Future Stars Friday offered an enticing appetizer for racing fans, but Saturday’s 9 Breeders’ Cup races for three-year olds and up are undoubtedly the entree of thoroughbred racing’s championship event. Each race offers its own unique challenges, and with challenges come opportunity. Breeders’ Cup is definitely a day to try and establish a few very strong opinions and then build wagers around those opinions to create value and hopefully cash some nice tickets.
Race 3 – Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint
As the name indicates, this race is loaded with speed. Selcourt, Kirby’s Penny, Chalon, Mia Mischief, Finley’sluckycharm, and Anonymity are all generally very quick on the gas and will insure a tepid pace in this 7 furlong dash. Finley’sluckycharm is the hometown favorite having won 6 of her 7 races over the Churchill surface. Her lone loss was over an off-track on Derby day earlier this year. She has been given ample time to recover from a subpar effort in the Ballerina in August, and the work tab indicates she is training well for this engagement. The downside to her is that she is only 2 for 6 lifetime at this 7 furlong distance and with all the pace signed on she might be better off going a furlong shorter. Selcourt is intriguing, having won her last 3 races with impressive speed figures. However, it would require a Herculean effort for her to set all the pace from the rail and hold on strong to the wire in her first start since March. Marley’s Freedom is perfect in 3 graded stakes appearances since transferring to the Baffert barn earlier this year. Her stalking style is well suited to the expected pace scenario, and she is a deserving favorite breaking from the outside in post 13. Golden Mischief is another stalker that should get the right set up in here. She feasted on lesser competition earlier this year and then handled a higher rung on the class ladder with aplomb when besting Miss Sunset, Happy Like a Fool, and Chalon in the Grade 2 TCA at Keeneland in her last start. Brad Cox has this filly coming into her own at just the right time. She has been training brilliantly at Churchill Downs in preparation for this, including a best of 113 half mile drill in :47 flat on Sunday. The daughter of Into Mischief is listed at 10/1 on the morning line and figures to go off in that neighborhood. She looks primed to be an early bankroll booster on a difficult card.
Wagering strategy: Play Golden Mischief across the board and key her in vertical exotic wagers.
Race 4 – Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint
This has to rank as the least amount of gate speed I ever remember in this race. You can bet that Flavien Prat will be calling on all of Conquest Tsunami’s early lick to eliminate the possibility of a wide trip from the far outside post. The son of Stormy Atlantic is only 3 for 14 lifetime on the grass and most of his better performances have come down the hill at Santa Anita. World of Trouble and Richard’s Boy, drawn in gates 11 and 12 respectively, will be in hot pursuit of the lead as well. World of Trouble has moved forward significantly in his last two starts since switching surfaces, and he could be any kind of horse as a turf sprinter, but he is entering the deep end of the pool for the first time today and will need to swim well to best the group assembled here. Stormy Liberal is the defending champion and is coming in with good recent form having reeled off 3 straight in Southern California. Disco Partner is the morning-line favorite, but seems better suited to 6 and 7 furlong distances. He also has not run well over softer surfaces in the past, and there will definitely be some give in the ground on Saturday. Rainbow Heir makes his second start off a layoff after spending his first season at stud in Florida. He picks up Jose Ortiz for this commitment and is certainly live as a 12-1 shot. Will Call is 2 for 2 at Churchill Downs including a Grade 3 win over the course on Derby weekend. He was flying late to just miss in the Woodford at Keeneland last month and is a major threat back over his home course in Louisville.
Wagering strategy: Stormy Liberal is the horse to beat and may offer decent value in the win pool at 4 or 5/1. Will Call and Rainbow Heir are decent value plays across the board if their morning line odds hold up or inflate.
Race 5 – Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile
Catalina Cruiser has done nothing wrong in his four lifetime starts and appears to be getting better with each trip to the post. In his last start he beat last year’s winner of this race, Battle of Midway, by 7 widening lengths in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien at Del Mar. In a race lacking much early pace, he is clearly capable of controlling things from the outset while reserving plenty of energy to hold off all comers in the stretch run. City of Light reeled off two straight Grade 1 wins at 7 furlongs during the winter meet at Santa Anita and seemed to take another step forward when he beat Accelerate in the Oaklawn Handicap. He regressed slightly in his next two starts but gets to try a one turn mile for the first time and one would think that trip will hit him right between the eyes. The son of Quality Road has trained very well for this engagement with two bullet works at Santa Anita to go along with a 3rd best of 113 half mile in :47 and 3 upon arriving at Churchill. Seven Trumpets is perfect in 3 starts at Churchill, but would have to make a big move forward to hang with the top two. Firenze Fire has been a beast against his fellow three-year olds in one turn races this year, and a repeat of his 9 length tour de force in the Dwyer could put him in the mix.
