Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011 Breeders Cup Preview Part III: Friday's Races

One of the great things about the Breeders Cup is that you don't have to be right too many times to make money.

Last year, we picked all 14 races on this blog and came up with 3 winners.  Now we will admit that 21.4% is not a great winning percentage, and that some of our picks (Court Vision over GoldikovaRogue Romance over Uncle MoQuiet Oasis?) left a lot to be desired.  But, not to toot our horn, it was a profitable day for us.  Why?

For starters, when you get to the Breeders Cup, you get fat mutuels on horses who often should be shorter prices, simply because of the quality of the field.  Our first winner, Big Drama (Sprint) was 5-1 and $12.40 was generous on a horse that should have been the favorite.  Ditto for Chamberlain Bridge (Turf Sprint) at almost 7-1.  And Blame (Classic) at 5-1 was a steal.  Simply betting $2 to win on all of the winners we picked would have returned $40.60, a $12.60 profit and 45% return on investment.  And that's just from picking three winners while (stupidly) tossing obvious favorites Uncle Mo and Goldikova.

But the real way to make money on Breeders Cup weekend is to leverage these opinions in the exotics.  The Classic provided several opportunities for this:
  • Blame and Zenyatta looked like they were much better than the rest of the field and an easy exacta play.  The exacta paid $33.60--15-1 odds, or better than 7-1 if you did a straight box.
  • Fly Down was a perfectly obvious contender to clunk up for third, the same way that he did in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.  The triple with him paid $465.
  • Leveraging Blame into multi-race bets was also pretty profitable.  Dangerous Midge had all the looks of an interesting contender in the Turf; leveraging that opinion with Blame led to a $95 double.  If you were really open minded and thought that the Dirt Mile was wide open, you may have thought that Dakota Phone had a shot as a turnbacker.  Linking him with Dangerous Midge and Blame--again, two horses that were not hard to come up with--returned almost $5700 for the Pick Four.
The point isn't to brag.  The point is that if you have an opinion on Breeders Cup weekend, use it to your advantage.  If a favorite looks shaky and there's no obvious next answer, spread and play some doubles or pick threes.  Assume that exactas and trifectas are going to pay better than usual.  And thankfully, this is all easier now because there are 50-cent minimums for triples, pick 3s and pick 4s and $1 minimums for exactas and doubles.  Use it to your advantage.

With that prelude in mind, let's look at Friday's card.  Like last year, we'll set the stage for the race conditions, discuss the favorites, some longshots of interest, and pick the top three finishers.  For all predictions, we're assuming the track is fast and the turf is firm.

Juvenile Sprint

Synopsis: 6 furlongs on the dirt for 2 year-olds, ungraded stakes, worth $500,000.  This is the newest addition to the Breeders Cup card, and in theory, we like the race.  Unfortunately, it's drawn a pretty bland field.

Favorite:  It may not take long to find the heaviest favorite on the weekend, as Bob Baffert's charge Secret Circle is 6-5 on the morning line and figures to be shorter than that.  And with reason: he's two-for-two in his career, won his starts by a combined 12 1/2 lengths, is well-bred, and is training well.  The only negative is that he's never run outside of California.  Whatever.  He looks legit.

Horses We Don't Like:  What saves this race is that the next two choices look suspect.  Seeker freaked in the slop two races back at Saratoga and bombed in his next at Belmont.  We see no reason to prefer him over longer priced horses.  Vexor was basically eased in the Hopeful for trainer Jack Kimmel, then pulled off an upset at 18-1 in the Nashua, a race where nobody was flying late.  He strikes us as a money burner.

Price Horses to Consider: Holdin Bullets sports one of the weirder running lines you'll ever see--he's made one race, and it was in April at 4 1/2 furlongs at Keeneland.  We can't think of a time that a two year old came into the Breeders Cup off a six-month layoff.  Still, trained by Wesley Ward, he's working out well and may be fresh and ready to go.  Shumoos ships in from Europe but has great dirt breeding and a good foundation (6 races)--history has shown that the European 2yos with a lot of races under their belt do better in the Breeders Cup.

Picks:  We're not going to try to beat Secret Circle, who looks like a strong favorite.  But we'll go with our bombs underneath and hope to get a pricey exotic payoff.

1.  Secret Circle  2.  Shumoos  3.  Holdin Bullets.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Synopsis: 1 mile on the turf for 2yo fillies, Grade 2 for $1 million.  We can't believe this race still exists and that the purse is still a million bucks.  Favorites have not done well in this race, as Maram, Tapitsfly and More Than Real were all square prices.  Notably, each of those horses has been patently mediocre in their subsequent seasons.

Favorite: The Euros haven't done as well as one would expect in this race, but they've also never sent over a horse as accomplished as this year's favorite, Elusive Kate.  The John Gosden filly is 4-for-5 in her career with a win in a Grade 1 on the Arc undercard.  Nobody else in the field has run in a race remotely as good as that one.

Price Horse to Consider: Ann of the Dance has only run on synthetics in her career, but is well-bred for the turf (2006 Turf winner English Channel by a Winning mare) and is switching to Marty Wolfson, a positive-expectation move.  She's very intriguing at 30-1.

Picks:  Two races, two favorites for us.  How dull.  Let's spice it up by also picking Royal Bonnie to hit the board, who was trying to close late on a soft track when she had some traffic trouble, and is eligible to move forward.

1.  Elusive Kate  2.  Ann of the Dance  3.  Royal Bonnie

Filly and Mare Sprint

Synopsis:  7 furlongs on the dirt for 3yo+ fillies and mare, Grade 1 for $1 million.  Speed horses have not been the way to go here: Maryfield, Ventura, Informed Decision and Dubai Majesty were all stalkers or closers.

