Friday, October 31, 2014

2014 Breeders Cup Preview Part 2: Saturday's Races

We've got eight races to get through, so let's not waste time discussing trivial matters.  On to the analysis!  As usual, we're assuming the track is fast and the turf is firm.

Juvenile Fillies

Synopsis:  1 1/16 miles on the dirt for 2yo fillies.  In 18 of the last 20 years, the winner of this race was either a short price or an utter bomb.  Hunting for a mid-price horse has only worked in 2001 (Tempera) and 2008 (She Be Wild).

Favorite:  What would a two year old race be without a favorite trained by Todd Pletcher? This edition is fronted by Angela Renee, who Pletcher sent west after the Saratoga meet, presumably to avoid the rest of his loaded stable.  She rewarded him with a strong victory in the local prep race, showing tactical but not flaunting speed.  She also beat two other horses in this race and got a race over the track, neither of which is a bad thing.

Price Horse to Consider:   If you're in the mood to try a New York bred on for size, how about Wonder Gal, trained by former jockey Leah Gyramati?  She's bred to like two turns and her last race may have been tempered by a sloppy track.  There's a lot of that going around in this race, by the way - it seems like every 2yo filly race of note took place in California or over a mud pit.

Betting Approach:  Spread.  We know, we just said that taking anything that isn't the chalk or a longshot is a bad idea, but we're just not overwhelmed by the favorites in this race.

Selections:  To continue that thought, Angela Renee looks fine, as does Pletcher's other charge, Feathered and we wouldn't be shocked to see either win.  But neither has much of an advantage over Top Decile or Cavorting, both of which have run strong races and a right to improve in their young careers.  We'll take the former on top, based on her strong finish in the Alcibiades, and her strong workouts for the under-appreciated Al Stall.

1.  Top Decile
2.  Cavorting
3.  Angela Renee

Filly & Mare Turf

Synopsis:  1 1/4 miles on the turf for the ladies, 3yo and up.  If asked what Breeders Cup races were our annual favorites, this one would come second after the Mile.  We love the Euros that ship over and also that Americans usually hold their own here.

Favorite:  Dank won this race last year and has been installed as the morning line favorite to repeat.  As good as she was last year, she's that tough a read this year.  She's only run twice (in Dubai and England) and wasn't competitive in either race.  And yet, her best race towers over the field.  On the other hand, she hasn't run in 4 months.  On the other (fourth?) hand, jockey Ryan Moore thinks she's the best horse he's riding all weekend.  It's all very confusing.

Price Horse to Consider:   We're admittedly honks for Shug McGaughey, but ignore Abaco at your own peril.  She's shown that she belongs in Grade 1 races by being competitive in every race she's entered this year, and sh lost to Stephanie's Kitten by less than two lengths in the Flower Bowl.  While Stephanie's Kitten had a dream trip that race, Abaco didn't.  We're infinitely more inclined to take Abaco at 20-1 than Stephanie's Kitten at 4-1, especially if the ground is hard.

Betting Approach:   This is a tough one, because we think it's an either/or proposition.  If you really believe in Dank being back to where she was last year, there's maybe one horse that can beat her.  If you don't love her, it's a spread race where a bunch of horses are competitive.  We lean towards the latter.

Selections:   Dispensing with a few other competitors, we don't think Stephanie's Kitten has any edge on this field at a short price, aren't in love with Just the Judge on a 2-week turnback, think Fioselana is in over her head, and are of the opinion that Emollient is one of the worst horses ever to win multiple Grade 1 races.  While we'll use Dank, we're more interested in Secret Gesture, who's never finished out of the money, has been keeping good company in Europe, and has had a campaign designed to bring her here.  We'll take her over Dayatthespa, who could steal this race on the front end a la Intercontinental, Dank and Abaco.

1.  Secret Gesture
2.  Dayatthespa
3.  Abaco

Filly & Mare Sprint

Synopsis:  7 furlongs on the dirt for fillies and mares.  We'll say it again - one of the most consistent angles on Breeders Cup weekend has been to go against 3 year olds in this race, who are winless and underrepresented in the trifecta.

Favorite:  Favoritism could go to any one of four horses.  We're going to guess the public sides with Artemis Agrotera, who bombed last year in the Juvenile Fillies and had a bad start to her year in the Acorn, then absolutely blossomed at Saratoga winning an ungraded stakes race and the Grade 1 Ballerina, both in romps.  She regressed a bit in the Gallant Bloom but still won at 6 1/2 furlongs.  Even though she's a 3 year old, she's not a pretender.

Price Horse to Consider:   We're not particularly wild about any of the horses that figure to be double-digit odds.  Gun to our heads, maybe Thank You Marylou can clunk up for third at a price.