Wagering strategy: Catalina Cruiser is a solid single in multi-race exotics, hedge with City of Light for added comfort. Creating value may prove difficult as this looks to be one of the most true-to-form races on the card.
Race 6 – Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf
Many will favor some combination of Chad Brown trained runners in this spot, and they certainly have their merits. Fourstar Crook and Sistercharlie seem most capable of the quintet. While the distance may prove to be a bit too far for A Raving Beauty, she could potentially get a very cagey front-end ride from Javier Castellano and steal victory in a completely pace less affair. I tend to favor the Europeans, primarily Wild Illusion and Magic Wand. The former, a daughter of Dubawi, won two straight Group 1 contests in Europe prior to her trans-Atlantic trip and enters this race relatively fresh in her sixth outing of the year. Magic Wand beat Wild Illusion in the summer at Royal Ascot before succumbing to that foe most recently in the Opera at Longhcamp.
Wagering strategy: As the initial leg in the Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick 6, spreading to include each of the 5 fillies mentioned above could be a necessary evil to remain alive.
Race 7 – Breeders’ Cup Sprint
First and foremost this race features a rematch from last year with defending champion Roy H and runner-up Imperial Hint back to do battle again in a race that will ultimately determine divisional championship honors. It’s quite difficult to separate the two. The lone blemish on Imperial Hint‘s season was a rare off-the-board effort at Churchill on Derby day, but that race came over a very sloppy race track and we should have a fast strip on Saturday. The very slight lean here goes to Imperial Hint because he has been so impressive in his last two victories, both Grade 1s in which he ran ridiculously fast times of 1:08 and change, seemingly as he pleased. Whitmore is a very honest horse that excels at the 6 furlong distance (9 for 13 lifetime), but the post draw did him no favors as he will have to work out a trip from the rail. Promises Fulfilled was very impressive in 3 straight graded stakes victories leading up to this and figures to set the pace from gate 2. He will face more legitimate pace pressure than ever before, but this horse is as tough as nails and may prove to be up to the task. Limousine Liberal is a bona fide contender as a closer drawn to the outside in a field with plenty of burners to set up a suicidal pace in front. He has 6 wins from 8 starts in Louisville and figures to be a major factor in the waning strides as he always does his best running late and is probably better suited to 7 furlongs than 6.
Wagering strategy: As tough as this field is, Imperial Hint and Roy H garner enough confidence to stand with just the two of them in the horizontal wagers.
Race 8 – Breeders’ Cup Mile
This feels like the most wide open race of the day. The American side does not inspire confidence, but the Europeans are not exactly lights out world beaters either. Happily made this voyage across the pond last year after two straight Grade 1 victories in Ireland and France only to have her head handed to her in the Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar. Polydream and Expert Eye are the most highly regarded of the European contingent and separating the two is akin to splitting hairs. Oscar Performance has looked the part of a champion on several occasions, most notably when he blitzed eight panels in 1:31 and 1 to take the Poker at Belmont in June. Jose Ortiz can control the pace at the head of affairs if he so chooses and that may ultimately be the deciding factor. Catapult is a dangerous sleeper as he has been a different animal since joining the John Sadler barn. The concern with him is will there be enough pace to set up his late run.
Wagering strategy: As horizontal wagers go, this is a single or deep spread spot – either take a stand with Oscar Performance and hope he can set a slow pace, or end up using half the field or more and hoping for a big price.
Race 9 – Breeders Cup Distaff
It is incredibly likely that this race comes down to the last two Kentucky Oaks winners. Abel Tasman won last year’s Oaks coming from dead last in the field, and she hasn’t done much looking back since. The daughter of Quality Road went on to take two more Grade 1 events and finished runner-up in last year’s edition of the Distaff en route to a divisional championship. She followed that up this year with two more Grade 1 wins to her credit. Her no-show effort in the Zenyatta is simply too bad to be true and it has been reported since that she was battling some sort of infection. She has trained beautifully in the lead up to this return engagement and demands the utmost respect. Monomoy Girl has crossed the wire first in 9 of her 10 lifetime starts, including the last 6 in a row dating back to the Rachel Alexandra in February. Trainer Brad Cox brings her up to this first start against elders as a relatively fresh filly with only one start in the last 3 months, and she has been training like a horse ready to fire her best shot. While the top two choices have earned their stripes, this should not be viewed as a match race. Blue Prize won her last 3 starts at Churchill, all graded stakes, and comes into this off her first Grade 1 win in the Spinster at Keeneland. Wow Cat joined the Chad Brown barn earlier this year as an undefeated South American champion. It took her a while to acclimate, but she did take a watered-down version of the Beldame in her last start and may be peaking at the right time. Wonder Gadot bested 3-year old Canadian-bred colts in the Queens Plate and Prince of Wales this summer. She regressed in two subsequent appearances at Saratoga and Parx, but has been coming out of her skin in recent days at Churchill and may be sitting on a big race. Midnight Bisou was awarded victory in the Cotilion courtesy of the Parx stewards and is quite capable of putting forth an effort that would put her in the mix on her best day.
