By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
This is it, folks! The post positions have been drawn, the fields are set, and it’s time to try to find the winners of the thirteen Breeders’ Cup races! Without further ado, here are my choices…
Juvenile Turf (gr. I)
Top Selection: With the talented European shippers Cymric and Hit It a Bomb having drawn posts 13 and 14, I’ll take a shot against them with the longshot Highland Sky. After winning his debut impressively at Saratoga, he encountered a ton of trouble in the homestretch of the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. III), getting shut off on multiple occasions before finishing fourth, beaten just 1 ¼ lengths. I think he might be the best horse coming out of the Pilgrim, and if he can work out a cleaner trip on Friday while breaking from post five, I think he’s got a big chance to turn the tables on his Pilgrim conquerors and beat the European shippers as well.
Second Choice: Cymric has proven himself in top-class company, finishing second by a neck in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Fr-I) at Longchamp, and his proven form on soft ground at Sandown should help him deal with whatever conditions he encounters at Keeneland. Hit It a Bomb might be just as talented, but he’s unproven in top-class company, and both of Aidan O’Brien’s previous Juvenile Turf winners had run well in major group stakes races.
Live Longshot: Sky Marshal had a bit of a troubled trip in the Summer Stakes (gr. II) last time out, but produced a big finish in the homestretch and might have a chance to turn the tables on Summer Stakes winner Conquest Daddyo, who is another horse that I like in this race.
Dirt Mile (gr. I)
Top Selection: I can’t believe I’m going against Liam’s Map, but I think Red Vine has a huge chance to win this race. In both the Kelso Handicap (gr. II) and the Salvator Mile (gr. III), he was compromised while chasing lonely leaders through modest fractions, yet rallied well on both occasions to finish second. He’s thoroughly proven that he can handle two turns and longer distances with success (an important trait, since most Dirt Mile winners have had good form going longer), and he fits this race very well in terms of Beyer speed figures. Drawing post one sealed the deal for me, as he should have no trouble saving ground with the short run to the first turn, and if the pace gets hot, I think we’ll see him produce a very big finish.
Second Choice: I will not be surprised at all if Liam’s Map wins this race. His Woodward win was excellent, his Whitney runner-up effort was stellar, and drawing post three should give him plenty of options tactics-wise while enabling him to save ground on the first turn. He’s definitely not a horse that I’m eager to play against, but he will also be heavily favored, and it might be worth taking a shot against him in multi-race wagers just in case he gets caught in a speed duel with Valid or simply doesn’t perform to expectations.
Live Longshot: Lea is only 1-for-6 this year but has cracked the trifecta in four of his defeats, including narrow losses in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) and Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I). He has a nice blend of tactical speed and finishing kick that should be well-suited to this two-turn mile, and he’s been training very well at Keeneland. He’s not a huge longshot at 8-1 on the morning line, but I think we’ll see him outrun his odds. Also, don’t forget about Tapiture, who finished second in the 2014 Dirt Mile. He’s another that would relish a fast pace, and he’s training very well—I think we could see his best effort so far this year in the Dirt Mile.
Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. I)
Top Selection: Catch a Glimpse demonstrated a terrific turn-of-foot in the final quarter-mile of the Natalma Stakes (gr. II) at Woodbine, running that fraction in :23.84 seconds to draw off and win easily by five lengths. That race was run over a course labeled "good," I think her experience with wet turf at Woodbine will be very valuable in handling the yielding or soft turf expected for the Breeders’ Cup. I hope to see her work out a great trip stalking Ruby Notion and/or Illuminate before taking command in the homestretch to win.
Second Choice: Last Waltz has shown excellent form in Europe, missing by a half-length against the well-regarded Coolmore in the Weld Park Stakes (Ire-III), and new trainer Chad Brown is pleased with how she’s been preparing for this race. Post 14 is a big concern, but there’s a decent run to the first turn, and staying outside might not be the worst thing given that the inner paths of the turf course have been preserved for the Breeders’ Cup and might be deeper and wetter than the outside lanes.
