By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
The pre-entries for the 31st running of the Breeders Cup were announced this morning, with a record number of horses being entered and overflow fields expected for many of the thirteen races. It will take many days to sort out the details of each horse and each race, but here are a few of my initial thoughts upon seeing the entries…
The European contingent is strong
I was honestly blown away by how many European horses have been pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup. Their presence will be particularly felt in the Filly & Mare Turf, where eight foreign-based runners have been entered, and in the Turf, where seven have been entered (although three are fillies and mares that have been crossed-entered in the Filly & Mare Turf.)
Much to my delight, Aidan O’Brien’s War Envoy will make the trip from Europe to contest the Juvenile Turf, where I think he has a terrific shot to win. At first glance, he looks like a standout in the race, although I would definitely want to include Autumn Stakes (Eng-III) winner Commemorative in multi-race wagers.
The Europeans don’t appear quite as strong in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, with only three runners in the main body of the field. That said, two of them—Osaila and Qualify—are group stakes winners, and those two both ran well in the Moyglare Stud Stakes (Eng-I) in September, a race that produced next-out group stakes winners Lucida and Found. It’s becoming clear that the Moyglare Stud Stakes was a very strong race, and while the U.S. fillies look talented this year, I wouldn’t take a stand against Osaila and Qualify in multi-race wagers.
Should the Turf Sprint have been run in divisions?
I’m only half-serious, but after the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint drew a mind-boggling twenty-nine pre-entries—fifteen of which will not be able to start!—it’s clear that the race could have been run in two divisions if the Breeders’ Cup had so desired. The race is so deep that Regally Ready, who won the race in 2011, is the seventh-ranked also-eligible! Yes! Seven horses would have to scratch for Regally Ready to draw into the race!
Of the horses that did secure a spot in the main body of the field, only six—Dimension, Home Run Kitten, Sweet Swap, Tightend Touchdown, Ambitious Brew, and Reneesgotzip—have ever run over Santa Anita’s downhill turf course, and with history suggesting that experience over this course is critical to success in the Turf Sprint, it’s likely that one of these six will emerge as the winner of the race.
The Distaff looks ripe for an upset
With defending winner Beholder out of the race with an illness, and with five-time grade I winner Close Hatches having run poorly without excuse in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I), and with Untapable making her debut against older horses after beating up on what many feel is a weak crop of three-year-old fillies… I get the feeling that an upset might be in the offing.
Call me crazy, but I’m starting to like the chances of Ria Antonia. After winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last year via disqualification, she was soundly beaten in five of her next seven races, but the addition of blinkers and a shift to pace-pressing tactics in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I) last time out resulted in a much-improved second-place finish. I’m also intrigued by the chances of Iotapa, who romped in the Vanity Handicap (gr. I) earlier this year. She bled last time out when third in the Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I), and that is definitely a concern, but if she can avoid a similar issue in the Distaff, I think she could be a legitimate contender at a solid price.
Toast of New York Looks Live in the Classic
Much of the focus in the Classic has revolved around the battle for Horse of the Year between the three-year-olds California Chrome, Shared Belief, Bayern, and Tonalist, but what about the European-based three-year-old Toast of New York? The lightly-raced colt is a beast on synthetic tracks, as he demonstrated while winning the group II UAE Derby at Meydan and finishing second to Shared Belief in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar. True, he has never run on a dirt track before, but has done some training over the fibresand course at Southwell in England, a track that is very similar to dirt. My gut feeling is that he’s ready to fire off another big effort, and I’ll be giving him a close look.
During the next several days, I'll be sharing many more thoughts on the pre-entries in the comments section of this post. If you would like to join me, feel free to leave a comment!