The 35th Breeders’ Cup kicks off Friday afternoon at Churchill Downs in Louisville with a brand new race and a new race lineup. Since 2007, when thoroughbred racing’s championship event first shifted to the two-day format, the Friday card has been a mixed bag. Some years it included the new(er) races like the Dirt Mile and the juvenile grass races. More recently, the Distaff had been stripped away from its original Saturday slot and relegated to anchor the opening day card. This year Friday is strictly designated for the two-year old events, including the inaugural edition of the Juvenile Turf Sprint. This lineup makes an incredible amount of sense. Hopefully the effects on attendance and handle will be positive or net neutral, and the Breeders’ Cup can stick with this format for years to come. As always, wagering opportunities abound. These races are always extremely challenging from a handicapping perspective, and we’ll make our best effort to break down the race shape, offer informed insight, and point out value where it might exist.
Race 5 – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint
The maiden edition of this contest features a full field of 12 with 4 also-eligible entries ready to run in the event of a scratch. As you would expect, there appears to be plenty of speed signed on here, and that makes Strike Silver quite intriguing. The Violence colt broke his maiden over the main track in gate-to-wire fashion and then raced mostly on the front end in a narrow miss in the Sanford at Saratoga. In his grass debut, he was bumped hard leaving the gate and appeared to have lost all chance as a result, falling behind by 11 lengths early. Julien Leparoux was able to get him back on track and he absolutely flew past the entire field through the lane to capture Keeneland’s prep for this race, the Indian Summer by a neck on the wire. It’s probably safe to say that’s more adversity than any of his competition has faced, and while the rail draw is not ideal Strike Silver has already proven he can more than handle a less than perfect trip. Just to his outside is Soldier’s Call. Like all the Europeans in this field, he owns an experience edge over his American counterparts. He is already a winner of 4 of 7 races and a multiple group stakes winner. Most recently he nearly stole the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp on Arc day when he finished 3rd beaten just a head. The significance of that race cannot be understated as it was a very rare occasion of a 2yo taking on older horses in a Group 1 race. Bulletin broke his maiden first time out in a stakes race at Gulfstream in impressive style, but it’s hard to say what he beat that day, and he lacks a good deal of experience against this group. Shang Shang Shang may be best of the Wesley Ward quartet. The Shanghai Bobby filly is perfect in two trips to the post, including her Group 2 Norfolk triumph at Royal Ascot. She has not run since and gets her third rider in as many starts for this test. So Perfect looks the best of Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle team, having finished more than 6 lengths clear of her stablemate Sergei Prokofiev in the Group 1 Phoenix at the Curragh. Stillwater Cove atoned for a dismal performance at Ascot with a win in the Bolton Landing at Saratoga. A mile proved to be too much for her in the Natalma at Woodbine. She cuts back to a sprint distance here, and the versatility she showed in her last two starts could serve her well in a race loaded with front-end speed.
Wagering strategy: Spread race in horizontal exotics using Strike Silver, Soldier’s Call, So Perfect, and Stillwater Cove as the likeliest winners.
Race 6 – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
Newspaperofrecord is perfect in two starts for Chad Brown, winning both over ground labeled yielding by a combined 12+ lengths. She’ll be a deserving favorite, but the European contingent will likely offer a challenge much tougher than what she faced in New York. Concrete Rose has impressed in each of her two victories, including the Grade 2 Jessamine at Keeneland. Her rail draw may not be a death sentence as Jose Lezcano was able to negotiate a winning trip from the one hole against nine others in her upstate New York debut. Europeans always demand respect in turf races, and this instance is no different. La Pelosa was more of an also-ran in races at Newmarket and Sandown in Great Britain prior to shipping into Woodbine to take the Grade 1 Natalma by a length over the re-opposing My Gal Betty. The Mackey Bullet, Lily’s Candle, and Just Wonderful are all quite difficult to separate, but all possess solid European form and loom as significant threats to the home team.
Wagering strategy: Newspaperofrecord will be a popular single in the p4 and p5 pools. If you can manage to beat her, the payoffs will be rewarding. Concrete Rose and the 4 Europeans mentioned above appear the most likely to upset.
