Thursday, November 3, 2016

2016 Breeders Cup Preview Part I: Friday's Races

It's the first week of November, which means it's time for our annual rite of hubris and insanity.  Yes, it's our annual Breeders Cup preview, where we foolishly try to summarize 13 races in two blog posts and pick 39 horses in the exact order of finish.  We're coming off a year where we actually weren't horrific - we had 4 winners last year, including one longshot (Wavell Avenue, who was 10-1 in the Filly and Mare Sprint) and 3 more expected winners (Liam's Map in the Dirt Mile, Songbird in the Juvenile Fillies, Runhappy in the Sprint).  On the flip side, that's still 9 races we whiffed on, including picking Tonalist over American Pharoah.  Oops.

So while we turned a profit on win bets last year, let's try to improve on that.  And given that last year was the chalkiest year in Breeders Cup history - Wavell Avenue was the longest priced winner, and only one horse over 20-1 finished in the exacta - let's also hope for some solid prices.  We'll start by previewing Friday's 4 races today, and pick up later tomorrow on Saturday's extravaganza.  We'll assume the track is fast/firm and relatively fair.  As usual, we'll break down what each race is about, who the likely favorite is, and our thoughts on how to play it.

Juvenile Turf

Synopsis: 1 mile on the turf for 2 year old colts.  Hit it a Bomb furiously rallied in the stretch to take it last year continuing Europe's domination of this race.  At least it wasn't a Godolphin/Coolmore horse for a change.

Favorite: Having said all that, we don't think favoritism is going to go to one of the several Euros in this field.  It's likely either going to Oscar Performance, who romped in the Pilgrim at Belmont in his last, or Good Samaritan, who ran well in Canada last out for Bill Mott.  We have no quarrel with the latter but are against Oscar Performance - his two big efforts came on uncontested leads, which he's not likely to get on Friday, what with having the 13 post and horses like Keep Quiet and Lancaster Bomber to keep him honest.

Price Horse to ConsiderChannel Maker is 30-1 on the morning line, yet he only lost to Good Samaritan by 3 lengths in his last on a horrible trip.  He's got perfect breeding for this spot, a good trainer, a stellar jockey, and is likely going to sit a nice trip from the 3 post.  We're very interested at will be 7 times Good Samaritan's price.

Betting Approach: Spread.  Even if you ignore the Euros - don't - there are about 5 different horses we could see winning here.

Selections: For a change, we're not in love with either of the O'Brien horses, who drew poorly and look like they may have too much early speed for their own good.  But we are interested in Godolphin's Rodaini.  He doesn't look the part on first glance given he last his last by 24 lengths, but he had an impossible trip - dwelt at the start, stumbled in the stretch and was basically eased.  Yes, if he dwells at the start again, he's going to have trouble.  But if he breaks cleanly, we like Dettori to sit him behind a good pace and make a late charge at a nice price.

1.  Rodaini
2.  Good Samaritan
3.  Channel Maker

Dirt Mile

Synopsis: 1 mile on the dirt for all comers.  This race was added in 2007 amid a fair amount of outcry from Racing People that it wasn't right that there was no race between 6 and 10 furlongs for dirt runners on the Breeders Cup card.  In the 9 years we've had this race, we've had exactly one champion run in it (Caleb's Posse, 2011) and for 3 straight years, it's been a consolation prize for a genuinely good horse looking to make an easy buck by ducking better competition, winning at a short price.  This is neither fun nor productive.  Please discontinue this race.

Favorite: Dortmund looks to follow in the footsteps of Goldencents and Liam's Map by taking the easy route on Breeders Cup weekend.  After knocking heads with California Chrome 3 times and losing each time, he drops to this race where there is nobody nearly as good as California Chrome.  Or Dortmund, who's probably the 2nd or 3rd best horse in America right now.  Having a horse this good run in this race is absurd.

Price Horse to Consider: To win?  We don't think so.  Underneath?  Hmmm.  Point Piper is in decent form if you ignore his last on a wet track and may get a pace to run at.  At 20-1, why not?

Betting Approach: Single.  We're not going against Dortmund.

Selections: The interesting question in this race is what to do with Runhappy, who won last year's Sprint and is one of ten (!) prior Breeders Cup winners running this weekend.  (Fun facts - the 10 horses comprise of 8 that won a Breeders Cup race last year; of those, only 4 are trying to win the same race again in 2016, though three of them won 2yo races last year, making repeating impossible.  Runhappy's the only one who could have run in the same race again and chose not to.)  We're against him - we didn't like his comeback effort at all, and think he's not the same horse around 2 turns.  If you toss him and Gun Runner (meh), the only other horse that's likely to take money in the race, the exactas and tris may not be so shabby.  We're key Dortmund over some prices that have West Coast experience.

