take their field wire to wire? There really is not much speed in this race other than Ectot, and many may feel his Turf Classic win was a fluke on softish ground in a four-horse field that compromised the chances of Flintshire.
Let’s remember that Ectot is by an Arc de Triomphe and Irish Derby winner and was regarded highly enough to be sent off at 6-1 in the Arc last year after winning the Prix Niel. Before that he defeated Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Karakontie in the one-mile Prix de Fontainebleau. In his race before the Turf Classic, he was beaten a nose in a sharp 2:25 flat for the mile and a half, stretching out from 1 1/16 miles. Ectot is a big strapping handsome horse with a monster stride that is capable of running his opponents into the ground.
It’s not going to be easy beating Flintshire on firm ground, and certainly not going to be easy beating stablemates Found and Highland Reel. But the two O’Brien horses are coming off hard campaigns competing against the best horses in Europe, while Ectot is still a fresh horse. And on the European front, never dismiss Michael Stoute, and he has a horse in Ulysses who is getting good and had a terrific work over the Santa Anita course. And he is by super stud Galileo
The only horse seemingly capable of putting any kind of pressure on Ectot is Ashleyluvssugar, who is a hard-knocking, consistent horse coming off back-to-back grade II wins and Gary Stevens is not the type to let a horse steal a race on him. So we’ll have to see how he plays it. Ectot is more than capable of slowing the pace down and is such a strong galloper, a little bit of pressure shouldn’t bother him.
Like with Syndergaard I’m just looking for an angle here rather than try separating Flintshire, Found, Highland Reel, and Da Big Hoss, and even Mondialiste and some of the others.
Exacta and trifecta – Ectot on top of those mentioned above in the exactas, and back end in an exacta with Flintshire, Found, Ulysses, and Highland Reel on top. You can also put him on top of those four in the trifecta. If Ectot goes off at or near his 8-1 morning line odds, you can simply play him to win and get good value. But watch out for Ulysses, who apparently loves this course and will be overlooked because of the powerful O'Brien pair.
FILLY AND MARE SPRINT – This is a totally wide-open affair with no standout and literally 10 to 12 horses who have a legitimate shot to win. The way Haveyougoneaway has been closing every race and the distance drop backs by top-class fillies Tara’s Tango and Carina Mia, you have three top choices, not to mention last year’s winner Wavell Avenue, who seems to have lost a step this year, but is coming off a good sharpener in the 6 1/2-furlong Gallant Bloom Handicap, won by the hard-knocking Paulassilverlining, whose stablemate By the Moon is coming off a narrow defeat to Haveyougoneaway in the grade I Ballerina Stakes. And you can’t ignore TCA Stakes winner Irish Jasper or Test winner Paola Queen or LA Woman winner GloryzapperGot all that?
So with so many fast, classy fillies in this race, why am I looking at a 20-1 shot with only two starts this year and one start since April? Well it could be stupidity or the inability to separate the others, or simply looking for a bomb.
The horse in question is Gomo, a daughter of Uncle Mo from the Doug O’Neill barn. Not only do you have the grass to dirt angle, with Gomo coming off a fast-closing fourth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths, in the 6 1/2-furlog Unzip Me Stakes at Santa Anita at 18-1, her first start in six months, she has run her best dirt races coming off grass races.
After romping in a one-mile maiden race on grass, she finished a solid second in the 6 1/2-furlong Sorrento Stakes at odds of 19-1. After finishing third in the Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf, she shipped to Keeneland and won the grade I Alcibiades Stakes by almost three lengths. She apparently is over her physical issues from early this year and once again returns to the dirt off a sharp effort on grass. Hey, what do you want for 20-1?
Her last workout, six furlongs in 1:15, is nothing to rave about, but I’m going to ignore it, partly out of ignorance and knowing that Doug O’Neill horses often have strange workout times. I was impressed with this filly’s performance in the Alcibiades, and even though it as last year, she still looked like a quality filly and I’ll take a stab with her.
The other intriguing longshot with the grass to dirt angle is Finest City, coming off a head defeat in the grade II John C. Mabee Stakes and a close fourth in the grade II Yellow Ribbon Stakes. Prior to that she was third behind Beholder and Stellar Wind in the Vanity Mile, and in her last sprint, she captured grade II Great Lady M Stakes going away, and she gets the services of Mike Smith. Do not ignore this filly who is listed at 12-1.
