Keeler Johnson’s 2017 Breeders’ Cup Selections

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

Ready, set, go! We're less than 30 hours away from the first race of the 2017 Breeders' Cup, and now is the time to start finalizing selections and plotting wagering strategies. Let's jump right in--here are my thoughts on all thirteen races...

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf

Top Selection: Trainer Chad Brown has won this race three times before and holds a strong hand again with Significant Form and Rushing Fall. The latter is drawing most of the attention after unleashing a terrific rally to win the Jessamine Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland by 3 ¼ lengths, but that was over a soft turf course and the race featured modest finishing fractions that surely contributed to Rushing Fall's visually impressive rally. I'm more inclined to side with Significant Form as my top choice, as she enters the Breeders' Cup off a solid win in the Miss Grillo Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park, which has historically been a very productive prep for the Juvenile Fillies Turf. In that race, Significant Form stayed close to a modest pace before accelerating her final five-sixteenths of a mile in :28.34 per Trakus. Significant Form had finished in a nearly identical time when crossing the wire first in her debut at Saratoga, and her excellent turn-of-foot and ability to stay within striking range of the pace should make her tough to beat in the Breeders' Cup.

Second Choice: In my mind, Juliet Capulet looks like the best of the European shippers. She needed four starts to break his maiden, but finally did so in impressive fashion going seven furlongs at Thirsk, an elongated track with a turn that is comparably sharp to the turns at U.S. racetracks. She subsequently ran second in the Group 3 Sweet Solera Stakes at Newmarket, finishing ahead of the next-out Natalma Stakes (gr. I) winner Capla Temptress, then reached the winner's circle again after prevailing by a head over the talented filly Nyaleti in the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket. Trainer John Gosden has enjoyed plenty of success at the Breeders' Cup, as has jockey Frankie Dettori, and I think Juliet Capulet has as good a chance as any to win, and perhaps at a solid price.

Live Longshot: Best Performance came home just a length behind Significant Form in the Miss Grillo and actually finished faster while trying to close from farther behind the modest early pace. Trained by Christophe Clement, Best Performance has run second in four straight stakes races (two of them on turf), so we know the talent is there, even if she's had trouble reaching the winner's circle. With the right trip, I think she could potentially turn the tables on Significant Form.

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

Top Selection: I'm going to take a chance with a bit of a longshot here and side with Cupid, a horse I've liked for a long time. Trained by Bob Baffert, the son of Tapit has flashed high-level talent during his somewhat inconsistent career, winning three Grade 2 events as a three-year-old in 2016 and stepping up this year to win the 10-furlong Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I) in his seasonal debut. A breathing issue, an illness, and a minor injury have kept him on the sidelines at various points in his career, but he's managed to get two prep races under his belt before the Breeders' Cup, winning the Harry F. Brubaker Stakes over the same track and distance as the Dirt Mile before finishing fourth in the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita.

That fourth-place finish as the favorite has caused Cupid to lose some fans, but I thought it was a solid effort. Racing very wide over a slow, tiring track, Cupid was beaten only two lengths at the finish while running more than six lengths farther than the second- and third-place finishers. In general, I like to keep an eye on horses cutting back in distance when the Dirt Mile is held around two turns, and the Awesome Again has been a very productive prep for this race, producing the 2008 and 2010 winners Albertus Maximus and Dakota Phone, as well as the 2012 and 2013 runners-up Rail Trip and Golden Ticket.

In a race that has plenty of speed on paper, Cupid should be able to settle in behind the leaders before coming with a run in the homestretch, where his ability to win going longer should help him finish strongly. If he stays near his morning line odds of 8-1, I think he's worth a play.

