Talking Track: Breeder’s Cup Preview
...What? Did you think this was done? Did you think track season ended when Saratoga closed its doors? Not so fast my friend. This Friday and Saturday the greatest horses in the world will descend on the famed Churchill Downs to compete in the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
The Triple Crown is great. The Saratoga season, Travers day? Fantastic. But this weekend is probably the best racing action that the year has to offer. For two days Churchill Downs will be populated by the sport's absolute best. It's a veritable paradise for handicappers, gamblers, horsemen and degenerates...in laymen's terms, me. For those unaware, the Breeders' Cup is basically the World Championships of horse racing. It comes at the end of a racing season called the Breeders' Cup Challenge. Winners of Challenge races automatically earn a spot in a corresponding Breeders' Cup Race. For example, by winning the Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga, filly Ask The Moon was automatically entered into the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic. Each class: two-year olds, sprinters, distance runners, fillies, colts, dirt runners, turf runners ect, has its own star studded race. Did I say paradise? Perhaps utopia would be better.
Anyway, let's put my giddiness aside and get into the handicapping. There are too many races to cover in just one article, so I've picked out the most interesting divisions and races to preview. The races are listed below by name, grade, distance, surface and when it will be run.
Filly and Mare Sprint, Gade 1 - Seven Furlongs, Dirt - 7th Race, Friday: There isn't a ton of handicapper intrigue in this race. Filly Turbulent Descent has been installed as the 6/5 favorite over this field of thirteen, and that seems about right. Looking at this field I got the same sense that Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia apparently got, Turbulent Descent should be the big favorite. So while there's not a ton of mystery in the race (he says despite the frequency of upsets in horse racing) I'll be tuned in for this race because I remember why the filly is the overwhelming favorite. Coming off of only her second loss in seven starts - a defeat at the hands of It's Tricky, a serious contender in Friday's Ladies' Classic - Turbulent Descent rolled the field in the Grade 1 Test. She sat fourth, stalking the field as they moved through the turn, until she blew past them all as though they were standing still, without feeling the sting of the whip even once. It was one of the most impressive races run this summer at Saratoga. I'll be watching to see what kind of fireworks Turbulent Descent rolls out on Friday. I expect her to get the win over the six, Switch, and the twelve, Pomeroys Pistol, whom she beat in the Test.
Ladies' Classic, Grade 1 - 1 1/8 Miles, Dirt - 10th Race, Friday: Friday's most interesting race, to me, is the Ladies' Classic. It features a rematch of the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes which saw Royal Delta conquer the field at Saratoga. If Turbulent Descent ran the most impressive race of the summer, Royal Delta's Alabama was the second. In what I thought was It's Tricky's race, Royal Delta blew past her, Plum Pretty and the rest of the field en route to a 5 1/2 length win. She's coming off a sound defeat at the hands of super filly, and second choice in Saturday's Classic, Havre De Grace, however, and finds herself as the second option in this race. Plum Pretty has been installed as the 2-1 favorite as she's coming off a wire-to-wire domination of It's Tricky in her last race. As the race develops I see Plum Pretty, Ask the Moon (mentioned above) and probably Medaglia D'amour vying for the lead. Watch out for a fast pace here which could develop if two horses engage at the front, and which would bring more and more horses into the mix. Still, I expect the pace to be mostly reasonable and Plum Pretty to carry the lead down into the stretch. Royal Delta will be heard from however, and her performance in the Alabama just rings too clear in my mind to look a different horse's way. I mean why wouldn't it, I was standing on the finish line for God's sake. I expect the Alabama winner to run down Plum Pretty for the win. It's Tricky will be there as well to round out the top three. If the pace is hot, however, look for Ultra Bend to pull an upset.
Marathon, Grade 2 - 1 3/4 Miles, Dirt - 3rd Race, Saturday: I've included this race because it's one of the most wide open races on the weekend's card. There are a lot of well known, well raced horses in this draw and at such a flukey distance there is almost no way to get a handle on it from a handicapping standpoint. So I won't even try. I'll just say that A.U. Miner and Birdrun have been installed as the favorites, and for good reason, but I love the three, Meeznah - despite having not run on dirt (terrifying) - and the seven, Harrison's Cave - same thing - as very live long-shots. Should be an interesting race.
Sprint, Grade 1 - Six Furlongs, Dirt - 5th Race, Saturday: Now here's a race I love. As a horse racing fan, it may not get any better than this. I mean, these horses may just light the track on fire. Sprinters Euroears, Giant Ryan and Big Drama - who won this race last year - will come out fast and fight for the lead. We're talking sub :22 fractions for a quarter here people, possibly sub :45 for the half. Electrifying stuff. If those three shake loose and put up fractions like that, which I absolutely expect, I like Aikenite and Jackson Bend to run down the front runners. Ultimately, I see Jackson Bend coming off of the pace to edge Giant Ryan, Euroears and Big Drama at the wire. Aikenite and the Amazombie are decent, though I think ultimately irrelevant, long-shot options. Trust me folks, this one will be one that you want to watch, they may actually light that track on fire.
