Horseplayers with sights set on cashing lucrative tickets during Breeders’ Cup—Friday, Nov. 3 & Saturday, Nov. 4 at Del Mar—now have seen just about all expected starters compete in final afternoon action. In other words, with most precincts reporting we can attempt to predict Breeders’ Cup race results. However, as we all learned on an early November Tuesday evening one year ago, even in two-horse races predictions can misfire.
Upsets happen. Favorites fail. Longshots win. Dogs cover.
Below is one horseplayer’s early (perhaps too early) look at each Breeders’ Cup race. Race order is tentative.
Juvenile Turf – Can’t say we have a great handle on this division because no stateside runner has particularly impressed us. Euro invaders Roaring Lion and James Garfield seem strong if either makes the trip and both seem likely. The former is trained by John Gosden, a man who knows what it takes to win a freshman turf race in California, and also what’s required to win a Breeders’ Cup event. Beginning in 1979, the trainer spent about 10 successful years in Southern California and has trained the winners of four Breeders’ Cup races, including this very one twice!
Las Vegas Dirt Mile – Sharp Azteca looked strong last out in winning the Kelso and should be able to transfer one-turn, mile New York form into two-turn, California success. Accelerate, from the John Sadler barn, likes Del Mar and seems a fit, too, but ‘Azteca might get away from him. Mor Spirit hasn’t been totally on schedule, but is good enough when at his best. The whole one turn/two turn debate is valid, especially when considering the chances of Practical Joke. Around one turn he’s Babe Ruth. Around two he’s a babe in the woods. Battle of Midway is OK and a mile seems his best distance.
Juvenile Filly Turf – Again, just like with the Juvenile Turf, to find the winner of this race attention quickly turns across the pond. Aiden O’Brien has two potential runners: Happily and Clemmie. The former handily defeated males on Arc day in France at Chantilly and would be favored to win this race against females. However, she may not make the trip. In that case, serious love should go to Clemmie. Capla Temptress, winner of the Natalma at Woodbine in her first US start, may be okay. Natalma runner-up Dixie Moon returned to defeat males in the restricted Cup & Saucer.
Distaff – This should be an outstanding event matching accomplished older performers Stellar Wind and Forever Unbridled against several superb 3-year-old fillies. What makes things even more interesting is that both Stellar Wind and Forever Unbridled are coming off extended layoffs into the Distaff. The former loves Del Mar and the latter ought to get a preferred pace setup, but contention runs deep. Abel Tasman tops the sophomore charge, but It Tiz Well got the better of her last time out in the Cotillion at Parx. ‘Tasman made a premature, inside run to get the lead in that race and paid the price for it. ‘Well was perfectly positioned in the garden spot to pick up the pieces. For my money, however, another 3-year-old lass deserves significant attention. Elate waited for room in the stretch of the Beldame Stakes against a weak collection of elders before exploding clear in the final sixteenth of a mile. She is getting good at the right time and is in the hands of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. There’s an old racing axiom that suggests horseplayers ride hot fillies all the way to the bank. This one is smokin.’ Since this race is loaded, top to bottom, it’s difficult to add a bit of an outsider to the mix, but Champagne Room is an interesting runner. She’s got quality, is sharp, fresh and a big price. Those handicapping factors must be respected.
14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies – Moonshine Memories is 2-for-2 at Del Mar and 3-for-3 overall, including a two-turn triumph in the Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita. Those accomplishments check all the boxes. Some will ‘single’ her and they may be correct. Alcibiades winner Heavenly Love impressed this observer and deserves serious consideration.
Filly & Mare Turf – All hail Lady Eli! She’s the queen of the American Turf, as pure a champion as you’ll ever encounter. Not long ago she was less than even money to survive a bout with laminitis. That she has returned to former glory is a tribute to modern veterinary medicine and to trainer Chad Brown’s team. I’ll be rooting hardest for her to win this race and she should. Either of two flowers—Rhododendron or Hydrangea—from the Aiden O’Brien outfit across the pond could threaten ‘Eli’s dominance and must be respected.
