By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
With the Breeders’ Cup less than three weeks away, I thought it would be wise to start pondering each race to try and work out some early wagering strategies and selections before the Breeders’ Cup arrives. So as a jumping off point for those that wish to join me in this challenging but enjoyable pursuit, here are some preliminary thoughts on each of the Breeders’ Cup races!
Given the way European shippers have dominated this race, my selections will certainly begin—and most likely end—with the foreign runners. Aidan O’Brien’s War Envoy caught my eye with his fifth-place finish in the Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Fr-I) on October 5th at Longchamp, and should he ship in for the Breeders’ Cup, I would consider him the horse to beat. Of the American-based colts, I believe that Pilgrim Stakes (gr. III) winner Imperia has the best chance to defeat the European shippers, with Startup Nation another strong contender despite his fourth-place finish last out in the Pilgrim.
Last year’s winner Goldencents prepped for this race with a nose defeat in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. I), and should have every chance to defend his title from last year. He looks like a potential single to me in multi-race wagers, but the two-turn nature of the Dirt Mile has a tendency to favor horses with experience in longer races, so I’ll also be looking closely at Fed Biz (runner-up in the grade I Awesome Again Stakes) and Tapiture (runner-up in the grade II Pennsylvania Derby.)
Juvenile Fillies Turf
As in the Juvenile Turf, any Europeans that ship in for this race must be strongly considered, but I believe that the American-based fillies have a better chance of defending their home country than their male counterparts. Lady Eli was as impressive as could be in winning the Miss Grillo Stakes (gr. III), while stablemate Partisan Politics also warrants consideration after finishing a troubled fourth in that same race. Conquest Harlanate has won three straight at Woodbine, including the Natalma Stakes (gr. II), but has never run over a firm turf course, and that’s a legitimate question mark as she heads to Santa Anita.
With five-time grade I winner Close Hatches fading to fourth in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) on October 5th, Beholder has become the favorite for the Distaff, and appears poised to add a third consecutive Breeders’ Cup victory to her record. Granted, didn’t dominate in the Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) last time out, but she has shown in the past that she improves sharply in her second start off a layoff, and her remarkable 8-for-9 record at Santa Anita definitely makes her the horse to beat. Untapable may not have been all that impressive in winning the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) last time out, but she did overcome a track bias in doing so, and should show improvement if the track is fairer at Santa Anita.
The form of the best East coast-based fillies has been muddled by mud, as the two biggest prep races in New York—the Frizette (gr. I) and the Spinaway (gr. I)—were run over very sloppy conditions. So it’s hard to know what to do with By the Moon, who won the Frizette and was second in the Spinaway. Will she handle the fast track at Santa Anita? I actually prefer the chances of Wonder Gal, runner-up in the Frizette after previously finishing third in the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) over a fast track at Saratoga, but Angela Renee and Conquest Eclipse, the 1-2 finishers in the Chandelier Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita, may have an edge thanks to their experience around two turns and at Santa Anita.
Filly & Mare Turf
I believe that Stephanie’s Kitten is in career-best form and has an edge over her fellow American-based runners, but the return of Dank from Europe could make things interesting. Dank hasn’t run since finishing fifth in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-I) on June 18th, but won last year’s Filly & Mare Turf off of no races since August, so the layoff shouldn’t be much of a concern. I think these two mares are the primary contenders in what should be an exciting race.
Filly & Mare Sprint
The retirement of Groupie Doll has left this race wide open, with plenty of legitimate contenders to choose from. Personally, I like the chances of Midnight Lucky, who won the Humana Distaff (gr. I) on May 3rd by 4 ½ lengths. The talented Bob Baffertt-trained filly has not run since then, and won’t have a prep for the Breeders’ Cup, but demonstrated in the Humana that she can deliver a top-notch effort off a long layoff. Judy the Beauty, runner-up in last year’s Filly & Mare Sprint, is another major contender.
Most of my attention will be focused on horses with experience over the unique Santa Anita downhill turf course, such as Reneesgotzip, Unbridled’s Note, Home Run Kitten, and Sweep Swap. But I’ll also give close consideration to Bobby’s Kitten, a speedy miler that will be cutting back in distance for the Turf Sprint. Yes, he’s never run over the course before, but I have the feeling that his excellent tactical speed and miler stamina will prove a good fit for the Turf Sprint.
Daredevil was eye-catching in winning the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) in the mud at Belmont, and Carpe Diem was equally impressive in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland, but I believe that Bob Baffert’s two-time grade I winner American Pharoah has the advantage with his experience at Santa Anita. At this point, I believe he may be the most likely winner in all of the thirteen Breeders’ Cup races.
Last year’s winner Magician will be back to defend his title, but he may find himself overshadowed by the presence of Telescope, runner-up in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I), and Flintshire, runner-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I). This three-pronged European invasion looks extremely formidable, with my preference being for Telescope, who is passing on the major year-end races in Europe to specifically target the Breeders’ Cup.
I thought Secret Circle ran fantastic last time out, finishing a strong third in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. I) off a long layoff, and that race should set him up very well for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The Hong Kong shipper Rich Tapestry, winner of the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, will likely give Secret Circle his stiffest challenge, while Vosburgh winner Private Zone will need to avoid getting into a pace duel like the one that fried him in last year’s Breeders’ Cup.
The unfortunate injury suffered by Wise Dan has taken much of the luster out of this race, although some was regained after the announcement that the multiple group I-winning European miler Toronado pass the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot on Saturday and come straight to the Breeders’ Cup. The Richard Hannon-trained colt should appreciate the firm turf he’ll find at Santa Anita, and looms as the likely favorite in the absence of Wise Dan. Seek Again encountered homestretch traffic when sixth in the Shadwell Turf Mile, but still appears to be the best of the American-based contenders. I’ll also strongly consider Obviously, a very speedy horse that was fourth last time out in the Del Mar Mile (gr. II). When at his best, I don’t believe there’s a horse alive that can out-sprint him through the first six furlongs of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, and a repeat of his effort in the 2012 Mile would make him a serious contender in this race.
This race is looking like a showdown between the nation’s top three-year-olds, with California Chrome, Shared Belief, Tonalist, and Bayern all expected to battle for division leadership. Of the quartet, I narrowly prefer the unbeaten Shared Belief over California Chrome, but the post draw and pre-Breeders’ Cup workouts will have a major impact on my final decision. Of the older horses, I like Homecoming Classic winner Cigar Street, who will be making his third start off a long layoff in the Classic.