Live Longshot: Almost no attention has been given to Gliding By, but this daughter of Artie Schiller was spectacular in her debut going a mile at Woodbine, overcoming a slow start to rally from 8 ¾ lengths back at the quarter pole and win by two lengths. Her performance was even more impressive considering that runner-up Conscription was running strongly in the homestretch, and I hand-timed Gliding By’s final quarter-mile time in a stellar :23 flat—wow! She’s another filly that has drawn wide, but she’ll likely drop back early on, and I expect to see her put in a big rally in the homestretch. I think she’ll be every bit of 20-1 in the wagering, and I would definitely bet her to win and include her in multi-race wagers at that price. Also, don’t overlook Ruby Notion, who has a lot of speed and might be able to secure an uncontested lead. While she might not win, she could potentially finish in the exotics at a big price.
Distaff (gr. I)
Top Selection: I could be wrong, but I think Yahilwa is sitting on a huge effort in the Distaff. I loved her run in the Spinster Stakes (gr. I), in which she battled for the lead throughout and just failed to hang on while racing near the rail, which might not have been the best part of the track. She has thrived while training at Keeneland since then, turning in a pair of fast five-furlong workouts that were achieved in easy fashion, and I have a hunch that she’s sitting on a career-best effort. On a side note, I want to give a lot of credit to my friend "War Eagle" if Yahilwa wins, as he’s been very impressed with her training, and the generous calculations and analysis of her workouts that he has provided me have convinced me to make Yahilwa my selection. Thanks, War Eagle!
Second Choice: Got Lucky produced a big finish to win the Spinster Stakes last time out, and her runner-up effort in the Personal Ensign (gr. I) behind Sheer Drama was also very strong. With thirteen horses in the Distaff, there should be enough pace to set up her late run, and her proven form at Keeneland is an asset.
Live Longshot: Curalina had little chance of catching Wedding Toast when the latter got an easy lead in the Beldame Stakes (gr. I), but Curalina—despite stumbling at the start—rallied gamely to finish second and was gaining on Wedding Toast at the finish. She might be better around one turn, but the 98 Beyer she earned in the Beldame puts her in the mix against most of her rivals, and her combination of tactical speed and finishing kick should help her get a good trip. I think she has a very live chance in this race.
Juvenile Fillies (gr.I)
Top Selection: Songbird has been very impressive while compiling an unbeaten 3-for-3 record in California, culminating with a romping win in the Chandelier Stakes (gr. I). She’s never won by less than 4 ½ lengths and figures to get a great trip setting what should be a fairly modest pace. Additionally, her three Beyer speed figures of 84, 85, and 90 are higher than any figure earned by any other filly in this race, and it’s rare to see a speed figure advantage that’s this substantial. She looks like a possible single in multi-race wagers.
Second Choice: I could easily go with Rachel’s Valentina, who won the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) with an impressive late run, but I’ll instead take a chance with the Spinaway runner-up Tap to It. She was closing just as strongly as Rachel’s Valentina in the Spinaway, and I’ve heard nothing but positive reports about her training. It’s always hard to ignore the progeny of Tapit in these big two-year-old races, and I think Tap to It has a big chance, especially if the pace comes up a little faster than expected.
Live Longshot: Land Over Sea tried her best in the Chandelier Stakes, chasing Songbird through the homestretch to finish clearly second-best, and the 82 Beyer that she earned puts her right in the mix against these fillies. I’m hopeful that she’ll get overlooked in the wagering just a bit, but I think she has just as strong a chance as Rachel’s Valentina and Tap to It to hit the board.
Turf Sprint (gr. I)
Top Selection: After saying for weeks that Bobby’s Kitten will win this race, I’ve kind of backed myself into a corner, haven’t I? :) But since he was my "live longshot" last year when he won, and since he’s 15-1 on the morning line, I’ve decided to make him my live longshot again (see below) and consider him my co-top selection along with The Great War. Trained by Wesley Ward, The Great War has run very well in two turf sprints this year, finishing second in a fast renewal of the Quick Call Stakes at Saratoga and third—beaten just a head—in the six-furlong Nearctic Stakes (gr. II) at Woodbine. I thought that was a tremendous effort, as he handled "good" going very well and just failed to hang on after rallying to the lead in the homestretch. I particularly like the fact that the final furlong was timed in :11.95 seconds, a sharp fraction considering the course conditions and long homestretch, and I think he’s drawn very well in post ten, which should give him options for tracking the expected fast pace. Plus, he picks up the services of top jockey Ryan Moore. I think he’s an overlay at 12-1 on the morning line and will definitely play him to win.
