J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
getting close now! The 33rd Breeders' Cup is barely more than a week
away, and pre-entries were released yesterday, giving handicappers a chance to begin
serious analysis of the thirteen races. There's still a lot of data to consider
and dozens of replays to watch, but at this stage, here are a few thoughts I've
had about the Breeders' Cup...
Which Horse Makes the Best Single?
many case, the key to hitting a multi-race wager is to find a horse that you're
confident in and single them, allowing you to spread deeper in the races where you
have less confidence. But the Breeders' Cup fields are always competitive, and
finding a single is easier said than done.
year, I had tremendous confidence in Runhappy in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and
singled him successfully, but no horses this year give me quite the same level
of confidence. The closest might be Lady
Eli, the sensational filly that has won seven of her eight races, including
the Flower Bowl Stakes (gr. I) last time out. She's 2-for-2 going ten furlongs and
proved she can handle the trip to California by winning the 2014 Breeders' Cup
Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. I) is brilliant fashion. Her form lines suggest that
she's a step above the rest of the U.S.-based contenders, and while she'll face
a deep field of international shippers (including Nuovo Record, who has kept great company in Japan and Hong Kong),
the spectacular acceleration that Lady Eli has shown on firm turf courses should
be very difficult to beat.
Will We See Any Big Longshot Winners?
2015 Breeders' Cup at Keeneland was astonishingly predictable, with plenty of
winning favorites and no major longshot winners. But I believe this year could
be different, as several of the races appear to be absolutely wide-open with plenty
of potential for winners in the 20-1 or 30-1 range.
race that seems particularly competitive is the Juvenile Fillies, where the top
contenders have been earning slower speed figures than usual while taking turns
beating each other. With the favorites having questions to answer, I wouldn't
be surprised if we saw a very unexpected result, such as Champagne Room rebounding from a slightly troubled trip in the
Chandelier Stakes (gr. I) to turn the tables on Noted and Quoted, or the little-known Valadorna running a huge race in her stakes debut to upset the
field at a big price.
race where we could see a longshot winner is the Filly & Mare Sprint, where
a combination of tried-and-true sprinters and horses cutting back in distance
will meet at an "in-between" distance of seven furlongs. Historically,
three-year-old fillies and horses cutting back in distance have not done well
in this race, which could make a filly like Irish Jasper very appealing. She was a very good sprinter last
year, winning the Miss Preakness Stakes (gr. III) and Victory Ride Stakes (gr.
III), and after missing the first half of 2016, she's come back stronger than
ever, most recently winning the six-furlong Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes
(gr. II) with an eye-catching late rally. I can see her going off at 10-1 or
even 15-1, a terrific price on a filly that is 8-for-13 on dirt and a
three-time graded stakes winner sprinting on dirt.
Is This Distaff the Greatest Distaff
fillies and mares have been pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and you
can make a case that there has never been a better renewal of the race. The 2016
Distaff has drawn three reigning Eclipse champions--Songbird (2yo filly), Stellar
Wind (3yo filly), and Beholder (older
mare)--as well as the winners of the Beldame Invitational (gr. I), Apple Blossom
Handicap (gr. I), Spinster Stakes (gr. I), Delaware Handicap (gr. I), La
Troinne Stakes (gr. I), and Acorn Stakes (gr. I).
told, the pre-entrants have won 64 races, three Breeders' Cup races, five
Eclipse awards, and $16,728,292; furthermore, seven of the pre-entrants are
millionaires and eight of the nine have won a grade I race this year, and the
only filly that hasn't is Land Over Sea,
who finished second in the Kentucky Oaks!
I'll be cheering for Beholder to end her amazing career on a winning note, but
from a handicapping perspective, I suspect that youth will prevail and am leaning
toward Songbird, who has been unchallenged and unbeaten in eleven races so far.
Can Runhappy Rebound in the Dirt Mile?
readers of this blog know that I am a huge fan of Runhappy, and I believe he's one
of the most talented and gifted horses we've seen in years. His season has been
interrupted this year due to bone bruising, and while he could only finish
fourth in his comeback--the one-mile Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III), in which he set
the pace before tiring--I think Runhappy has a legitimate chance to rebound in
the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
greatest weapon is his extraordinary speed. There are few horses that possess
as much raw speed and the ability to sustain it as this colt, who famously ran
a furlong in :09 4/5 while winning the Phoenix Stakes (gr. III) last year. In
the Ack Ack, coming off a nine-month layoff, he wound up dueling for the lead
while racing wide, but wasn't fully utilizing his speed-he wound up running the
half-mile in just :45.95, and we know he's faster than that. He wound up tiring
slightly in the homestretch to finish fourth, beaten just 2 ¼ lengths in a race
where the final time was sharp and the last quarter-mile was run in a very
respectable :24.64 seconds.
that effort behind him, Runhappy should be fitter for the Breeders' Cup Dirt
Mile, and his two one-mile workouts at Keeneland were solid and should help him
stay the distance. The plan is to have jockey Gary Stevens send Runhappy to the
lead in an attempt to out-sprint his rivals in much the same way as
Goldencents, who won two editions of this race by carving out fast fractions
and hanging on in the homestretch. They say you should never underestimate a
champion, and I won't be underestimating Runhappy--I think he's got a chance to
rebound with a huge run in the Dirt Mile.
Is the Best 2yo Skipping the Juvenile?
Breeders' Cup Juvenile has attracted a very deep field filled with some of the
most promising two-year-olds in the country, but is it possible that the best
of all was not entered in the race? Last Saturday, a son of Candy Ride named Mastery made his debut in a six-furlong
maiden special weight at Santa Anita. The Bob Baffert-trained colt was favored at
3-10 after turning in an impressive series of workouts, including one in which
he outworked his grade I-winning stablemate Klimt, and Mastery delivered on
those high expectations with a dominant victory. After setting fractions of
:22.03 and :45.15, he pulled away powerfully in the homestretch to win by 4 ¼ lengths
in the time of 1:09.56, which was the second-fastest six-furlong time of the
meet behind Lord Nelson's 1:08.80 in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (gr.
Mastery looked fantastic, and he has the pedigree to stretch out in distance--in
fact, there's a good chance that six furlongs is well short of his best
distance. Only time will tell, but I think we might see Mastery in the winner's
circle of the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) this December, and it's possible
that I've found my Kentucky Derby horse.
...and a Quick Look at the Bold Ruler
most of our attention this week will be on the Breeders' Cup, there's a decent
set of races scheduled for October 29th, including the $200,000 Bold
Ruler Handicap (gr. III) at Belmont Park. The seven-furlong race has drawn a
deep and competitive field of thirteen horses, but I believe that Economic Model might be a standout.
paper, this race has quite a bit of early speed, which would certainly benefit
Economic Model, who had almost no chance of winning the King's Bishop Stakes
(gr. I) when the talented Breeders' Cup Sprint contender Drefong got away with
an opening quarter-mile in :23.11. Despite being at a major tactical
disadvantage, Economic Model rallied well to finish second, a half-length in
front of next-out Gallant Bob Stakes (gr. III) winner and Breeders' Cup
Sprinter contender Noholdingbackbear.
this year, Economic Model ran three big races around one turn at Belmont Park,
winning an allowance race and the Easy Goer Stakes impressively before
finishing a good second in the Dwyer Stakes (gr. III) while trying to rally up
a slow rail. If he can work out a clean trip saving ground from post four, I
think Economic Model is going to deliver a very big run and win the Bold Ruler
Handicap in impressive fashion.
it's your turn! What are your thoughts on the Breeders' Cup pre-entries and the
racing action this weekend?
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 www.theturfboard.com.