On Track with Johnny D: It’s ‘BC’ Time

As an abbreviation the letters ‘BC’ are duplicitous.

In its most familiar role ‘BC’ usually refers to the epoch ‘Before Christ’–estimated as the time of Jesus’ birth. That religious timestamp must chap hides of those that question or dispute the existence and/or significance of the famous carpenter’s son.

Of course, we’re not here to debate that topic. Let’s table the discussion, at least until January 2017 AD. Oops! There He/he is again. ‘AD’ is short for anno Domini or ‘year of our Lord.’ More hide chapping for non-believers!

In a horseracing context, ‘BC’ usually refers to Breeders’ Cup–a magnificent and rich two days of racing to be held Friday, November 4 and Saturday, November 5, 2016 at majestic Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA. The entire Thoroughbred racing world will focus on what happens then at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

There’s a chance that internationally speaking ‘BC’ also could refer to the QIPCO British Champions Series, which culminates Oct. 15 at Ascot, three weeks before Breeders’ Cup. According to its official web site, the series initially was staged in 2011, and “incorporates the top 35 Flat races in the British horseracing calendar, showcasing the best Flat racing on the planet.”

That last bit about “showcasing the best Flat racing on the planet” seems presumptive, but we’re not here to quibble with our pals across the pond—even though we might have a legitimate beef. Creation of the QIPCO British Champions Series clearly has dinged Breeders’ Cup. Slightly. Kind of like a pocketknife to the back of an attacking black bear. It stings. Many leading European horses used to target Breeders’ Cup as seasonal last hurrahs. Some still do. However, it appears Breeders’ Cup hasn’t been getting as many headliners from “the best Flat racing on the planet” as it used to. On the other hand, who can blame connections of runners eligible to one of five fixtures on QIPCO British Champions Day for not shipping all the way to California when they can make mad stacks in their own backyards?

To this horseplayer, right now…‘BC’ stands for Before the Cup. It describes the timeframe when a mountain of prep work must be completed even before names of definitive Breeders’ Cup starters pass the entry box.

Why is learning about ‘Cup runners before entries important?

There are a couple of reasons. First, even though13 Breeders’ Cup races span two days most heats will contain full fields of runners converging on Arcadia, CA from coast-to-coast and international locales. To expect to adequately handicap Breeders’ Cup races in detail and to formulate intelligent wagering strategies between entry time and first posts Friday and Saturday is foolish.

Second, folks like yours truly who plan to share informed (hopefully) Breeders’ Cup opinions with others can’t wait until the races have been drawn to do the work. We’ve got to be prepared even before connections of some runners realize their horses are headed to California!

Third, understanding the past performances of Breeders’ Cup contenders yields bonus winners before and after specific Breeders’ Cup races have been run. The more familiar a player is with previous running lines the better that player can evaluate future races nationwide. Recognizing names of runners at or near the top of each division during Breeders’ Cup helps later in evaluating the form of those that have raced against them.

Below is an early preview of each Breeders’ Cup race, outlining top divisional contenders and dates of remaining prep races. Race order is unofficial.

Friday, November 4

Juvenile Turf
It doesn’t appear that there will be an influx of European invaders for this race. If that’s the case, this could be a clash between Woodbine’s Summer Stakes winner Good Samaritan from the east and Del Mar’s Juvenile Turf star Bowies Hero from the west. They’re both unbeaten in two starts and hail from winning barns. The former is under the care of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and the latter races for up and coming conditioner Phil D’Amato. Big Score, fast-closing runner-up to Bowies Hero, and Made You Look, convincing With Anticipation winner also have upside, as does 10 ¼ length Spa turf maiden winner Oscar Performance from the Brian Lynch barn.

Pilgrim, Belmont

Prix Jean Luc Lagardere, Chantilly

Oct. 9
Bourbon, Keeneland

Oct. 10
Zuma Beach, Santa Anita

Dirt Mile
The ante-post favorite for this race is Frosted, who turned in one of the year’s most remarkable performances in the one-turn Metropolitan Mile at Belmont in June. Since then he hasn’t duplicated that performance. It’s not that he’s performed poorly; it’s just that his Met set the bar so high that it’s not likely he’ll ever clear it again. Fact is Frosted might not even contest this race, connections opting for the Classic instead. That defection currently would leave last year’s Sprint Champ Runhappy as the probable favorite. One problem with that: He hasn’t started since the day after Christmas when he won the Malibu at Santa Anita. He will prep in the Ack Ack Saturday at Churchill and we’ll see if he’s as good as he was last year. Still, if he’s favored in the Dirt Mile—he’s never won past seven furlongs or around two turns–we’d have to look for others to add to the ticket.

