Thursday, October 30, 2014

2014 Breeders Cup Preview Part 1: Friday's Races

It's time for the most wonderful weekend of racing! Yes, it's our annual rite of hubris and embarrassment, our Breeders Cup selections. Last year's picks were something of a mixed bag, as we only had two winners over the weekend, favored Secret Circle in the Sprint and the obvious Wise Dan in the Mile. You fared much better if you played our picks for second place, which included Classic winner Mucho Macho Man and Mizdirection (Turf Sprint) and two exactas we picked backwards in the F&M Turf and Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Undaunted, we're back once again to look at all thirteen races. (Breeders Cup Marathon, it was nice knowing you.). As usual we'll set up the race, discuss the probable favorite and a long shot we like, and make our picks. We'll also give our opinion on whether a race looks like it has a potential single, should be bet narrowly, or is a spread race. Today we'll examine Friday's card; tomorrow we'll have a post on Saturday's races, with a separate breakdown of the Classic. Onwards and upwards!

Juvenile Turf

Synopsis:  1 mile on the turf for 2 year olds.  There's annual grumbling among racing cognoscenti that this and the Juvenile Fillies Turf don't belong on Breeders Cup cards because they're not really championship events.  That's ridiculous.  This race has never had fewer than 11 runners, is intriguing to handicap, and draws a bunch of Euros every year.  So it's not going to lead to an Eclipse Award.  Who cares?

Favorite:  Favoritism probably will go to Hootenanny, who has one of the more interesting running lines you'll see all weekend.  Trained by Wesley Ward, who's great with sprinters and 2 year olds, he dominated his first start in April on the Keeneland polytrack, then ran a dull 3rd on a muddy track at Pimlico on Preakness Day.  Ward then shipped him to Ascot, where he won a turf race convincingly over European 2yos, and for his last race sent him to France, where he ran a good 2nd in a Grade 1 race.  It's not often that you'll see an American horse having run in 3 countries in his first 4 races.

Price Horse to Consider:   If European shipper Aktabantay is anywhere near his 12-1 morning line odds, he's a must use.  There isn't much separating him and probable second choice War Envoy, except that the latter will be half the price.

Betting Approach:   Narrow/mild spread.  We don't think you need to go much beyond the Euros in this race, and aren't in love with all of them either.

Selections:   Commemorative has the look of a horse that fits the race perfectly - multiple starts at a mile, good connections (Charles Hills won the JF Turf last year), and has tactical speed.  We'd use War Envoy and Aktabantay defensively, and of the Americans, side with Startup Nation as the one who rates the best chance to hit the board.

1.  Commemorative
2.  War Envoy
3.  Startup Nation

Dirt Mile

Synopsis: 1 mile on the dirt for all comers.  For all the complaining people do about the 2yo turf races, at least they get full fields and are interesting.  This race?  Not so much.

Favorite:  Goldencents is one of three defending champions running over the weekend, and he's probably going to be the heaviest favorite in the Breeders Cup races.  He likes the track and the distance and got a great draw from the 1 post.  He'll go to the front and try to stay there for all 8 furlongs.

Price Horse to Consider:   Most of the horses in this race that are going to be double-digit odds aren't particularly appealing, so we'll take a complete stab at Bronzo, who ran well in Chile over the summer.  I know, that doesn't sound particularly impressive.  At least he'll be a price.

Betting Approach:   Single/Narrow.  We wouldn't quibble with anyone who wants to single Goldencents and move on to more interesting races, or use this time to go trick-or-treating with their kids.

Selections:   We think the best strategy is use Goldencents but try to beat second choice Fed Biz, who we've never particularly liked and may get fried if he tries to contest the pace, and third choice Pants on Fire, who perpetually disappoints at this level.  We're more likely to side with 3yo Tapiture as the horse that rates an upset chance; he should get a decent stalking trip off the pace and is on the improve. We'll round out the triple our goofy longshot.

