Conditions: 1 mile on the turf for 2yo colts. This remains one of our favorite races on the Breeders Cup card, we're more than a little annoyed about the fact that it's the first race of the day, as we'd prefer to see it in later multi-race exotics.
Favorites: Last year we said "It's unclear to us who will be the favorite" and we're going to repeat that this year. It's likely to be one of three horses: Joha, who lost the With Anticipation by a head, then won the Breeders Futurity over a synthetic track; Balance the Books, who won both the With Anticipation and Bourbon, two of the "big" domestic 2yo grass races, or Artigiano, who ran a couple of good seconds in Europe. Contrary to the morning line odds, we do not think that Dudonnell will be the post-time favorite.
Price Horse To Consider: For no particularly good reason, Dry Summer switched from turf to dirt in his last start, even though he ran quite well on the turf, winning his prior start. He bombed on the dirt, and is now back on the grass for Jeff Mullins and Joe Talamo. Very live if you ignore his last race.
Picks: This is a complete spread race, we think. We aren't necessarily against any of the aforementioned favorites, and would use them in doubles/Pick-Somethings, but like others a little more. One is the horrible named but superbly bred George Vancouver, who has bloodlines from the Phipps family. But we're going with the unheralded Euro Fantastic Moon, who's also well bred (his sire is Arc winner Dalakhani) and had a trip from hell last out. He's unlikely to fare worse on Saturday, unless jockey Kieran Fallon is on the take once again.
1. Fantastic Moon 2. Dry Summer 3. George Vancouver
Filly and Mare Sprint
Conditions: 7 furlongs for 3yo and up fillies on the dirt. The unifying theme for the first six runnings of this race has been to avoid 3 year olds who are winless and have burned a lot of money in the process: in addition to our 2010 pick Switch, Dream Run, Turbulent Descent and La Traviata all took a lot of money and bombed. Also, no favorites have won this race.
Favorite: Meet your biggest favorite for the weekend, Groupie Doll, who's won four in a row and annihilated last year's winner Musical Romance by 7 1/2 lengths in the Humana Distaff on Derby Day. She's going to be lower than even money, and deservedly so.
Price Horse to Consider: Switch has gone from intriguing play to money burner back to intriguing play. Many will say she's over the top and she might be, as she's only been in the money once this year in five starts. But she's turning back from two starts around two turns, and her only 1-turn start on the dirt this year was off a 7-month layoff. We think the talent's still there to at least hit the board.
Picks: We'll be boring and say it -- if Groupie Doll shows up, she romps. The only good advice that we have is to look past the overrated Dust and Diamonds and Turbulent Descent in the triples, and maybe try to sneak some prices underneath.
1. Groupie Doll 2. Switch 3. Musical Romance
Conditions: 1 mile on the dirt for 3yos and up. There's an important difference between this year's edition and the last two at Churchill Downs: this is a two-turn race, not a one-turn race. We saw closing turnbackers Dakota Phone and Caleb's Posse win the 1-turn editions, query whether that style will work here at all.
Favorite: 2011 Preakness winner and 2011 Dirt Mile runner-up Shackleford is the likely favorite, and in our opinion, the worst favorite on the weekend. Remember our maxim from our initial post to avoid horses that were stars of the first half of the year? Well, Shackleford fits that description to a tee, having run well in the Carter, won the CD Sprint and Met Mile all by Memorial Day. He then ran DAFL in the Vanderbilt and was a no-excuse well-beaten second in the Kelso. We'd happily toss him.
Price Horse to Consider: Second City has only made 5 starts, and while none of them were particularly fast, he's pretty well-bred: Distorted Humor by graded stakes winner Sis City. There are worse longest shots on the board.
Picks: There is a TON of speed in this race, as all of Emcee, Shackleford, Fed Biz and Delegation figure to be involved early. So we want to go with a closer. While many will focus on Jersey Town, who won the Kelso last out, we're a little skeptical because he doesn't seem to like leaving New York state, seems to prefer 1-turn races, and would prefer a little moisture in the track. We'll instead take a shot with John Scott, who is a local that's had a solid year, albeit mostly on synthetic tracks, and should work out a good trip from the 4-slot. We figure that some speed will still hit the board, so we'll put the still inexperienced Emcee in the show position.
