By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
Breeders’ Cup Friday promises to be an exciting day of racing, but as usual, it’s Breeders’ Cup Saturday—with nine top-notch grade I races on schedule—that has racing fans really excited. After much deliberation, here are my top two selections in each race, along with a live longshot to spruce up the exotics!
Top Selection: Majestic Presence was wide every step of the way when fourth in the Chandelier Stakes (gr. I) and may not have been fully cranked for the race. She has posted three very sharp workouts since then, and with race favorites Angela Renee and Conquest Eclipse having taken advantage of dream trips to run 1-2 in the Chandelier, I think Majestic Presence is poised to turn the tables on Saturday at around 20-1.
Second Choice: Angela Renee must be respected off her effort in the Chandelier, and figures to get another ground-saving trip from post two. She has been training at Santa Anita for weeks, and is a filly I wouldn’t want to leave off my multi-race wagers.
Live Longshot: Wonder Gal ran well against Angela Renee in the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) despite a troubled trip, and came back to finish second in the Frizette (gr. I) over a sloppy track. She picks up Mike Smith for this race and has enough tactical speed to work out a nice trip at around 12-1.
FILLY & MARE TURF
Top Selection: Stephanie’s Kitten has been very impressive in her last three starts, culminating with a victory in the ten-furlong Flower Bowl (gr. I) at Belmont, in which she ran her final quarter in a rapid :22 2/5. With the possibility of a wet turf course on Saturday, her 4-for-4 record on such courses is a major plus. She looks primed for a big effort this Saturday.
Second Choice: Defending champion Dank has not been in the best form this year, but drew nicely in post two and should be able to work out a nice trip sitting just behind what should be a moderate pace. If she’s anywhere near the filly she was last year, she should be in the mix to defend her title.
Live Longshot: Dayatthespa has a lot of natural speed and seems the likely pacesetter from post four. She’s never run as far as ten furlongs, but is always finishing well at the end of her shorter races—even after setting the pace—and could lead this field a surprisingly long way at around 8-1.
FILLY & MARE SPRINT
Top Selection: Artemis Agrotera was brilliant winning the Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) and equally impressive in overcoming a tough trip to win the Gallant Bloom (gr. II) last time out. With a moderate pace expected, I hope to see Artemis Agrotera much closer to the early pace than she was in the Gallant Bloom, and from there, I think she’s the most likely winner of this race.
Second Choice: Judy the Beauty finished second in this race last year and has had a nice campaign this season. She is versatile enough to press a quick pace or take back if necessary, and her bullet :57 4/5 five-furlong breeze on October 20th suggests she’s ready to roll off the layoff.
Live Longshot: Little Alexis was beaten just a length in the seven-furlong Test Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga before rallying over a speed-favoring track to finish fourth in the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) last time out. This is a big step up in class, but she should be a good price (15-1?) and could rally for a piece of the purse.
Top Selection: Horses with experience over the unique downhill turf course have traditionally had an edge when this race is run at Santa Anita, so Home Run Kitten—being 2-for-2 on the course—should be right in the mix. He won the Eddie D. Stakes (gr. III) last time out with an impressive late run, and will be ridden by Joe Talamo, who won this race in 2009. As a 12-1 shot on the morning line, I think he offers terrific value.
Second Choice: Reneesgotzip finished third in this race two years ago and second last year, and prepped for a third appearance with a powerful victory in the C.E.R.F. Stakes at Del Mar in September. Drawing post one isn’t ideal, but I think she’s speedy enough to overcome much of the disadvantage of the poor draw.
Live Longshot: Bobby’s Kitten has been running well in longer turf races and should appreciate the cutback in distance. He’s never had a run over this course, but he will be ridden by Joel Rosario, who has lots of experience riding the hill. He’s 10-1 on the morning line, but I have hopes that he will rise a bit higher than that.
Top Selection: With two-time grade I winner American Pharoah out of the race, I’m going to take a shot with the horse that has run best against him—Calculator. Although still a maiden after four starts, Calculator did run well in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) despite a moderate early pace that may have hurt his chances. With so much speed in this race, Calculator should be able to take back off the pace, save ground, and pass the tiring front-runners in the homestretch.
Second Choice: Daredevil earned a huge Beyer speed figure for his easy win in the Champagne (gr. I), and while he’s unproven over a fast track, or around two turns, he figures to follow Shanghai Bobby, Uncle Mo, and Havana as Todd Pletcher-trained Champagne winners to win or run well in the Juvenile.
Live Longshot: Texas Red is another colt that may have been compromised by the slow pace in the FrontRunner, and he actually ran very well to finish just 1 ½ lengths behind Calculator in third place. If he stays near his 20-1 morning line price, I’d be tempted to play him to win.
