By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Pre-entries for the 2021
Breeders' Cup were released on Wednesday, which means handicappers are busy
pouring over past performances for the two-day Del Mar extravaganza.
While a proven affinity for
Del Mar isn't a prerequisite for winning Breeders' Cup races, it certainly
doesn't hurt. In reviewing the pre-entries, I've come across a handful of Del
Mar specialists who may be capable of parlaying their stellar seaside form into
career-defining victories in the Nov. 5-6 championships.
Let's explore their credentials:
Dr. Shivel (Breeders' Cup Sprint)
Most folks will be all over Jackie's
Warrior as the most likely winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), and I'll
probably be among them. After all, Jackie's Warrior has won three times at the
Grade 1 level and just keeps getting faster, arriving at Del Mar off an
effortless 6 3/4-length romp in the Gallant Bob S. (G2).
But I can't blame anyone who
wishes to take a shot against Jackie's Warrior with local horse-for-the-course Dr.
Schivel. The son of Violence boasts an unblemished 3-for-3 record at Del Mar,
including a comfortable score over future graded stakes winner Spielberg in the
2020 Del Mar Futurity (G1).
Dr. Schivel picked up a
second Grade 1 win earlier this summer at Del Mar, when he rallied gamely to
beat Grade 1 winner Eight Rings and 2020 Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up C Z
Rocket by a neck. He then proved this effort wasn't a fluke by coming back to
beat Grade 1 winner Flagstaff by 3 1/4 lengths in the Santa Anita Sprint
A versatile three-year-old
capable of winning with any running style, Dr. Schivel clearly loves Del Mar
and will be dangerous if he takes another step forward in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Unlike Jackie's Warrior. Dr. Schivel has already defeated older horses three
times, so we know he's capable of competing outside his age group. Surely a
top-three finish (or even victory) is within reach?
Ginobili (Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile)
With his 3-for-4 record over
the Del Mar main track, Ginobili clearly has what it takes to handle the local
surface. A maiden winner at Del Mar during the summer of 2019, Ginobili went
nearly two years without visiting the winner's circle. But returning to the Del
Mar dirt earlier this summer triggered a massive turnaround for Ginobili.
Indeed, Ginobili was tons
the best in a one-mile allowance optional claimer on July 17. Wearing blinkers
for the first time, Ginobili tracked a sub-:22 opening quarter mile before drawing
away through fast fractions to smash his pursuers by 9 3/4 lengths. He was just
as impressive in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien S. (G2) on Aug. 28 at Del Mar,
dueling for the early lead before kicking away to beat C Z Rocket and Flagstaff
by 1 3/4 lengths.
Ginobili has been training
up a storm since the Pat O'Brien, cranking out fast workouts like clockwork at
the San Luis Rey Training Center. Four furlongs in :47 4/5... five furlongs in
1:00 4/5... six furlongs in 1:11 3/5... five furlongs in :57 1/5... six furlongs in
1:13 flat. The last three moves were all bullets, so it seems safe to assume
Ginobili is being cranked for a peak effort in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
There are some talented
horses pre-entered in the Dirt Mile, including Kelso Handicap (G2) winner Life
Is Good and Metropolitan Handicap (G1) hero Silver State. But Ginobili's
improving form and obvious affinity for the Del Mar main track may be
sufficient to tip the scales in his favor.
Mo Forza (Breeders' Cup Mile)
Technically, Mo Forza didn't
start off life as an unbeatable Del Mar specialist. The son of Uncle Mo
actually lost his first three starts over the local lawn, though he did finish
second twice and never lost by more than one length.
The good news is, Mo Forza
has gotten better with age and enters the Breeders' Cup Mile with eight wins
from his line nine starts, including a trio of graded wins at Del Mar. Triumphs
in the 2019 Hollywood Derby (G1) and 2020 Del Mar Mile Handicap (G2) were
impressive, but arguably Mo Forza's best Del Mar performance came in the 2021
Del Mar Mile Handicap. Returning from a long layoff, the five-year-old miler settled
as many as 4 1/2 lengths behind a slow pace before exploding down the
homestretch to beat Grade 1 winners Smooth Like Strait and Hit the Road by a head.
Mo Forza showed a similarly
stellar turn-of-foot in the City of Hope Mile (G2) at Santa Anita earlier this
month, gaining 3 1/2 lengths through the final furlong to again defeat Smooth Like
Strait and Hit the Road. His margin of victory was a slightly more decisive
half-length, possibly the result of encountering significantly faster pace
fractions than in the Del Mar Mile Handicap.
If Mo Forza receives another
suitably fast pace in the Breeders' Cup Mile—and there's no reason to think he
won't—I'm confident he'll be in the hunt for victory. His proven ability to
excel over the Del Mar lawn is an asset not to be underestimated.
Now it's you turn! Do you
think we'll see any Del Mar specialists visit the winner's circle during the
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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.