TwinSpires Sprint – This race will feature a lightening quick pace. It has to. Can’t help itself. With the speedy El Deal carving out hot early fractions and a host of quick runners keeping him in their sights, there’s a chance they could go sub :21 for the first quarter (although a deeper than normal Del Mar surface may prevent that). No matter. Drefong is the early pick from this corner. He’s got the right style and enough talent to chase down El Deal without wilting late. Results of the post position draw could alter this opinion but, for now, Drefong is the man.
Turf Sprint – Have to admit that at this point we have absolutely no feel for this race. Lady Aurelia seems a fit…and maybe it’s just that simple…but it seldom is.
Sentient Jet Juvenile – Bolt d’Oro is 2-for-2 at Del Mar and 3-for-3 overall, including a two-turn win in the Frontrunner at Santa Anita last out. That performance was astounding, as he ran three seconds faster than his female counterpart Moonshine Memories and faster than front-running, runaway Zenyatta winner Paradise Woods. He is the most logical Breeders’ Cup race winner and will be a ‘single’ on an overwhelming majority of pick six tickets.
Longines Turf – We must pay careful attention to any Euro or International runners entered in this race. This is their game. Beach Patrol looked powerful winning the Joe Hirsch at Belmont and fits off that effort. His style of racing close to the pace should work well over the Del Mar turf course. Still, the Euros just plain play this game better than we do in North America. At this writing, last year’s winner of this race Highland Reel and Arc third Ulysses appear as the major threats headed to Del Mar.
Filly & Mare Sprint – Unique Bella absolutely dominated foes in the LA Woman Saturday at Santa Anita and she clearly tops the list of contenders in this race. This sophomore filly’s going to be a ‘single’ on many tickets. Others have had quality seasons, like Skye Diamonds, a Del Mar lover; By the Moon, winner of 3 of her last 4 starts; and Paulassilverlining, third in this race last year, but Unique Bella appears to have them over a barrel. If she draws well, it should be ‘lights out.” For those interested in Filly & Mare Sprint trends: No 3-year-old filly has ever won this race.
Mile – Euro invaders always must be respected in this event. Ribchester and Zelzal seem most dangerous but, at this point, it’s not clear which runners might cross the pond. Therefore, current focus centers on World Approval, recent impressive winner of the Woodbine Mile. He looked solid through the lane and the race gives him great spacing until Breeders’ Cup. Trainer Mark Casse has had success with hot running turf performers in the past. World Approval also has won 4 of 5 starts this season. Suedois won the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland and seems to have found a comfort zone at mile after sprinting for most of his career. He seems a cut below World Approval, though.
Classic – This should be an entertaining and contentious race. There are so many handicapping questions that need answers: In his final career start over Del Mar’s main track--where he failed to win twice last summer--can the amazing Arrogate recapture world-class form? Will Gun Runner extend his domination over the handicap division and avenge his loss to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup? Will Collected repeat his track-loving, Pacific Classic success at Del Mar? Can Bob Baffert saddle West Coast for the trainer’s improbable fourth consecutive 3-year-old Breeders’ Cup Classic victory? Those questions merely scratch the surface for Classic handicappers. Gun Runner, Arrogate and Collected have not run since August. How will two-month layoffs affect their abilities to race a mile and one-quarter effectively? Can Keen Ice’s late rally prove potent over a deep Del Mar track that favored front runners last summer? How much has Mubtaahij improved with blinkers for Bob Baffert? Will Pavel continue his development for trainer Doug O’Neil?
From this perch, we expect an outstanding effort from West Coast. He’s an improving 3-year-old and we haven’t seen his best yet. Gun Runner is on top of his game, no doubt, and it will be interesting to watch him train up to the race at Santa Anita. Arrogate looks better than he did this summer, but that’s while training at Santa Anita not at Del Mar. He’ll fire in the Classic, but he may have lost a step or two, surrendering his position among the gods on Mt. Olympus.