By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
It's an exciting time for racing fans! The 2019 Breeders' Cup World Championships will
be held on November 1-2 at Santa Anita, with talented horses from around the
globe vying for victory in fourteen rich races.
Dirt and grass, sprints and routes, fillies and mares,
colts and geldings, juveniles and older runnners—there's something for everyone
at the Breeders' Cup, presumably including winning favorites and victorious
Let's take a look at each race:
Cup Juvenile Sprint
Selection: #9 Four Wheel Drive is 2-for-2 for trainer
Wesley Ward, a master at conditioning juvenile sprinters. This son of American
Pharoah debuted in the Rosie's Stakes at Colonial Downs and won easily by 3 ¼ lengths
over next-out stakes winner So Street, then came back and cruised to a decisive
three-length score in the Futurity Stakes (G3) at Belmont. Four Wheel Drive boasts
the best Beyer speed figures in the field and should be up on the pace from the
start. He's a deserving favorite with Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the saddle.
Choice: Ward's filly #7
Kimari is 3-for-4, with her only loss coming by a head in the Queen Mary
Stakes (G2) over the straight course at Royal Ascot in England. She subsequently
came back and crushed next-out Natalma Stakes (G1) winner Abscond by four
lengths while leading all the way Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga, after
which she somehow produced an explosive rally from dead last to win the Indiana
Summer Stakes at Keeneland. This obviously talented daughter of Munnings is a
must-use in multi-race wagers.
Longshot: I think the European shippers will find this five-furlong
American dash too sharp to handle, though #8
Dr Simpson offers some appeal as a longshot since she's 2-for-2 racing over
left-handed courses. A Group 3 winner, Dr Simpson broke her maiden at Chester,
a nearly round one-mile course with a short straight not dissimilar to an
Cup Juvenile Turf
Selection: Trainer Aidan O'Brien has won this race four
times and could nab another with the well-bred #13 Fort Myers. By War Front out of Irish 1,000 Guineas (G1) winner
Marvellous, Fort Myers hasn't been disgraced in four tries against group stakes
company and was beaten less than two lengths by heralded stablemate #12 Arizona in the Coventry Stakes (G2)
at Ascot. Unlike Arizona, Fort Myers has experience racing around turns and is
actually 2-for-2 over the left-handed synthetic course at Dundalk, where two of
O'Brien's previous Juvenile Turf winners (Hit It a Bomb and George Vancouver)
recorded victories prior to their Breeders' Cup success. Fort Myers will need
to avoid racing wide from post thirteen, but he's bred to handle a mile and
might appreciate the course configuration more than Arizona.
Longshot: #5 Vitalogy was compromised by a slow pace when
charging late to finish third in the Summer Stakes (G1) at Woodbine, then raced
wide every step of the way in the Bourbon Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. Despite
rallying from last place in a race dominated by speed horses, Vitalogy missed
by just a neck in while lugging in down the stretch. With a better setup and a
more focused late rally, Vitalogy can vie for victory in the Juvenile Turf.
Cup Juvenile Fillies
Selection: The Frizette Stakes (G1) at Belmont has
produced five of the last dozen Juvenile Fillies winners, and #7 Wicked Whisper can follow this
winning profile. An impressive 6 ¼-length debut winner at Saratoga, Wicked
Whisper had no trouble stretching out in distance for the Frizette, seizing the
lead at the start and widening from there to score by 2 ¾ lengths over the
Grade 1-placed Frank's Rockette. Wicked Whisper sprinted the final quarter-mile
in a solid :24.80 while posting an 87 Beyer and figures to work out a
forwardly-placed trip over this deep and tiring track.
Favorite: #1 Donna Veloce debuted in a 6 ½-furlong maiden special
weight at Santa Anita on September 28 and looked great pulling away to win by 9
¼ effortless lengths with a 91 Beyer. This daughter of Uncle Mo clearly has
talent, but she benefited from a speed-favoring track on debut and is taking a big
step up in class and distance for the Juvenile Fillies. It's worth noting every
winner of the Juvenile Fillies had previously contested at least one stakes
race prior to the Breeders' Cup.
Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
Selection: Trainer Chad Brown has won this race five
times, usually with winners of Belmont's Miss Grillo Stakes (G2), so I'll put
my faith in his latest Miss Grillo winner, #13
Selflessly. After unleashing a huge late run to finish second in her debut
sprinting at Saratoga, Selflessly stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for the Miss
Grillo and promptly beat P.G. Johnson Stakes winner #7 Crystalle by half a length. She'll need some luck to avoid a
wide trip from post thirteen, but she's worth the risk if her enticing 8-1
morning line odds hold up.
Choice: #12 Sweet Melania just missed against Crystalle in the
P.G. Johnson Stakes, then shipped to Keeneland for the Jessamine Stakes (G2)
and parlayed a pace-pressing trip into a powerful 5 ½-length triumph over a "good"
course. She made a great impression visually and may have turned a corner, but
the wide draw and return to firm turf are question marks.
Selection: #5 Scabbard endured a tough trip in the Iroquois
Stakes (G3), steadying hard on the far turn and losing a lot of ground and
momentum. He could have given up, but instead he re-rallied and came charging
down the stretch to finish just 1 ¾ lengths behind Juvenile favorite #1 Dennis' Moment. If not for the
traffic incident, Scabbard might have given Dennis' Moment a run for the money.
For the Juvenile, Scabbard will pick up the services of Hall of Fame jockey
Mike Smith, and he might be poised for a perfect setup if Dennis' Moment
(breaking from the rail) locks horns with key rival and fellow speedster #6 Eight Rings in the early going. Call
it a hunch, but I think Scabbard has a live upset chance.
Choice: #1 Dennis' Moment is the fastest horse in terms of Beyer
speed figures and won with something left in the Iroquois Stakes. He's been
training sharply and figures to set the pace while breaking from the rail, likely
an advantage over this deep and tiring track, but we'll have to see how he
handles the pressure if Eight Rings gets aggressive in pushing the pace.
Cup Filly & Mare Sprint
Selection: #4 Come Dancing has blossomed into a high-class sprinter
this season, most notably winning the seven-furlong Ballerina Stakes (G1) at
Saratoga by 3 ½ lengths after rallying into slow fractions. She's the fastest
horse in the field by virtue of the 114 Beyer she posted when crushing the
Distaff Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct by 7 ¾ lengths in the spring, but beyond her
speed figures, I'm most excited to support Come Dancing because she's
demonstrated the stamina to compete at a high level over longer distances.
During the spring, Come Dancing won the Ruffian Stakes
(G2) going a mile and finished second behind Breeders' Cup Distaff favorite
Midnight Bisou in the 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipp Stakes (G1), and this miler
stamina could come in handy over the tiring track at Santa Anita. Come Dancing
is versatile in terms of running style and should sit a perfect trip just off
the speed while breaking from post four. From there, she can pounce to victory
in the homestretch.
Favorite: Unique Bella, Carina Mia, Cavorting, Turbulent Descent,
Champagne d'Oro, Indian Blessing, La Traviata—these seven sophomore fillies
were all favored to win the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, yet all were
defeated and only Indian Blessing cracked the trifecta. Three-year-olds have
had a tough time in this competitive seven-furlong race, and #1 Covfefe could likewise be vulnerable
as the 2-1 morning line favorite. She's shown flashes of brilliance this
season, firing off a pair of 107 Beyers in addition to defeating Kentucky Oaks
(G1) winner Serengeti Empress in the Test Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. But this
speedy daughter of Into Mischief has drawn the rail and won't get a chance to
relax early on, not with #2 Danuska's My
Girl, #3 Heavenhasmynikki, and #7 Selcourt likely to join her in a
battle for early supremacy. Keep in mind, Covfefe was beaten by older mares in
the six-furlong Roxelana Stakes when forced to set a pressured pace on the
Cup Turf Sprint
Selection: #1 Totally Boss is a nose away from being 5-for-5 this
year and was a comfortable winner of the Runhappy Turf Sprint (G3) at Kentucky
Downs last time out. Five furlongs might be a hair short for this son of Street
Boss, though he did win his lone start over this distance at Indiana Grand. A
versatile runner, Totally Boss can track slow fractions, but seems best when
allowed to rally from behind in fast-paced events. Just look at his victory two
starts back in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint Stakes at Ellis Park—he
settled five lengths behind an opening quarter in :21.32, rallied into the
teeth of a :43.48 half-mile, and flew home to win in the course-record time of
1:00.26 for 5 ½ furlongs. Totally Boss is improving at the right time and just
needs a clean trip from the rail to vie for victory.