1. John Scott 2. Jersey Town 3. Emcee
Conditions: 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf for anyone and everyone. When they ran this race in 2008, the half mile was run in under 42 seconds, which at the time we thought was a typo. It wasn't. Down the hill, they can go really fast.
Favorite: It'll either be local and sentimental favorite California Flag, who won this in 2009 but has done little since then, or Bridgetown, who oddly enough, might be Todd Pletcher's best chance on the card.
Price Horse to Consider: Mizdirection is 20-1 on the morning line despite being 2-for-2 at the distance and in decent form. That seems wrong.
Picks: We don't really like this race or have strong opinions, so we'll say pitch the favorites on general principle and go with the classiest horses in the group, which are probably Corporate Jungle, who was second to Wise Dan two starts back, and Next Question, who won the Grade 1 Neartic at Woodbine last out.
1. Next Question 2. Corporate Jungle 3. Mizdirection
Conditions: 1 1/16 miles on the dirt for 2yo colts. It was nice of them to move this out of the late Pick Four, what with the Lasix ban adding a level of unpredictability that nobody particularly cares for.
Favorite: Shanghai Bobby has won all four starts for Sir Pletcher by a combined 14 lengths. That said, we remain a little wary because of the Lasix ban and not being in love with Pletcher horses shipping across the country in October. We're not saying toss him, but he doesn't strike us as a dominant single a la Uncle Mo in 2010.
Price Horse to Consider:We're not sure that a son of pure sprinter Street Boss wants to go two turns, but Capo Bastone is a stone closer that's kinda interesting for John Sadler. Not only should he get a pace to run into, he should get a better trip than last out, where he bobbled at the start and was wide on both turns. Looks like he can get a piece of the action at double-digit odds.
Picks: The reason we can't endorse Capo Bastone on top is that the horse that beat him, Power Broker, is here as well. This Bob Baffert charge has a win over the track, is bred fine for the distance, and is working out gorgeously. After a wide trip, he exploded in the stretch to take Whatever They've Now Calling the Norfolk Now in his last, winning by half a dozen lengths. Assuming the 9 post doesn't kill him, we think he's the best horse in the field.
1. Power Broker 2. Capo Bastone 3. Shanghai Bobby
Conditions: 1 1/2 miles on the turf for all comers. Last year was the first time that this race wasn't the penultimate on the card, for some reason they're doing that again this year, even though it has an interesting cast of characters and a $3 million purse.
Favorite: The blog's favorite trainer, Shug McGaughey, sends out Point of Entry, who's 5-for-6 this year with 5 wins on the grass, 4 in graded stakes (including 3 Grade 1's) and 3 at the distance of a mile and a half. He'll be the first American horse favored in this race since Kitten's Joy in 2004. Of course, Kitten's Joy lost.
Price Horse to Consider: Cogito's first start in the US wasn't particularly impressive, as he was a non-threatening 4th in the Jamaica stakes against other 3yos. But we're willing to look a little past that at 30-1. This guy ran decently against top-shelf competition in Europe and is bred to like the distance. We like that he's now in Doug O'Neill's barn and has been working out locally all month, and still retains Frankie Dettori as his jockey. Yes, he's a stab, but at a price, we like him.
Picks: Point of Entry could win, but we're a little skeptical of his credentials. His Grade 1 wins have come against fairly suspect competition: the two horses he beat in his last, Treasure Beach and Kindergarten Kid, are rank outsiders here, and he beat nobody of consequence in the Sword Dancer or Man O'War. Those two races might technically be Grade 1s, but draw some of the weakest G1 fields year after year.
By contrast, in her last 9 starts (dating back to September 2011), European invader Shareta has:
- Run 2nd in the Arc to the good (if fragile) Danedream, beating St. Nicholas Abbey in the process, who came back to win last year's turf;
- Ran 7th but lost by less than 5 lengths in the Japan Cup, ending a good 3yo season;
- Won the Prix Vermille and Yorkshire Oaks, a pair of Grade 1's at 1 1/2 miles, defeating The Fugue in the process;
- Traded decisions with Solemia in multiple stakes races, who came back to win the Arc; and
- Run 9th in the Arc, which history has shown is irrelevant for a horse's chances in the BC Turf, and is somewhat irrelevant because of how deep the Arc course was that day.
