J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
just two weeks remaining until the Breeders' Cup, it's not too early to start examining
the races and begin formulating our potential plays. Two of the most interesting
races at this year's Breeders' Cup are the two dirt sprints--the Breeders' Cup
Sprint (gr. I) and the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I). Both
races are expected to draw large and competitive fields, and while the official
order of the Breeders' Cup has not yet been announced, it's possible that both
could be prominently positioned in multi-race wagers on Saturday.
are a few of my early thoughts on each race....
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint is one of the younger Breeders' Cup
races, having been run for the first time in 2007. Yet despite its brief
history, a couple of noteworthy trends have emerged that might be rather
surprising. For one, no three-year-old filly has ever won the race. Secondly,
eight of the ten winners prepped for the race by running on a turf or synthetic
these two stats hint at which directions I'm leaning while handicapping the
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, but let's go ahead and dive a little
the race is still two weeks away and lots can change, but at the moment it
looks like Unique Bella will be the heavy
favorite. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, the three-year-old daughter of Tapit
has been brilliant since breaking her maiden by ten lengths last November at
Del Mar, putting together a five-race win streak that includes easy romps over
future Grade 1 winners Abel Tasman and It Tiz Well in the Santa Ysabel Stakes
(gr. III) and Santa Ynez Stakes (gr. II), respectively.
issues prevented Unique Bella from competing this summer, but she returned to
the races in the 6 ½-furlong L. A. Woman Stakes (gr. III) on October 8th
and turned in another impressive performance. Despite breaking slowly, Unique
Bella rated nicely off the pace before rolling past her rivals in the
homestretch and cruising to a 3 ½-length victory. She didn't beat the toughest
competition, but it was a step in the right direction off the long layoff.
Bella certainly has the talent to be competitive in a race like the Filly &
Mare Sprint, but it will surely be her toughest test to date, and she's had a
bit of trouble throughout her career with breaking alertly and can be rank when
racing off the pace. Is it worth the risk to play her at a short price
(probably less than 2-1) despite these issues and the fact that she's a
three-year-old facing older mares?
early thought is to try to beat her, and the filly that intrigues me most is Ami's Mesa. She's never run on dirt,
but the daughter of Sky Mesa is 6-for-7 on synthetic tracks and 4-for-4 this
year while earning solid speed figures. Two starts back, Ami's Mesa rallied
into a modest pace to win the seven-furlong Seaway Stakes (gr. III) by 6 ¼
lengths, powering away through a final furlong in :11.98 while earning an
eye-catching Beyer speed figure of 101.
recently, Ami's Mesa unleashed another strong finish to win the 6 ½-furlong
Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes (gr. II) by a length despite rallying wide
against a large and competitive field. To put it simply, Ami's Mesa has been
professional, consistent, and impressive this year, winning despite pace setups
that haven't always been to her benefit. Unlike some of her prospective Filly
& Mare Sprint rivals, seven furlongs seems to be Ami's Mesa's perfect
distance, and the fact that she won the 8.5-furlong Ontario Matron Stakes (gr.
III) this year suggests that she's got the stamina to relish and fully take advantage
of a fast pace in the Breeders' Cup. The switch to dirt is a question mark, but
Ami's Mesa's pedigree suggests she could enjoy the switch, and the fact that
the race will be held at Del Mar--with its new dirt track that was considered to
be slow and tiring during the summer--means that many other contenders will be
dealing with an unfamiliar surface as well.
of all, Ami's Mesa's lack of experience on dirt pretty much guarantees that
she'll be a decent price in the wagering, making her all the more appealing as
a candidate to upset Unique Bella. I would like to see her draw an outside post
position to help her avoid kickback, but with two weeks left until the race,
I'm leaning toward Ami's Mesa.
also have to put in a good word for Skye
Diamonds. While she hasn't run since August and will enter the Breeders'
Cup off a layoff, Skye Diamonds is 4-for-4 sprinting this year and has the
advantage of being based in California. During the summer, she turned in sharp
efforts to win both the Great Lady M. Stakes (gr. II) and the Rancho Bernardo
Handicap (gr. III) sprinting 6 ½ furlongs, defeating such notable horses as the
Grade 1 winner Constellation and the reigning Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare
Sprint winner Finest City. Trained by William Spawr, who sent out Amazombie to
win the 2011 Breeders' Cup Sprint, Skye Diamonds isn't drawing as much
attention as some of her East Coast-based rivals, but she's just as fast or
faster in terms of speed figures and looms as a major contender.
Breeders' Cup Sprint
what could be one of the most competitive and exciting races of the entire
Breeders' Cup, defending Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Drefong will take on a deep field that includes the Santa Anita
Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. I) winner Roy
H, the blazingly fast graded stakes winner Imperial Hint, the up-and-coming Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) winner Takaful, the front-running speedster El Deal, and the impressive Dubai
Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) winner Mind Your
handicapper could feel good about picking any of those horses, and while I'm
currently leaning toward Drefong to defend his title, I would like to mention American Pastime as a longshot with a chance
to hit the board or even win.
put it simply, American Pastime is a pure six-furlong sprinter. In his brief
career he's gone 3-for-4 at six furlongs and 0-for-2 at distances just
half-furlong shorter or longer. He's based in California and has already won a
race at Del Mar, giving him some familiarity with the track. He's only three
years old, but that hasn't been an issue in recent editions of the Breeders'
Cup Sprint; in fact, three of the last five winners were three-year-olds.
American Pastime's most recent race was an exceptional effort. After breaking
slowly in the six-furlong Gallant Bob Stakes (gr. III) at Parx Racing, American
Pastime made an early, wide rally that would have spelled trouble for many
horses. Yet despite the extent of this move, American Pastime had a shot to win
at the top of the stretch and might have done so if he hadn't raced somewhat
greenly turning into the straight, drifting out slightly and then in while
carrying his head a bit high down the stretch.
still, American Pastime finished second by less than a length against Coal
Front, who saved ground throughout while setting a fairly reasonable pace for
the distance. Even in defeat, American Pastime received a career-best 105 Beyer
speed figure, and it's not hard to imagine him improving on that number with a
little more experience and a better start. And while he'll obviously be taking
a huge step up in class if he runs in the Breeders' Cup, don't forget that
Trinniberg parlayed a runner-up effort in the 2012 Gallant Bob Stakes into a
13-1 upset in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Perhaps American Pastime has a shot to
do the same.
it's your turn! How do you see the Sprint and Filly & Mare Sprint unfolding?
The Unlocking Winners Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. 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.