By J. Keeler Johnson (“Keelerman”) @J_Keelerman
A terrific Saturday of racing awaits on June 27th, highlighted by 11 graded stakes races across the U.S. and the prestigious Irish Derby (Ire-I) across the waters in Ireland. Each one promises to be an exciting race, but in terms of great betting races, it’s hard to top the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I), which has attracted a deep and talented field of top-notch older horses. One can make a case for every horse to hit the board, which should lead to great payoffs in the trifecta and superfecta. So without further ado, let’s start handicapping!
Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I)
||2nd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
||3rd Californian Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||6th Tiznow Stakes (VIDEO)|
||1st Tiznow Stakes (VIDEO)|
||1st Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||3rd Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||7th Californian Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||2nd Californian Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||Catch a Flight
||1st Californian Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||6th Californian Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||4th Manhattan Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
On paper, there appears to be a fair amount of early speed, including Moreno, Batti Man, Majestic City, and Big Cazanova. The latter has scored some impressive victories in gate-to-wire fashion, including the Native Diver Stakes (gr. III) three starts back, but it’s possible that his main purpose in this race is to ensure a fast pace for his three stretch-running stablemates, so I would expect the pace of this ten-furlong race to be fairly quick. In regard to the favorites, that’s good news for Catch a Flight and bad news for Moreno. The latter is a grade I winner, having taken advantage of a modest pace to win the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga last summer, and the son of Ghostzapper showed a new dimension by rating just off the lead before drawing clear to win the Charles Town Classic (gr. II) two starts back. But last time out in the nine-furlong Californian Stakes, when faced with the task of trying to reel in Big Cazanova, Moreno went a bit too fast early on and wound up finishing second.
The winner on that day was Catch a Flight, who is now a two-time graded stakes winner after scoring in the Precisionist Stakes (gr. III) two starts back and rallying from third to win the Californian. With both tactical speed and a strong finishing kick, he’s got the versatility to adapt to different pace scenarios and still run his best race. In terms of Beyer speed figures, he’s right on par with Moreno, and the extra furlong of the Gold Cup should only help his chances. He looks ready for a very big effort on Saturday, and he is my selection to win.
For the exotics, Hoppertunity and Hard Aces warrant a close look. The former could only finish third by 5 ¾ lengths in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) two weeks ago, but that was off a four-month layoff, and with that race under his belt, he should be considerably sharper for the Gold Cup. Time will tell how he handles the extra distance—he’s never run farther than nine furlongs—but he’s shown an affinity for Santa Anita, and the bold decision by Bob Baffert to run back on two weeks rest must be respected.
As for Hard Aces, he scored an eye-catching four-length win in the Louisiana Handicap to start the 2015 season, and was subsequently sold and transferred to the barn of John Sadler. In his first race for his new connections, Hard Aces finished fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I)—just two lengths behind Moreno and Catch a Flight—before disappointing when sixth in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II). But that effort may have been an aberration, as Hard Aces returned to good form when running third by four lengths in the Californian Stakes (gr. II) last time out. He would need to take a big step forward to beat Catch a Flight and Moreno, but he must be respected as a major contender to hit the board at a solid price.
I would also like to briefly mention Finnegans Wake, who has won four of his last six starts on turf, including the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. I) two starts back at Churchill Downs. He’s thoroughly proven at the distance of the Gold Cup, but dirt is a major question mark, as all of his wins have come on turf and he’s never run particularly well on dirt. A fast pace would help his chances, but he’s also drawn post 11, and could be in for a wide trip. Unless he goes off at 10-1 or more, I’ll probably try to beat him in the exotics.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita?
To help keep track of all the Breeders' Cup prep races, here is the link to Bloodhorse.com's Breeders' Cup news page. Also, here is the link to the currrent standings, rules, and schedule for our "Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic" Handicapping Challenge.
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.