by Johnny D.
November 3, 2017
This year’s Breeders’ Cup is one of the most interesting in the history of the event. Top to bottom. From flag fall to that’s all, folks. Horses scheduled to square off are numerous and talented. That’s going to make tough sledding for horseplayers, but will produce some amazing races Friday and Saturday.
Naturally, Saturday’s Classic, is the main event and this year it matches Gun Runner against assorted reps from the mighty Bob Baffert stable. Several supporting players also will suit up and take the field, but most of the scoring figures to come from the previously mentioned group.
Friday’s Distaff won’t take a back seat to any man’s horserace. Favored Stellar Wind seems dressed and with someplace to go, in a hurry. She’ll be met by fellow elder Forever Unbridled and four additional three-year-olds with bad intentions. When we say that any of those could win the race and horseplayers wouldn’t bat an eyelid, we mean it. The race is that wide-open!
Each day, before the Distaff Friday and preceding the Classic Saturday, an assortment of races for equines of varying ages and classifications will be offered for wagering entertainment. In nearly all cases, these races are challenging handicapping puzzles prove that while there can only be one correct answer (the one that returns a payoff) many other predictions cannot be classified as wrong. In other words, there are many ways to go in these races and nobody knows nothing!
In that spirit, this well-seasoned horseplayer offers you his best opinions. Hopefully, they will light your path to mutuel bliss. If not, at least they will permit you to lose intelligently!
6th Race – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
8. Significant Form 8-1
11. Rushing Fall 7/2
10. September 6-1
Longshot: 4. Madeline
Trainer Chad Brown has done well in this race, especially with Miss Grillo Stakes winners. North American-based runners also have done well, except for Cal-based runners. Euro-based favorites are 5: 0-1-1 and there’s a chance Happily (2nd choice on morning line) could end up filling that role this year.
7th Race – Las Vegas Dirt Mile
On your own in this one. Don’t take any wooden nickels. Seriously, lots can happen in here—historically, 8 of the last 10 winners of this race have come off losses! #3 Sharp Azteca, #2 Giant Expectations and #6 Mor Spirit should set things up for #8 Accelerate, but it’s a grab bag. Accelerate’s accomplished trainer John Sadler is an inexplicable 0-39 in Breeders’ Cup races and you have to wonder if Sharp Azteca trainer Navarro’s 40% magic can ship and win? Spread for safety.
8th Race – Juvenile Turf
6. Masar 9-2
1. Mendelssohn 8-1
7. James Garfield 6-1
Longshot: 4. Catholic Boy 12-1
Race profile suggests going with a non-favored runner trained by Aiden O’Brien. That could be #1 Mendelssohn at 8-1. Two other Euros earn respect in a division they dominate: #6 Masar and #7 James Garfield. #4 Catholic Boy, unbeaten in two starts at Gulfstream and Saratoga, needs to move faster, but just might at 12-1.
9th Race – Longines Distaff
5. Elate 3-1
6. Forever Unbridled 4-1
4. Abel Tasman 4-1
Longshot: 1. Champagne Room 15-1
Another toughie to figure (as if any of these races are easy), but leading up to this race #5 Elate has looked as good as a Thoroughbred can. Her Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott has won a handful of Distaffs over the years. #2 Stellar Wind is the favorite. She’s not a good work horse and proved that in recent drills at Santa Anita when she was asked for effort. If trainer John Sadler doesn’t snap his BC losing streak in the Dirt Mile he might do it here. Bad juju rising for #6 Forever Unbridled. Connections switched riders at the last minute from Joel Rosario (who had ridden the mare seven of nine previous times with four wins) to John Velasquez (who had ridden her on the other two occasions—both wins). The delayed change of heart forced stewards to issue a rare double jock mount penalty on Forever Unbridled’s crew. That means whatever John Velasquez earns in the race they also have to pay Joel Rosario!
4th Race -- 14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies
1. Heavenly Love 9-2
7. Moonshine Memories 7-2
9. Alluring Star 6-1
Longshot: Caledonia Road 15-1
#1 Heavenly Love looked good winning Keeneland’s Alcibiades and #7 Moonshine Memories cleared ‘em all in Santa Anita’s Chandelier, two major preps for this race. However, in 3 of the last 4 years this race has delivered titanic blasts in the form of double digit odds winners. If that’s the case, look for possible bombs in the form of #12 Caldedonia Road at 15-1 or #10 Maya Malibu 20-1. They finished second and third behind impressive Frizette winner and BC Juvenile Fillies post-challenged #13 Separationofpowers (4-1).
5th Race – Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint
3. Lady Aurelia 5-2
12. Pure Sensation 10-1
7. Richard’s Boy 10-1
A five-furlong turf sprint at Del Mar is a completely different matter than a six and one-half furlong downhill turf sprint at Santa Anita. What’s amazing is that this race hasn’t attracted all that much early speed. #12 Pure Sensation and #7 Richard’s Boy are price horses that could find themselves in great early positions. While Euro-based runners haven’t fared well in this race, #3 Lady Aurelia has won on both sides of the pond. The 3-year-old filly is pure class and trainer Wes Ward already has won BC races.
6th Race – Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint
11. Unique Bella 9-5
9. Finley’sluckycharm 6-1
12. Skye Diamonds 5-1
Longshot: 4. Finest City 12-1
#11 Unique Bella seems, indeed, to be one of a kind. The 3-year-old Pennsylvania-bred with one loss in six starts will buck a trend that says no sophomore filly has ever won this race. By all reports, she is training as well as anyone currently in attendance at Del Mar. She has made one start by the sea and won that by over 10 lengths. She’s also 1-for-1 at the distance. She’s got speed, has a habit of rocking back and forth in the gate, and has won going a distance of ground. In short, she’s pretty good. Her challengers have solid credentials, but if Unique Bella is as good as advertised it’s lights out. Pacemakers are 10: 0 – 1 – 1 and defending champs are 6: 1 – 2 – 0.