Choice: #10 Eddie Haskell boasts a 14-9-3-2 record sprinting five
furlongs and just missed over this course and distance in the Eddie D. Stakes
(G2) on September 27, coming up a half-length short after getting shuffled off
the pace. This was a tough trip and an impressive performance from a gelding
who typically races closer to the pace, so he'll be dangerous if able to work
out a forwardly-placed trip under jockey Joel Rosario.
Cup Dirt Mile
Selection: I outlined last week why I believe #5 Omaha Beach is a lock to win the
Dirt Mile, and I see no reason to change my opinion. His victories running long
in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) were terrific since he
demonstrated the ability to make a mid-race move, settle back down, and re-accelerate
on cue in the homestretch. His return from a layoff in the Santa Anita Sprint
Championship (G1) was impressive as well since he cut back to six furlongs for
the first time and produced a determined rally up the rail to defeat Breeders'
Cup Sprint contender Shancelot with a career-best 103 Beyer.
If Omaha Beach had fired off this huge effort in a
two-turn route, I would be concerned about a bounce. Instead, the Sprint
Championship was more of a stiff workout, and Omaha Beach has continued to
train sharply at Santa Anita, suggesting he's ready for another big effort on
Saturday. I'll be surprised if he is beaten.
Longshot: #9 Diamond Oops has posted some sharp workouts on grass
at Palm Meadows, including seven furlongs in a quick 1:22 2/5 on October 25. This
son of Lookin At Lucky was beaten less than a length when second in the
Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland, so we know he can carry his speed against
tough competition in a two-turn mile. He's also demonstrated strong form on
dirt, winning the Smile Sprint Stakes (G2) and finishing second behind Breeders'
Cup Sprint contender Imperial Hint in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1). This
talented gelding is one of the fastest horses on paper and appears poised for a
big run, yet he's 15-1 on the morning line. Count me in!
Cup Filly & Mare Turf
Selection: The three-year-old European shipper #1 Iridessa has demonstrated the speed
to win high-class mile events like the Fillies' Mile (G1) and Matron Stakes
(G1), which bodes well for her chances of success over a tight-turning U.S.
turf course. But she's also shown stamina, defeating older mares (including
Arlington Million runner-up Magic Wand) in the 1 ¼-mile Pretty Polly Stakes
(G1). This improving filly has won over left-handed courses and was an
eye-catching four-length debut winner over the tight-turning course at
Killarney as a juvenile. She'll race on Lasix for the first time this Saturday
and could sit a perfect ground-saving trip while breaking from the rail. At
8-1, Iridessa strikes me as a great price play.
Choice: There's really no reason to dislike defending Filly &
Mare Turf winner #2 Sistercharlie, who
has won six consecutive Group 1 races. Trainer Chad Brown has won this race
four times since 2012, and Sistercharlie enjoyed an easy prep run in a
slow-paced renewal of the Flower Bowl Stakes (G1), basically sprinting just a
half-mile or so to win comfortably. The only problem is her price—she's 8-5 on
the morning line while facing a deep field of European challengers. That's a short
price to accept, especially since clean trips on turf are never a given.
Selection: Three-year-olds have a strong record in the
Sprint, and #6 Shancelot owns the
field's best Beyer speed figure, having thrown down a jaw-dropping 121 when
crushing the 6 ½-furlong Amsterdam Stakes (G2) at Saratoga by 12 ½ lengths. Shancelot
essentially ran out of his skin that day, widening at will while posting
fractions of :21.79, :43.94, 1:07.63, and 1:14.01.
A dead rail and a closer-favoring track bias compromised
Shancelot's chances in the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1), which he
lost by a head, and he was beaten by an identical margin in the six-furlong
Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) at Santa Anita. In the latter race,
Shancelot drifted wide off the turn and allowed Omaha Beach to slip through
along the rail, a strategic error that might have made the difference between
victory and defeat.
In any case, Shancelot ran a big race in his own right
and has come back to post a couple of bullet half-mile workouts at Santa Anita.
With Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz accepting the mount for the first
time, I'm optimistic Shancelot's speed will be aggressively put to use in a
quest to out-duel his older rivals. Having a prep run over the track is a
Choice: Will the third time be the charm for #9 Imperial Hint? Twice placed in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Imperial
Hint has been in peak form this summer and fall, dominating the Alfred G.
Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) at Saratoga in track-record time before battling to a
gutsy victory in the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) at Belmont. Imperial Hint set the
pace in the Vosburgh, but is arguably better when allowed to track fast
fractions. Having drawn post nine for the Sprint, Imperial Hint should be able
to sit a perfect trip stalking Mitole and Shancelot before pouncing in the
stretch. He'll definitely be included in my multi-race wagers, along with #1 Catalina Cruiser, who just needs a
clean trip from the rail to contend.
Favorite: #4 Mitole has been terrific this year with five wins
from six starts, rattling off Grade 1 triumphs in the Churchill Downs Stakes
(G1), Metropolitan Handicap (G1), and Forego Stakes (G1). But his signature
victories have all come running seven furlongs or farther, distances that
typically feature slower early fractions. In his five victories this year, Mitole
hasn't run an opening quarter-mile faster than :22 1/5. In contrast, when
Mitole broke poorly in the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) and rushed
up to battle through a :21.77 quarter, he wound up weakening down the lane to
finish 7 ½ lengths behind Imperial Hint. In short, I wonder if Mitole lacks the
pure speed to compete in an intense six-furlong dash against elite sprinters,
especially while drawn inside of his key pace rivals.
Selection: #6 Got Stormy has blossomed into a high-class miler
for trainer Mark Casse, who saddled the filly Tepin to win this race in 2015.
After trouncing males in the Fourstardave Handicap (G1) at Saratoga, winning in
the course-record time of 1:32 flat, the normally late-running Got Stormy
arguably moved prematurely in the Woodbine Mile (G1), tracking a half-mile in
:44.43 and taking command through six furlongs in 1:08.33 before getting edged
out late by the ground-saving #8 El
RacingFlow.com assigned the Woodbine Mile a Closer
Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 98 on their 1-to-100 scale, signifying a strongly closer-favoring
race. This means Got Stormy ran even better than it appears at first glance, a
scary proposition for her Breeders' Cup rivals. With her perfect blend of
tactical speed and finishing power, Got Stormy looms as the horse to beat in
Favorite: #9 Circus Maximus is a high-class miler,
having won the St. James's Palace Stakes (G1) and Prix du Moulin de Loncghamp
(G1) in Europe this season. It's also encouraging to note that he won the Dee
Stakes at Chester during the spring, so we know he can handle relatively sharp
But Circus Maximus strikes me as more of a speedy grinder
than a sprinter/miler with a brilliant turn-of-foot, which is often a prerequisite
for winning the Breeders' Cup Mile. This race tends to unfold at a fast clip,
particularly when held at Santa Anita, so Circus Maximus might have to run
harder than usual to maintain good position during the early going. From there,
I wonder if his finishing speed will be blunted, especially while racing over a
dry course possibly firmer than he prefers. It's also worth mentioning trainer
Aidan O'Brien is 0-for-23 in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Selection: #5 Dunbar Road showed off her stamina in the 1 ¼-mile
Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, rallying strongly to defeat next-out Cotillion
Stakes (G1) winner #3 Street Band by
2 ¾ lengths. Subsequently, Dunbar Road faced older mares in the Spinster Stakes
(G1) at Keeneland and ran a big race in defeat. Trapped along the inside on a
day when the rail appeared to be the worst part of the track, Dunbar Road tenaciously
fought her way into contention at the eighth pole before settling for third
place, beaten just 1 ¼ lengths for all the money and less than a length by Breeders'
Cup Classic contender Elate.
Sophomore fillies have a strong record in the Distaff (at
least one has cracked the exacta every year since 2010), and with a clean trip
over a fair track, Dunbar Road can take a big step forward.
