Halloween and Breeders’ Cup approach like twin tropical storms. They’ll be here before we know it and respective aficionados demand intensive preparation. For the former, a bed sheet with eyehole openings just won’t do. And, clearly, the latter demands more than a list of entries and a hatpin.
While Halloween is meant to scare the bejesus out of everyone, handicapping Breeders’ Cup races can be just as frightening - 13 events with full fields consisting of top-ranked worldwide horses … Where’s the edge in that game?
Still, no one should fear Breeders’ Cup. Not if they’re willing to do a little prep work. Heed the advice of my third grade teacher about the six Ps: Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance! OK, perhaps that quote came from my truant officer. No matter, it’s solid advice.
Below is early analysis of BC races from a somewhat different angle. View these as a profile of each event – sort of a police artist’s composite sketch based on eyewitness description. They may not be completely accurate but, for now, they’re all we’ve got!
Juvenile Turf – Look for a non-favored colt that raced in Europe at least once, is not coming off a New York prep race, and is ridden by either Frankie Dettori or Ryan Moore. Top Contenders: We don’t know which runners are coming from Europe and that info’s more important to solving this mystery than cracking Da Vinci’s code.
Dirt Mile – Look for a SoCal-based runner to finish in the exacta and to possibly win the race! Notably, a losing effort in a final prep race historically has been a positive. Top Contenders: Dortmund seems to fit the profile like a glove - and not the one famously modeled by O.J. Simpson. Intentions for connections of several other important runners are unclear at this point. For example: Will Frosted run in here or in the Classic?
Juvenile Fillies Turf – While on the surface this might appear as another Euro-dominated race, actually, the historical key to victory is to avoid any Euro-based favorite. They are 0-for-5 in the race! Look for a North American, non California-based filly at a decent price coming off a first or second-place finish in a prep race. Top Contenders: We don’t know odds at this point, but New Money Honey, Victory to Victory, Stormy Perfection or Rymska seem to fit the profile. Anything trained by Chad Brown or Mark Casse deserves a long look.
Distaff – The profile sketch for this race favors a favored, short-priced 3-year-old filly prepped somewhere on the east coast. Recognize the perp? Top Contenders: Unbeaten Songbird checks all of the above boxes. Stellar Wind, Beholder and others make this arguably the deepest Distaff ever!
Juvenile Fillies – Tread carefully in this event. Huge (30-1 and up) longshots have won five times and Juvy Fillies favorites historically don’t do well at Santa Anita. Look for runners coming out of Belmont prep races (12 winners), followed by last outs at Santa Anita (8) and Keeneland (7). Top Contenders: This division appears wide open, so, look for a price. Sweet Loretta, Union Strike, Yellow Agate, Noted and Quoted, With Honors, etc. all deserve attention. Remember, the ‘ALL’ button can be a very good friend.
Filly & Mare Turf – Whatever you do, don’t play a filly or mare coming out of a California prep race! Amazingly, they are 0-for-37 in this event. Why? We have no idea. It’s one of the strangest Breeders’ Cup angles ever because it historically includes horses trained by California-based, Hall-of-Fame turf specialists, including the late Bobby Frankel and Charlie Whittingham, Ron McAnally and Richard Mandella, to name a few. On the positive side, east coast-based conditioner Chad Brown pretty much owns this race--three wins in the last four years. Top Contenders: It appears Brown may have three starters: Lady Eli, Rainha Da Bateria and Sea Calisi. A Lady Eli victory would cap one of the most incredible comebacks of all time and conclude the best feel-good story of the year. The once-defeated winner of the 2014 Juvenile Fillies Turf overcame a near-death battle with laminitis to win the Flower Bowl last out.
Filly & Mare Sprint – In this race, look for a 4 or 5-year-old that comes from off the pace and may have prepped in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland. Top Contenders: Irish Jasper, for Chad Brown, came from off the pace to nail Stonetastic in the TCA. She fits. Several other possible Breeders’ Cup F&M Sprint starters appeared in the TCA. This race is particularly wide open this season because several potential runners figure to avoid the loaded Distaff and switch to this seven-furlong test.
Turf Sprint – The six and one-half furlong, downhill turf course at Santa Anita offers a unique handicapping challenge. Begin and end your search for the winner among local, Santa Anita-based performers with specific successful downhill turf course experience. Favorites are reliable exacta plays and qualified filly/mare hillside specialists cannot be ignored against males. This race plays more like a mile than it does a sprint. Top Contenders: Holy Lute and Ambitious Brew won split divisions of the local prep and might be overlooked in the wagering. Look for additional Santa Anita hillside course specialists to join the lineup.
Juvenile – A California-based runner at single-digit odds figures to be first or second in this race. If trainer Todd Pletcher has a starter, add that one to your exactas. Also, in what could be a developing trend, keep an eye on whatever Chad Brown enters. He’s currently doing a really good Pletcher impersonation. Top Contenders: Gormley, trained by John Shirriffs, won the local Santa Anita prep for this race. He’s got early pace and a win around two turns—both positives on the Santa Anita main track. Snydergaard, a New York-bred, ran too good to lose in the Champagne for Pletcher. Practical Joke, trained by Brown, won the Champagne.
Mile – In this division look for a defending champ, filly/mare as well as male, that also ran in the Woodbine Mile. Top Contenders: Tepin checks all the boxes and figures to be a short price in here. She’d be an even shorter number if Photo Call hadn’t defeated her last out at Keeneland. Many horseplayers will ‘call’ that loss an aberration and, regardless, back Tepin to join five previous Mile winners that have successfully defended their crowns six times. Those suggesting Tepin may have lost a step will have plenty of wagering options in a deep race.
Sprint – A California-based runner figures to finish in the trifecta, while the race favorite doesn’t have to win. Look for a 3 or 4-year-old to come from just off the pace. Top Contenders: Lord Nelson, from the Bob Baffert barn impressively won the local prep for this race. A.P. Indian is the ‘Beast from the East’ and gamely took the Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland in track record time last out. Beware another Baffert runner in 3-year-old King’s Bishop star Drefong.
Turf – Current or former European performers clearly are the ones to beat in this race. Duh! That’s an obvious, but true statement. Over the past decade, Euro shippers have accounted for an average of two-thirds of the Turf trifecta. Top Contenders: Flintshire failed last out over a yielding turf course he probably hated. He’s the best former Euro turf performer in the U.S. Let’s see which runners make the trip across the pond for this.
Classic – Runners trained by Bob Baffert, 3-year-olds and European invaders have done well in recent Classics. Baffert starts 3-year-old Travers winner Arrogate this year and it’s unclear whether any Euros will compete in the Classic or not. Top Contenders: California Chrome is the best dirt horse in the world! Period. Can he lose the Classic? Sure, any horse can lose. However, based on his recent races, the 5-year-old is about as good as a horse can get.
Obviously, there’s plenty more to come before we finalize our Breeders’ Cup opinions. We’ll analyze the races in depth in this space during Breeders’ Cup week. In the meantime, Xpressbet’s Free Breeders’ Cup Wager Guide will be available at Xpressbet.com beginning Friday, October 28. Plan to access a copy. The guide includes Analysis and Suggested Wagering Strategies from some of the game’s top broadcasters, writers and handicappers, as well as Stats & Trends and Know This items for each race you won’t find anywhere else. Xpressbet’s Breeders’ Cup Wager Guide is FREE and worth twice the price!