An Early Look at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Dirt Races

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

At every Breeders' Cup, two of the key races to decipher if you want to have success in the multi-race wagers are the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). With the latter usually falling as the first race on Saturday and the former being a big part of the Pick 6 and late Pick 4, finding the winners is critical, and easier said than done. Once in a while, we're treated to standout stars like Songbird and Uncle Mo that make handicapping these races as easy as singling the heavy favorite... but most years, we get deep, wide-open fields with a half-dozen major contenders.

This year, both the Juvenile and the Juveniles Fillies are shaping up to be very contentious races with plenty of logical candidates for victory. This is particularly the case in the Juvenile Fillies, for the leading two-year-old fillies have generally taken turns beating each other while earning lower-than-usual Beyer speed figures.

Since the Breeders' Cup is being held at Santa Anita this year, locally-based runners might have a slight advantage, and Union Strike could potentially start as the favorite. After finishing second in her debut behind American Cleopatra, Union Strike turned the tables on her rival in the seven-furlong Del Mar Debutante Stakes (gr. I), rallying nicely to win by 2 ¼ lengths. While she's never tried two turns before, Union Strike has a great pedigree for stretching out in distance-she's by Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Union Rags out of the Smart Strike mare Classic Strike, making Union Strike a half-brother to 2012 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) winner Handsome Mike.

Noted and Quoted is another California-based filly that could wind up being favored in the Juvenile Fillies. After finishing fourth in the Del Mar Debutante, this Bob Baffert-trained daughter of The Factor rebounded in a big way when shipped to Santa Anita, scoring a hard-fought half-length win in the 8.5-furlong Chandelier Stakes (gr. I).

But watch out-if there's any Breeders' Cup race where wild upsets can happen, it's the Juvenile Fillies. Some of the highest win payoffs in the history of the Breeders' Cup have occurred in the Juvenile Fillies, including the last two renewals at Santa Anita, when Take Charge Brandi scored at 61-1 and Ria Antonio prevailed by disqualification at 32-1. Even though Union Strike and Noted and Quoted deserve respect, they don't appear to be standout favorites by any means; Noted and Quoted actually ran the fourth quarter-mile of the Chandelier in :25.92 and the final sixteenth in :07.15, and with her sprinting pedigree, it's fair to wonder if she'll stay the distance of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies while facing a deep field of challengers from across the country.

For these reasons, I think it could be wise to spread in the Juvenile Fillies and include some longshots in your multi-race wagers. One filly that has caught my eye (thanks to blog readers chasingmytale and TnT for pointing her out to me!) is Valadorna. Owned by Stonestreet Stable and trained by Mark Casse, Valadorna finished second in her debut going a mile at Churchill Downs, but finished ahead of the highly-regarded Untapped (a full-sister to champion Untapable) while losing by just a length to Queen Bernardina, who came back to finish a better-than-it-looked eighth in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) despite a troubled trip.

Building on her solid debut, Valadorna returned on October 7th at Keeneland and broke her maiden by an impressive six lengths, rallying nicely from off the pace to win convincingly while running her final sixteenth in a sharp :06.21 seconds. Furthermore, her final time of 1:44.47 was slightly faster than the 1:44.69 posted by Dancing Rags while winning the Alcibiades Stakes three races later on the card. Plus, Valadorna is a daughter of Curlin, and should only get better with more time and experience.

But there is one concern, and it's a big one-when was the last time a filly won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies without having previously run in a stakes races? The answer is never-every single winner of the Juvenile Fillies winner had at least run in a stakes races prior to their Breeders' Cup victory. If Valadorna is going to win, she'll have to break 32 years of history to do it.

The same goes for Jamyson ‘n Ginger, a Rudy Rodriguez-trained filly that could target the Breeders' Cup following a recent maiden win. In her first two starts, Jamyson ‘n Ginger showed flashes of talent without winning; she finished third in her debut sprinting at Saratoga after leading in the homestretch, then unleashed a big late rally after a poor start to finish fifth in a six-furlong maiden race at Belmont, running her final furlong in a rapid :11.86 per Trakus to finish 7 ¾ lengths behind future Frizette Stakes (gr. I) winner Yellow Agate.

Then, on October 9th, Jamyson ‘n Ginger put everything together with a huge performance. Catching a sloppy, sealed track while stretching out to a mile, Jamyson ‘n Ginger tracked the early pace before pulling clear in the homestretch to win by 15 ¼ lengths, earning a 103 Beyer in the process. Perhaps her big win was the result of staying out of trouble on a wet track, which can be the perfect recipe for earning big Beyers, but the track was on the slow side that day and seemed to be favoring late-runners rather than speed horses, which makes Jamyson ‘n Ginger's performance more impressive. But how might she fare in the Breeders' Cup while facing winners for the first time?