Update: With Calculator having scratched, I will take Daredevil as my new selection, with even greater respect to Texas Red as a live longshot.
Top Selection: Telescope has been specifically targeting the Breeders’ Cup since summer, and this following a strong campaign in Europe that saw him compete well against the likes of Australia, The Grey Gatsby, Taghrooda, Noble Mission, Mukhadram, and Hillstar—very fine company indeed! His trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, has won this race a remarkable four times, and jockey Ryan Moore has won it three times, all at Santa Anita. These facts, coupled with a good post draw, make Telescope my best selection of the entire Breeders’ Cup.
Second Choice: Main Sequence has won three consecutive grade I races this year by the combined margin of about a half-length, and possesses strong stretch acceleration coupled with the ability to stay within striking range of a decent pace. Post twelve probably isn’t ideal, but if he can avoid losing too much ground on the turns, he should be right there in the final furlong.
Live Longshot: The favorites look strong in this race, but Twilight Eclipse has finished no more than three-quarters of a length behind Main Sequence in his last three starts, and was beaten just 2 ¼ lengths in this race last year. At 12-1 on the morning line, I think he’s a good candidate to spruce up the exotics.
Top Selection: I like more than half of the horses in this race, but finally settled on Palace as my selection. He’s earned Beyer speed figures that stamp him as a major contender, and I think his third-place finish in the Vosbugh was exceptional given that was he trying to close into a rather slow pace. With plenty of speed lined up in the Sprint, Palace should be one to take advantage in the final furlong.
Second Choice: I like Santa Anita Sprint Championship (gr.I) 1-3 finishers Rich Tapestry and Secret Circle equally well in this spot, as both have enough speed to stay close to the pace and the versatility to take back if necessary. I will use them both in equal strength with Palace in multi-race wagers.
Live Longshot: Bourbon Courage showed a new dimension winning a 6 ½-furlong sprint at Keeneland last time out, and if the pace is quick he should be absolutely flying at the finish. My only concern is that he might lose too much ground from post fourteen.
Top Selection: Tom’s Tribute has really pulled things together in his last few starts, and seems to have found the perfect jockey in Mike Smith, who has ridden the colt to all six of his victories. Four starts back, Tom’s Tribute equaled Wise Dan’s Santa Anita track record of 1:31.78 for a mile on turf, which gives one an idea of how quick Tom’s Tribute can run under the right circumstances! My hope is that he can work out a nice ground-saving trip from post six, possibly keeping favored Toronado to his inside, then reel in the leaders at around 15-1.
Second Choice: Toronado will be heavily favored off of his strong European form, but will encounter a much faster pace than he is used to and may have trouble keeping up early on. If that is the case, his late run may be hampered, so I’m going to try to beat him with Tom’s Tribute and a few others. One of those others is Obviously, who finished third in this race two years ago and fifth last year. Obviously has blazing early speed and should have no trouble securing the early lead from post two. From there, it’s a question of how far he can take the field on the front end. With plenty of rest since his fourth-place finish in the Del Mar Mile (gr. II), he should be ready for a peak effort, and I hope to see him hang around for a top-four finish.
Live Longshot: Grand Arch has been in good form all year, and demonstrated while winning the King Edward Stakes (gr. II) at Woodbine that he can stay within striking range of a blazing pace and still finish strongly. Most recently, he finished a close second to the amazing Wise Dan in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I), and after drawing the rail for the Breeders’ Cup, I absolutely love his chances to save ground and finish strongly at a huge price. If he stays anywhere near his morning line price of 20-1, I will be betting him to win.
Top Selection: It’s been a few years since a favorite has run well in the Classic, but I think Shared Belief is ready to change that. He’s unbeaten in seven starts, overcame a tough trip to win the Awesome Again (gr. I) over this track, and shouldn’t have any trouble with the distance. I think we’re going to see a very special performance from him on Saturday.
Second Choice: At long last, California Chrome has drawn an outside post position and should have no trouble securing an outside stalking trip, which is what I think he needs to run his best race. He seems to have picked up his training since the Pennsylvania Derby, and I believe we’ll see him return to form in a big way on Saturday.
Live Longshot: Zivo ran well in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) against Tonalist, and seems to relish ten furlongs. He has also been training well, and while he would need to step up a bit to win the Classic, I think we’ll see him in the mix at the finish at around 15-1. Toast of New York is another mild longshot I like off his runner-up effort to Shared Belief in the Pacific Classic (gr. I). This will be his first start on dirt, but I think he’ll get a good trip from post nine and will fire a big effort. Cigar Street has been training well and could be ready for a lifetime best in his third start off a layoff. He’s another that I like at around 12-1.
Best of luck to everyone watching and playing the races! May we all pick a bunch of winners!