Early Impressions from the Breeders’ Cup Pre-Entries

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

Pre-entries for the Nov. 6-7 Breeders' Cup were released on Wednesday, with final fields due to be drawn on Monday.

After taking a day to review the prospective fields for the 14 championship events, here are a few of the first handicapping thoughts to cross my mind:

Brad Cox holds a strong hand

In 2018, trainer Brad Cox won his first Breeders' Cup race with Monomoy Girl. In 2019, he picked up two more victories with British Idiom and Covfefe. Given how rapidly Cox's stable is rising, it wouldn't come as a shock to see Cox double his win total with Breeders' Cup hat trick in 2020.

Cox was absolutely on fire during the Keeneland fall meet, going 15-for-39 (38%) with 28 of his starters (72%) finishing in the money. He'll have a strong chance to keep his momentum going in the Breeders' Cup with nine talented horses pre-entered in seven races.

Leading the Cox contingent is none other than Monomoy Girl, back to reclaim the Distaff (G1) title she nabbed two years ago. The daughter of Tapizar is 3-for-3 in 2020 and arrives at Keeneland off a comfortable victory in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs. Should the connections of Preakness (G1) winner Swiss Skydiver opt for a start in the Classic (G1), Monomoy Girl will be a clear favorite to score a repeat Distaff win.

Another Breeders' Cup veteran in the mix for Cox is 2018 Juvenile (G1) runner-up Knicks Go, who could start among the favorites in the Dirt Mile (G1). Following a disappointing 0-for-8 sophomore campaign, Knicks Go was transferred to Cox's care for the 2020 season, and the results have been spectacular. After crushing a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Feb. 22 at Oaklawn by 7 1/2 lengths, Knicks Go showed no signs of rust in a similar allowance event on Oct. 4 at Keeneland, obliterating his rivals by 10 1/4 lengths.

Knicks Go's final time of 1:40.79 broke the track record and translated to massive speed figures of 107 (Beyer) and 110 (Brisnet). Should the speedy front-runner repeat that effort in the Dirt Mile, he may prove impossible to catch. His Cox-trained stablemate Owendale, third in the 2019 Preakness (G1), will be among those in pursuit.

Dinnner Party (G2) winner Factor This and Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) hero Arklow will be bigger prices in the Mile (G1) and Turf (G1), respectively, but both have run races good enough to vie for on-the-board finishes. Even the filly Beau Recall is worth a look in the Mile, considering she was compromised by a slow pace when charging to finish second in Keeneland's First Lady (G1 behind defending Mile winner Uni.

Those are the older stars from Cox's stable, but he'll also hold a strong hand with 2-year-olds. The undefeated Breeders' Futurity (G1) winner Essential Quality figures to be no worse than second choice in the Juvenile (G1), while Aunt Pearl—2-for-2 following an unchallenged victory in Keeneland's Jessamine (G3)—is a threat in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). For good measure, Cox will saddle Juvenile Turf (G1) contender Abarta, fresh off a runner-up in Keeneland's Bourbon (G2).

By my count, Cox has serious chances to win the Distaff, Dirt Mile, Juvenile, and Juvenile Fillies Turf. Cox is already in the hunt to win his first Eclipse Award for outstanding a career, and nabbing three or four Breeders' Cup trophies would surely seal the deal.

Breeders' Cup Sprint is ripe for an upset

If there's any race seemingly poised to produce a shocking outcome, it's the Sprint (G1), which drew 17 pre-entries. Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) winner Volatile would have been a clear favorite to claim top prize, but sadly he's been injured and retired, leaving the 6-furlong sprint without a clear favorite.

In Volatile's absence, Carter Handicap (G1) and Metropolitan Handicap (G1) winner Vekoma figures to attract plenty of support. But the speedy son of Candy Ride hasn't sprinted six furlongs since his maiden win more than two years ago, and a training setback suffered during the summer forces him to enter the Sprint off a four-month layoff.

Amsterdam (G2) winner Yaupon and runaway Keeneland allowance winner Nashville loom as intriguing up-and-comers for trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the 2019 Sprint with Mitole. But these talented 3-year-olds are pure front-runners stepping up significantly in class, and it's unlikely they'll enjoy an easy time on the front end—not with Vekoma and the fleet filly Frank's Rockette certain to force the issue.

Here's the other problem—with the exception of Vekoma, no one in the prospective Sprint field has run particularly fast on the Beyer or Brisnet speed figure scales. It wouldn't take much improvement for a significant longshot to vie for victory, particularly if a pace meltdown compromises the favorites.

For example, the stretch-running Hog Creek Hustle was only beaten 4 1/2 lengths when finishing sixth in an ultra-tough renewal of the 2019 Breeders' Cup Sprint. An upset winner of the 2019 Woody Stephens (G1), Hog Creek Hustle has a solid turn-of-foot, and even a small step forward (aided by a hot pace) could land this capable 4-year-old in the Keeneland winner's circle at a huge price.

And the most likely winner is...?

We'll have to see how the final fields shake out, but at the moment I can't envision backing too many favorites during the 2020 Breeders' Cup. The fields contain a lot of quality across the board, setting the stage for fiercely competitive events. And as with the Sprint, speed figures suggest there isn't much separating the favorites from longshots.

In my opinion, the top betting choices look stronger in the 2-year-old races on Friday, though I'm not necessarily keen to bet the most popular horses. I'm actually tempted to oppose Princess Noor in the Juvenile Fillies (G1) and Jackie's Warrior in the Juvenile (G1), rationalizing that the former hasn't beaten the toughest competition and the latter has benefited from securing easy leads in one-turn races.

Strangely, I believe the most likely winner of the entire Breeders' Cup might be running in the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), which attracted 24 pre-entries. Trainer Wesley Ward (a master at conditioning juvenile turf sprinters) has entered 10 of the 24, but I suspect he'll only need Golden Pal to walk away a winner.

A son of Uncle Mo out of 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) runner-up Lady Shipman, Golden Pal finished second in his first two starts, most notably missing by a neck in the Norfolk (G2) at Royal Ascot in England. But Golden Pal subsequently took a big step forward in the 5 1/2-furlong Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga, carving out splits of :21.99 and :44.37 before rocketing the fifth furlong in :10.75 and the final sixteenth in :05.76 to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

With his front-running speed and terrific turn-of-foot, Golden Pal may prove impossible to catch in the Juvenile Turf Sprint. He's been pointing specifically toward this race and is proven over both firm and soft turf, so we won't have to worry about the conditions at Keeneland. Best of all, the large field should ensure Golden Pal's odds don't dip particularly low, making him a valuable horse to single in multi-race exotics.

Now it's your turn! What are your first impressions from the Breeders' Cup pre-entries?


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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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