As for the above-mentioned Yellow Agate, she's definitely a filly that I would want to consider in the Juvenile Fillies. In the Frizette, she rallied from fifth to win by a head over front-running Libby's Tail, an impressive performance given that the track was playing fast and perhaps slightly favorable to speed that day. The Frizette has a good record of producing Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winners (Ria Antonia, My Miss Aurelia, and Indian Blessing come to mind from the last ten years), and Yellow Agate appears to have a respectable chance to add to that record.

Turning our attention to the Juvenile, we see a similarly wide-open race, although the major prep race winners have been running faster and earning higher speed figures than their filly counterparts. The Juvenile tends to be more predictable than the Juvenile Fillies, and it's possible that handicapping this race could be as simple as keying Gormley and crossing your fingers. Trained by John Shirreffs, Gormley is 2-for-2 this year and most recently scored a front-running win in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) over the same track and distance as the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. While he did get an easy lead, Gormley capitalized impressively and finished well to defeat Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) winner Klimt in decisive fashion while earning a 93 Beyer. As an unbeaten California-based grade I winner, Gormley looks like the horse to beat, and Shirreffs has been training him in company with an eye on building Gormley's experience at racing behind horses, which could be valuable in the Breeders' Cup.

You can almost always count on Todd Pletcher to have a contender in the Juvenile, and this year, he could send out Syndergaard and Theory. The former ran a huge race in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont, dueling for the lead through fractions of :44.63 and 1:08.76 before getting caught right at the wire by the late-running Practical Joke. Under the circumstances, Syndergaard's performance was tremendous, but it also came on a fast track that seemed to be slightly favoring speed, and his pedigree suggests that 8.5 furlongs around two turns might stretch the limits of his distance capabilities.

Theory has a stronger pedigree for handling two turns, and he looked great winning the first two starts of his career in dominant fashion. After a 5 ½-length maiden win at Saratoga (in which he defeated a deep field while running six furlongs in 1:09.80), Theory was briefly sidelined by a foot bruise, but bounced back to win the six-furlong Futurity Stakes (gr. II) by 3 ½ lengths in the time of 1:09.91. He galloped-out in powerful fashion after the race, staying in gear for another quarter-mile after the wire, which could help him build fitness for the Breeders' Cup. He hasn't been officially confirmed for the race yet, but if he runs, I would want to include him on my tickets.

Practical Joke has been unstoppable so far for trainer Chad Brown, going unbeaten in three starts while sweeping the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) and Champagne Stakes with solid late runs. His Champagne performance was particularly impressive since he broke poorly and still got up in time to win, although the pace flow of the race (with a :21.89 second quarter in a :25.92 final quarter) certainly gave him every chance to catch the leaders.

Other major contenders include Classic Empire, who looked great tracking a solid pace en route to a three-length win in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I), and Not This Time, a Dale Romans-trained colt that scored an effortless win in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. Lookin at Lee, the runner-up in both of those races, could have a longshot chance while adding blinkers for trainer Steve Asmussen, but it's worth noting that Kentucky-based juveniles have not fared well when the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is held at Santa Anita; they've recorded a few runner-up finishes, but they are usually beaten by the local California colts, who have won six of the eight Breeders' Cup Juveniles held at Santa Anita.

One big wildcard in the Juvenile is Three Rules, who has gone 5-for-5 at Gulfstream Park while winning four stakes races and sweeping the three races that comprise the Florida Sire Stakes series. He won the Dr. Fager Stakes by seven lengths despite dealing with a hoof issue and the Affirmed Stakes by 5 ½ lengths after coming down with a temperature before the race; with these minor issues behind him, he absolutely crushed his opposition in the 8.5-furlong In Reality Stakes, winning by an easy ten lengths while earning an 87 Beyer, very much on par with the figures earned by all of his Breeders' Cup rivals except Gormley.

Granted, Three Rules hasn't faced the toughest competition, but the manner of his victories gives the impression that he has a lot more to offer than he has shown so far. Some very good horses have come out of the Florida Sire Stakes series in recent years, including Awesome Feather, Jackson Bend, and Big Drama. I wouldn't count Three Rules out of the mix in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile-he might just be something special.

There are plenty of other talented two-year-olds to consider as well, and I'm looking forward to discussing them with you! Who do you like in the Juvenile and the Juvenile Fillies?


To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


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

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