Second Choice: Accelerate has gone 3-for-4 overall at Del Mar and ran a couple of huge races there this summer, winning the 8.5-furlong San Diego Handicap (gr. II) by 8 ½ lengths and running third in the 10-furlong Pacific Classic (gr. I), beaten just 4 ¼ lengths by Collected and Arrogate while running at a distance at least a furlong beyond his best. Last year, Accelerate finished a good third in the Dirt Mile when he was still a lightly-raced three-year-old, and I think he's improved a lot since then. He's an obvious candidate to win the Dirt Mile, perhaps even the most likely winner, and I wouldn't want to leave him off any multi-race wagers.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

Top Selection: Masar races for the same team (Godolphin and trainer Charles Appleby) that campaigned the 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Outstrip, and a similar victory for Masar appears very possible. The son of New Approach has gone 2-for-4 in Europe and has never finished out of the trifecta, winning the Group 3 Solario Stakes while negotiating a right-handed course at Sandown Park and then running third in the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly, beaten just 1 ½ lengths over a soft course that might not have been his favorite. The firm turf at Del Mar should be more to his liking, and ability to run well on turning courses (even if the turns are mild compared to Del Mar) is a positive. I think he's sitting on a big run.

Second Choice: James Garfield's form isn't quite as flashy as Masar's, but he's progressed steadily this year and did win the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury last time out. Trained by George Scott, who used to work with trainer Simon Callaghan in the United States, James Garfield will have the two-time Juvenile Turf-winning jockey Frankie Dettori in the saddle and could be one to consider at a slightly higher price.

Live Longshot: It's hard to count out the progeny of Kitten's Joy in major turf races, and Voting Control could be a longshot to consider. After breaking his maiden going a mile at Belmont with an impressive late run, Voting Control overcame a poor start to finish a close second in the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. III) just twenty days later, rallying to be beaten just a half-length while attempting to close into a modest early pace. The pace of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile could be much more appropriate for this Chad Brown-trained colt.

Breeders' Cup Distaff

Top Selection: In a deep and competitive race featuring seven Grade 1 winners and two champions, I'm going to side with the up-and-coming Elate. Trained by Bill Mott, who has won the Distaff five times, Elate has made remarkable progress this year and enters the Distaff off eye-catching back-to-back wins in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) and Beldame Stakes (gr. I). I was particularly impressed by Elate's Beldame victory, in which she waited in traffic for most of the race before accelerating in the blink of an eye when clear to go from a half-length in front at the eighth pole to 8 ¼ lengths clear at the finish. She has since made a great impression while training for the Breeders' Cup, and it's not hard to draw parallels to Mott's 2011 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Royal Delta, another late-maturing filly that impressed in similar fashion while training for the Breeders' Cup. In a race where some of the key players have had busy years or are entering off long layoffs, this could be Elate's time to shine.

Second Choice: At first glance, Paradise Woods' race record looks pretty inconsistent, but if you toss out her poor finishes in the Kentucky Oaks (where she set a very fast pace on a sloppy track) and the Torrey Pines Stakes (where she stumbled at the start and came out of the race sore), you're left with a filly that has gone 3-for-4 with eye-catching wins in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) and Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I). The Distaff field doesn't appear to have much early pace, which could give the front-running Paradise Woods a significant tactical advantage, and it's important to note that trainer Richard Mandella has enjoyed fantastic success when the Breeders' Cup comes to California. In fact, Mandella has gone 7-for-13 in Breeders' Cup dirt races (like the Distaff) when the event has been held in California, and one of those defeats came in a race where Mandella ran 1-2.