Choice: #4 Midnight Bisou is the obvious choice to win the
Distaff, having gone 7-for-7 against graded stakes company this season. But she's
been on the go almost non-stop for two years and had to work harder than
expected to put away #6 Wow Cat after
sitting a perfect trip in the September 28 Beldame Stakes (G2). Can Midnight
Bisou win the Distaff? Absolutely, and she'll be on all my tickets. But at 6-5
on the morning line she doesn't offer much value, especially after an
Selection: I've gushed on several occasions during the
last year about the immense talent and sensational finishing speed of #9 Bricks and Mortar. A four-time Grade
1 winner, Bricks and Mortar is stretching out to 1 ½ miles for the first time,
but the relentless (and legitimately fast) rallies he's unleashed this season
suggest he'll have no trouble negotiating a longer distance. Just look at his
performance in the 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million, in which he rallied at will
after waiting in traffic to win comfortably with a :22 1/5 final quarter. The
European contingent in this year's Turf is weaker than usual, so Bricks and
Mortar rates a strong chance to nab a victory for the home team.
Choice: Trainer Charlie Appleby is 3-for-6 in the Breeders' Cup,
and one of his defeats came by a neck with Wild Illusion in the 2018 Breeders'
Cup Filly & Mare Turf. #10 Old
Persian might not be quite up to the Group 1 level in Europe, but he
defeated a handful of quality Japanese runners in the 1 ½-mile Dubai Golden
Shaheen (G1) in Dubai and recently scored a comfortable victory in the 1 ½-mile
Northern Dancer Stakes (G1) at Woodbine. With a 5-for-8 record over the
distance of the Breeders' Cup Turf, Old Persian is a logical alternative to
Bricks and Mortar if you doubt the latter's ability to stretch out over 1 ½ miles.
Selection: #7 Higher Power has improved in leaps and bounds since
being transferred to trainer John Sadler in California. Two starts back, when
transitioning from turf to dirt, he obliterated nine rivals (including future Grade
1 winner #9 Mongolian Groom) by 5 ¼ lengths
in the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic, tracking the pace before powering clear over a
deep and tiring track to win with a 107 Beyer.
Nothing went right for Higher Power in the September 28 Awesome
Again Stakes (G1), considering he stumbled at the start and fell back to last
place while chasing slow fractions over a speed-favoring track. Despite these
obstacles, Higher Power fought on to finish third behind Mongolian Groom with a
99 Beyer, decent considering the circumstances.
RacingFlow.com assigned the Awesome Again a speed-favoring
CFR of 9, which puts a number on the difficulty of the task Higher Power was
facing. Considering he also encountered a CFR of 5 when charging to finish
second in the Wickerr Stakes on grass three starts back, it's safe to say
Higher Power's recent defeats have been better efforts than they first appear.
As a son of noted stamina influence Medaglia d'Oro out of
a mare by Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, Higher Power is as stoutly-bred as
they come and should relish the return to 1 ¼ miles. With the speedy Preakness
Stakes (G1) winner #4 War of Will drawn
to his inside while adding blinkers, Higher Power might sit a perfect trip
stalking War of Will, working out a similar journey to the one he received in
the Pacific Classic. In a wide-open race, Higher Power offers a lot of
positives, including his 6-1 morning line odds.
Choice: #10 Vino Ross won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1)
over this track and distance in May and recently led from start to finish in
the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), only to be disqualified for impeding #11 Code of Honor in the homestretch. A
son of Curlin out of a Street Cry mare, Vino Rosso has always shown talent and
fired off a career-best Beyer while removing blinkers in the Jockey Club Gold
Cup. He's essentially a grinder without much acceleration, but this style can
be dangerous over the tiring track at Santa Anita. If Vino Rosso can secure a
forwardly-placed position from post ten, he could be tough to wear down in the
Favorite: On his best day, #8
McKinzie can be brilliant—just look at his powerful triumph in the Whitney
Stakes (G1) two starts back. Like Higher Power, he was compromised by a slow
pace and speed-favoring track in the Awesome Again, but McKinzie was also
favored at 3-10 and simply flattened out after looming up alongside Mongolian
Groom at the eighth pole. For a horse of McKinzie's talent, it's surprising to
note he's just 2-for-6 this season, having lost a handful of races he was fully
expected to win. I wonder if 1 ¼ miles might be pushing the limits of his
stamina, especially over the tiring track at Santa Anita.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the fourteen
Breeders' Cup races?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
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.