In California, standing on the apron at Santa Anita Park anxiously awaiting the 2016 Breeders’ Cup, it suddenly occurs to me that several of this year’s races are so interesting that I’d gladly pay to see them.
I won’t, of course, that is pay to see them, because I’ve got a valid press credential. However, if I weren’t here on scholarship, I’d happily fork over hard-earned moolah for the privilege of seeing, in particular, the BC Distaff Friday and Classic Saturday.
Why do I feel this way? If you gotta ask, then you ain’t no racing fan.
The 2016 Distaff matches at least three outstanding fillies and mares against others at a mile and one-eighth. The queen ‘Bee’ of the hive is 6-year-old Beholder, winner of 17 of 25 lifetime races. She’s won a Grade 1 race at age two, three, four, five and six--a unique historic achievement. The Distaff will be the final race of her career for Hall-of-Fame trainer Dick Mandella and, storybook finish aside, it doesn’t really matter if she goes out on top or not; she’s an all-time champ and first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Triumphant over Beholder last two meetings, 4-year-old Stellar Wind is poised to usurp the distaff crown. She’s 7-for-11 lifetime and has been off the board only once—a troubled Kentucky Oaks outing. She appears to be improving with each start for trainer John Sadler. Jockey Victor Espinoza rides her with the utmost confidence. She figures to be close to whatever pace might develop, willing and able to fight to the finish.
Amazingly, unbeaten, untied and un-scored upon 3-year-old Songbird will be favored over Beholder and Stellar Wind. That’s because in 11 lifetime starts at tracks from Del Mar and Santa Anita to Keeneland and Saratoga to Parx she’s done nothing wrong. She’s got speed, relaxes and then kicks home--an unbeatable trifecta. Trained and ridden by Hall of Famers Jerry Hollendorfer and Mike Smith, respectively, Songbird could be the most amazing female performer we’ve seen in decades—and we’ve enjoyed some doozies during that timeframe. She should get the Distaff job done at a short price.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic looms as a heavyweight title fight between reigning champ California Chrome and a talented and flashy upstart in Arrogate. ‘Chrome, winner of the first two jewels in the 2014 Triple Crown, rebounded from a challenging 4-year-old season to win the 2016 Dubai World Cup and all five additional starts this year. He’s trained and raced flawlessly for veteran conditioner Art Sherman. Expect ‘Chrome to leave running from post position four.
Arrogate demolished Travers foes and shattered the stakes and course record at ancient Saratoga in August. He hasn’t raced since then, by design, according to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The Spa score, Arrogate’s fourth out of five lifetime starts, was so fast and impressive that some sharpies are willing to wager that the 3-year-old will upset the champ. We see no reason to take a stand in this race. Use ‘em both!
Below are one horseplayer’s Friday and Saturday Breeders’ Cup hopes and dreams.
Race 6 Juvenile Turf
Euros have done well in this event, particularly horses ridden by Frankie Dettori or Ryan Moore. Difficult to take a stand, so we suggest using several of these.
5- Made You Look
Race 7 Dirt Mile
Favorites have not done well in this race, but Dortmund seems strong. Gun Runner is an improving 3-year-old with lots of upside. Tamarkuz and longshot Accelerate could round out exotics.
Race 8 Juvenile Fillies Turf
This is a tough and deep edition of this race. Euros haven’t done particularly well in this over the years, but this season’s imports look better than in past years. La Coronel is the one to beat, but she drew the dreaded 14-hole going a mile on turf. Ouch!
Race 9 Distaff
Race 4 Juvenile Fillies
This race historically has been kind to odds-on favorites, but there isn’t likely to be one of those this year. There have been a few bombs in this race, but medium-priced winners are the general rule. A California prep has paid off 50% of the time. Local winner Noted and Quoted fits that bill. Valadorna just broke her maiden but seems to have upside and should run from off the pace. Daddy’s Lil Darling will have last say and ought to hit the board again.
10-Noted and Quoted
11-Daddy’s Lil Darling
Race 5 Filly & Mare Turf
Besides hitting a monster superfecta and leaving the track with a backpack full of bread, I’m most looking forward to seeing Lady Eli win this race. She was my Play of the ‘Cup in ’14, nearly died in ’15 and has returned to top form for ’16! What a great story of triumph, near tragedy and resurrection it would be. However, favorites are just 1 for the last 9 in here and only one filly or mare has successfully made the New York-prep to California parlay--all factors against Lady Eli. Sea Calisi (another NY-to-Cali runner) is not far behind ‘Lady. Import Seventh Heaven has a right to rebound off a losing effort last out and Euros have done well in this race.