Live Longshot: She might not fit in terms of speed figures, but the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Champagne Room made a nice visual impression when winning the September 24th Remington Park Oaks by 3 ¾ lengths, a race that marked her first start since February. With the benefit of a prep race under her belt, Champagne Room could be ready to take a step forward in the Distaff, and she also figures to work out an ideal trip tracking Paradise Woods through a modest pace. She's looked excellent in her workouts at Santa Anita, most recently breezing five furlongs in a bullet :59 4/5 on October 27th, and I don't think it's out of the question that she can get on the board at a very big price.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

Top Selection: Two years ago, a filly named Songbird swept unbeaten through a Del Mar maiden race, the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I), and the Chandelier Stakes (gr. I) before romping to victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. No one (yet) is comparing Moonshine Memories to Songbird, but she's won the same three races and was clearly best when winning the Chandelier Stakes, rating in second behind a fast pace before taking command and drawing off to win by 2 ¾ lengths. She didn't finish very fast, but the track was slow and tiring that day, and her final time translated to a solid 86 Beyer speed figure. Moonshine Memories has looked great during recent workouts and appears to be maintaining excellent form coming into the Breeders' Cup, and in my mind she's one of the more likely winners on the Saturday card.

Second Choice: Alluring Star finished second in the Chandelier Stakes after setting quick fractions of :23.03 and :46.75. Considering that the Chandelier was only her second start and her first beyond 6 ½ furlongs, her runner-up effort was pretty solid. Like Moonshine Memories, she's looked good in training and should be in the mix once again for trainer Bob Baffert.

Live Longshot: Wonder Gadot has never run on dirt, but her pedigree (by Medaglia d'Oro out of a Vindication mare) suggests that she could handle the switch just fine. Trained by Mark Casse, Wonder Gadot is 2-for-3 so far and recently won the 8.5-furlong Mazarine Stakes (gr. III) on the Tapeta track at Woodbine by six lengths. Her lone defeat was a narrow third-place finish in the Natalma Stakes (gr. I) on turf at Woodbine, a classy effort against solid competition, and Wonder Gadot's odds should be high enough to warrant inclusion in the exotics.

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint

Top Selection: Favorites and fillies have a good record in the Turf Sprint, and there might not be a better five-furlong sprinter in this race than Lady Aurelia, who is both the favorite and a filly. Trained by Wesley Ward, Lady Aurelia has raced primarily in Europe, where she has won the Darley Prix Morny (Fr-I) and the King's Stand Stakes (Eng-I) in impressive fashion, the latter effort coming at five furlongs against older male rivals. She's also gone 2-for-2 sprinting in the U.S., including an easy win in the 5 ½-furlong Giant's Causeway Stakes at Keeneland, and it's not hard to envision Lady Aurelia running her rivals off their feet in the Turf Sprint.

Second Choice: Although he's never sprinted as short as five furlongs, Disco Partner is freakishly fast and might be good enough to win even at a distance shorter than he is accustomed to. The turf courses at Belmont can play very fast, but it's still noteworthy that Disco Partner has run six furlongs in less than 1:07 on three occasions at Belmont, including an astonishing 1:05.67 while winning the Jaipur Stakes (gr. III) back in June. My main concern is that he could get buried inside while breaking from post one and never get a chance to unleash his rally, but with a clean trip, I think he's a major threat to win.

Live Longshot: Pure Sensation has drawn wide in post twelve, but if he can get over toward the rail and avoid giving up too much ground, he's probably as fast as any over this distance. He finished third by a length in the 2016 Turf Sprint sprinting down the hill at Santa Anita, and he's also scored wins in the Parx Dash (gr. III) and Turf Monster Handicap (gr. III) going five furlongs this summer, putting up an eye-catching 110 Beyer for his 5 ¾-length romp in the Parx Dash.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

Top Selection: Two weeks ago, I made my case for Ami's Mesa to win the Filly & Mare Sprint (click here to read), and I haven't seen anything since then to change my mind. She's 4-for-4 this year and is a graded stakes winner around two turns, but has the speed of an exceptional sprinter and should relish a contested seven-furlong sprint like the Filly & Mare Sprint. The switch to dirt is the big question mark, but her pedigree contains enough dirt influences to think that she can handle the switch. As long as she can work out an outside trip staying clear of kick-back, I think she can rally late to win at a big price.