Lukas Classic, Churchill
Ack Ack, Churchill

Oct. 8
Kelso, Belmont

Juvenile Fillies Turf
This division took a severe hit last week when Lady Aurelia, ante-post favorite for the Juvenile Fillies Turf, reportedly bled in a losing outing across the pond. Unbeaten With Honors, winner of the Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf, now figures as one of the ones, but there is talk of moving her to dirt. Why? Perhaps a European or two will emerge in the next few weeks.

Chandelier, Santa Anita

Miss Grillo, Belmont
Prix Marcel Boussac, Chantilly

Oct. 10
Surfer Girl, Santa Anita

Oct. 12
Jessamine, Keeneland

At this writing, the Distaff is strictly a three filly/mare-race. Songbird, Beholder and Stellar Wind hold all the cards. Which will prove best? Good question. Splitting hairs in this one will be difficult. Songbird easily dispensed with fellow sophs in the Cotillion at Parx last Saturday to stretch her unbeaten mark to 11 races. Over the years, 3-year-old fillies have done well in the Distaff. Saturday, Beholder will trade blows with Stellar Wind in the Zenyatta at Santa Anita. The former is 13-for-14 at Santa Anita but lost to the latter when they last met at Del Mar.

Beldame Stakes, Belmont
Zenyatta Stakes, Santa Anita

Oct. 9
Spinster Stakes, Keeneland

Saturday, November 5

Juvenile Fillies
Last season, when Runhappy won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Maria Borell garnered feel-good headlines as a virtually unknown female trainer succeeding on the sport’s biggest stage. Wow! If we only knew then what we know now. This year, under-the-radar female trainer Shelbe Ruis may steal celebratory headlines with Union Strike in the BC Juvenile Fillies. The daughter of Union Rags raced wide in the seven-furlong Del Mar Debutante and finished full of run beneath a whip-less rider through the final eighth-of-a-mile. Sweet Loretta, from the powerful Todd Pletcher barn and Pretty City Dancer, trained by Mark Casse, dead-heated in the Spa’s Spinaway, and represent the best in the east.

Chandelier, Santa Anita

Oct. 7
Alcibiades, Keeneland

Oct. 8
Frizette, Belmont

Turf Sprint
The Turf Sprint at Santa Anita is an intriguing beast. Since it is decided over the unique six and one-half furlong downhill turf course it can’t be handicapped like a garden-variety turf sprint. Take it from someone that’s been watching and wagering on downhill turf heats in Arcadia for nearly 40 years: this race takes a special horse. Forget those five or five and one-half furlong turf sprinters. Ignore a horse that can win going six panels on the green. Make no mistake; this six and one-half furlong downhill turf trip at Santa Anita plays more like the BC Mile than the BC Sprint. And a horse with proven ability over this specific course is dangerous. Over the years, we’ve seen claimers morph into graded stakes winners ‘down the hill’ just because they loved the layout. Shop local in this one and the price should be right!

Eddie D Stakes, Santa Anita

Prix de l’Abbaye, Chantilly
Sprinters Stakes, Nakayama

Oct. 8
Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational, Belmont
Woodford Stakes, Keeneland

Oct. 14
Franklin County, Keeneland

Filly & Mare Sprint
This is a wide-open division that ought to challenge horseplayers. Three of the top five ranked fillies and mares for this seven-eighths of a mile race figure to be entered here while ducking Songbird and Beholder in the Distaff—Carina Mia, Cathryn Sophia and Tara’s Tango. Of course, there’s no guarantee that they will fit perfectly in the F&M Sprint. Cutting back in distance often is a great move, especially from a route to seven-eighths, but there are a few other talented sprinters expected in this lineup. This race will require additional detailed handicapping before post time.

Gallant Bloom, Belmont

Oct. 8
TCA, Keeenland

Oct. 9
Spinster, Keeneland
L.A. Woman, Santa Anita

Filly & Mare Turf
Contention runs deep in this event. Heck, contention in this race runs deep in the Chad Brown stable! Lady Eli, champion and winner of six of seven lifetime starts, recently returned from death’s doorstep to finish second in the Balston Spa at Saratoga; Sea Calisi, winner of Arlington’s Beverly D. and Dacita, the last to defeat champion Tepin in the 2015 Balston Spa, all hail from Brown’s barn. Sophomore Catch a Glimpse, from the Mark Casse outfit, is eight for nine on turf and has to be considered. While the US contingent is competitive, this race also could go to a European invader. Seventh Heaven and Alice Springs are two of the most highly regarded and both hail from the powerful Aidan O’Brien yard.

Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita Park

Longines Prix de L’Opera at Chantilly

Oct 8
Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes at Belmont Park

Oct 15
QEII, Keeneland

This division is up for grabs at the moment with about five runners ranked near the top of the heap. At least two of those highly regarded bullets—Masochistic and Lord Nelson–are expected to meet in the Santa Anita Sprint, over the track and at the distance of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The winner of that race probably will end up as the Sprint favorite, but the winner easily could be someone else entirely. Drefong looked good when smoking fellow sophs in the King’s Bishop at Saratoga.

Vosburgh, Belmont
Ack Ack, Churchill

Oct. 8
Santa Anita Sprint, Santa Anita

Tepin is a 5-year-old mare that’s been about as consistent as the sun. Since late March 2015, when she won an allowance race at Gulfstream Park, she has won10 of 12 starts in Grade/Group 1 or 2 company at distances from a mile to a mile and one-eighth over eight different turf courses. Her two defeats during that time were second-place finishes by a head and a nose! She is the defending BC Mile champ, scoring at nearly 5-1 as our Best BC Bet! Off since an incredible triumph at Ascot in June, Tepin triumphantly returned to the races Sept. 17 in the Woodbine Mile. She had to work hard for the win and detractors wonder if her tenure as Queen of the Turf may be coming to an end. She is expected to race once more before Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland Oct. 8.

If one doubts Tepin’s current form there will be several ways to go in this race, beginning with any European invaders that might dare to ship around the world to face the mare that beat them at their own game at Ascot in June. U.S. runners with a possible say in the outcome include Eastern invader Ironicus and local California star Midnight Storm.

Sun Chariot, Newmarket

Prix de la Foret, Chantilly

Oct. 8
First Lady or Shadwell Turf Mile, Keeneland
Shadwell Turf Mile, Keeneland

Oct. 15
QE II, Ascot

At this writing, it appears that Not This Time is the one to beat in the BC Juvenile. His dominating triumph in the Iroquois at Churchill was what this writer needed to see. The Giant’s Causeway colt won by nearly nine lengths as much the best with more petrol in the tank. Forget that he hopped at the start and spotted the field an advantage; it was the way he cruised to the lead in the lane and drew clear that impressed this viewer. A muddy track may have moved him up in the Iroquois, but he broke his maiden by 10 at Ellis on a fast track going a mile to prove he doesn’t need it wet. Bob Baffert’s Klimt, decisive winner of the Del Mar Futurity, has talent and home-field advantage. He is expected in the FrontRunner Saturday at Santa Anita.

FrontRunner, Santa Anita
In Reality, Gulfstream

Oct. 8
Champagne, Belmont
Breeders’ Futurity, Keeneland

Flintshire is the best distance turf runner in the US. He’s made that clear to anyone with a simulcast feed. Connections utilized a ‘rabbit’ to insure a sensible pace in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga. The sacrificial stablemate did his job and then impersonated a pulling guard at the top of the stretch to open a hole in the line for Flintshire. Good thing, too, because as fast as Flintshire was closing, he would have overrun anyone in his path!

Flintshire’s most serious Turf threat probably will come from runners disputing the Arc de Triomphe, in France at Chantilly, Sunday. The Arc winner isn’t always the strongest threat in the BC Turf, so keep an eye out for those who don’t fire their best in the big race before the big race.

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park

Arc de Triomphe, Chantilly

John Henry Turf, Santa Anita

Oct. 15
Champion Stakes, Ascot

As Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac once soulfully wailed, “Oh, daddy!” Fingers crossed that today’s top two contenders enter Santa Anita’s green monster starting gate finely tuned and razor-sharp. If they do, this year’s edition could be the mother of all Breeders’ Cup Classics. California Chrome is the best classic distance dirt horse in the world. No argument. Well, that is unless you think 3-year-old phenom Arrogate can duplicate his Travers domination of both foes and history. If so, then California Chrome had better have his running shoes securely laced. Others to dispute the outcome, will be accomplished performers, too, but they are merely a supporting cast to the top-ranked duo.

Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park

Oct 8
Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational at Belmont Park

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: It’s ‘BC’ Time

On Track with Johnny D |

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