In just a
matter of days, I will stand at the Great Race Place with the San Gabriel
Mountains before me, my eyes sparkling as they take in the sights of the
Breeders’ Cup. As their bits jingle, their hooves travel over the dirt, and
their manes flow in the wind, I will rejoice in the presence of world-class
Thoroughbreds for the fourth consecutive year.
I go to the Breeders’ Cup to relish these moments – to be able to say “I’ve
seen [insert a long list of grade one winners here.]” I go to share these experiences
with others who have a passion for racing, doing my best to allow them to know
what it is like to be among racing’s best.
large portion of the Breeders’ Cup is based on the enjoyment of seeing
firsthand the best horses and people in racing, the races pose as an exciting,
intriguing challenge. Over the span of two days, fourteen Breeders’ Cup races
will be contested. These races give handicappers a wide variety of options, but
are certainly not always easy to decipher.
Although I prefer to additionally consider a horse’s appearance while preparing
for a big test such as a Breeders’ Cup race, take a look at my top five horses
for all five of the Breeders’ Cup races slated for Friday, November 1 below. My
analysis of the Saturday races will be posted tomorrow. Be on the lookout for
updates from Santa Anita next week!
Although the Distaff drew only six pre-entries, it is among the most alluring, competitive races of the entire Breeders’ Cup. Each Friday race served as an intimidating challenge to rank the top five, but this race was by the far the most difficult. Royal Delta is chasing her third consecutive Distaff victory, but in her most recent start, she was conquered by the fantastic three-year-old, Princess of Sylmar. But “Princess” is not the only exceptional sophomore filly in the Distaff; Beholder, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies victress, is better than ever and holds home track advantage. These three are the main headliners, but the other contenders are excellent females as well and will contribute to making this one of the greatest races of the weekend – perhaps even the best despite the small field size. I can foresee many different outcomes in this race, but somehow managed to select and order my top five, though I could easily and confidently rearrange it. What a race this will be!
1. Princess of Sylmar: Originally an underdog, Princess of Sylmar is now heralded as one of the best racehorses in the country, and rightfully so. With only one loss to her credit in 2013, the Pennsylvania-bred has been brilliant this year, capturing four consecutive grade one races in her past four starts, including three of the most prestigious races for sophomore fillies: the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Alabama Stakes. In her last outing, Princess of Sylmar confirmed her brilliance in a win over Royal Delta – who has won the past two installments of the Distaff. Princess of Sylmar has had a long campaign and has never traveled as far as California, but she seems to have bottomless motivation and is training incredibly well, which convinced her hesitant connections to send her to the Breeders’ Cup. This will be the toughest race of her career to date, but if racing fans and handicappers have learned anything this year, it’s that Princess of Sylmar should not be underestimated.
2. Royal Delta: This fantastic mare has every right to be on top of this list, as she has done little wrong this year. Although she lost to Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame Invitational Stakes (gr. I) in her most recent start, Royal Delta’s trainer – Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott – claims she was not at her best that day and she has since trained very well. She is the most talented handicap mare in the nation and has a tendency to bring her A-game when it counts the most.
3. Beholder: Beholder has always been a talented filly, but she has recently become more spectacular than ever before. Although she finished behind Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks, which is their only meeting to date, Beholder has matured since then, easily winning the Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar and the Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita. She does hold a major advantage over her rivals in this race: she has only lost one of her six starts at Santa Anita.
4. Authenticity: Authenticity has been notably consistent this year, never finishing worse than third in eight starts. Winner of the La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs in May and the Shuvee Handicap (gr. III) at Saratoga, Authenticity’s past two starts resulted in runner-up efforts in grade ones on both coasts. The first of these came behind Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga, which preceded a respectable finish behind Beholder in the Zenyatta. Although accomplished, Authenticity will need to step it up in order to win the Distaff.
5. Close Hatches: In the Gazelle Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct in April, Close Hatches became the only horse to defeat Princess of Sylmar in 2013. However, when they faced off in the Kentucky Oaks, Princess of Sylmar left Close Hatches nearly 11 lengths behind. But Close Hatches has been strong since, finishing second in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) before easily winning the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) and the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I). Close Hatches is clearly a gifted individual, but she will need to run better than ever to secure a victory.
poses as a difficult test for many handicappers, but not because the field is
incredibly competitive. Rather, its difficulty stems from its unusual distance
of a mile and three-quarters. The contenders are lacking the class seen in most
other Breeders’ Cup races, giving even the longest shots a chance at victory.
This race is one just asking for an upset and could offer bettors plentiful
chances to win big. Since its first running in 2008, the Marathon has yet to
produce a winner at odds of less than 6-1 and three of its five winners have
gone off at odds of more than 12-1.
1. Old Time Hockey: Although he has
never won on dirt, Old Time Hockey has perhaps the most back class of any horse
in the Marathon. His best finish on dirt was a runner-up finish behind eventual
grade one winner Golden Ticket at Gulfstream Park in the third start of his
career and since then, he has raced solely on turf. His past two starts
have resulted in solid fourth-place efforts in grade twos on Southern
California grass and though he has not found the winner’s circle since
capturing the La Jolla Handicap (gr. II) last August, he has run moderately
well against graded stakes company. A mile and three-eighths is the longest
distance he has competed at, but he has shown the desire to go longer. He could
certainly be a useful play.
