Looking for a Longshot in the Breeders’ Stakes

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

Two weeks out from the Breeders' Cup, we'll take a brief respite from analyzing prospective fields and instead turn our attention to a pair of intriguing races on the immediate horizon.

An allowance race at Keeneland and the Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine have captured my attention. I'm banking on upsets in both races, and I hope you'll join me!

Thursday, Keeneland Race 8: Allowance

Regular readers of Unlocking Winners might recall I was a pretty big fan of #3 Blackberry Wine (5-1) last winter. Certainly I heaped praise upon his performance in a Jan. 18 allowance race at Fair Grounds, declaring Blackberry Wine to be a practically certain winner in the first division of the Feb. 15 Risen Star Stakes (G2). Alas, Blackberry Wine could only finish seventh in his graded stakes debut.

That performance pretty much exemplifies the frustrating career Blackberry Wine has endured. A son of Oxbow out of an A.P. Indy mare, Blackberry Win has shown flashes of serious talent, but he's faced more than his fair share of challenges along the way. He's twice been disqualified from victories due to positive post-race drug tests, and after finishing second in a fast allowance race on Apr. 11 at Oaklawn—5 1/2 lengths clear of future Oklahoma Derby (G3) runner-up Mo Mosa—Blackberry Wine missed the rest of spring and summer with a minor injury.

Blackberry Wine will finally return to action in a 7-furlong allowance race on Thursday at Keeneland, and I'm excited to see how he performs. The distance is probably shorter than he prefers, but the Calumet Farm homebred is blessed with tactical speed and has been cranking out fast workouts, so the cutback in distance isn't too concerning. The bigger question mark is the 6 1/2-month layoff, but trainer Joe Sharp wins at a 21% rate with horses returning from breaks of 90 days or more, suggesting Blackberry Wine will be fit and fresh for his comeback effort.

Assuming his 5-1 morning line odds hold up, I'll happily bet Blackberry Wine to win and key him in my exotic wagers. And I'll look forward to seeing how he progresses throughout the fall and winter—I'm confident he'll develop into a high-class prospect, and if he fails to win a graded stakes race at some point, I'll eat my hat. My Curlin baseball cap, to be exact.

Saturday, Woodbine Race 10: Breeders' Stakes

All eyes will understandably be focused on #8 Mighty Heart (1-1), a decisive winner of the Queen's Plate Stakes and Prince of Wales Stakes. He's the fastest horse on paper and boasts versatility in terms of running style. If he can add the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Stakes to his impressive resume, he'll become the first horse since Wando in 2003 to sweep Canada's Triple Crown.

But can Mighty Heart handle the switch to turf for the Breeders' Stakes? He's fared just fine on dirt and Tapeta, but he failed to fire at all in his lone run on grass last winter, blowing the turn in a 1-mile maiden race at Fair Grounds before finishing eleventh. We can probably draw a line through this effort and assume Mighty Heart has improved significantly since then, but the one-eyed colt still seems tough to trust as an even-money favorite.

In contrast, #5 English Conqueror (12-1) seems like a perfect candidate to excel racing 1 1/2 miles on turf. His sire, 2007 Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) winner English Channel, was a grass champion responsible for siring a bevy of long-distance turf stars. English Channel's progeny have especially relished the large turf course at Woodbine—Johnny Bear and Interpol both won the 1 1/2-mile Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (G1), Al's Gal nabbed the 1 1/4-mile E. P. Taylor (G1), and three-time Grade 1 winner Channel Maker prevailed in the 2017 Breeders' Stakes.

English Conqueror needed some time to come to hand, losing his first three starts, but he showed improvement in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race on Sept. 19 at Woodbine. After tracking modest early fractions, English Conqueror finished fast to prevail in a four-way photo finish. The 102 Brisnet Late Pace rating he posted was partly indicative of the slow early tempo, but also a testament to English Conqueror's strength down the homestretch.

English Conqueror needs a step forward to vie for victory in the Breeders' Stakes, but I'm confident stretching out over 1 1/2 miles will do the trick. Trainer Darwin Banach strikes at a 24% rate with last-out maiden winners, and hot jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson retains the mount. At 12-1, English Conqueror is worth betting to win and keying on top in the exotics.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like this week?


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, videographer, voice actor, 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.

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