Thursday, October 29, 2015

Breeders Cup 2015 Preview Part 1: Friday's Races

So, what happened since last time we talked horse racing?

Yeah, that was pretty incredible.  American Pharoah followed up that win with a dominant Haskell then a shocking loss in the Travers.  Since then, he's been training well for the Breeders Cup Classic, which is run on Halloween at 5:40 in the afternoon.  Just in time to see the race before trick or treating.

Before that, we've got 12 other Breeders Cup races that have mostly full fields and tons of fascinating horses.  As usual, 4 races are on Friday and Saturday has a gargantuan 9 race card.  And we're undertaking the ridiculous proposition of breaking down each of the 13 races once again.  We'll give a general description of the race, name the favorite(s), a price play or two that we like, offer an opinion on how to play the race, and make our picks.  Hopefully we do better than last year when we only tabbed two winners (Goldencents and Judy the Beauty), but last year's card was upset laden.  We're not as certain that it'll be bombs away this week.

So let's dive into Friday's quartet of races.  As always, we're going with the assumption that the main track is fast.  We're less certain about the turf because of the deluge that hit Lexington on Wednesday, but we're going with the assumption that it's good turf, if not firm.

Juvenile Turf

Synopsis: 1 mile on the turf for 2 year old colts.  We've run this race 8 times, and unsurprisingly, horses that primarily ran in Europe have won 7 times (the exception being Pluck, trained by Todd Pletcher).  In fact, the last four runnings have gone to either the Godolphin or Coolmore connections, showing domination by Europe's biggest stables.

Favorite: Airoforce has a stupid name but sports two wins in two starts, the most recent over the Keeneland turf course.  We'll say this repeatedly over the course of this preview, but Keeneland is one of the tracks where we feel that the "Horse for the Course" phenomenon truly exists.  It's a little premature to say that Airoforce is that off of a whopping one win in a 2 year old turf race, but success at the track shouldn't be dismissed.

Price Horse to Consider: Ray's the Bar has an even dumber name but merits strong consideration at his 15-1 morning line price.  After a good maiden win in Europe, his connections shipped him to Belmont for the Pilgrim stakes, where he ran pretty well, finishing third after having a lot of ground to make up and horses to pass.  He probably would have won in 3 more jumps, and would be sitting at a much shorter price if so.

Betting Approach: Spread.  This field seems pretty tightly bunched with almost everyone having a real shot.  Now watch the favorites run 1-2-3.

Selections: Cymric should challenge Airoforce for favoritism and rightly so.  Since barely running in his first start, he's had 4 good efforts and was necked out for a win in a Grade 1 on the Arc card against horses that would be 2-1 against this field.  Plus he has tactical speed and is trained by John Gosden, who's outstanding.  We'll cross our fingers that he overcomes the horrendous 13 post and take him over Ray's the Bar and Shogun, who was very close to Cymric in their last and should be around 10-1.

1.  Cymric
2.  Ray's the Bar
3.  Shogun

Dirt Mile

Synopsis: 1 mile on the dirt for all comers.  We can't really state enough our displeasure that this race exists in this state.  Now in its 9th year, it's been a one-turn mile on the dirt exactly twice.  The other six editions have been second-class affairs for a motley group of Grade 2 horses and generally with uninteresting results.  For the umpteenth time: make this race worth $500,000 and drop it to a Grade 2.

FavoriteLiam's Map will either be the shortest or 2nd-shortest price for the entire Breeders Cup weekend.  In his 7 starts, he's accumulated 5 wins and 2 seconds, including a win in the Woodward last out and a great second in the Whitney earlier this year.  This is not only a cut back in distance for him, it's a cut back in caliber of competition he's facing. 

Price Horse to Consider:  Street Strategy not only has a win over the course, but is undefeated at the distance.  He's a little on the slow side, but if he can rate of a fair pace, he might clunk up for a piece at a good price (20-1?).

Betting Approach:  Single/Narrow.  As we've noted, Liam's Map is a legit favorite that we don't think is wise to go against with the full artillery.

Selections: Completing our rant about how uninteresting this race is, second choice Lea looks to be by far the second best horse in this race, and should pick up the pieces if Liam's Map fails for some reason.  But we don't see that happening.  We think they run 1-2 in a fairly boring race with a $7 exacta.  Let's move on.