Dirt Mile, Grade 1 - One Mile, Dirt - 7th Race, Saturday: I've got to be honest, folks. I haven't a clue what's going to happen in this race. In the sprint you can definitely expect to have a hot pace with a few closers coming on hard at the end, but this race is a total enigma, and I love it. As a horse racing fan, it may not get any better than this (I feel like I've said this before). I do expect The Factor, Shackleford, and Tapizar as well as, probably, Wilburn and Irrefutable to vie for the lead early. The Factor, Shackleford and Tapizar will most likely come away as the top three and from there who in God's name knows what happens? There are any number of scenarios that could play out depending on the pace. If the pace is a slow one, north of :48.5 for a half, I think the Preakness winner Shackleford has a real shot at coming away with the win, though I think such a pace is his only chance at winning. If the pace is hot, south of :47, I think Caleb's Posse - who ran the most exciting race at Saratoga this season when he ran down Uncle Mo in the King's Bishop - will repeat the performance and rally to beat the leaders for the win. However, if the pace is a reasonable one, :47-:48.5, I think Wilburn will be able to sit a length or two off the lead and have enough to hit the wire first. The best bet of the race may be the seven horse, Jersey Town, however. He's been set as a 15-1 long shot off of a place and a show in his last two races. Not terribly impressive. But what you'll see if you dig a little deeper, however, is that Jersey Town lost those two races to Jackson Bend - my winner of the Sprint (see above) - and the reigning two-year old Champion Uncle Mo - the favorite in the Classic. I think this may be a sneaky good horse whose ability has been out shined by the brilliance shown by two of the best sprinters in the world. I love Jersey Town here and if you're giving me 15-1 you're getting my money.
Juvenile, Grade 1 - One and One Sixteenths Miles, Dirt - 9th Race, Saturday: This is an exciting race because it will set the field for next year's Triple Crown. The winner of this battle of two-year old colts and geldings will almost automatically be the early favorite in next year's Derby. In an impressive field, Union Rags has been installed as the 2-1 favorite - a logical selection by the oddsmakers. Union Rags has won all three of his races - which include a grade one and a grade two - by a combined 14 and 1/4 lengths. He has demolished the field in his three races and looks to do the same on Saturday. He'll have some tougher competition this time around, however. The horses that will challenge include Drill, who has a win and a place in two grade one races; Creative Cause, a 3 and 1/4 lengths winner in his last race - a grade one; and the Europe-based Daddy Long Legs. The five horse, Hansen, also lurks as an early speed horse and long-shot special who could hang on for the win. Still, I expect Union Rags to turn back all comers - including Creative Cause who is a good second option - get the win, and firmly point himself toward favorite status in the Run for the Roses.
Mile, Grade 1 - One Mile, Turf - 10th Race, Saturday: I've included this race for one reason, and her name is Goldikova. Of all of the super fillies to have graced the national stage - Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Havre De Grace (keep reading) - Goldikova may be the best (well, Zenyatta won 19/20 so maybe not, but she's damn good!). Goldikova has won the Breeders' Cup Turf Mile three straight years. She's 3-peated a Breeders' Cup Race. For three straight years (I use repetition for effect) she's run past the best competition in her division and captured it's crown jewel and she's favored to do it again this year. That sort of run is mind-boggling. In true Goldikova fashion I look for her to run an incredibly exciting race. She'll lead a charge of late runners including her, Gio Ponti, Compliance Officer and Turallure that will run down the leaders Courageous Cat, Get Stormy and Sidney's Candy. In the end, I'll throw my money at Goldikova. She beat many of these same horses in last year's Mile and she's won the race three straight years! I don't care if she's still running this race a decade from now, I'll take the bet until she loses, she's just that good. Gio Ponti and Turallure are other good betting options and I think Get Stormy and Compliance Officer are very live long-shots. If I was courageous enough I'd take Get Stormy to pull the upset but I'm not betting against Goldikova, not until she loses. She'll rally for the win.
