With the 2021 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar now less than three weeks away, the fields for the 14 races are starting to take shape. Many of the nine races on Saturday and five on Friday will have heavy favorites.
Horses such as Letruska, Knicks Go, Jackie’s Warrior, Gamine, Life Is Good, Golden Pal and Echo Zulu are likely to have more than their share of the betting action, but I will be looking at horses with much more attractive odds at the World Championships. With that in mind, here are five horses to watch on Breeders’ Cup Weekend.
Commandperformance, Juvenile. Although they are obviously talented, I believe the favorites, Jack Christopher and Corniche, are vulnerable here. They both are speedy types who have yet to be really tested. With an eye on each other early, and going two turns at Del Mar, I think this race will be ripe for a late-running winner. Enter Commandperformance.
Although still a maiden, I have liked what I have seen from the son of Union Rags. In his debut, he got off to a terrible start before rallying strongly to finish second in a sharp sprint at Saratoga. Off that, he came back in the Champagne (G1) and again made a prolonged rally to get up nicely for the place. In fact, he was the only one rallying down the stretch of the one-mile race.
Like Jack Christopher, he has never tried two turns, but his pedigree on both sides suggest he will only get better as the distances increase. His sire was a Belmont winner, and his dam won at a route of ground at 2 and is by the Belmont Stakes sire Tapit. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile will be his third lifetime start, and I expect trainer Todd Pletcher to have him ready to shine on the big stage at Del Mar.
Oviatt Class, Juvenile. Not to sound wishy-washy with my selection of Commandperformance, but I really believe the chalk is vulnerable in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. If I am right, and the favorites are getting leg weary, perhaps we could be seeing some nice odds with both of the top two finishers. A Virginia-bred son of Bernardini, I think Oviatt Class is still learning.
The Keith Desormeaux-trained runner has made four starts. After a nondescript debut on the turf, he came back to run good races at Del Mar, including a going-away victory in his third career start, in which he overcame some trouble. In his stakes debut, he was way back early in the American Pharoah (G1) and was left with too much to do in the stretch, managing only third. He needed to be straightened out more than once in the stretch, but he still made up a lot of ground only to be beaten by 3 3/4 lengths at the wire.
Out of a Tiznow mare, he looks like the type who eventually will figure out how to best use his physical attributes. Having said that, he already has a solid foundation, is improving with each start, likes Del Mar and should be ready to run his best race yet in the Juvenile. You know he will picking up the pieces late.
Silver State, Dirt Mile. Moving to Saturday’s races, Life Is Good will be odds-on in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He is a talented horse, but in his biggest test to date, he was outfinished to the wire by Jackie’s Warrior in the Jerkens Memorial. That’s no real knock against the favorite, but it shows he is not unbeatable. In the 4-year-old Silver State, I think I have the horse to beat him.
It wasn’t very long ago that the Steve Asmussen-trained runner was the hot horse, having won six straight races, including a pair of major races in Arkansas and New York. Two losses later, and he figures to have substantially longer odds than the Dirt Mile favorite, who should have serious pace pressure from Ginobili. Silver State, meanwhile, is a versatile sort who can run multiple distances and win from different positions early. I believe he is best at a mile with some pace to run at, as he got in the Grade 1 Met Mile (G1).
I don’t really mind his two losses since, as he was never going to run down a loose Knicks Go in the Whitney and was ridden with a little too much confidence last time against Mind Control. That won’t happen in the Breeders’ Cup. The two losses should drive his odds upward in a race that should suit him perfectly. I like his chances to upend Life Is Good on Nov. 6.
Maxfield, Classic. Like Silver State, this one has lost two straight, which will have a huge impact in the Breeders’ Cup Classic odds. In fact, with so many horses to bet in the big one, we could be looking at double-digit odds on a very talented horse. The Classic favorite will be Knicks Go, but I suspect he will be pushed early as he tries to go 10 furlongs for the first time. This should give an opportunity to a horse coming from behind.
A strong pace is not something the son of Street Sense has had in his last two starts. A holder of a superb 10: 7-2-1 career record, Maxfield tried hard in both of the last two Grade 1 races, but with no one able to turn the screws early on either Knicks Go in the Whitney or Art Collector in the Woodward, he was not able to make up serious ground on the leaders in those 9-furlong races. Given more pace, remember how good he looked in the Stephen Foster (G2) three races back.
With strong speed such as Medina Spirit, Art Collector and Hot Rod Charlie willing to take the race to Knicks Go earlier than he prefers, I expect the 10-furlong Classic to be a completely different kind of race than what we saw in the Whitney. Instead, it will be a grueling test to the wire and one in which I believe Maxfield can get the job done.
Bella Sofia, Filly & Mare Sprint. I understand that Gamine is a sprinting monster, but at prohibitively low odds in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, I believe that it is worth it to take a shot against her. I don’t think she has been the same devastating horse this year that she was in 2020. Having said that, no one has come along to beat her yet this year. We need someone new, someone peaking at the right time. I believe that filly will be Bella Sofia.
Relatively unknown just a few months ago, the Rudy Rodriguez-trained daughter of Awesome Patriot has taken things to a whole new level. Only one horse has beaten her in her five-race career, but no one has been close to touching her in her last three. First, in a Belmont Park allowance race, followed by Saratoga’s Test (G1) and the Gallant Bloom (G2) at Belmont, she has thoroughly dominated her competition with tactical speed and sprinting talent. The Test was her coming-out party.
Gamine will be bet like the runner who stormed to huge wins last year, but is she the same horse this year? At 2-5, why not take a shot to find out? I think she is beatable in the Breeders’ Cup, and Bella Sofia is the most likely one to do it. She is fast, talented and clearly at her best right now. She probably will be the second choice, but anyone not named Gamine will have some odds.