Second Choice: Green Mask hasn’t won in a while, but he ran a huge race when third in the Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-I) in Dubai back in March, and his return effort—a half-length defeat in the Kentucky Downs Turf Dash—was an excellent effort. I think 5 ½ furlongs is just about the perfect distance for him, and I like the fact that he is based at Keeneland and has been training over the turf course.
Live Longshot: Bobby’s Kitten hasn’t come close to winning in two starts this year, but he’s failed to relax in either of them, and I am confident that expected blazing pace of the Turf Sprint will enable him to drop back, lengthen his stride just to keep up, and help him relax before producing a big finish in the homestretch. Don’t forget, he ran six furlongs in 1:08.44 in the Play the King Stakes before tiring to finish seventh, and he’s proven that he can handle turf that’s less than firm. At 15-1, I’m willing to bet that he will rebound with a very big effort.
Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I)
Top Selection: Taris turned in a tremendous effort in the Raven Run Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland last year, winning by nine lengths with a massive 110 Beyer. After being injured when second in the La Brea Stakes (gr. I) at the end of 2014, Taris returned to win the Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III) in easy fashion at Del Mar before finishing third in the L.A. Woman Stakes (gr. III) after dueling through incredible fractions of :21.29 and :43.45. For a major sprint race, the Filly & Mare Sprint doesn’t appear to have a lot of speed on paper, and with La Verdad expected to employ rating tactics in an effort to see out the seven-furlong distance, I think Taris might be able to secure an easy lead than expected while starting from post three, and I think she’s got a big chance to rebound with a winning effort at around 15-1.
Second Choice: Judy the Beauty won this race last year, and while she’s 0-for-3 this year, she did run well in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. III) while compromised by racing along a slow rail. I think we’ll see her run a better race on Saturday, and while it might not be good enough to win, I do think we’ll see her hit the board.
Live Longshot: Wavell Avenue turned in a career-best effort to finish second by a half-length in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) after stumbling at the start, and while that was a big step up off her previous efforts, a repeat would put her right in the mix to win the Filly & Mare Sprint. Seven furlongs should be just about perfect for her, and if the pace-setters run a sub-:45 half-mile, I think she’ll be the one to watch from off the pace at odds of 12-1 or so. I really like her chances a lot and could have easily made her my top selection.
Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I)
Top Selection: Legatissimo is the heavy favorite and has been targeting this race for a while, but although she won the Matron Stakes (Eng-I) on soft turf at Leopardstown, quotes from her trainer suggest that the ground actually wasn’t so bad that day, and I’m worried that she won’t relish the conditions at Keeneland. For that reason, I’ll take Bawina as my top choice. She was beaten just a neck in a quality renewal of the Prix Jean Romanet (Fr-I) over soft turf at Deauville and is unbeaten in her other three starts on soft turf, so she should enjoy the conditions at Keeneland. My only concern is that she might get a wide trip from post ten, but as I mentioned when discussing the Juvenile Fillies Turf, that might not end up being a bad thing. This is a race where I wouldn’t be surprised to see a longshot winner, and at 15-1, Bawina is worth a look.
Second Choice: Stephanie’s Kitten ran second in the 2014 Filly & Mare Turf after a very wide trip, and after rallying to cross the wire third in the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I) over a yielding turf and parlaying a tracking trip into victory in the Flower Bowl (gr. I) over soft turf, there’s little doubt that she enjoys a course with moisture. In fact, her record on wet turf courses stands at a remarkable five wins from seven starts, and her two losses were solid efforts in top-class races. She might be set for another wide trip after drawing post ten, but I think she’s a prime candidate for the exotics and will run her best race.