1.  Goldencents
2.  Tapiture
3.  Bronzo

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Synopsis:  1 mile on the turf for 2yo fillies.  I'm sure there's an explanation for why this is, but while Americans have been unimpressive in the Juvenile Turf, they're actually fared well in this race.  Yes the Euros were the entire exacta last year and Flotilla won the year before that, but Americans have won the other 4 editions and swept the trifecta twice.  And two of those winners - Stephanie's Kitten and Tapitsfly - continued to be good horses for years thereafter.

Favorite:  Sunset Glow is the filly version of Hootenanny - 2 starts in America, followed by a trip to Ascot, but she mixed it up with two starts on Del Mar's polytrack over the summer.  That said, we're not a huge fan - she looks like she's going to be winging it on the front end along with plenty of other competition (Sivoliere, maybe Lady Zuzu, maybe Quality Rocks).  It's tough to see her winning the battle and the war.

Price Horse to Consider:   We'll discuss our medium-priced horse in a second.  For a total bomb, Prize Exhibit strikes us as mildly interesting because she has a ton of experience under her belt, but she seems to have trouble leaving the gate.  Maybe switching to the States will cure that.

Betting Approach:   Spread.  We're actually not enamored with most the favorites in this race.  In addition to our reservations on Sunset Glow, we don't love Qualify from the 14 post, and weren't particularly enamored with Lady Eli's two wins in New York.  Chad Brown usually does okay in this race, but we see no reason to take a short price on her.

Selections:   We respect Osalia, and wouldn't be surprised to see her run away with this race.  But we're very, very intrigued by the sneakily well-bred Tammy the Torpedo.  She was highly touted in her Saratoga debut, where she didn't disappoint and looked good.  She was favored in the Miss Grillo (won by Lady Eli) and ran an uneven third while acting rank off a dawdling pace.  We don't think that'll be her strategy here - we see Rosario taking her back from a strong pace and unleashing her on the far turn, trying to inhale half the field, and we think she's got a great shot at doing it at 15-1 or so.  For third, we like Graham Motion's Rainha da Bateria, who should be closing late into a good pace.

1.  Tammy the Torpedo
2.  Osalia
3.  Rainha da Bateria


Synopsis:  One mile and one-eighth on the dirt.  About 4 months ago, this was looking like the premier race of the year, as Beholder, Close Hatches, and Princess of Sylmar all looked like great older horses and Untapable was the 3yo filly phenom du jour.  How times have changed - Princess of Sylmar has retired, Beholder is out with an injury, and Close Hatches flopped at 1-5 odds in her prep race.

Favorite:  Untapable remains the one standing from that quartet without a huge blemish on her resume.  After romping in the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose, she took a shot at the boys in the Haskell and did little over a speed-biased track.  She caught another speed-biased track in the Cotillion and eked out a win that may be better than it looks.  If she runs back to her Oaks, the rest of the field is running for second.

Price Horse to Consider:   We have a medium-priced bomb that we'll discuss below, but for a true longshot, we think Stanwyck is interesting.  Her best races from last year would be extremely competitive in this race, but we haven't seen that from her recently.  Maybe it's because she doesn't like the East Coast tracks, maybe it's because several of those races were over off tracks, or maybe she's just not as good.  We're willing to take a shot at 30-1 and think she's perfect fodder for trifectas.

Betting Approach:   Narrow/Mild spread.  We think that you have to use Untapable, but are against Close Hatches.  Generally speaking, when a filly goes bad, it rarely reverses itself in a hurry; the only exception we can think of is Escena in 1998.  Her Spinster was so terrible that we're worried she's off form and will burn your money at 3-1.  Look elsewhere.

Selections:  We mocked her being in the Preakness relentlessly, but Ria Antonia fits very well here.  Her race at Keeneland caught our attention, where the addition of blinkers seemed to wake her up, and she attended to a solid pace set by Close Hatches and ran well in the stretch, only to be caught by Don't Tell Sophia.  Her two best races have come at Santa Anita and the blinkers may have been the kick in the pants she needed.  We think she's got a big shot to knock off Untapable at a good price, and are picking her to pull off a medium-sized upset.

1.  Ria Antonia
2.  Untapable
3.  Stanwyck

Coming tomorrow: Saturday's races analyzed.

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