Once again, this is about longshots and value. I don’t have enough money to bet favorites and pick 6’s and superfectas, so I’ve got to take a few stabs.
There are just too many races to go into with in-depth analysis, so I will concentrate mostly on the longshots.
JUVENILE FILLIES – STAINLESS (20-1) has had some horrible luck on the dirt and had no chance to win the Schuylerville and Adirondack, in which she was fortunate not to fall on her face at the start. She came from the clouds with a huge late run to finish second in the Jessamine Stakes on grass in her first two-turn race. Her connections wanted to run her in the Juvenile Fillies Turf but had to settle for this race, and can only hope she can duplicate her last start onto the dirt. I love her breeding for the dirt, and at 20-1 I’ll take a shot she can make the transition back to dirt and run the way she did in the Jessamine, and that it was the two turns as much as the grass that moved up way up. I loved the workout by PIEDI BIANCHI at Del Mar and the way she toyed with her workmate. She has a very easy way of going and I see a bright future for her. She had no chance of catching Moonshine Memories and Alluring Star in the Chandelier and I’m looking for big improvement off that third-place finish, beaten only three lengths. My only concern right now is that Del Mar seems to be favoring speed, and they have the track much faster than it was at Santa Anita.
TURF SPRINT – I don’t like this race as a betting race because the vast majority of horses are 5 1/2 and six-furlong horses, with the big favorite Lady Aurelia the only horse who can excel at five furlongs and is proven around two turns. Looking for a potential price horse, I am going to go with HOLDING GOLD, who I think can be able to close and get up in time at five furlongs, and he is a grade 2 winner going 5 1/2 furlongs. He also was beaten only a length by Disco Partner when he set a North American record of 1:05 3/5 for six furlongs in the Jaipur Stakes. Disco Partner is 9-2 and I’m looking for this colt to be higher than 15-1. He could be a good exacta bet with Disco Partner if Lady Aurelia doesn’t run her race. But at five furlongs she is going to be extremely tough to beat, and if so, there are a number of horses who will be closing behind her, including Holding Gold if you’re looking for a price.
FILLY & MARE SPRINT – The consensus is that it is Unique Bella and then everyone else. I do like the everyone else aspect of it, because there are so many talented and tenacious sprinters in here who don’t like to lose. I like so many horses I can’t separate them. But I will go with 12-1 HIGHWAY STAR, as tough and consistent as they come, who boasts a record of nine starts, eight victories, and a second (beaten a head in the Ballerina) in races at a mile or less. She won’t be a long way back and could catch them all with a contentious pace up front. I would play her with SKYE DIAMONDS, who is only 5-1. But I love the way she dropped back from a mile and 1 1/16 miles, where she was a half-length behind the top-class Vale Dori, to win back-to-back graded stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs, defeating last year’s Filly & Mare Sprint winner Finest City in the Great Lady M Stakes. Now she moves back up to seven furlongs, which suits her perfectly. But unless Unique Bella is as unbeatable as some say she is, and she very well may be, I find this one of the most competitive fields in this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
FILLY & MARE TURF – From a non-betting standpoint, if there is one horse everyone wants to see win it is Lady Eli. But looking for a price to play with her or beat her, I really like a pair of 20-1 shots, SENGA and WUHEIDA.
I absolutely loved what I saw of WUHEIDA in the morning. She is a big muscular filly with a powerful hind end and was really motoring around there, striding out beautifully. Her last three starts have all been on soft or yielding ground, and although she ran good races in defeat, including a half-length defeat in the group 1 Prix de l’Opera, it is important to note that her record on firm going is three starts, two wins, and a solid second to BC Mile starter Roly Poly in the group 1 Falmouth Stakes. Roly Poly, who went on to win two more group 1 stakes, is 6-1 on the morning line in the Mile. One of Wuheida’s victories on firm going was in the group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly at 9-1. Despite racing only six times in her career, she has run big in France, England, Ireland, and Germany (finishing third in the German Oaks on heavier ground than she likes), and has never been worse than fourth. From what I’ve seen of her so far, she definitely is one of my major longshot plays.
Do not overlook SENGA off her 11th-place finish in the Prix de l’Opera. Senga’s only two poor performances in her career have come on soft going, as it was in the Opera. But on firm ground she was good enough to win the French Oaks, and her trainer Pascal Bary should always be feared. This filly is European in location only, being a daughter of Blame, out of an A.P. Indy mare. French trainers like Andre Fabre and Bary are too shrewd to send a horse to America unless they feel they have a big chance. Although Senga has been running mostly at 1 1/4 miles, she has enough good efforts at a mile to suggest a drop back to 1 1/8 miles will be just fine.
Just a note, even though 1 1/8 miles looks too short her, if last year’s Filly & Mare Turf winner QUEEN’S TRUST is double-digit odds like her 12-1 morning line odds suggests, I would definitely take a shot she can get up again. She loves the firm going and hasn’t gotten a firm course since the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, where she closed fast to finish fourth, beaten only two lengths, behind Highland Reel, Decorated Knight, and Ulysses, all of whom have a big shot in the BC Turf. Sir Michael Stoute is always to be respected.