7th Race – Filly & Mare Turf
BEST 9. Lady Eli 9-5
6. Cambodia 8-1
12. Avenge 8-1
Longshot: 2. Senga
Once in a great while you see something in racing that gives you chills. And once in an even greater while a person can predict such a moment. This is one of those times. If #9 Lady Eli should win the Filly & Mare Turf it not only will be a triumph for the 5-year-old mare, but also a crowning achievement for trainer Chad Brown, his staff and modern veterinary medicine. The ‘Lady’ always has had talent, heart and determination. She won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in 2014 on her way to being unbeaten through six starts. In July of 2015, after winning the Belmont Oaks, she reportedly stepped on a nail on her way back to the barn. That minor injury developed into a life-threatening case of laminitis. That appeared to be a race she wouldn’t win. Death loomed an early 6/5 favorite. However, Lady Eli survived and returned to win four of seven subsequent starts, including three in a row heading into this Breeders’ Cup. She’s a fighter, a winner and a thriller. She was second by a nose last year in this event, nailed in the final stride going a mile and one-quarter. This year, at a mile and one-eighth, she seems poised to go out a winner in her final career race. Let the chills begin!
8th Race – Sprint
2. Drefong 5-2
10. Imperial Hint 9-2
8. Roy H 7-2
Price Play: 3. American Pastime 12-1
#2 Drefong was about to be one of my Best Bets until he drew the number 2 post. He still might win and he’s ranked on top, but he’ll have to work harder from the inside. #10 Imperial Hint is a fast horse with some quality. He’s got a great post on the far outside and Hall-of-Fame jockey Javier Castellano will be able to pop the gate and race outside of #2 Drefong—a good place to be. #8 Roy H is solid and #3 American Pastime has a closing style that should put him in the exotics.
9th Race – Breeders’ Cup Mile
BEST 5. World Approval 9-2
2. Heart to Heart 6-1
6. Zelzal 20-1
Price Play: 9. Home of the Brave 20-1
#1 Midnight Storm and #2 Heart to Heart figure to engage in an early pace battle that ought to set things up for a closer. From where we sit, #5 World Approval ought to get a perfect trip behind the pacesetters. He’s in a zone right now after winning the Fourstardave at Saratoga and the Woodbine Mile (a key BC Mile prep). A nice best of 32 five-furlong breeze at Churchill in a minute Oct. 13 helps. American-based runners have won 5 of last 6 and have accounted for 13 of the last 18 trifecta spots. Five of the last seven winners were age 5 or older. No winner in the last 20 editions has gone wire-to-wire and in that time winners have averaged 5 ½ lengths behind the leader at the halfway point. Mile races in California have gone to favorites in 5 of the last 8.
10th Race –Sentient Jet Juvenile
2. Solomini 6-1
11. Bolt d’Oro 9-5
6. Good Magic 8-1
#11 Bolt d’Oro ran too fast in winning the FrontRunner at Santa Anita by over seven lengths. Yes, a horse can run too fast. Will he run too fast again to win the Juvenile? He might, but at a short price from post 11 he’ll have to beat me. And he might. It won’t be the first time I’ve lost and probably won’t be the last. #2 Solomini is a decent choice to pull the upset, but it really could come from a number of runners; those mentioned above as well as #5 Free Drop Billy, who’s trained very well.
11th Race –Longines Turf
5. Ulysses 7-2
12. Beach Patrol 4-1
1. Talismanic 15-1
Price Play: 4. Decorated Knight
Three turns with a quick run to the first turn means jockeys will have a great deal to do with the outcome of this race. #5 Ulysses has Frankie Dettori; no issue there. This is a turf race the Euros dominate and #12. Beach Patrol is the only US-based runner even worth considering. #1 Talismanic is getting better and should save ground. #4 Decorated Knight has chased Ulysses and #3 Highland Reel in Group 1s overseas.
12th Race – Breeders’ Cup Classic
8. West Coast
5. Gun Runner
Price Play: 9. Gunnevera 30-1
#1 Arrogate is one of the best horses I’ve ever seen. He’s also responsible for one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. That happened right here at Del Mar this past summer when he failed in the San Diego Handicap. He’s trained well for Breeders’ Cup and wouldn’t surprise anyone with a win. However, time marches on. This will be Arrogate’s final race. Hope he goes out a winner and he just might, but off a pair of defeats it also could be time to look elsewhere at a short price. #5 Gun Runner has improved and developed like a beautiful flower. He’s bigger, stronger and faster than he was at 3 and that has led to some dominating wins at Churchill and Saratoga since he was dusted by Arrogate in Meydan in March. His Foster, Whitney and Woodward wins all came against overmatched foes. This will be different. A mile and one-quarter probably isn’t Gun Runner’s optimal distance -- he’s got zero wins in three tries. Expect Bob Baffert-trained #11 Collected to put heat on Gun Runner early and that might be enough to soften him up for challenges from #8 West Coast and #1 Arrogate. #8 West Coast is the fourth consecutive 3-year-old colt Baffert has primed specifically for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The previous three all won. Will it be four in a row? Could be, and at a price! #8 West Coast is a true mile and one-quarter horse. He looks outstanding on the track, has trained well, gets weight for age, has enough speed to be just off the pace and will be ridden by a Hall-of-Fame jockey…no, not that one, Mike Smith has to stay with Arrogate, understandably, so Javier Castellano will ride #8 West Coast. All things considered, #1 Arrogate or #5 Gun Runner may win this race at a short price. I’ll take my chances on the rising star at 6-1 or better!