Wagering strategy: Will largely stand with the two most recent Oaks winners and use Blue Prize sparingly as a hedge.
Race 10 – Breeders’ Cup Turf
The current group of older turf horses based in North America is not an intimidating bunch. They spent most of 2018 taking turns beating each other, playing nice, and more often than not all hitting the wire mostly together. Results of the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine on October 13th underscored the opportunity for European invaders looking to pounce in the Breeders’ Cup as second tier euros Desert Encounter and Thundering Blue finished well clear of their American counterparts. After ten months of chronicling the abject mediocrity of this group, I am not about to give any of them a chance to win the most prestigious race of the year in the division.
If you search for articles and information on the Breeders’ Cup, and this race in particular, you will undoubtedly find much written in regards to the failure of Arc de Triomphe winners in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The Arc is the richest and most esteemed race in Europe, and it is true than no winner of the Arc has gone on to double up in the BC Turf in the same year. The two most recent to attempt the feat were the filly Found in 2016 and Golden Horn one year prior. In 2015, Golden Horn tallied four Group 1 victories in Europe (Epsom Derby, Coral-Eclipse, Irish Champion, and the Arc) prior to his transatlantic voyage to Keeneland. The son of Cape Cross looked like he would be the first to pull off the double at the top of the stretch, but was worn down inside the final sixteenth by none other than Found. That brilliant daughter of Galileo was ninth in the Arc that year, but came back in 13 days to win the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot just prior to her Breeders’ Cup triumph two weeks later. In 2016, she captured the Arc on October 2nd, was runner-up in the Champion on the fifteenth, and filled the show position in defense of her Breeders’ Cup crown on the 5th of November. She was beaten that day by the globetrotting Highland Reel, runner-up in her Arc victory. Those two most recent tries at the Arc/BC Turf double were the first since the failed attempt of Dylan Thomas in 2007 when he won the Arc and then finished 5th behind English Channel in the Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth just 20 days later. Golden Horn was making his ninth start of the year in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf, while Found was going post-ward for the 10th time in defense of her crown in 2016.
While no Arc champion has gone on to find the winner’s circle on this side of the pond (in the same year), many Arc also-rans have been able to win the race. In addition to the aforementioned Found and Highland Reel, St. Nicholas Abbey prevailed in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs in 2011 after a 5th place finish in Paris. Conduit took home the second of his Breeders’ Cup garlands at Santa Anita in 2009 following a 4th place run in the Arc. Shirocco was first across the line at Belmont in 2005, also after running 4th at Longchamp. High Chaparral took the show spot in both the 2002 and 2003 editions of the Arc de Triomphe prior to his back-to-back victories in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Arlington and Santa Anita respectively.
The point with all the history is to refute the position of many “wise guy” horseplayers and turf writers that running in the Arc is not an acceptable precursor for success in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Using the fact that no horse has ever achieved duplicate success in the two races in the same year as some valuable handicapping insight that allows one to simply draw a line through this year’s Arc winner is downright foolish. Let’s apply some perspective. The Arc de Triomphe is, for lack of a better term, Europe’s championship race. Never meant to be a prep, the Arc is the year-long goal for which trainers attempt to have their runners at their absolute peak. For top class European operatives, the Breeders’ Cup is an afterthought – a nice pot of cash they may contemplate competing for if their charges emerge from the Arc in fine fettle and no worse for the wear. Many of these horses are over the top by the time they get to the Breeders’ Cup and are prime candidates for regression after a peak effort in Paris. Many of the Breeders’ Cup Turf winners were lightly raced horses that still had room for improvement following their runs in the Arc. High Chaparral’s 2002 success was his sixth start of the year, and at Santa Anita in 2003 he was making only his 4th start of the year when dead heating with Johar. Shirocco’s win in 2005 was merely his 3rd start of the year, and Conduit’s 2009 victory came in his 5th trip to the post and only his second start since July of that year.