Second Choice: In terms of raw talent, Unique Bella might be the best horse in this race, as she looked like a potential superstar at the start of the year before shin issues sidelined her for the summer. She returned to action with an easy win in the L. A. Woman Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita last month, but she has a history of breaking slowly and/or getting a bit rank in her races, and there's not much room for error in a race this competitive. It's also worth noting that no three-year-old filly has ever won the Filly & Mare Sprint, and since Unique Bella figures to be a very short-priced favorite, I'm willing to take a stand against her for the top spot, though I would want to include her in multi-race wagers.

Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf

Top Selection: I went back and forth in this very deep race before finally settling on Lady Eli. She'll be a short price, but the brilliant mare has never finished out of the exacta in thirteen starts, which includes a win in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and a nose defeat in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. She brings a three-race win streak into this year's Breeders' Cup, culminating with an impressive win in the Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga, in which she ran her final five-sixteenths of a mile in less than :28 seconds to win by 1 ½ lengths. She's unbeaten in three starts at nine furlongs, is training as well as ever, and should be very tough to beat.

Second Choice: Lady Eli's stablemate Grand Jete won her first three starts in the U.S., including the Eatontown Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth, before finishing second in the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I) with a very troubled run and third in the ten-furlong Flower Bowl Stakes (gr. I) after setting the pace. The cutback to nine furlongs and a return to an off-the-pace running style could be all she needs to return to peak form.

Live Longshot: I really want to pick Senga on top, and while I couldn't quite bring myself to rank her ahead of Lady Eli, I do think she's a very viable longshot play. Her form this year seems to indicate a marked preference for firm turf--she won both her starts on firm going, turned in decent third-place efforts in her two starts on "good to soft," and was nowhere to be found in her two runs on soft turf.

But her firm turf efforts have been excellent, including a win in the Group 1 Prix de Diane during the summer at Chantilly, in which she beat next-out Belmont Oaks (gr. I) runner-up Sistercharlie by a length. Firm turf and nine furlongs should be perfect for Senga, and at 20-1, she'll absolutely be on my tickets.

Breeders' Cup Sprint

Top Selection: I found it difficult to separate the two talented speedsters Drefong and Imperial Hint, but finally settled on the former. Winner of the 2016 Breeders' Cup Sprint in nearly gate-to-wire fashion, Drefong has only run twice since then, with one of those efforts being a disastrous run in the Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I), in which he lost jockey Mike Smith shortly after the start. But Drefong couldn't have looked much better winning the seven-furlong Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga by four lengths, a performance that was nearly identical to his win in the 2016 King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I), which served as his final prep for his Breeders' Cup victory.

Notably, the only trainer in history to have won back-to-back Sprints with a single horse was Bob Baffert, who sent out Midnight Lute to win in 2007 and 2008 despite a 2008 prep schedule comprised of nothing more than a tenth-place finish in the Pat O'Brien Handicap (gr. II) two months before the Breeders' Cup. If anyone can get a horse to win the Sprint off a limited campaign, it's Baffert, and Drefong has looked great training for the race at Santa Anita. He'll be favored, but I'll take him as my top choice to win.

Second Choice: Imperial Hint has yet to take on top-class sprinters in a major graded stakes race, but he's been brilliant winning five straight races (four of them going six furlongs) at Parx, Laurel, and Gulfstream Park. In the Smile Sprint Stakes (gr. III), he was forced to wait in traffic around the turn, but burst clear in eye-catching fashion when racing room appeared. Last time out, he beat three rivals in the Donald LeVine Memorial Stakes at Parx, and while Parx can play fast in sprints, it's hard to ignore the way Imperial Hint ran the first two quarter-miles in less than :22 seconds (for a half-mile in :43.81) before drawing off to win by nearly seven lengths in the time of 1:07.55. Imperial Hint might well be a beast in the making and I wouldn't want to leave him off my tickets.

