Breeders' Cup Juvenile: It's Not About Where You Prep

September 27, 2014 06:35pm
American Pharoah Del Mar Futurity 615 X 400
Photo: Benoit Photo


For the third consecutive year the FrontRunner Stakes is a Grade 1 juvenile prep race on the same track where the Breeders’ Cup will commence. To my surprise, the eventual winner in 2012 and 2013 failed to finish in the top three in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park.


This fact brought me to another surprising conclusion: in the Juvenile division, very few winners race at the host track prior to the Breeders’ Cup. While this might not be true across every division, the Juvenile has proved that young athletes travel well and adapt to the host track rather quickly.




This data is not to say that I always think that racing at the host track prior to the Breeders’ Cup is a superior advantage, but I will offer my shock that it’s only happened in 8 of the last 30 years and three times in the last 18.


This is also unexpected because the most popular host sites for the Breeders’ Cup over the last 30 years, Churchill Downs and Santa Anita Park, begin their fall season meets in September.


This makes it an ideal time or location for potential Breeders’ Cup Juvenile contenders to move in, race, and get acquainted with host site surface.


I guess we shouldn’t underestimate the benefit of working out either. I get it, in some years the eventual Juvenile champion trained often or at least a respectable amount of times at the host track prior to the big day in November.  For example, it happened just last year when the now retired New Year’s Day started his racing career at Del Mar. From there it was extremely easy and routine for Bob Baffert to move him over to nearby Santa Anita in preparation for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.


So, that, and a little talent, is all that the youthful colt needed in order to make a splash in his debut Grade 1 race. In other years very similar situations also occurred. So, it may be important to handicap the Juvenile with less respect to an entry's record or amount of starts at the host track and with more attention to your other favorite tools that you keep in your handicapping toolbox.


On a similar level, East Coast and European invaders have gotten the best of the local California horses in two of the last four hosted at Santa Anita Park. As for the FrontRunner Stakes only one starter in the last two years came back to start and finish in the top three in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Capo Bastone 2011).


That’s not to say that any of the 2014 starters aren’t primed and ready to come out strong this weekend, before coming back to showcase how important this Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race can be.


Leading the crop of 10 juveniles for this 1 1/16 mile test is American Pharoah. California is Bob Baffert territory so it should be no surprise that he has won more FrontRunner Stakes than any other trainer since the inaugural in 1970. Hooking up with Baffert is another familiar face, Victor Espinoza, a popular Baffert rider that was also in the saddle for two of those five wins.


What leads the odds makers to making him the overwhelming 8/5 favorite on the morning line are two things:  an impressive 4 ¾ length win in the G1 Del Mar Futurity [Beyer Speed 101] and a pair of solid workouts at Santa Anita [4F 47.80, 5F 59.60]. Owned by Zayat Stables and by Pioneerof theNile – Littleprincessemma, American Pharoah may be too tough to beat if he displays the same form as he did last out.


Also making their way from the Del Mar Futurity to Santa Anita for the FrontRunner Stakes is the runner-up Calculator, Skyway (4th) and Red Button (6th). Although Calculator, trained by Peter Miller and ridden by Elvis Truillo, finished ahead of Skyway last out, I agree with the oddsmakers’ choice of moving Skyway into the second choice slot on the morning line. By another Mark Casse trained horse, Sky Mesa, this juvenile colt is my choice to be the top challenger to American Pharoah. Saturday will be his fourth career graded stakes race and he will be looking for it to become his second graded win - G2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar in early August.  


Sky Mesa is also in the bloodlines for another starter on Saturday - the broodmare sire for Conquest Panthera by Kitten’s Joy – Lastofthsummerwine. This colt is also trained by Mark Casse and he will be coming into the FrontRunner fresh off his first career start and win, a MSW score at Del Mar.


There are high expectations for this horse, but at 8-1, I give an advantage to the winner and runner-up in the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf Stakes, Daddy D T and Sky Preacher. Both have strong California connections and will be worth considering if you think their recent workouts on the Santa Anita dirt validates their willingness to take on a new surface for the very first time. 


2014 FrontRunner Stakes Entries


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About Me

Meet Bryan Brinkmeyer  


Growing up across the river from the Bluegrass State, I was able to spend a lot of summer days at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. It was there that my attraction to the Sport of Kings began. In the spring of 2000, I made my inaugural Kentucky Derby appearance, and the tradition continues annually because there is no other city in the racing world like Louisville, Ky., on Derby Day.

Although the story of a Kentucky Derby winner is legendary, a champion's trail is what The Kentucky Derby Post is all about. It begins when 2-year-olds hit the track & continues until the field is set, the picks are in, and the roses are awarded. 

Twitter: @thederbypost

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