Favorite: Turbulent Descent will be another strong favorite--don't worry, we'll get to horses that won't be 7-5 or lower soon--based on her perfect record at the distance.  Color us unimpressed.  Two of those starts were on a synthetic surface, and the third was against a pedestrian field in the Test.  She hasn't run in almost three months, has never faced elders, and isn't all that fast.  Also, her trainer, Mike Puype, pronounces his last name "poopy."

Price Horse to Consider:  We're very intrigued by Brazilian import Great Hot.  She ran a good third to Zazu and Ultra Blend in the Lady's Secret, then closed like a shot to take the Raven Run at Keeneland in her last, meaning she's in good form and should like the distance.  Having only made seven starts, she has a right to improve, and while we doubt you'll get her morning line odds (20-1), she will be a fair price.

Picks:  For the second straight year, we're going with Switch, even though she'll be half the price she was last year.  Her connections have been pointing her to this race all year and she's been a solid performer: only one win but never out of the money, and closing fast in her last start at 6 furlongs.  We think she loves the distance--her last 3 starts at 7 furlongs have been win-win-second--and closes into a fairly solid pace.  We'll keep Turbulent Descent in the money because we're not nuts.

1.  Switch  2.  Great Hot  3.  Turbulent Descent

Juvenile Fillies

Synopsis:1 1/16 miles for 2yo fillies, Grade 1 for $2 million.  We've said it before but this is usually one of the most boring races on the card, as a true bomb (over 10-1) hasn't won this since Caressing in 2000.

Favorites: There's a few horses that could be favored here, all of them deservedly so.  My Miss Aurelia has done nothing wrong on the East Coast and looked fabulous winning the Frizette at Belmont in her last.  Weemissfrankie has looked spectacular on the West Coast and looks fast enough to compete with the best here.  Grace Hall oddly shipped to Delaware for her prep race, but now has two-turn experience and is very dangerous.

Price Horse to ConsiderQuesting is a Euro import that's made some impact on the turf but is beautifully bred for the dirt (Haskell winner Hard Spun out of a Seeking the Gold mare).  By the way, you know your blog is old when horses you discussed in the Kentucky Derby are now mentioned as sires.

Picks:  We really liked Grace Hall's win in the Spinaway, and think the Delaware prep was a smart idea, as it got a two-turn race in her.  We think she sits off a fairly honest pace and has more in the stretch than My Miss Aurelia.

1.  Grace Hall  2.  Questing  3.  My Miss Aurelia

Filly and Mare Turf

Synopsis: 1 3/8 miles on the turf for the ladies, Grade 1 for $2 million.  Five  horses that won races last year are back to try again this year.  Four are running on Saturday and have a good chance: Uncle Mo, Goldikova, Chamberlain Bridge and Big Drama.  The fifth is Shared Account, who upset this race at 46-1 last year and figures to be a similar price this year.

Favorite: With Sarafina and Midday opting to run in the Turf on Saturday, Stacelita is the legitimate favorite.  She won the Flower Bowl and Beverly D in convincing fashion and was an excellent 3rd in the United Nations against the boys.  Had she won that race, she would be a quiet contender for Horse of the Year.

Price Horse to Consider: With Stacelita, three tough Euros, the underrated Dubawi Legacy and consistent Aruna in this race, it's tough to find a double-digit horse to really like.  Hmmm.  For underneath, how about Harmonious, who has a good closing kick, ran sneaky-well in the Yellow Ribbon last out, and should be about 30-1?

Picks: As mentioned, this race is deep and tough, even without two horses that would be the favorite.  Even though she lost her last race to Nahrain, we'll go with Announce, who's had a solid, classy campaign in Europe, having lost to Cirrus des Aigles and Sarafina, either of which would be 2-1 here.  Stacelita is a must use, as she's never run a poor race.  Misty for Me is likely to go to the front here and battle with Dubawi Heights and others, and we don't love Aruna at the distance here, so we'll take Nahrain to round out an all-Euro triple.

1.  Announce  2.  Stacelita  3.  Nahrain

Ladies Classic (nee Distaff)

Synopsis: 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, Grade 1, $2 million.  This race has been beat up a bit this year, as Havre de Grace is running on Saturday, older fillies Blind Luck, Awesome Maria and Unrivaled Belle are all hurt, and Zazu was a late scratch as well.  It leaves us with the pro tem 3yo leaders and some random older horses; an interesting betting affair, but not the deepest field ever.

Favorites: Plum Pretty is the probable fave off her wins in the Kentucky Oaks and Cotillion and to us is a great bet-against.  She's a need-the-lead type who rode a rail bias in her last, and before that, looked like she was going backwards.  The probable second choice is It's Tricky, who she beat in the Cotillion, and we've never been a huge fan of. 

Price Horse to Consider: Ultra Blend hasn't finished out of the money in two years and just missed in her last against Zazu, who would have been our pick here.  She's likely to be forgotten in wagering and offers good value at 10-1, especially when nobody else is towering over the field figure wise.  But our real value play is...

Picks: ...a horse we've liked in this spot for a while, Miss Match.  The Argentinian bred filly has had an interesting campaign, as she's taken on males multiple times without real success but with good efforts--her 4th in the Goodwood was pretty solid, and the competition was a lot stronger than anything she'll be facing on Friday.  She already has a Grade 1 win at the distance this year, and is going to get a fast pace to run at.  We think she'll be flying late, and if we're lucky, she'll be double-digit odds.  In the triple we'll include the previously discussed Ultra Blend and Royal Delta, who may be in better form than her last race in the slop indicated.

1.  Miss Match  2.  Royal Delta  3.  Ultra Blend

Saturday's picks should be up on Friday morning.  Good luck to all!

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