SPRINT – This is another race that doesn’t excite me from a betting standpoint. There are so many fast horses in here, and I mean really fast, and Drefong may be a superstar. I know Del Mar may be favoring speed on Saturday, but I am going to look for horses to come running late, even to pick up the pieces in case one of these speed freaks gets loose and takes it all. I’m not getting much of a price on MIND YOUR BISCUITS, but this could be set up him if he’s back to his old self. That is the big question; trusting a horse to bounce back from a dreadful performance, and do it against the best sprinters in the country. I’m also going back the early part of the year to come up with WHITMORE, who looked to be the best sprinter in the country this winter, wining five straight races. After two defeats, in which he ran well, he bounced back in October with a dramatic score in the Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland. Six furlongs may be a bit short for him, but he at least is a more attractive proposition at 15-1, and I’m just going to let the speed sort themselves out and go with the two closers.
MILE – With Midnight Storm and Heart to Heart expected to eyeball each other on the lead breaking from posts 1 and 2 and Blackjackcat busting out of there from post 13, this looks to set up for a closer, and there once again are some very enticing Europeans in here. While Ribchester is the class, he’s had a hard campaign and we don’t know if he has another big one in him. The horse to beat likely will be Forever Approval, who is in great form right now and is hard to play against. I’m also looking for a big effort from Shadwell Turf Mile winner Suedois. And you always have to respect the hard-knocking warrior Home of The Brave at 20-1. This 5-year-old always fires; it’s a question of whether he’s good enough. I would have given the French-trained Karar a big chance at 15-1, but I think the 14 post puts him at a big disadvantage.
I am going to go with a 20-1 shot from Ballydoyle, and that is LANCASTER BOMBER. Just go back to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and watch his big late run to finish second to Oscar Performance. He’s been all but forgotten and is coming off a 14th-place finish in the group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, hence his 20-1 odds. But this strictly a firm course horse, who despises soft going, which he encountered in the Queen Elizabeth, Sussex Stakes, and Irish 2,000 Guineas. He started off the year showing his versatility by finishing a close fourth in the UAE Derby on dirt, beaten two lengths by Thunder Snow. On good to firm going in the English 2,000 Guineas, he changed tactics and went to the front, setting a solid pace for stablemate Churchill. He was headed a furlong out and looked as if he were cooked, but battled gamely the final furlong to finish fourth, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths by Churchill and a neck behind Barney Roy, who would later beat him a length in the St. James’s Palace Stakes on good to firm going at Royal Ascot, in which he finished ahead of Thunder Snow.
If you love World Approval at 9-2, you have to give him a shot at 20-1 after he closed fast to finish second to the Live Oak Plantation colt in the Woodbine Mile. He has already made two trips to North America, running bang-up seconds each time. He gets his firm going again and we know he can run big from well off the pace or be right up there. He may not be good enough to beat these horses, having won only one of 13 career starts, but on his best day and with the right conditions he can run with anyone. He could be an attractive horse to put in the exotics if you’re looking to beef it up, with all the favorites looking so good. Aidan O’Brien could have run Churchill in here, but he opted for the Classic and is leaving it all up to this guy.
There has been some buzz surrounding ZELZAL, and for good reason. He is another who will relish the firm ground and if he can duplicate his victory in last year's group 1 Prix Jean Praat at Chantilly, run in a snappy 1:34 2/5 for the about a mile distance, he can easily take this race at a very enticing price. I will definitely have win bets on him and Lancaster Bomber and hope for some big bucks.
JUVENILE – Going light in here, as the favorites look too strong. If Bolt d’Oro runs back to the Forerunner, everyone is running for second. But it’s not easy to duplicate an effort like that, and perhaps he ran his Breeders’ Cup a race too early. Free Drop Billy looked super winning the Breeders’ Futurity and has trained up a storm in California, looking awesome in his works. I was going to use Hollywood Star as my longshot pick after his first work, but an experiment with blinkers didn’t fare too well in his second work and he just may need more time to mature. Watch for him on the Derby trail, although he still can pick up a piece of it here if you’re looking for someone to pick up the pieces.
I am intrigued by U S NAVY FLAG, who looked to be headed to the Juvenile Turf and you would think would have the 2,000 Guineas on his agenda next spring. But having an amazing 10 starts already at 2, that is not your typical m.o. of a classic type horse. Despite his extensive campaign, he had improved dramatically, winning his last three starts, including back-to-back scores in the group 1 Middle Park Stakes and Dewhurst Stakes. He has been running in sprints down straightaways and we don’t know how he’ll handle two turns. But drawing the rail and with his natural speed, I can see him going right up for the lead if he breaks well and either pressing or setting the pace. Te question is, does he have another big effort in him after running so many times. At 8-1 I’ll take a shot. But it’s all in the hands of Bold d’Oro to determine whether this is a wide-open race or a mismatch.