Exacta and trifecta box -- I’m going to save myself the anguish of separating all the main contenders and bet Gomo and Finest City to win and box each one in the exacta with Haveyougoneaway, Carina Mia, and Tara’s Tango. If you’re daring enough you can also box them in the trifecta.
MILE – Again, there are too many horses to like, and I would love to see Tepin win, but this is a tougher race than last year. I was glad to hear trainer Mark Casse say he believes she’s as good as ever, so we’ll see.
To make this brief, I am going to make a trifecta box with Tepin, Ironicus, Alice Springs, Limato, and Spectre. Nothing earth shattering here. And even with that, there are several I like that I am not including. Of these I think Limato may be the big danger, but 7-2 is too low for me. I do know that Ironicus will be flying late, and Spectre could be worth a win bet at 20-1.
CLASSIC – Normally, I can single out one price horse I like to possibly upset the proverbial apple cart. But I really can’t this time. And if I want to take a negative approach and explain why California Chrome might be vulnerable, I would say, by drawing post 4 with no speed inside him, a sharp and fresh Melatonin breaking in the middle and Arrogate having to bust out of there from the far outside, California Chrome could wind up where he does not like to be, stuck on the inside, with two of the main contenders keeping him pinned down.
But with such a long run to the first turn, anything can happen, so I’m not going to dwell on the ways California Chrome might be compromised.
Two of the horses inside Chrome, Effinex on the rail and Frosted in post 2, are the type of horses who can be placed anywhere, and although they like to get a good position early, it is highly doubtful their riders are going to ask them for too much speed, so I look for them to suck back ever so slightly and tuck in behind California Chrome. Shaman Ghost likely will stay pretty much in touch from the outside.
The question is, will the riders of Chrome, Arrogate, and Melatonin try to slow the pace down or will they all be competitive enough to assure a fast pace? Will one try for the lead with the other two content to let him? This likely is where the scenario of the race will be decided. Will Chrome get clear of those two, will he be pinned down inside them, or will Espinoza take back and try to ease to the outside in a stalking position. Either way, it should be a pretty contentious pace; not necessarily fast, but contentious.
As we have no idea what Arrogate is going to do and how good he really is, you’re just guessing and speculating with him. He could be a budding superstar or a one-hit wonder. He shows all the signs of being a powerhouse of a horse, with that humongous stride, but he still has to show it one more time.
If California Chrome is going be vulnerable enough to get beat, the logical one to pull off the dastardly deed is Frosted, if he can come close to duplicating his other-worldly performance in the Met Mile and even his impressive Whitney score.
I thought Keen Ice ran a very good race returning off his Dubai debacle, squeezing through a narrow opening on the rail and closing fast late, and was five in front about 50 yards past the wire in a mile race run in a snappy 1:33 1/5. Hoppertunity appears to be feeling good about himself after his confidence builder in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and you can see it in his training this past week. He will be closing and should once again pick up the pieces late. Can you imagine the ironic twist if Baffert wins the Classic, but does it with "Hopper." You can bet no one close to this likeable horse will be disappointed. Effinex is always capable of being right there, as is Shaman Ghost. So this is a pick ‘em group.
With all that said, there is no way I can go against California Chrome, but do acknowledge the possibility of a compromising trip that he will have to overcome. I can also see Chrome and Arrogate separating themselves from the rest of the field, they are that much faster. If Arrogate, whose last two works have been sensational, comes close to repeating his Travers, there may not be a horse alive who can run with him. With that in mind, if you want to make a win bet that will return at least a decent profit, then Frosted as third choice would seem the logical way to go. He looks fantastic physically, probably was not at his very best in the Woodward, in which he ran 40 feet farther than the winner, and looks like he could be sitting on a peak performance. This is not a race for a major betting coup in my opinion. California Chrome is the man, Arrogate is still the mystery horse with unlimited upside, and Frosted is the logical win play to make some mone in case he runs back to his Met Mile.
This is just a race to watch and enjoy and hope California Chrome gets a good trip and is able to put in his best effort. A victory would be a magnificent end to a great Breeders’ Cup, and if he gets beat fair and square, then a well-earned congratulations to the winner.