1.  Dortmund
2.  Point Piper
3.  Accelerate

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Synopsis: 1 mile on the turf for 2 year old fillies.  We've noted this in the past, but the American fillies always fair well in this race, as evidenced by Catch a Glimpse's solid win last year.  This year's edition has one of the most inscrutable fields that you'll see all weekend, which probably means chalk will run 1-2-3.

Favorite: It's either going to be La Coronel, who won the Jessamine at Churchill Downs very impressively in her last and is trained by Mark Casse (who won this race last year), or Aiden O'Brien's Roly Poly, who just missed in a Grade 1 at Newmarket last out.  The problem with these two horses is they drew the 13 and 14 post, so they need to either clear the field or take back quick, lest they get caught very wide on the first turn.

Price Horse to Consider: Coasted won a pair of races at Saratoga impressively this summer, then did little in the Miss Grillo, the prep for this race at Belmont.  But that was over a yielding turf that she probably didn't like.  She has tactical speed, a positive jockey switch (Mike Smith isn't our favorite, but he's great at Santa Anita) and is going to be around 20-1.  Definitely worth considering.

Betting Approach: Spread.  Seriously, we were deciding between Coasted, Rymska, Cavale Doree and Lull as our "Price Horse to Consider."  There are a lot of options in this race that make perfect sense.

Selections: We think there's a decent amount of speed in this race, so we're looking for closers that should make a nice move on the far turn and run down the leaders.  Of the 6 or so that we like, we're siding with Spain Burg, who gets a new trainer (Kathy Ritvo, who's fine), Lasix and a short layoff to prep for this spot.  We'll use her over all the longshots we discussed above, and maybe some of New Money Honey.  This race is as tough as they get all weekend - plan accordingly.

1.  Spain Burg
2.  Coasted
3.  Cavale Doree


Synopsis: 1 1/8 miles on the dirt for fillies and mares, 3 years old and up.  This is the best race of the weekend, and is one of the best races in recent Breeders Cup history.  Even if it's not the best wagering opportunity in the world, as a sporting event, it's phenomenal.

Favorite: Songbird won last year's Juvenile Fillies and is 11-for-11 in her career.  In those 11 starts, she's won 7 Grade 1 races, has won by a total of over 60 lengths, and has never won by less than 3 1/2 lengths.  She's something else, and has been drawing praise from all over the racing press.  And of course, we're going to try to beat her.

Next two choices: Stellar Wind and Beholder have met each other three times this year and put on three excellent performances, with Stellar Wind holding the 2-1 advantage.  Stellar Wind is last year's 3 year old champion who's had a light campaign (3 starts) but has never been out of the exacta at Santa Anita and could sit a beautiful trip behind what should be a fair pace.  Beholder is a Hall of Fame horse that's already won two Breeders Cup races (Juvenile Fillies in '12, this race in '13), has a ridiculous record of 13 wins and 2 seconds in 15 starts at Santa Anita, and since her debut, has only finished worse than second once in the next 24 starts.  She's amazing.  And she's probably going to be the third choice.

The East Coasters: In case that wasn't enough, we have a troika of interesting horses shipping from the East.  Curalina has put forth some explosive performances: her La Troinne and Shuvee were both outstanding, and she comes in off a layoff, a move trainer Todd Pletcher did last year with Stopchargingmaria en route to a win.  I'm a Chatterbox and Forever Unbridled have each won two Grade 1's this year and ran fabulously in their last races, winning by open lengths in traditional Breeders Cup preps.  All three of these horses should be 10-1 or higher.

Price Horse to Consider: Pass.  We can't make any case for the other two horses, Land Over Sea or Corona del Inca, other than strange things happen every day.

Betting Approach: This comes down to how you want to treat Songbird.  Some people will single her.  We think that's nuts.  She's never run against older horses, has no edge in speed figures, and is going to go to the lead where she's likely to get pressed by Curalina and Beholder.  She's never faced real speed before.  We think she does this Friday and folds, very similar to what happened to Lost in the Fog in the Sprint 11 years ago.  So in short, spread.

Selections: God this difficult.  Working backwards, we think Curalina will also chase Songbird and get eaten up by the early pace, and we think Stellar Wind is ripe for a bounce off her last.  Both could win, we're just leaning otherwise.  Forever Unbridled is a really nice horse that never seems to get there against the best competition.  We're going to side with Beholder taking her final race and capping off a magnificent career, thinking she sits a perfect stalking trip on a track she loves.  Because chalk never runs 1-2-3 in these races, we're throwing in the improving I'm a Chatterbox is a fun wildcard.  Sit back and enjoy, this is going to be a good one.

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

Coming up tomorrow: Saturday's races.

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