Live Longshot: He'll need to take a step forward to be competitive against this group, but I made a case two weeks ago for the three-year-old American Pastime to run well in this race (click here to read), and I don't see any reason to jump off the bandwagon now. Like Drefong, he's looked very sharp training for the Breeders' Cup, most recently breezing a half-mile in a bullet :45 4/5 at Del Mar on October 27th. If he can get off to a clean start, I don't think it's out of the question that he can win at double-digit odds.

Breeders' Cup Mile

Top Selection: French shippers have historically done quite well in the Breeders' Cup Mile, and I'm tempted to side with the 20-1 shot Zelzal. The four-year-old son of Sea the Stars was good enough to win the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat going a mile at Chantilly last year, beating the group stakes winners Stormy Antarctic and Sceptre, and while he's 0-for-3 this year, there are plenty of reasons to think he might rebound.  In his seasonal debut, he ran second behind the talented Taareef in a quality renewal of the Group 3 Prix Bertrand du Breuil, his only run this year over a firm turf course. Two subsequent runs on soft turf against Group 1 company yielded solid results despite the less-than-ideal turf conditions--Zelzal ran fourth by 2 ½ lengths in the Sussex Stakes and sixth by 1 ¾ lengths in the Prix de la Foret, two races that featured deep and competitive fields.

The return to firm turf in the Breeders' Cup Mile should be perfect for Zelzal, who has drawn well in post position six and should be poised for a rebound. At 20-1, I think he's worth playing on top and including in multi-race wagers.

Second Choice: World Approval has been a capable graded stakes performer for three seasons, but he's taken his game to a whole new level since cutting back to a mile this summer. After winning the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. I) with ease over a yielding turf course at Saratoga, World Approval took on a top-notch field on firm turf in the Woodbine Mile (gr. I) and crushed them by 2 ½ lengths, stopping the clock in 1:33.05 while running his final quarter-mile in :22.74. He's got enough tactical speed to stay close to the pace, which could be beneficial in a race with a large field and a short homestretch, and in my opinion he might be the most likely winner in the race, even if his odds (9-2) don't necessarily offer the best value.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Top Selection: Bolt d'Oro could not have been more impressive winning the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) by 7 ¾ lengths, earning huge speed figures that stamp him as clearly the horse to beat in the Juvenile. Throw in the fact that he's a perfect 2-for-2 at Del Mar, including a late-running win in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I), and you have a horse that figures to be one of the heaviest favorites (and most likely winners) of the entire Breeders' Cup. If you can beat him in multi-race wagers, you'll certainly get paid, but Bolt d'Oro has done nothing wrong so far and I can't side against him here.

Second Choice: He's yet to win a race, but Good Magic turned in a big effort to finish second by just a half-length in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) after racing significantly closer to a quick early pace than the eventual winner, Firenze Fire. Trained by Chad Brown, Good Magic has a strong pedigree (by Curlin out of Glinda the Good, by Hard Spun) that suggests he'll be better with more experience and maturity. He could enjoy stretching out around two turns in the Breeders' Cup, and if Bolt d'Oro misfires, I think Good Magic is as likely a winner as any.

Live Longshot: Solomini has fallen off the radar a bit since finishing second to Bolt d'Oro in the FrontRunner, but he still ran well enough to receive an 87 Beyer while posting a time that was mathematically good enough to warrant a 100 Beyer. When viewed from this perspective, it's not hard to make a case that Solomini can be a factor for the exotics at double-digits odds, and he did break his maiden at Del Mar during the summer. I wouldn't necessarily want him at his 6-1 morning line odds, but I think he'll drift up higher than that.

Breeders' Cup Turf

Top Selection: While Cliffs of Moher hasn't come close to winning this summer, you can make a case that this Irish-bred three-year-old might be poised for a rebound in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Trained by Aidan O'Brien, Cliffs of Moher won the Dee Stakes at Chester in the spring over a nearly round, left-handed course about a mile in circumference, giving hope that he can handle the tight turns of a U.S. turf course. Cliffs of Moher then finished a close second in a strong renewal of the Group 1 Investec Derby, edging out the future Group 1 winners Cracksman and Capri.