Live Longshot: Her last two races look poor on paper, but Queen’s Jewel actually wasn’t badly beaten in the Prix de l’Opera (Fr-I) when coming off a layoff, and three starts back, she romped to a three-length win in the Prix Saint-Alary (Fr-I) at Longchamp, winning by three lengths over the talented Wekeela. She won her debut at Saint-Cloud in soft going, and you have to respect the owner/trainer combination of Wertheimer & Frere/Freddie Head, who teamed up to win three straight Breeders’ Cup Miles with Goldikova.
Sprint (gr. I)
Top Selection: I might as well just say it—I truly think Runhappy might be the best sprinter we’ve seen in years, and he is my strongest play of the entire Breeders’ Cup. His Phoenix (gr. III) effort was phenomenal—he ran a furlong in :09 4/5 early in the race and beat a top field despite racing along a slow rail—and his workouts since then have been epic. I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg so far in regard to what Runhappy can accomplish, and I think we’re going to see him put on a show in the Breeders’ Cup.
Second Choice: Ivan Fallunovalot could be overlooked after spending the summer at Remington Park, but he’s earned triple-digit Beyer speed figures in five of his last six starts, and his combination of excellent tactical speed and the ability to rate off the lead could be a huge asset in this race. I hope to see him settle in mid-pack or closer early on, then produce a big finish to round out the exacta at 30-1.
Live Longshot: Ivan Fallunovalot is my best live longshot, but Kobe’s Back is another that I like. As a stretch-runner, he’s very reliant on a fast pace to set up his late run, and he should definitely get an ideal pace in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Additionally, his lone win this year came in the Commonwealth Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, and the long homestretch at Keeneland (1,236 feet versus 900 feet at Santa Anita) should help his chances in the Sprint.
Mile (gr. I)
Top Selection: Aside from a no-show effort in the St. James’s Palace Stakes (Eng-I), Make Believe has been virtually unstoppable, winning four of his five other races with his only defeat coming by a head. Back in May, he won the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (Fr-I) by three lengths over New Bay and Mr. Owen, and last time out, he unleashed a great finish to win the seven-furlong Prix de la Foret (Fr-I) at Longchamp by 1 ¼ lengths over the talented sprinter Limato and the capable Toormore. Both the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and the Prix de la Foret have been used as successful preps for the Breeders’ Cup Mile in recent years, and Make Believe is proven over soft and heavy ground and has also won on firm turf, so he should be fine with the conditions at Keeneland. Sealing the deal is the presence of Olivier Peslier as Make Believe’s rider, as Peslier won the Mile on three straight occasions aboard Goldikova and clearly knows how to ride this race. I was hoping to avoid picking a favorite in a race this deep, but Make Believe looks like a solid choice.
Second Choice: Tepin was breathtaking while winning the First Lady Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland by seven lengths in soft going, and while she’ll likely face more pace pressure on Saturday that she did in the First Lady, I think she has a great chance to handle the turf better than most of her rivals and give a very good account of herself at around 12-1.
Live Longshot: A wide trip cost Tourist any chance in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Mile, and according to data from Trakus, it cost him victory in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I) last time out as well. I liked his effort in that race, in which he produced a big finish in the final furlong to miss by just a neck, and he’s flashed enough brilliance throughout his career to suggest that he could get a piece of the purse. Also, don’t overlook Mondialiste, who should relish the wet course. He rallied powerfully to win the Woodbine Mile (gr. I) last time out and was a group III winner in Europe, so while he might appear to be a cut below the other Europeans at first glance, I think he has a good chance at 15-1.
Juvenile (gr. I)
Top Selection: After missing some training with an illness after the Saratoga Special (gr. II), Exaggerator wasn’t at peak fitness for the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I), yet despite racing along a slow rail, he made a bold move to take command in the homestretch and was only caught late in the race by the outside-running Brody’s Cause. After turning in a stellar :59 3/5 five-furlong workout on October 24th at Keeneland, a breeze that pleased trainer Keith Desormeaux, I am very confident that Exaggerator is ready to roll, and he will be a single in my multi-race wagers.
