by Jeremy Plonk
October 15, 2018
While the Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Wager Guide and its plethora of analysis and data warms up on the runaway for its Oct. 26 takeoff, your handicapping flight attendant has few bags of peanuts to hand out. Here’s a snack to dine on in all 14 divisions. If you’re seated in an exit row, you’ll be responsible for helping us all off this plane if it goes down.
Juvenile Turf Sprint
The newest of the championship divisions, perhaps the Juvenile Turf Sprint will follow its fellow newly minted divisions with rookie season upsets. Consider these BC divisional first unveilings since 2000 have averaged about 12-1 returns: Turf Sprint (36-1 Desert Code), Dirt Mile (7-2 Corinthian), F&M Sprint (8-1 Maryfield), JF Turf (11-1 Maram), Juvenile Turf (12-1 Nownownow), since-abandoned Juvenile Sprint (7-5 Secret Circle), since-abandoned Marathon (12-1 Muhannak).
Juvenile Fillies Turf
In what looks to be a showdown between Newspaperofrecord, winner of the Miss Grillo Stakes, and Concrete Rose, heroine of the Jessamine Stakes, consider the trainers’ record in the Breeders’ Cup. Chad Brown is 71: 10-8-7, while Rusty Arnold sits 9: 0-0-0 and hasn’t had a 2YO starter here in 11 years. The Miss Grillo has produced this race winner 4 times, the Jessamine got its first last year with Rushing Fall (trained by Brown ironically enough).
Aidan O’Brien has saddled the Juvenile Turf winners the last 2 times the event has been in Kentucky, 2011 at Churchill with Wrote and 2015 at Keeneland with Hit It A Bomb. He also won it last year with Mendelssohn. Before you scream, “Too easy,” note they were 11-1, 7-1 and 9-2 returns in order.
The Juvenile Fillies has produced 5 of the 19-longest shots to win a Breeders’ Cup race all-time. Each tipped the scales at $67-plus. In fact, recent years – 2013, 2014, 2016 – have taught us to expect anything in this division, thanks to Ria Antonia, Take Charge Brandi and Champagne Room.
Bob Baffert has been brilliant with his babies in 2018, and Game Winner should be the favorite in this division. Baffert’s BC Juvenile record is 25: 3-4-0 over the years, winning in 2002 (Vindication), 2008 (Midshipman) and 2013 (New Year’s Day). He was second last year with Solomini.
According to the Betmix database, 100 of 123 turf sprint winners at Churchill Downs since 2013 prepped at distances of 6 furlongs or shorter most recently. Straight win percentages also favor those with the shorter preps by a 13.4% win rate vs. 10.0% for those exiting the longer preps.
Americans have won the Mile 3 years running, but before you say “It can’t be done 4 times in a row,” save yourself some embarrassment. It’s already happened twice. From 1998-2001, it was Da Hoss, Silic, War Chant and Val Royal (two of those Churchill events); and then from 2004-’07 it repeated on the hooves of Singletary, Artie Schiller, Miesque’s Approval (at Churchill) and Kip Deville. And, note, the Europeans have never strung together 4 in a row.
Filly & Mare Turf
The last 2 times this race was at Churchill Downs, stunning upsets occurred. Shared Account paid $94 in 2010 and then Perfect Shirl returned $57.60 a year later. In fact, those are the 2 largest upsets in the 19-year history of this race. Since then, Chad Brown has won this event in 2012, 2014 and 2015, so perhaps clarity has arrived.
Europeans have won the Turf 7 of the 9 times it’s been held in Kentucky, including 5 straight since Illinois-bred Buck’s Boy wired the 1998 cast at Churchill Downs. The only other domestic Turf winner in a “Commonwealth” Cup was Great Communicator in 1988.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Since the Californians are widely considered the fastest sprinters in the land, it’s surprising to see that they’ve accounted for only 1 of the last 9 F&M Sprint editions. Finest City scored a home-track win at Santa Anita in 2016, otherwise it’s been a New York, Kentucky, Florida division. West coaster Miss Sunset disappointed in Keeneland’s always-important Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes in her recent trip east, perhaps foretelling another California cease fire.
Not only are defending champions 0-for-7 in the Sprint all-time after Drefong’s sixth-place fizzle last year, only Cardmania has hit the board in the return try. He won the 1993 edition at Santa Anita and was third at Churchill in 1994 to Cherokee Run and Soviet Problem. Roy H will head from California to Churchill in hopes of flopping a better hand than Cardmania.
Churchill Downs has a 1-turn mile configuration in play for the Dirt Mile. But the trifecta finishers in both 2010 and 2011 at CD all came out of 2-turn preps. Of those, 3 exited 1-1/8 miles races (2 Awesome Again, 1 PA Derby), 2 exited 1-1/16 miles races (2 Indiana Derby) and 1 exited a flat mile (Presque Isle Mile).
The last 3 Distaffs held at Churchill Downs were won by horses exiting the Beldame at Belmont Park. Overall, the Beldame has produced the Distaff winner 4 times in the 8 years held at Churchill Downs, and added the runner-up twice in the other 4 years. Wow Cat (Chi) captured last week’s Beldame and moved front and center this year.
The last 4 Classic winners in Kentucky all were prepped in New York. Invasor (2006) came out of Saratoga’s Whitney; Blame (2010) and Drosselmeyer (2011) repeated for the Jockey Club Gold Cup; and American Pharoah (2015) scored at Keeneland out of Saratoga’s Travers.