Enable has one blemish on her record, a 3rd place finish in her first start as a 3yo last year, which came in April in a weight for age contest at Newbury. She is perfect in 8 starts since with six of them coming in Group 1 company and two of those in the Arc de Triomphe. The daughter of Nathaniel is the best horse in this field, and it is NOT close for second. If you choose not to back her because she won the Arc 27 days ago, you will be making the wrong choice. This will be her 3rd start of 2018. A minor setback earlier this year led to a belated debut for the John Gosden trainee this season. Gosden was just able to get his stable star tightened up in a Group 3 at Kempton on the 8th of September. She was still not fully fit, but her class prevailed when defending her Arc crown on October 7th. As a relatively lightly raced 4yo, she is certainly eligible to improve dramatically off that effort in her 3rd race back from an extended break. Enable does not fit the mold of a tired, over-the-top horse that peaked in her Arc victory. On the contrary, she is now primed for a peak effort. This filly oozes class, and she will dismantle a sorry group of American runners as she pleases.
Wagering strategy: Single Enable in multi-race exotics. Use Talismanic, Magical, and Waldgeist underneath in vertical exotics.
Race 11 – Breeders’ Cup Classic
American Pharoah, Arrogate, and Gun Runner won the last 3 Breeders’ Cup Classics, and five short months ago Justify looked poised to join that illustrious list of champions. Unfortunately his ownership group, unlike the Zayats with American Pharoah, went with the less sporting decision to retire the horse early and skip racing’s championship event. The upside to that decision for bettors is that the Classic is as wide open a betting race as it has been in years. Accelerate has been the best horse in this division all year long with four Grade 1 victories to his credit – 3 at the classic 10 furlong distance. He is the horse to beat, but he’ll have to earn it. Thunder Snow won the Dubai World Cup by 5+ lengths in March and got a solid prep under his belt for this when just missing by a nose in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He’s received some stamina building local works since then and seeks redemption for his 2017 Derby debacle. Catholic Boy has been the best 3yo in training post-Triple Crown. He has two mile and a quarter victories to his credit, but has not raced since his Travers victory at the end of August. Before Justify, there was McKinzie. And after missing the Triple Crown with an injury, McKinzie is back and looked better than ever in winning the Pennsylvania Derby off the layoff. He is the talk of the Baffert barn and retains Mike Smith’s services in the saddle. The main question with the son of Street Sense is whether he can negotiate the mile and a quarter. Yoshida made his first start on dirt a winning one in the Woodward. This is a significant step up the class ladder, but the horse couldn’t be training any better and should be a square price. After 5 straight victories last year, West Coast played the role of groomsman in his last 4 starts, a 3rd in last year’s Classic and runner-up efforts in the Pegasus, Dubai World Cup, and Awesome Again. The son of Flatter was knocked out after the trip to Dubai, and Baffert gave him plenty of time to recover. He has trained forwardly since his comeback second to Accelerate in the Awesome Again and no one is better than Baffert at getting a horse primed for their best effort on the biggest of days. Mind Your Biscuits won the Dubai Golden Shaheen each of the last two years. The Shaheen is a Group 1 6 furlong sprint on the Dubai World Cup undercard worth $2 million. Since that victory earlier this year, trainer Chad Summers set out on a plan to stretch the colt out in distance to prove that he was far more than just a late closing sprinter. The project has been successful. After runner-up efforts in the Met Mile and Whitney, Mind Your Biscuits trounced his competition in the Lukas Classic at Churchill by nearly 5 lengths. He has trained exceptionally for the last month and is primed to run the race of his life. Roaring Lion will likely be the Horse of the Year in Europe. His five wins on the year include 4 straight Group 1’s ranging in distance from one mile to a mile and five sixteenths. The son of Kitten’s Joy has nothing left to prove, and connections feel like they have nothing to lose in giving the colt an opportunity to add the world’s most important dirt race for older horses to his sparkling resume. We’ll see if he can handle the dirt and if he has enough left in the tank after a long season that’s seen him face the starter 8 times already since mid-April.
Wagering strategy: Spread deep to finish out the horizontal wagers with Accelerate, West Coast, McKinzie, Yoshida, Catholic Boy, Thunder Snow, and Mind Your Biscuits.
Best of luck on the biggest day in racing. You can follow me on Twitter @chadlashbrook for more racing opinions and insight.