1. Shareta 2. Point of Entry 3. Cogito
Conditions: 6 furlongs on the dirt for all comers. Finally, they moved our favorite race to the juicy portion of the card! Also, because the Dirt Mile is around two turns, the race drew a much better field this year than it has the last few years.
Favorite: Amazombie won this race last year, and while he's had a so-so year defending his title as the Eclipse champion sprinter (two wins in 5 starts), he's won 4 of 8 starts over the track and clearly used his 4th place finish in the Nee Ancient Title as a prep for this race. He's a legit favorite.
Price Horse to Consider: Poseidon's Warrior's 36-1 shocker in the Vanderbilt was considered to be a fluke because of the sloppy track, but then he came back and ran an okay 3rd on a fast track in the Vosburgh. What if he's just finally coming into his own?
Picks: Like the Dirt Mile, there's enough speed in here (Fast Bullet, Trinniberg, Sum of the Parts) that you almost have to side with the closers by default. Both of Bob Baffert's closers, Capital Account and Coil, fit the bill, and we slightly prefer the latter, who's never lost at the distance. This does not look like a spot to go light in your Pick-somethings though, because we could see a cavalry charge of 6 horses come the final furlong, including our longshot du jour and the improving Jimmy Creed. Fun race.
1. Coil 2. Capital Account 3. Amazombie
Conditions: 1 mile on the turf for all horses. This is probably the best race on Saturday's card, as it features a neat mixture of Americans and Europeans and has a Horse of the Year candidate. It also features 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in his second race since June 2011; we give him zero chance, which means he'll probably romp.
The Two Favorites: The two horses who will rightly get the most attention in this race are American Wise Dan and European Excelebration. Wise Dan comes in off three straight scintillating victories at a mile on the turf in the Fourstardave, Woodbine Mile, and Shadwell Mile, to add to his nose loss in the Stephen Foster (on the dirt) and win in the Ben Ali (on synthetics). He's a really neat horse. Excelebration sports an impressive 8-4-1 record in 14 starts, including an 4-3-1 record at a flat mile, but is even better than his record indicates because he's been chasing Horse of the Century Frankel for the last two years to no avail. The last time he finished behind a horse not named Frankel was June 2011 in the St. James Palace Stakes; if you removed Frankel from all of his races, his running line would move to 14/12-1-0 and he'd be sporting an 8-race win streak. He's that good.
The Next Two Choices: We're blessed to also be seeing a pair of other horses that would be 3-1 most years but will be longer prices because of the other two contenders. European filly Moonlight Cloud has three wins in 5 starts this year, including a pair of Grade 1's, but her two losses are what make her really interesting: she lost to the undefeated superstar Black Caviar by a head at Ascot, and lost to Excelebration by a length in August when she had a bad trip. The big question with her is whether she's really a miler, as most of her success has been at slightly shorter distances. Obviously was shipped over from Europe this winter and has had a relatively stout campaign for Mike Mitchell (8 starts since March 22nd), in which he's turned into a feisty front-runner. He's sporting three straight front-running wins at a mile, including California's two most prestigious summer and fall turf races. There also doesn't appear to be a ton of speed in the race, meaning he may just get things his own way and put the rest of the field to sleep.
Price Horse to Consider: Although he's lost two times in a row to Obviously, there are a few reasons to think that Mr. Commons can reverse that finish in the Mile. He should sit a good trip with his rail draw, seems to be on the improve speed figure-wise, has some tactical speed, and clearly loves the surface, having never finished out of the triple. If you're like us and think that front-runners are fool's gold in the Mile -- there's a reason a front runner hasn't won this race since 1993 -- you have to think he rates a better chance at 6 times the price.
Picks: As hinted above, we don't love Obviously because we don't love turf front-runners in this race. And we're a little skeptical about Moonlight Cloud at the distance; maybe it's nothing, but we think the fact that she repeatedly ran at shorter distances and has had goofy trips at the longer mile does not augur well. Which brings it down to the two favorites, and we'll favor the Euro. They always dominate on the turf (though not necessarily in this race) and we think their best trumps our best. But more than anything, we're just excited for this race, because this should be a great showdown.
1. Excelebration 2. Wise Dan 3. Mr. Commons
Coming up later: Our breakdown of the wide-open Breeders Cup Classic.