3 Breeders' Cup Longshots Worth Watching

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

The 2021 Breeders' Cup at Del Mar is just two weeks away, which means the prospective fields are coming into focus and early handicapping can begin.

The last time the Breeders' Cup took place at Del Mar, longshots reigned supreme, with seven of the 13 winners starting at double-digit odds. I think there's a chance we'll see similar results in 2021, which is why I'm already thinking outside the box with my handicapping.

Here are three longshots I'll consider playing at the 2021 Breeders' Cup:

Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1): Jasper Great

Two years ago, Japan-based trainer Hideyuki Mori sent an unheralded two-year-old named Full Flat to compete in the 2019 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The son of Speightstown had never run on dirt, and his lone victory had come in a 1,200-meter turf sprint. Yet Full Flat arguably exceeded expectations in the Juvenile—after racing off the pace early on, he gained some ground to finish fifth out of eight at odds of 89-1, beaten only a neck for fourth place while finishing ahead of the two favorites.

Why am I recapping Full Flat's Breeders' Cup foray? Because Mori is set to return to the Juvenile with Jasper Great, who appears—at least on paper—to bring significantly better credentials to the table.

Jasper Great was sensational in his debut racing 1,800 meters at Hanshin on Oct. 9. Facing nine rivals, the son of 2016 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Arrogate led from start to finish and trounced his rivals by 10 lengths. His final time of 1:54.7 was decent for a juvenile racing on dirt in Japan, as was his :38.1 clocking for the final 600 meters.

As a front-runner, it's possible Jasper Great's running style will clash unfavorably with the similarly speedy styles employed by American Pharoah S. (G1) winner Corniche and Champagne S. (G1) hero Jack Christopher. But if Jasper Great is able to show a new dimension and rate in the Juvenile, who knows? He might just capitalize on a destructive pace to rally and spring a surprise. Don't forget, Jasper Great's half-brother Power Broker was an early-maturing juvenile who won the FrontRunner S. (G1) at age two.

Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1): Dunbar Road

I'll be the first two admit the Breeders' Cup Distaff contains three highly formidable favorites. Front-running Letruska has been a standout this year, securing four Grade 1 wins. 2020 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Shedaresthedevil has picked up a pair of Grade 1 wins this season and beat Letruska in the Azeri S. (G2) during the winter. And Malathaat has been a star among the sophomores, launching strong stretch rallies to win the Kentucky Oaks, Alabama S. (G1), and Ashland S. (G1).

But Letruska and Shedaresthedevil are both speedsters who figure to lock horns not only with each other, but also with Zenyatta S. (G2) winner Private Mission and 2020 Beldame S. (G2) heroine Horologist. And Malathaat has never stepped outside her own age group, so it remains to be seen how she'll stack up against older rivals.

So why not consider Dunbar Road as a live longshot? The stretch-running five-year-old was only beaten 2 1/4 lengths when third with a troubled trip in the 2020 Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), proving her ability to compete at the highest level.

Dunbar Road has been struggling this season, going 0-for-4, but her efforts have gradually gotten better. She put up a gallant fight against Letruska in the Personal Ensign S. (G1) at Saratoga this summer, unleashing a big rally around the far turn before settling for fourth place by less than one length. Then in a slow-paced renewal of the Spinster S. (G1) at Keeneland, Dunbar Road gained ground with determination to finish just 1 3/4 lengths behind Letruska in second place.

If Dunbar Road gets a fast pace to work with in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, I believe she can outrun expectations at a big price, and perhaps even vie for victory.

Breeders' Cup Classic (G1): Idol

In case you haven't noticed, there's a staggering amount of speed in the prospective Breeders' Cup Classic field. Woodward S. (G1) winner Art Collector, Pennsylvania Derby (G1) hero Hot Rod Charlie, 2020 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Knicks Go, and Awesome Again S. (G1) victor Medina Spirit have all achieved their signature victories in gate-to-wire fashion. Max Player, a runaway winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), has also done his best work when up and on the pace.

All this speed may produce a scenario where the Classic unfolds at a blazing tempo and falls apart late, setting the stage for victory by a late runner. One candidate is the versatile Belmont S. (G1) winner Essential Quality, who has tasted success in eight of his nine starts. But if you want to think outside the box with a longshot, why not consider Idol?

Idol was in fine form during the winter, parlaying placed efforts in the San Antonio S. (G2) and San Pasqual S. (G2) into a stretch-running score in the Santa Anita H. (G1). The stoutly bred son of Curlin clearly relished racing 1 1/4 miles, gaining three lengths in the final furlong to beat multiple graded stakes winner Express Train by half a length.

Idol subsequently spent time on the sidelines before returning to action in the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again on Oct. 2, where trailed early before passing a couple of rivals to finish sixth. It wasn't exactly an inspiring performance, but Idol's work tab leading up to the Awesome Again was a bit on the light side, and I suspect he'll improve a lot off his comeback effort.

Depending on how Idol trains leading up to the Classic, I can envision a scenario where he capitalizes on a perfect setup at Del Mar to gain a ton of ground down the lane and threaten for a top-three finish. And maybe—just maybe—he can spring an upset at odds of 30-1 or higher.

Which Breeders' Cup longshots do you have your eyes on?


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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.

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