Betting Approach:   Narrow/Spread.  We actually think you can whittle down the field of contenders pretty quickly - we don't see why Living the Life is here; think all of Southern Honey, Thank You Marylou and Little Alexis are too slow, and believe Better Lucky is in the wrong race.  The remaining 5, though, all have a real shot.

Selections:  Continuing with process of elimination, we're unconvinced that Sweet Reason is fast enough or will be as good outside of the State of New York.  Some prognosticators think Stonetastic will pop the field and never get caught; we disagree and think she'll get pressed more than others think.  We'll instead side with Judy the Beauty, who's the fastest horse, never runs badly, and loves the track, over Leigh Court, who closed well in her last and may just love the distance.

1.  Judy the Beauty
2.  Leigh Court
3.  Artemis Agrotera

Turf Sprint

Synopsis:  6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf for all comers.  We're still not sure why this race is worth $1 million.  Would the fields be decimated if this and the Dirt Mile were knocked down to $750,000 each and the Sprint was restored to $2 million?  We're also probably the only people on earth that care about this.

Favorite:  No Nay Never is well-connected, well bred, and has won 4 of his 5 starts.  We think he'll be quite a bit shorter than his 9-2 morning odds and is a solid, if beatable, favorite.

Price Horse to Consider:   We're not really sure why Something Extra is 20-1 on the morning line.  The horse hasn't had a bad turf race in nearly two years and has tactical speed.  What are we missing?

Betting Approach:  Spread.  Yeah, like you have a great idea in this race either.

Selections:  We tend to side with horses that have had success at Santa Anita and/or at the goofy 6 1/2 furlong distance.  Simply going off of that narrows down our top contenders to Ambitious Brew, Home Run Kitten and Sweet Swap.  Of that triumvirate we prefer Home Run Kitten, but will be using them at equal strength in multi-race wagers.

1.  Home Run Kitten
2.  Sweet Swap
3.  Ambitious Brew


Synopsis: 1 1/16 miles on the dirt for 2yo colts.  This race was shaping up to have one of the biggest favorites and most fascinating horses of the weekend in American Pharaoh, but he scratched earlier this week, leaving us with some interesting horses that haven't run too many times.

Favorite:  We're pretty confident that Todd Pletcher is going to train the favorite, but aren't sure which horse it is.  Behind Door #1 is Daredevil, who's won his two starts by a combined 9 lengths and throttled contender Upstart in his last.  The problem is he's never run on a fast track and may just be a slip freak.  Behind Door #2 is Carpe Diem, who hasn't run as quickly as his stablemate, but blew the doors off the field at Keeneland in his second start.  Every trainer would take one of these horses, let alone both.

Price Horses to Consider:  Texas Red merits a closer look at his 20-1 morning line odds.  His first start on the dirt was an even third against American Pharaoh and Calculator, who is getting a ton of buzz on the backstretch even though he's never won a race.  We like that he's sporting good workouts and nice efforts over the track.  For a total bomb, don't ignore Aiden O'Brien's The Great War, who's never run on the dirt but is in good form and good dirt breeding.  And has 7 starts.  All the European 2yos that have done well in this race - Arazi, Johannesburg, Wilko - came in well-seasoned.

Betting Approach:   Narrow.  As much as we're talking up the price horses above, we think they've better used underneath than on top.  We basically think three horses have a real chance to win this race.

Selections:  We're willing to take a shot against Daredevil because of how short a price he'll be and the uncertainty surrounding a cross-country ship on a fast track.  And while we think Upstart should be competitive, the 13 post raises a lot of concerns.  We have no such concerns about Carpe Diem, who looked great at Keeneland and should relish two turns at Santa Anita.  He's one of our favorite picks of the weekend.

1.  Carpe Diem
2.  Texas Red
3.  Upstart


Synopsis:  1 1/2 miles on the turf for all who dare.  Magician was scheduled to be one of four horses back to defend their title this year, but he scratched on Wednesday with lameness.  Sad as that is, it actually does make the race a bit more manageable.

Favorite:  Flintshire hasn't won this year, but ran second in the Arc de Triomphe last out and was second in the Coronation Cup earlier this year.  There hasn't been a turf race stateside as good as either of those events this year.  He's a legitimate favorite.

Price Horse to Consider:  To win?  Not this race.  We don't really like any of the price horses on top.  Underneath, maybe Twilight Eclipse, who's in decent form?

Betting Approach:   Narrow.  When Magician was in this race, we thought it looked like it went three-deep; that's now down to two.