Since that race, Cliffs of Moher has encountered nothing but trouble, ranging from traffic issues to poor trips to racing over ground softer than he prefers. These difficulties have muddied his form to the point that he's 20-1 on the morning line, but his efforts from the spring--coupled with his connections--point him out as an intriguing longshot play. He might not be the most likely winner, but at 20-1 I'll take a shot.

Second Choice: Highland Reel won this race last year in gate-to-wire fashion, and while the presence of Oscar Performance probably ensures that he won't get as good a trip this time, Highland Reel is a veteran world traveler that has won six Group/Grade 1 races in the U.S., Great Britain, and Hong Kong-he's very hard to dismiss. After winning the Coronation Cup and Prince of Wales's Stakes (both Group 1) earlier this year, Highland Reel encountered soft ground in the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, where he could only finish fourth in a deep field that included Enable, Ulysses, and Idaho. Following a bit of a layoff, he returned to action in the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot two weeks ago and again encountered soft ground, but managed to finish third despite an unusual trip in which he spent part of the race running on the far outside seeking firmer ground.

With that prep run under his belt, Highland Reel should be ready to roll while returning to firm turf and stretching back out to 1 ½ miles. If he stays near his 5-1 morning line odds, I think he would be a significant overlay.

Live Longshot: Cliffs of Moher already counts as a live longshot, but I'll also mention Sadler's Joy and Oscar Performance, who ran third and fourth in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. I) last time out. I think both were compromised by sub-par trips in a race that unfolded at a modest pace perfect for the pace-tracking winner Beach Patrol, and both--Sadler's Joy in particular--could benefit from the three-turn configuration of the Breeders' Cup Turf. The wide draw for Oscar Performance is a concern, since it probably forces him to commit to the lead, but on the other hand, using his speed might not be the worst strategy for a colt that won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf while taking the lead through six furlongs in 1:09.44. It also gives him every chance to stay outside of horses, a positive since he's 0-for-3 while racing inside of horses and appears uncomfortable when given that sort of trip.

Breeders' Cup Classic

Top Selection: Granted, the race was seven months ago, but it's impossible for me to forget the way Arrogate swallowed Gun Runner in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) despite a disastrous start that left him dead last early on. Arrogate was beaten in two starts at Del Mar this summer, leading to all sorts of speculation and discussion about weight loss, a dislike for the track, and the possibility that he had lost a step, but it's hard to knock his impressive workouts leading up to this year's Breeders' Cup Classic. When Arrogate is at his best, he's at another level compared to his opposition, as we saw last year when he shattered a 37-year-old track record while winning the Travers Stakes (gr. I) by 13 ½ lengths. The way I see it, Arrogate isn't losing this race if he runs back to his best efforts, yet his recent defeats mean that we'll be able to get a bit of a price on one of the most talented horses we've seen in decades. I can't pick against him.

Second Choice: It's impossible to knock anything that Gun Runner has done this year, as he's gone 4-for-5 overall while winning three Grade 1 races with remarkable ease this summer. He hasn't been a match for Arrogate in their two meetings, but he's handled every other horse he's come up against dating back to late last year and has the tactical speed and tractability to be positioned just about anywhere in the race. In the event that Arrogate doesn't fire his best shot, Gun Runner is the logical candidate to take advantage.

Live Longshot: He might not be as flashy as some, but Gunnevera has quietly compiled a solid record this year and ran a huge race when second to West Coast despite a slow start and a wide trip in the Travers Stakes (gr. I). Obviously he'll need to take a step forward to compete against the likes of Gun Runner and the Bob Baffert quartet, but you can make a case that he might have run the best race in the Travers, and his late-running style could help him pick up the pieces if a prolonged battle for supremacy tires out some of the more heralded contenders.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the thirteen Breeders' Cup races?


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

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