Race 7 – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies
A somewhat manageable field of 10 will tangle in this championship event for two-year old fillies. Bellafina swept the series of graded stakes in Southern California in preparation for this, beating up on what was initially a very highly regarded group. She was dominant in each of her 3 stakes wins, finishing in front by a combined 15 lengths. If there is a chink in her armor, she has not shown it yet, and the outside post should be a favorable position for jockey Flavien Prat. Jaywalk ran a very fast 1:34 and change for her one-turn mile victory in the Frizette at Belmont. The daughter of Cross Traffic is one of the few top choices that will be negotiating a second turn for the first time. Serengeti Empress won the host track’s prep for this race when taking the Grade 2 Pocahontas by more than 19 lengths. That effort came on the heels of a 13 and 1/2 length victory in the Ellis Park Debutante. Sippican Harbor broke her maiden by 17 lengths in a race that was rained off the turf at Saratoga and then returned to capture the Grade 1 Spinaway by coming from well off the pace. Her style and pedigree suggest stretching out to a route will be right within her wheelhouse. Restless Rider is 2 for 2 at Churchill and won the Alcibiades at Keeneland, drawing clear at the wire by 2 1/2 lengths. The top 3 choices on the morning line, Bellafina, Jaywalk, and Serengeti Empress have for the most part been forwardly placed in their prior starts. If that trend continues, the pace may set up well for Restless Rider. Each of the major contenders have also shown some measure of versatility as well, so this could very well turn out to be a riders race.
Wagering strategy: Another spread race for horizontal wagers. Bellafina, Jaywalk, and Serengeti Empress are must use horses. Restless Rider and Sippican Harbor are both capable and could add some value to the sequence.
Race 8 – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf
Anthony Van Dyck is the morning line favorite in a full field of 14 for this one mile grass race. The son of Galileo, already a two-time group winner in Ireland, is a very highly regarded member of the Ballydoyle team, but must overcome the very difficult gate 14. Line of Duty is cutting back in distance off a 9 furlong victory at Chantilly where he defeated the fantastic filly, Wonderment, who came back to win a Group 1 at Saint Cloud last weekend. The Godolphin colt seems to have traveled well, and William Buick will give him every opportunity to earn a Breeders’ Cup garland. Uncle Benny was impressive winning his turf debut in the Futurity at Belmont. He now adds a second turn to the mix, but his pedigree and trainer Jason Servis’s numbers suggest that should be within his scope. Forty Under scored a rallying victory over a yielding surface in the Grade 3 Pilgrim, and his ability to handle some give in the ground will suit him well again here. Henley’s Joy and Current finished noses apart in the Bourbon at Keeneland. Henley’s Joy got the better of the post draw in gate 6 (versus 12 for Current), but both colts could be in the mix again as they hit the wire in this rematch.
Wagering strategy: Anthony Van Dyck, Line of Duty, Forty Under, Henley’s Joy, Uncle Benny, and Current would all have to be used to provide some level of comfort in this spot.
Race 9 – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
The 35th edition of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile features a classic East vs. West matchup between the leading trainers on each coast. The Chad Brown trained Complexity has led each of his starts pillar to post and could not have been more impressive in either win. He will likely face some pace pressure from Mind Control, drawn just to his outside, but expect Jose Ortiz to try and lead this field all the way around and take back-to-back trips to the winner’s circle in this event. The Bob Baffert trained Game Winner owns a slight experience edge as a two time Grade 1 winner already. His 4 1/2 length triumph in the American Pharoah gave him important experience around two turns, and he has shown the ability to rate in each of his 3 starts. One item of note in this race is that Mike Smith almost always rides first call for Bob Baffert. Smith is riding 20/1 shot Well Defined, who aired by 7 1/2 lengths in the restricted In Reality Stakes at Gulfstream last time out. Joel Rosario, who rode Game Winner in both his maiden race and the American Pharoah, retains the mount for this championship event. Other colts to consider for the exotics include Dueling, Tight Ten, Code of Honor, and Mr. Money – all of whom have looked well training in preparation for the race.
Wagering strategy: This is the spot to go thin. Complexity and Game Winner should be enough here.
Bet of the Day – Pick Four (begins in Race 6): 1,4,6 w/ 2,4,7,8,10 w/ 2,4,5,6,12,14 w/ 6,9 – the fifty cent minimum costs $90.
Best of luck with all your wagers. You can follow me on Twitter @chadlashbrook for more racing coverage. Check back tomorrow for analysis of Saturday’s card.