Classic, Grade 1 - One and One Quarter Miles, Dirt - 11th Race, Saturday: And here. We. Go. I know I've said it before, including twice in this article, but this really is as good as horse racing gets. It's the type of matchup horse racing fanatics dream about and it will be one of the best races of the year. Super filly Havre De Grace will take on reigning two-year old champion Uncle Mo, impressive in two starts since returning from a liver injury which almost took his life. They'll look to turn back the impressive Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out. There is a ton of quality in this race, though it undoubtedly starts and ends with Havre De Grace and Uncle Mo. Can the filly once again beat the boys? Or will last year's juvenile champion finally show the promise that made him the favorite in this year's Kentucky Derby? Or, will Flat Out use the momentum gathered off of a grade one win in his last start, run down the favorites and take The Classic? Flat out is the fourth betting choice behind the Europe-based So You Think, Havre De Grace and the 5-2 favorite Uncle Mo. Other contenders are Belmont winners Ruler on Ice and Drosselmeyer; Travers winner Stay Thirsty; and Travers runner up Rattlesnake Bridge.
Uncle Mo vs. Havre De Grace? That's an unbelievable matchup that'll make any amateur horsemen drool. Uncle Mo vs. Havre De Grave vs. Flat Out?! Well that's just too much. This race is sure to be must-see TV and will either be a Horse of the Year type impressive domination or a photo finish for the ages. But which one? Early in the race I see Uncle Mo, relative long-shot To Honor And Serve and Game On Dude coming out of the gate fighting for the lead. The Game On Dude connections have said that they want their horse to make the lead early in the race, so look for him to set a relatively quick pace so as to get in front of Uncle Mo, who is likely to be looking for the lead. Prayer for Relief, So You Think, Rattlesnake Bridge, Uncle Mo's stable mate Stay Thirsty and Havre De Grace will be close to the lead as well, with Stay Thirsty and Prayer for Relief likely leading the second wave of horses. I think these positions will hold through the first turn and down the backstretch, though what the pace will be is a bit of a question. With Uncle Mo at or near the front you can't expect the pace to be slow, he's a horse who likes to run. Also, I expect those trailing the lead pack to try and stay close to Uncle Mo. As was the worry with War Admiral in Seabiscuit, if that monster shakes lose, they may never catch him. They won't let him get away, they'll keep the pace moving. That said, I don't expect Uncle Mo or Game On Dude to set too blistering a pace, they know that there is closing speed behind them.
At the top of the second turn I expect Game On Dude, if he still has the lead, to give way to Uncle Mo who will begin to move in response to a kick from Havre De Grace. The pack of Prayer For Relief, Rattlesnake Bridge, So You Think, Stay Thirsty and To Honor And Serve will make a move to strike the lead, though I think they'll each fade to the speed that Havre De Grace and Uncle Mo will show. Those two will take the lead through the turn and into the top of the stretch as Flat Out begins to make a strong run from deep in the pack. Drosselmeyer, Ruler On Ice and Headache will try to move with Flat Out but I don't think they're any match for the Gold Cup Winner and their runs will fade quickly. Into the stretch I see a match race developing between Havre De Grace and Uncle Mo with Flat Out gamely trying to run them down. Those two, then joined by Flat Out, will run neck and neck down the stretch and at the wire I expect Havre De Grace to get the win by as much as a length. I just don't think Uncle Mo is stretched out enough. He's an unbelievable horse. He finished second by a nose in the King's Bishop after throwing a shoe - a problem similar to what caused Big Brown's horrific Belmont performance - and ran an unbelievable race through the slop in the Kelso, but he hasn't run at this distance since before the injury. And what can you say about Havre De Grace? She's a terrifically impressive super filly who in ten starts hasn't finished worse than third and is coming off back to back dominating wins. I think she'll be the one to hit the wire first in what will be an unbelievably exciting final furlong. I could see three noses on the wire here with Uncle Mo or Flat Out also getting the win, it's really a toss up between those three, but Havre De Grace seems most likely. Watch out for Uncle Mo, though, he may just be too much horse to not win this race by a few lengths.
For betting options in this race I don't think you need to look too far past those three. I will say, however, that while I've never been impressed with Stay Thirsty (that's an understatement) if you're giving me 12-1 on the Jim Dandy and Travers winner, I'll give you my money. I don't think he figures in the race (maybe fourth) but those odds are far too much to turn down. So You Think could be another nice bet, as is Prayer For Relief. In the end however, I don't see anyone but Havre De Grace, Uncle Mo or Flat Out winning. Flat Out will be the longest shot of the three but he shouldn't be ignored, he was an impressive winner in his last race and if Uncle Mo engages Game On Dude for the lead, with Havre De Grace and others fighting to stay close to a very hot pace, the race is tailor made for Flat Out to run down the favorites. Whatever the outcome, however, this will be as exciting a race as there can be, a cap to a terrific weekend of racing and one that you need to be watching.
Go to www.breederscup.com for a complete list of post positions, post times and past performances - if you need help reading those check out my article on the subject here. Check back here Friday night for a recap on Friday's Breeders' Cup action and Saturday night for a recap on what will be the most exciting day of horse racing all year.