Selections:  Dispensing with the faux contenders really quickly, we don't think Main Sequence has a shot against real Europeans, are not buying Hardest Core's shocking win in the Arlington Million, think Chiquita is in the wrong race, and know Big Brown Panther is only here by accident.  Basically we think this comes down to Flintshire and fellow European Telescope, and prefer the latter.  His second in the Juddmonte was as good as Flintshire's second in the Arc and trainer Michael Stoute has admitted that he's been pointing Telescope to this race since then.  Stoute is an outstanding trainer and it gets our undivided attention when he's pointing for the Turf as a goal.

1.  Telescope
2.  Flintshire
3.  Twilight Eclipse


Synopsis:  6 furlongs on the dirt for all comers.  And we really have gotten all comers this year.  In 2014 alone, the horses in the field have run in 14 different states (New York, California, Kentucky, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Louisiana, Nebraska, Illinois, and Iowa) and four foreign nations (UAE, Hong Kong, France and the UK).  In case that wasn't enough, we have a horse make her dirt debut, a horse that's making his graded stakes debut here in his 4th start, and another horse who last ran 7 days ago.  We love it.

Favorite:  Our third and final horse attempting to repeat is Secret Circle, who won this last year on a fairly thin resume.  He's had a pretty light year once again, running a decent 2nd in February and a blah 3rd in October.  Of course, trainer Bob Baffert won this race in 2008 with Midnight Lute following a similar pattern, so it's not like this is a negative.

Horses to Avoid:  There is a boatload of speed in this race.  We know that California tracks favor front-runners, but man, all of Work All Week, Big Macher, Indianapolis, Private Zone and Fast Anna are going to flash speed, and others may join them.  Sure, one of them could hang on for a piece, but we're inclined to toss all of them.  We're also against Rich Tapestry, who's making his second start in the U.S. after shipping over from Asia.  We are steadfastly against second-time foreigners in Breeders Cup races.  Finally, we know Palace has had a good year, but we hated his last race, and fear he's over the top.

Price Horse to Consider:  We have no idea if French shipper Wind Fire is good enough here.  She's never run on the dirt before, wasn't competing at the top level in Europe, and is light in the win column.  But she's bred up and down to be a dirt sprinter and doesn't seem to have much early speed.  At over 30-1, we'll take a shot on her running down the field late.

Betting Approach:   Spread.  This race is about as wide-open as you'll get.

Selections: There's a good chance he'll get caught up in the speed duel, but if he can rate just a little, we think Baaken rates a big chance here at a price.  He's lightly raced and has some upside, but he's been in graded stakes races and shouldn't have trouble adapting to this level of competition.  His last race was a decent effort off a layoff, and if he moves forward, he'll be dangerous.  We'll use him with Secret Circle, who should get a dream trip here, and take a shot with longshot Mico Margarita as a closer in good form.

1.  Baaken
2.  Secret Circle
3.  Mico Margarita


Synopsis:  1 mile on the turf for everyone.  This is the first edition we've had since 2007 that didn't have either Goldikova or Wise Dan.  In that edition - at Monmouth Park! - Kip Deville, the second-greatest Oklahoma bred ever took it for the Americans.

Favorite:  Toronado is less than 2 lengths away from having taken 5 Grade 1 races at a mile in Europe, having taken on the best horses on the continent and never run poorly at the distance of Saturday's race.  In case that wasn't enough, he has tactical speed, ran recently, and is in good hands.  He's legit.

Price Horse to Consider:   For a medium-priced longshot, Veda has a lot of upside.  Perfectly bred for the Mile, she had a good starter race in France, ran an excellent second in the French 1000 Guineas (their premier race for 3yo fillies at a mile), then ran a meh 4th.  Freshened over the summer - a move we like in this race - she came back on the Arc undercard and ran an excellent second in her first start against older horses and males.  If she moves forward off that, she's a huge threat.  For a total bomb, consider Summer Front, loves the distance and the track, and closed stoutly in his race here in June.  We don't mind the layoff and think he can catch a piece at a huge price.

Betting Approach:   Spread.  After the Sprint, we think this is the most wide-open field of the weekend.

Selections:   Yes you can't toss Toronado, but we sure aren't conceding the race to him when there are a lot of intriguing alternatives.  Mustajeeb rates a good chance, even though he's been keeping lesser company than Toronado.  Karakontie has a shot, though we don't love his odds from the outside post.  (We're discounting interesting longshot Tourist for the same reason.)  And then there's Anodin, who everyone loves because he's a full brother to Godikova, but he still has lost 11 of his 13 starts.

Gun to our head we're going to take the horse with the most upside who's coming in a little fresher than Toronado.  We'll try Veda to post the minor upset, but use all the Euros in the Pick-somethings.  This is going to be a fun race.

1.  Veda
2.  Toronado
3.  Summer Front

Coming up later: Our Classic Countdown.

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