Race 6 Sprint
It’s difficult not to knee-jerk this one in favor of SoCal locals Masochistic (1-for-5 at the distance), Lord Nelson and Drefong (stuck in the 2 hole). After all, Southern California is sprinter heaven. Isn’t it? Sort of. The area leads with 12 preps followed by BC wins. Belmont is second with 11 next out BC scores, but not one Sprint winner at Santa Anita has ever come via the New York route (Only Drefong, winner of King’s Bishop at Saratoga, does that this year). Plus, a battle for favoritism between Masochistic and Lord Nelson might be a race neither wants to win. Favorites in this race have won 2 of the last 3, but just once at Santa Anita. Runners at double-digit odds have won five of eight Sprints at the Arcadia oval! Bombs away, again.
1-Mind Your Biscuits
Race 7 Turf Sprint
This is a wide-open event. That’s mostly because many of these runners have no experience over Santa Anita’s unique downhill, six and one-half furlong turf layout. Experience down the hill is a plus, but talented milers are better suited for the trip than five and six furlong sprinters on the flat. Here’s my best BC Price Play in Om, trained by Dan Hendricks and ridden by Hall-of-Famer Gary Stevens. Om appears to have just the right mix of speed and stamina to be very dangerous at a price. Outside posts are better than inside posts, too.
Race 8 Juvenile
This is as loaded a BC Juvenile as we’ve seen in years. Not this Time looks strong off a pair of big wins. He’s a runner, for sure, and the one to beat. Classic Empire also has shown uncapped talent when he colors between the lines. Blinkers were successfully added last out after he bolted in a race at Saratoga. Three Rules is unbeaten in five Florida lifetime starts. Don’t know how much talent he’s topped in those races, but he’s done it the right way. Klimt and Gormley are mid-priced local runners with this stat in their favor: In BC Juvys at Santa Anita, 6 of 8 winners had a local prep while just 2 of 8 here were favorites!
10-Not This Time
11-Lookin At Lee
Race 9 Turf
This race is a desperate struggle for favorites as just one has triumphed in the last 13 editions; none has ever won at Santa Anita! Euro preps are best with 17 wins and New York preps are OK. Flintshire, Found and Highland Reel will vie for favoritism--a race before the race that none should want to win. The former failed last out over yielding turf he reportedly couldn’t handle in New York and the latter are Euro invaders that finished first and second, respectively, in the Arc de Triomphe. While Arc participants have done well in the BC, the last 14 Arc winners have failed to win another race in the same year.
2-Da Big Hoss
Race 10 Filly &Mare Sprint
The Thoroughbred Club of America, run at Keeneland each year, is a key prep race for the BC F&M Sprint. Five times the winner of the F&M Sprint has exited the TCA and that’s happened 3 of 9 times at Santa Anita. Irish Jasper romped in the TCA for her second consecutive win. Spelling Again finished a close 6th in the race. A 3-year-old filly has never won this race—seemingly bad news for Carina Mia, 7-2 second choice.
Race 11 Mile
Tepin was my Play of the BC last season and she romped in this race at nearly 5-1. There is some question if she’s as good this year as she was last year. Fair enough. There’s some question about whether yours truly is as good this year as he was last year. Tepin is strictly the one to beat and winners often repeat in this race—five of them six times! Euros thrive in this race with 13 winners having had their final preps somewhere across the pond. Strangely enough, no Santa Anita BC Mile winner ever has had a California prep race. Also, it’s amazing to note that while repeat winners do well in encores, 50% of the winners in this race enter off losing efforts in prep races! All things considered, Tepin figures, but there is a smidgen of lingering doubt. Yours truly is offering his 2016 BC Bomb Play in this race. Spectre is a steadily improving 3-year-old filly that will be ridden by Javier Castellano. She seems to prefer soft turf, but her connections must have known she wouldn’t get that here. Still, here she is, to be ridden by one of America’s top turf jocks! It’s worth noting that she once finished in front of 4-1 Mile shot Alice Springs. Also worth a note is that Euros have won 5 of 8 Miles at Santa Anita and all five winners were trained in France…just like Spectre!
Most Probable Winner: Not This Time – Juvenile
Best Price Play: 12-Om 12-1 – Turf Sprint
Bombs Away Play: 3-Spectre (FRA) 30-1 - Mile