2. Ever Rider: Like last year’s
longshot Marathon victor, Calidoscopio, Ever Rider hails from Argentina. He may
be less accomplished than Calidoscopio was, but unlike that eventual winner, he
enters off of a win in a group two event. Although that win was back in June,
Ever Rider has spent months at Santa Anita preparing for this start and is
likely quite accustomed to the track. He should not be forgotten.
3. London Bridge: Making the trip from England, London
Bridge has won three of his seven starts this year. Among these victories was
an easy triumph going a mile and one-half in a handicap at Ripon. That
win came in June and though he has failed to win his two subsequent starts, he
has run rather well in both of those outings, finishing third and fourth –
respectively. However, his fourth-place finish came in a mile and seven-furlong
race, which is one furlong longer than the Marathon. In this start, London
Bridge displayed fatigue in the late stages, fading to be defeated by nearly
five lengths. Like the other Europeans aligned for the Breeders’ Cup, the
extent of London Bridge’s quality and ability is unknown, but he does appear to
have a fairly good chance in this spot.
4. Blueskiesnrainbows: By English
Channel and out of a Deputy Minister mare, Blueskiesnrainbows’ pedigree is
radiating with stamina. He has two wins from eight starts at Santa Anita under
his belt. Although he finished a poor fifth at Fresno last out, his start
before that was an easy win in a nine-furlong stakes race at Fairplex. He has
been training well at Hollywood Park, but he will need to bring his A-game on
5. Worldly: Although he has never
raced beyond ten furlongs, he possesses back class, having finished third last
out in the Homecoming Classic to 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Fort
Larned. However, he has not won since July of 2011 despite having raced twelve
times since then. His past three starts have resulted in in-the-money finishes,
including a narrow loss in the Governor’s Cup Stakes at Remington Park in
August. A winner of only three races from twenty-seven lifetime starts, Worldly
will need to run the best race of his life in order to win.
Turf, along with the Turf Sprint, drew the most pre-entries, with a total of 18
horses. It will be a tough race to handicap, as it includes numerous talented
colts from here and abroad. Horses based in Europe have won four of the six
Juvenile Turfs that have been held and a strong contingent of Europeans will
show up yet again this year. Juveniles hailing from both the East Coast and
West Coast of the United States, however, will put up a fight.
1. Outstrip: In his four starts, this England-based colt has garnered two wins,
a second, and a third. After winning his debut at Newmarket in June, he
finished a good second in a group two event at Goodwood prior to running away
with the Champagne Stakes (gr. II) at Doncaster. Taking on group one company in
the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes (gr. I) at Newmarket last out, Outstrip finished less
than three lengths behind one of Europe’s best two-year-olds, War Command. He
will be tough to beat.
2. Giovanni Boldini: From three starts, Giovanni Boldini has two wins –
the most recent of which was a dominant victory in a listed race at Dundalk in
Ireland. His only loss came in his second start, the Goffs Vincent O’Brien
Stakes (gr. I), in which he finished third. His trainer, Aidan O’Brien, has won
the past two editions of this race.
3. Bobby’s Kitten: A winner of two
of three starts, this Ramsey Kitten was an easy maiden winner at Saratoga
before dominating the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park on October 6.
The limits of his talent are unknown.
4. Bashart: A game third in his
debut on the turf at Belmont, Bashart was unbeatable on the grass at Saratoga.
Among his wins at the Spa was a determined victory in the With Anticipation
Stakes (gr. II). When the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland was taken off
the turf and placed on the wet synthetic, Bashart managed to finish second
despite a slightly troubled trip over a surface that certainly wasn’t his
favorite. A return to the turf seems to be exactly what Bashart needs.
5. Poker Player: Also a two-time
winner from three outings, Poker Player broke his maiden at Kentucky Downs
before capturing the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, a race originally
scheduled for the turf that was moved to the synthetic track. The validity of
his win in this race is a mystery, but he is a talented colt with a chance who
could offer a savvy price play.
competitive field of milers, the Dirt Mile presents the showdown between Graydar
and the three-year-olds Verrazano and Goldencents. However, these three
talented colts are not the only horses capable of winning this race, as many
other horses have aligned to compete for Breeders’ Cup glory. This race gives
handicappers an abundance of options.
1. Verrazano: A horse that is either
overwhelming brilliant or incredibly disappointing, Verrazano should relish the
one mile distance. Undefeated at distances under ten furlongs, Verrazano’s only
poor performances came in off-the-board finishes in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I)
and Travers’ Stakes (gr. I). But at distances of nine furlongs or less,
Verrazano is at his best. The Todd Pletcher trainee was exceptional two races
back in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I), which he captured by 9 ¾ lengths.
This shorter distance should suit him well.
