Let's start with an accountability check that might morph into a humblebrag: how did we do predicting last year's Breeders Cup races? Of the 14 horses we picked to win (one scratched), 3 won (Secret Circle, $2.80; Caleb's Posse, $15.60; and St. Nicholas Abbey, $15.60) and 4 more ran in the money. Three of the horses we picked to run second won, including the obvious Royal Delta in the Distaff and a pair (Wrote, 25.20 and Amazombie $17.80) that were in races we noted were spread opportunities.
So for the second straight year we picked three winners, and betting every horse that we picked to win would have produced a small profit. But again, we note that the best thing to do is take our picks as guidance and try to leverage them into high prices in the exotics. We picked the cold triple in the Juvenile Sprint and the Dirt Mile-Turf double, and the Juvy Turf-Sprint double was pretty haveable from our selections. We'll note in our picks below where we think the races are wide-open, not because we're wimping out on our picks, but because we want you to bet it properly. If it's wide-open, the analysis of the race is as important as who we pick to win.
Enough navel-gazing, let's turn to Friday's races, which we find considerably less interesting than Saturday's races (especially the first 4). As always, we're assuming the track is fast and the turf is fum.
Synopsis: 6 furlongs on the dirt for 2 year olds. This year none of the 2-year olds are allowed to use Lasix, which is no change for the Europeans -- it's forbidden there -- but is a large shift for most of the domestic horses. This is the first race where we'll see how it plays out.
Favorite: The honors are either going to go to Merit Man or Super Ninety Nine. The former is a Bob Hess charge that sports the highest last-out Gowanus Speed Figure winning something called the Tim Conway; the latter is an impressive maiden winner and the first of Bob Baffert's many horses scheduled to run over the weekend. You're going to hear his name a lot throughout this preview.
Price Horse to Consider: Ceiling Kitty ships in from Great Britain having never run on the dirt but we're not that worried about this. She's run 7 times, won three times, and appears to have something resembling tactical speed. If you're going to back a 2yo Euro, make sure they have a lot of experience; she fits the bill. Interesting at her 12-1 morning line price.
Picks: We think Merit Man looks pretty tough, having dueled with South Floyd (who's also in this race) in his last and drawn off impressively. The best way to making some hay here seems to be going against Super Ninety Nine, who had everything his way in his maiden victory and appears to have beaten little. We'll go with our longshot underneath and root for closer Hightail to round out the triple.
1. Merit Man 2. Ceiling Kitty 3. Hightail
Synopsis: 1 3/4 miles on the dirt for 3 year olds and up. We've tried to find a common theme amongst the previous winners in this race, and the only one we can come up with is that they aren't particularly good horses.
Favorite: The likely favorite is Fame and Glory, who's had a great career: 14 wins in 25 starts, 5 Grade 1 wins, including wins in the Irish Derby, Coronation Cup and Tattersalls Gold Cup. That said, he's never run on the dirt before, isn't bred to run on the dirt, and appears to have slowed down a lot this year, so we're looking elsewhere.
Price Horse to Consider: Balladry is beautifully bred (Unbridled's Song out of Storm Song, winner of the '96 Juvenile Fillies) and has run well in the past. Why not at 30-1?
Picks: Our old friend Atigun who we liked in the Belmont and ran pretty well is back in this spot after running blah 4ths in the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup. He's well-bred for the distance and has some upside. It sounds as good an idea as any in a race we usually are clueless in handicapping.
1. Atigun 2. Balladry 3. Eldaafer
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Synposis: 1 mile on the turf for 2-year old fillies. Favorites and Europeans have been 0-for-4 in this race so far, which probably means it's time to jump on the best import in the race, right?
Favorite: Sky Lantern is going to be one of the strongest favorites over the Breeders Cup weekend, having never run worse than 2nd, won a Grade 1 stakes in her last at the Curragh, and being unaffected by the Lasix ban. That said, she's shipping 6500 miles and we've been burned by the Euros time and again in this race, so we're a touch skeptical.
Price Horse to Consider: There are four Euros in the race. Sky Lantern will be bet heavily and Flotilla will take some action off her decent effort on Arc day. But we're much more intrigued by the two longer shots. Waterway Run has won 3 of 4 and has some tactical speed and the services of Frankie Dettori, one of the best in the business. We like that she'll be involved early because often the shippers get killed adjusting to the different style of American races. The Gold Cheongsam has seven prior starts -- we love that -- and is trained by the underrated Jeremy Noseda, who upset the Juvenile with Wilko in 2004. Very useable at 20-1.
Picks: We would never say toss Sky Lantern, but we don't think this is as easy as making her a single in all multi-race bets. We'll take a small stab with Flashy Ways, who's only run twice, but appears to like the turf and won impressively over the Santa Anita turf in her last. If she's able to work out a decent trip from teh 13 post, we think she's liable to pull off an upset.
1. Flashy Ways 2. Sky Lantern 3. The Gold Cheongsam
Synopsis: 1 1/16 miles on the dirt for 2-year old fillies. Nine of the last ten runnings have been won by the one of the top 3 choices in the race. The exception was She Be Wild in 2009, who was a whopping 7-1. Historically, this hasn't been the race to start chasing longshots in the win slot.