Second Choice: Greenpointcrusader has run very well in all three of his races, and romped to victory in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) over a sloppy track at Belmont. He’s unproven around two turns, but is bred to handle the distance of the Juvenile and should be in the mix regardless of whether the track is fast or sloppy. I also greatly respect the chances of Brody’s Cause, and he’s really my co-second choice with Greenpointcrusader.
Live Longshot: I’m not the only one that thinks Unbridled Outlaw is a live longshot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he drops from his morning line odds of 15-1, but he had a disastrous trip when third in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III), and one can make a case that he would have won with a better trip. Iroquois runner-up Rated R Superstar came back to run third in the Breeders’ Futurity, suggesting that the Iroquois field was strong, and Unbridled Outlaw has been training well at Churchill. I think he’s sitting on a big race.
Turf (gr. I)
Top Selection: I have been wanting to pick Twilight Eclipse for a couple of weeks, but I don’t think he’s as good on yielding or soft turf as he is on firm or good turf, and with the Keeneland turf course expected to be pretty wet for the Breeders’ Cup, I’m concerned that he won’t run his best race. Therefore, I’ll take a shot with Big Blue Kitten instead. He’s been incredibly consistent throughout his career, finishing in the trifecta in 26 of his 29 races, and he’s shown time and time again that he can produce his best form over any kind of turf course, whether it’s firm, good, or yielding. I have had concerns in the past that he might not be as good going twelve furlongs, but his record-breaking run in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic has lessened by concern. Remarkably, he seems to be better than ever this year at the age of seven, and this might be the year that he finally delivers at the highest level of the sport.
Second Choice: I could have easily picked Golden Horn to win, and he’s certainly the most likely winner of this race, but the turf course might be a bit softer than he would prefer, and he’s had a busy year full of tough races and the Breeders’ Cup Turf might be more of an afterthought after his win in the Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I). At 4-5 on the morning line, I think it’s worth taking a shot against him.
Live Longshot: The Pizza Man is definitely be a contender for the exotics, and I won’t be surprised at all if he wins. In his last two races, both run over yielding turf courses, he unleashed excellent late runs to win the Arlington Million (gr. I) and finish second in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I). I’m a little concerned that he might not be as quite as good at twelve furlongs, but you can’t knock his form this year, and 15-1 is a great price on a talented horse. I’ll use him equally with Big Blue Kitten in my (limited) attempts to beat Golden Horn, so he’s really my co-top selection as well as my live longshot.
Classic (gr. I)
Top Selection: I was all set to pick Beholder even before the post position draw, and now that she’s drawn post ten, I like her chances even better. Drawing outside American Pharoah and Smooth Roller should give Gary Stevens plenty of options in terms of strategy, enabling him to join the leaders if the pace is slow or settle a few lengths behind if the pace is fast. Her win in the Pacific Classic was breathtaking; her win in the Zenyatta was accomplished with remarkable ease. She’s already proven that she’s a very special mare, and I think she’ll prove on Saturday that she is one of the all-time greats.
Second Choice: American Pharoah has been a dream come true for racing fans awaiting a Triple Crown winner, and although he enters off a defeat in the Travers Stakes (gr. I), he has trained very well since then and should work out a good trip setting the pace from post four. The only reason I’m not picking him on top is because, as talented as he is, I think Beholder might be better.
Live Longshot: Keen Ice got a great setup when he beat American Pharoah in the Travers, but my feeling is that Keen Ice has improved a lot this summer and might still be improving heading into the Classic. Certainly his training in preparation for this race has been impressive, and I think there’s a good chance that he’ll be every bit of 15-1 in the wagering. I also think Gleneagles has a decent chance at a big price. He didn’t fire off a long layoff in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) while racing on ground that was softer than ideal, but if he takes to the dirt, he has the talent to make his presence felt in the homestretch.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Breeders’ Cup races?
With the Breeders' Cup rapidly approaching, many of the top contenders are turning in their final pre-race workouts at Keeneland. Keep track of all the workout videos by visiting the Breeders' Cup Workouts Replay Center on The Turf Board! Also, to view slideshows of the Breeders' Cup contenders, please visit the slideshows page on The Turf Board.
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, entries, rules, and schedule for our "Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing, everyone!
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.