I am not a battle hardened handicapper with thousands of dollars and winning tickets to flash. However, I do follow the races a bit more than normal... sometimes obsessively. The Breeders' Cup is my version of Christmas--a two day extravaganza of the best racehorses in the USA, Canada and some of the best in Europe and other countries. This post and the one for Saturday's bevy of races are merely from a fan's perspective. My picks do include the chalk (the favorites) and horses that I have grown attached to over the last year of racing. My post is not intended to guarantee value and most certainly not pick the absolute winners. I am not psychic, although, that talent would be quite handy!
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
This is always a wide open race and usually you go to the European horses first as they are widely regarded as the best in the world over the grass. They have a record of demolishing our young juvenile colts in the biggest grass race for two year olds of the year. Usually Aidan O'Brien is the key trainer in the race and usually the strength of the European colts is undeniable. However, this year may be different with two possible monsters in the field such as Oscar Performance and Good Samaritan, who is the favorite of the race.
The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf is a great betting race and virtually any of these horses could walk away the winner. My personal rooting interest is for Ticonderoga, a son of the great stallion Tapit and the flashy Keertana. Keertana's own sire, Johar, was a winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf and she finished third in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Ticonderoga has started three times so far with a first and two seconds, one of which was in a graded stacks race last out. He's a midpack type horse and he won't be drastically impacted by his wide post position. His one victory came at a mile and he will be cutting back in distance from a mile and a sixteenth.
I also will put value in that Chad Brown believes that this horse can overcome his last out loss and wouldn't ship to California without believing that he doesn't have a chance to win. He could pose an upset chance to hit the board if not win. From a family standpoint, I do like this horse at the mile distance.
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
This is an intriguing race and one that has one of the smallest fields of the entire Breeders' Cup card. With it being a two turn mile, I don't forsee many possible traffic problems. I see only two possible winners, Dortmund and Runhappy. Neither horse has a win in 2016, but both have their reasons.
Dortmund has been taking on Classic favorite California Chrome at a variety of distances with his closest finish to his nemesis coming in the San Diego Handicap. He's matched up again with Martin Garcia, a jockey he got along with in his three year old season and he's cutting back to a mile. While the connections would probably have liked to try for the Breeders' Cup Classic, it is quite clear that this horse doesn't need to face California Chrome for that rival has his number.
Dortmund has a love for Santa Anita and the track will play to his high cruising speed. He is as game as they come and I expect he will bounce out of the gates ready to roll. He's only ever been defeated by Chrome, Beholder and American Pharoah--high company indeed--and I expect that he'll sit off of Runhappy until the far turn where he'll engage that crack sprinter in a potent stretch long battle.
**I would like to note that I wish Runhappy all the best. His campaign as a three year old was unbelievable and I think mishaps and poor handling have contributed to his lackluster four year old season. However, unlike most people who jumped off his bandwagon after a fourth in the Ack Ack, I expect we'll see a better race from him. Taking on seasoned horses at the mile your first time back is a tough challenge, especially when that distance doesn't allow for any breathing room for a horse with Runhappy's need for speed. He's looked good on the videos and has Gary Stevens in the irons. He'll need to be better than ever though if he's going to take on the big red beast.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
Like the BC Juvenile Turf, this contest is full of unknown factors because of the Europeans. The U.S. has a potential superstar in La Coronel, but she landed the 14 post position. She has blistering late speed, but will she be able to stay out of trouble is the question. Her first two races were for experience while her latter two were demolitions of the other two year old fillies in the east. The eastern fillies have been especially tough in the Breeders' Cup and I expect that will continue on with her or the Chad Brown filly New Money Honey.
I think Hydrangea might be overlooked with La Coronel, Spain Burg and Roly Poly in the field. She's been running really well in Europe, finishing second in two Group 1s in Europe and a Group 2. While the other Aidan O'Brien entry, Roly Poly, has more victories and a start at Royal Ascot, I think Hydrangea has a recency edge and has been running in races that give her a better chance at a mile.
Breeders' Cup Distaff
If not for California Chrome's presence in the Classic, this race would definitely be the biggest race of the two day card. Between Songbird, Beholder and Stellar Wind there are six championships and by January of 2017, I expect there will be eight. This season has been epic for the top three. Songbird is 11-0. There is simply nothing that can hold a candle to her in her own three year old division. Beholder has beaten the boys and has provided years of sheer brilliance and demonstrations of what a future Hall of Famer should look like. Stellar Wind garnered her three year old season honors the hard way, through sheer grit and talent, but she has became an even better four year old. With two victories over Beholder, Stellar Wind has positioned herself to dethrone Beholder as the best older mare in the land.
I have seen Songbird race twice in person at Saratoga and have to say she makes everything look so easy. She hasn't had to run hard in any of her eleven starts, but I believe she will have to if she wants to beat Beholder or Stellar Wind. This will be the toughest challenge for her right from the gate as she drew the rail slot and is perhaps the only major speed of the race so she will be forced to set the pace. Unfortunately for her opponents, Songbird is classy speed and if she gets the chance to turn on those far-turn afterburners, I think she might just leave too much for Stellar Wind to do.
Beholder is the wild card for me. It's hard to believe that the once certain winner has become the wild card. She's been given an easy lead in her last two races and Stellar Wind has caught her both times. Trainer Richard Mandella and Gary Stevens both believe that if she can sit off Songbird, that she will be able to get back to her 2015 form that saw her devastate any and all who faced her. I think they could be right as her spot in post position 8 will allow her to sit off Songbird and anyone else who thinks that they can keep up with the three year old for a mile and an eighth.
I think that Beholder might just be the top horse to snap Songbird's winning streak with the return to her old running tactics. If Songbird runs her record to 12-0, she will deserve every accolade and granule of her victory.