Favorite: This race has the horse who will probably be Friday's strongest favorite: Executiveprivilege. She's 5-for-5, boasts a win on the track, was expensive and is nicely bred, and is trained by the irrasciable Bob Baffert. There aren't a lot of holes here.
Price Horse to Consider: Between Executiveprivilege, the rapidly improving Beholder and strong pair of Todd Pletcher horses (Dreaming of Julia and Kauai Katie), the longshots have their work cut out for them. Hmm. How about D. Wayne Lukas' Broken Spell, who should be able to close into a strong pace and is well-bred to enjoy a longer distance?
Picks: We'll downgrade Pletcher's horses because of the shipping and Lasix ban, but beyond that think it's between the top two choices. We'll go with Beholder, who only lost to Executiveprivilege by a nose in the Debutante and then ran her eyeballs out in a subsequent allowance race. This is 2 1/2 furlongs longer than that race, but we think she's up for it.
1. Beholder 2. Executiveprivilege 3. Broken Spell
Filly and Mare Turf
Synopsis: 1 1/4 miles on the turf for 3-year old and up fillies. As chalky as the Juvenile Fillies has been, this race has seen several winners at good prices, such as Perfect Shirl ('11), Shared Account ('10), Lahudood ('07), Intercontinental ('05), and Starine ('02). The question usually boils down to whether a dominant Euro like Ouija Board, Banks Hill or Midday is present.
Favorite: His Royal Highness the Aga Khan sends over from France three-year old filly Ridasiyna, winner of 4 of her 5 starts, including the Prix de l'Opera on the Arc undercard. She looks a lot like last year's runner Nahrain (who's also in this year's field), who ran an excellent second in the '11 edition, losing by less then half a length.
Horses We Don't Like: The next choices after imports Ridasiyna and The Fugue (who we'll discuss in a minute) are a series of horses we're against. Marketing Mix has had a good year -- 4 wins and a second in 6 starts -- but we've never thought she really would like this distance and think she's more of a miler and a notch below the best horses. Nahrain, I'm a Dreamer and Zagora all exit a Flower Bowl that was run over a thick, deep bog-like surface that will be the complete opposite of Santa Anita's turf. I'm a Dreamer hasn't shown any ability to do well on a firm turf, Zagora shouldn't like the distance, and Nahrain defaulted into that last win. We'd toss all of them.
Price Horse to Consider: Nereid has only run in the money once this year, but it was in her last race, where she closed from 15 lengths out to lose by 2 lengths to Marketing Mix, who we don't think will thrive at this distance against this field. We like that she's never been out of the exacta at the distance and has John Shirreffs as her trainer, once of Santa Anita's best. Certainly live to hit the board at 15-1 or higher. Also interesting at a long price is Aidan O'Brien's Up, who sports a couple of running lines this year that would make her competitive here.
Picks: The Fugue is a horse we've liked since the pre-entries came out, whether she was running in this or the regular Turf. She's impeccably bred: her sire is Dansili (sire of Arc winner Rail Link and dozens of other traded stakes winners) and her dam is by the legendary Sadler's Wells. She has tactical speed, meaning she'll be closer to the pace than the closers and less subject to traffic trouble. She won the Nassau Stakes at the same distance with ease two starts back, and then lost her last by a nose to Shareta, who would be 4-5 in this race. She's our best bet of the day.
1. The Fugue 2. Ridasiyna 3. Nereid
Ladies Classic (nee Distaff)
Synopsis: 1 1/8 on the dirt for 3-year old and up fillies. Let's be blunt: this is the best race of the entire weekend, and probably the best edition of this race, as it matches up three different horses that have won Breeders Cup races and two undefeated horses.
Favorite: Royal Delta won this race last year, defeating a motley group of older fillies and her classmates Plum Pretty and It's Tricky in the process. Since then she's had an interesting 4yo season: a fruitless trip to Dubai for the World Cup, dominating wins in the Beldame and Fleur de Lis, and puzzling losses in the Sabin and Personal Ensign. When she's on, she's fabulous, but she hasn't always fired.
Next Two Favorites: Awesome Feather won the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2010 but has only run 4 times since then, including twice this year. What's neat is that she's won all four of those starts meaning she's undefeated at 10-for-10. Also undefeated and in this race is last year's Juvenile Fillies winner My Miss Aurelia, who's 6-for-6 in her career. Both of these ladies have won twice this year in stylish fashion but haven't faced the pinnacle of the division yet. A win by either would also make them the second horse to win two different Breeders Cup races (Zenyatta being the other).
Picks: We wouldn't be surprised by a win from any of these horses or Questing, who won the CCA Oaks and Alabama in front-running style, but are more intrigued by a horse who figures to be a price. Love and Pride enters the race with a pair of Grade 1 wins at a mile and an eighth -- same distance as this race -- including a win over the track and a win against Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign. Her connections (Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez) need no introduction. She seems capable of rating off what should be a legitimate pace that Questing and My Miss Auerlia will likely set. And most importantly, she's going to be a square price, as she's likely to be forgotten in the wagering despite coming into her own over the last two months. We like her to post a minor upset and have the commentariat cursing for letting a Pletcher horse win and pay $20.
1. Love and Pride 2. Awesome Feather 3. Royal Delta
Coming up tomorrow: Saturday's card.