1.  Liam's Map
2.  Lea
3.  Street Strategy

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Synopsis: 1 mile on the turf for 2 year old fillies.  We generally enjoy this race because it gets full fields, is full of horses from all over the place and with goofy angles, and there's usually a price to at least hit the board.  We also haven't had a true bomb yet in this race's short history.

Favorite: It's probably going to be Illuminate, who's coming in off a series of good races in the UK but has never gone beyond 6 furlongs.  Additionally, he's trained by Richard Hannon, who's not bad, but perpetually disappoints on Breeders Cup day (see Toronado, Olympic Glory).  This horse can win, but we're looking elsewhere.

Price Horse to Consider: Pricedtoperfection may be in over her head here - she only ran 13 days prior to this race and is coming out of a maiden race - but trainer Chad Brown is perpetually dangerous on the turf and this girl does have an explosive kick.  She could be dangerous if there's a good pace up front (which there may be).

Betting Approach:  Spread.  We already noted that we're not nuts about Illuminate, and the other possible favorite, Harmonize, doesn't get our blood pumping either.  She had a nice enough win in the Jessamine, but hardly has this field over a barrel.  Heck, the horse she beat by a neck, Sapphire Kitten, is considered an outsider here, which would tend to downgrade Harmonize's chances, no?

Selections: We know domestic horses have fared well here, but last year, Lady Eli was a clearly superior talent against a so-so field.  Here, the entire field looks pretty even, so we're more interested in Europeans with good connections and breeding.  Illuminate obviously fits that category, so does Alice Springs, who's the typical 2nd-tier O'Brien horse that tries to steal an American Grade 1.  But quietly, Mirage also does.  She broke her maiden handily in Europe, shipped to the US to prep for this race in the barn of Simon Callaghan (who's pretty good) and had a trip from hell when obstructed while trying to close in the stretch.  If she improves off of that, she's potentially dangerous at a huge price (30-1 morning line) and we're going to root for the upset, outside post be damned.

1.  Mirage
2.  Alice Springs
3.  Illuminate


Synopsis: 1 1/8 miles on the dirt for fillies and mares, 3 years old and up.  Untapable was scheduled to be one of three defending champions on the Breeders Cup program, but she scratched earlier this week with an injury, which is too bad for her and us, because we thought she was a great bet against.

Favorite: Wedding Toast owns a pair of Grade 1 wins at Belmont Park in her last two races, where she beat about half the field in two wire-to-wire efforts and sports the best speed figures.  That said, we're against her because we don't see her getting an uncontested lead on Friday afternoon, and think many horses will make her run fast early, which saps her strength late.  We're also against probable second choice Sheer Drama.  Both her and Wedding Toast are 5 year olds, and 19 of the last 20 Distaff winners were either 3 or 4 year olds (the exception being Escena in '98).  If a dominant mare like Beholder were here, we'd ignore that stat, but for this caliber, we are not.

Price Horse to Consider: Peruvian import Salama is only in this race because she won a qualifier at her home track this summer, but she has an okay (if slow) race over the track already, is bred okay for 9 furlongs and is a closer.  We've heard (and will pitch) nuttier ideas than including her in the bottom slots of triples and superfectas at 40-1.

Betting Approach: Spread.  As noted, we're against both Wedding Toast and Sheer Drama, and we think Got Lucky is going to be overbet based on a pair of perfect trips in her last two races and having Todd Pletcher on her side.  Get past those three, and the race is wide open.

Selections: Stellar Wind has exactly one bad running line to her name - her Kentucky Oaks start, where she was the favorite, caught 9 wide in the first turn, and had a terrible trip.  She nonetheless rallied for 4th, and followed that up with a pair of wins over the summer.  She's only made 7 starts and has room to improve, has good connections, should get a nice stalking trip behind a good pace.  And most importantly, she's going to be ignored in the wagering (10-1?).  She's one of our favorite price plays of the weekend.  Underneath, we prefer 3 year olds Curalina and I'm a Chatterbox instead of the older mares, who we think are just ordinary.

1.  Stellar Wind
2.  Curalina
3.  I'm a Chatterbox

Coming up tomorrow: Our analysis and picks for Saturday's races

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