2. Goldencents: Goldencents has home track
advantage, having raced at Santa Anita on four occasions. Two of those starts
resulted in wins, including a victory in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) earlier this
year. After attempting the long distances of the first two legs of the Triple
Crown, Goldencents returned to shorter distances, finishing second in his three
starts since the spring classics. Each of these runner-up efforts came at seven
furlongs or less; Goldencents has not competed at a mile since winning the Sham
Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita in January. He will be a very tough competitor.
3. Graydar: The original plan was
for Graydar to go in the Classic, but a week out from the Breeders’ Cup, his
connections chose to race him in the Dirt Mile instead. This will be an easier
spot for him and not just in terms of competition, but in terms of distance as
well. The mile distance will suit Graydar better and although this may be the
reason for the change in races, it is worrisome that his connections felt as if
he was not ready for the Classic. Could he perhaps not be 100% for the
Breeders’ Cup in general? Even so, he is undefeated in 2013, winning all three
of his starts this year. But due to a minor injury, he has only raced once
since March, winning the Kelso Handicap (gr. II) in September. However, this
win did not come as easily to him as his others did. He is certainly a
brilliant horse, but he has many questions to answer.
4. Golden Ticket: Winner of last year’s
Travers, Golden Ticket’s 2013 campaign has been his most consistent yet, as he
has finished no worse than fourth in his seven starts this year. Last out, he
was a respectable fourth behind Classic contender Mucho Macho Man in the Awesome
Again Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita. Prior to that, he conquered his rivals in
the ten-furlong Prairie Meadows Handicap by eight lengths – a start that
succeeded his runner-up finish behind 2012 Classic winner Fort Larned. He has
performed well in high-caliber races before and should not be ignored in the
5. Pants on Fire: In his six starts
this year, Pants on Fire has accumulated three wins and three thirds. His past
two starts resulted in graded stakes victories: a 1 ¾-length triumph in the mile
and one-sixteenth Monmouth Cup Stakes (gr. II) and a 2 ¾-length romp in the
one-mile Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III). In the aforementioned easy Ack Ack win,
Pants on Fire’s final time of 1:33.78 was only .47 seconds off the Churchill
Downs track record for one mile.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Unlike its male
counterpart, in its five-year history, the Juvenile Fillies Turf has produced
only one winner that traveled across the pond. Although the Europeans will send
a handful of talented fillies to improve this record, they will again face
resilient competitors in the fillies who call the United States home. The
penultimate Breeders’ Cup race of the day, the Juvenile Fillies Turf is shaping
up to be a race full of talented fillies, offering several different possible
1. My Conquestadory: This filly has wasted
no time proving her prowess. Her career debut was against conditions most
juvenile fillies never face, even after domination of their own division: a
graded stakes event against males. But this proved to be a piece of cake for My
Conquestadory, who drew off to win by 3 ¼ lengths going one mile over
Woodbine’s turf course in the Summer Stakes (gr. II). In the Alcibiades Stakes
(gr. I) over the synthetic at Keeneland next out, My Conquestadory overcame
traffic issues with ease, coasting to a 1 ¾-length victory. Everything she has
done up to this point has been effortless. She could be something special.
2. Vorda: Like My Conquestadory, the
France-based Vorda is undoubtedly worthy of favoritism, having lost only once
in her five-race career. That sole loss, which followed a group two stakes win
facing males, came against the brilliant colt No Nay Never in the Prix Morny
(gr. I) at Deauville in August. Since then, Vorda was a winner of the Cheveley
Park Stakes (gr. I). The main worry regarding this gifted filly is the fact
that the Juvenile Fillies Turf, contested at one mile, will be her first start
beyond six furlongs.
3. Al Thakhira: Undefeated in two
starts, Al Thakhira was an easy maiden winner at Yarmouth prior to capturing a
group two contest at Newmarket by 3 ¼ lengths on October 12. She is untested
and the true level of her talent will not be clear until race day.
4. Chriselliam: This filly either
runs the race of a lifetime or throws in a clunker. Ninth in her debut at
Haydock, Chriselliam rebounded with a win in her second career start. Following
a ninth in a group three at Deauville, Chriselliam dropped down to the listed
stakes level, finishing a narrowly beaten second. This acted as a confidence
booster for the filly, who would go on to be a determined winner of the
Shadwell Fillies Mile (gr. I) at Newmarket, in which she defeated the superb
group one winner Rizeena. Her inconsistency is reason for concern.
5. Clenor: She began her career in
Ireland, losing her first three starts, although her third start was a troubled
but decent third in a group three at The Curragh. Clenor then made the move to
Southern California and has been unbeatable since. Her first two starts in the
United States came at Del Mar, where she won a maiden special weight and the
Oak Tree Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes by a combined 5 ¾ lengths. Her final
start before the Breeders’ Cup was a game win in the Surfer Girl Stakes at
Santa Anita. Although she has the benefit of a win over the Santa Anita turf
course, she has yet to be victorious in a graded stakes event and has competed
against rather unaccomplished horses in her wins.