One of the strongest works I’ve seen was by Golden Dragon, who has never run on dirt, but ran huge in his last two starts on the grass and he is sired by Skipshot, a son of Horse of the Year Skip Away. And he sure looked like he relished the dirt in his workout. I know absolutely nothing about his trainer Mikhail Yanakov. He is 30-1 and certainly worth mentioning off his work.
TURF – I was all in on Oscar Performance until he drew post 14, which may or may not hurt him. I think it may force Jose Ortiz to gun him to the lead, something I pushed for in my recent column. His one chance is to run all these distance grass horses off their feet early and take them out of their game. But he will have to shake loose from the dogged Beach Patrol, who also breaks from the outside in post 12.
There is no doubt the two horses to beat are the top-class Euros Highland Reel and Ulysses. But again, do they have another big one in them after having run in the Champion Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, respectively, and competing against the best in Europe all year?
I really like three European longshots in here, two of them, like Highland Reel, trained by Aidan O’Brien.
Sticking with O’Brien, SEVENTH HEAVEN is listed at 20-1 because she is coming off two dismal performances, in the Arc and the group 2 Blandford Stakes. But those two races were run on soft and yielding ground. In her race before that, on firm going, she crushed the boys by five lengths in the group 2 Jockey Club Stakes at a mile and an half at Newmarket. She had earlier finished a good second to the Irish Derby winner Jack Hobbs in the group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, and although that was run on yielding ground, it was not nearly as soft as the European courses. Yes, she can be inconsistent, but on her good days she was classy and talented enough to win both the Irish Oaks and Yorshire Oaks by almost three lengths and was closing fastest of all to get fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths by Queen’s Trust and Lady Eli. O’Brien would not bring this filly over here off her poor Arc performance, in which she never picked up her feet, if he didn’t think she could rebound big-time on firm going, unless this is just a stopover on the way to the breeding shed. But at 20-1 I’ll take a chance it is the former.
CLIFFS OF MOHER is another O’Brien horse at 20-1 and you would be advised not to dismiss him, as he also should relish the firm going after running unsuccessfully in three straight races, all on soft, yielding, or good to soft ground. Go back to his victory in the Dee Stakes at Chester. I love prospective U.S. invaders who have run big at Chester, which in the U.S. would be considered a bull ring track, as the horses are constantly going around turns. Horses who run well at Chester are normally athletic, U.S. types who you know will handle our sharper turns. Cliffs of Moher won the Dee in impressive fashion and then came back to be edged at the wire by stablemate Wings of Eagles in the English Derby, finishing a neck ahead of Cracksman, who has developed into the top male in Europe following his runaway victory in the Champion Stakes, demolishing Highland Reel by seven lengths. What you have to decide is whether Cliffs of Moher is over the top or just didn’t handle the going in his recent races. Again, I don’t think O’Brien would bother sending him and Seventh Heaven for the Turf when he has Highland Reel, another who loves the firm ground. There often are surprise European winners in the Breeders’ Cup and I would have to give both Cliffs of Moher and Seventh Heaven a shot in here.
TALISMANIC is definitely one to watch at 15-1. The combination of Godolphin, jockey Mickael Barzalona, and especially trainer Andre Fabre makes for a deadly combination, as all Fabre horses are. This is a hard-knocking son of Medaglia d’Oro who has finished in the money in his last six races. He handles all types of going, and in his last start, the Prix Foy, a prep for the Arc de Triomphe, he closed fast to finish third, a neck behind runner-up Cloth of Stars, who came right back to finish second behind the great Enable in the Arc. I really liked Talismanic’s race two back when he drew clear in the final furlong to capture the group 2, 1 3/4-mile Prix Maurice de Nieuil on firm going at Saint-Cloud, like the U.S. tracks a left-handed course. He underachieved last year in the major races, but he has developed into a tough, consistent 4-year-old, and I love the way he holds himself on the racetrack. This is a step up in class, but at the price he’s likely to be, he, and monsieur Fabre, could very well be worth a shot.
I believe all three of these are worth win bets and would make a great back-end in the exotics if you’re looking to hit it big.
CLASSIC – I wrote an separate column on the Classic yesterday, so I will just go over the wagering possibilities.
Straight win bets on GUNNEVERA and WAR DECREE and maybe a saver on Churchill just in case. And in the trifectas, to protect in case Arrogate is back to his old self, I would go with:
1-5-9 Arrogate, Gun Runner, Gunnevera
1-5-2 Arrogate, Gun Runner, War Decree
1-9-5 Arrogate, Gunnevera, Gun Runner
1-9-2 Arrogate, Gunnevera, War Decree
1-2-5 Arrogate, War Decree, Gun Runner
1-2-9 Arrogate, War Decree, Gunnevera
1-8-9 Arrogate West Coast, Gunnevera
1-8-2 Arrogate, West Coast, War Decree
1-9-8 Arrogate, Gunnevera, West Coast
1-2-8 Arrogate, War Decree, West Coast