Out of all Breeders’ Cup races, the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 7 at Keeneland is especially susceptible to changes because of the Sprint and Classic as other viable options. With that said, the pre-entries did release on Wednesday, and they allow handicappers to formulate some near-final thoughts before the final entries.
Knicks Go is expected to set the pace, but the is question whether he can hold on against better competition. He is the focus of this early Dirt Mile analysis.
The Dirt Mile is carded as Race 6, with a post time of 1:18 ET.
1. Art Collector, 7/2 (Bernardini – Tom Drury Jr./TBA – 10: 5-1-0 - $724,380): Leading up to the Kentucky Derby, Art Collector held a ton of momentum after dominant wins in the Ellis Park Derby and Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. In the latter race, he won by 3 1/2 lengths over the current top 3-year-old filly Swiss Skydiver, who could start in either the Distaff or Classic. But then a minor issue forced him out of the Derby. Art Collector came back in time for the Preakness, but he failed to quicken with Swiss Skydiver and Authentic in the stretch run, finishing a disappointing fourth by 10 lengths. Now he is more difficult to analyze because of the flat Preakness effort. For what it is worth, he does show an impressive bullet on Oct. 22. If he cycles back to his form prior to the Preakness, he might get a piece. Use underneath.
2. C Z Rocket (1st Preference: Sprint), TBA (City Zip – Peter Miller/TBA – 22: 9-1-2 - $551,641): Despite the winning streak under Peter Miller, C Z Rocket keeps posting slow figures on TimeformUS. In C Z Rocket’s recent win in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2), TimeformUS gave him a lowly 110. Two starts ago in the Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2), C Z Rocket won with only a 114. With that said, TimeformUS does knock down speed figures because of slow pace scenarios. The unadjusted numbers on those two races are 120 and 119, both of which help make him more competitive. But C Z Rocket beat Flagstaff by only a head in the Santa Anita Sprint, and horses better than Flagstaff are lined up against him. Logically, he needs to improve by a significant margin to win either the Dirt Mile or Sprint. Toss.
3. Complexity, 5/2 (Maclean’s Music – Chad Brown/TBA – 9: 5-1-0 - $566,350): The Kelso Handicap (G2) victory represents the best effort of Complexity’s career. He reinforced his ability to sit off a pacesetter at one mile and take control on the turn. Then, he faced Code of Honor in the stretch run and turned him away to win by 2 1/4 lengths with a 125 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Two starts ago, Complexity also contested the pace in the Forego Stakes (G1) and eventually ran a close second with a 119 on TimeformUS. Can he take one more step forward off those numbers? Complexity’s 125 is still four points behind Knicks Go’s high of 129. To give credit to Complexity, though, he beat a quality horse in Code of Honor en route to his 125, while Knicks Go dominated only an optional claiming field at Keeneland. Complexity also owns useful tactical speed, although if Knicks Go goes uncontested up front, the task could become too difficult in the stretch run. Win contender.
4. Global Campaign (1st Preference: Classic), TBA (Curlin – Stanley Hough/TBA – 9: 6-0-1 - $781,080): If Global Campaign runs in this spot, it will probably prove a mistake. As shown in his Woodward Stakes (G1) and Monmouth Cup (G3) wins, this Curlin colt wants to run on the lead. Securing the front is not possible in this spot with horses such as Knicks Go and Complexity present. He did use stalking tactics in the April 25 Gulfstream optional claiming race, but that win came against far easier competition. Note the poor effort in the one-mile Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs after he broke slowly. Toss.
5. Knicks Go, 9/2 (Paynter – Brad Cox/TBA – 16: 4-3-1 - $828,995): In two starts for trainer Brad Cox, this speedy Paynter colt gives the impression of a new horse. His first start under Cox resulted in a 7 1/2-length win in an Oaklawn optional claimer back in February, with a career-high 117 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Knicks Go went on a 225-day layoff afterward but came back in an Oct. 4 Keeneland optional claimer with an even more impressive front-running victory by 10 1/4 lengths. This time, Knicks Go earned a massive 129 on TimeformUS and an unadjusted 133 for handicappers who do not use pace-adjusted figures. Can he post the same speed figure or better after only a one-month break? For those who believe in bounce theory, that is a concern. From a pace standpoint, he figures to secure the lead unless Vekoma or the speedy Nashville runs here. If Knicks Go secures the lead, it might not matter how fast he needs to run to keep the lead. He will get brave and run away. Based on the 129, he is the winner. The pick.
6. Mr Freeze, 12-1 (To Honor and Serve – Dale Romans/TBA – 16: 6-4-2 - $1,561,950): Mr Freeze finally won again in the Fayette Stakes (G2) at Keeneland after three straight losses in the summer, including a sixth in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) and sixth in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1). But he won the Fayette by only a neck over Aurelius Maximus, not a Grade 1-quality runner, and the effort resulted in a low 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Earlier in the year, when he won the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2), he earned a lofty 129 on TimeformUS. He also picked up a 125 when runner-up to Mucho Gusto in the Pegasus World Cup. What happened? Even though he took the Fayette, this is not the same Mr Freeze as in the winter. Toss.
7. Owendale, 15-1 (Into Mischief – Brad Cox/TBA – 18: 6-4-2 - $1,272,935): In the Pimlico Special (G3), Owendale was caught in a tough spot against Harper’s First Ride, a horse more comfortable showing speed. Owendale tried to press him but ultimately hung in the stretch run for a mild runner-up finish. It is important to note that some horses do not fire when taken out of their comfort zones. Owendale wants to run as a closer, and he gets to revert back to his favored strategy in the Dirt Mile. He needs pace, though, and that is a questionable factor given no one seems likely to contest Knicks Go on the lead. If Vekoma runs in this race rather than the Sprint, he might soften up Knicks Go and Complexity. Nashville is too far down the Also Eligible list to enter this race. But Vekoma’s first preference is in the Sprint. If he does not run here, Owendale needs to hope Knicks Go’s pace challenger comes from another entry, and then he can pick off horses in the lane after a decent pace setup. Live longshot.
8. Rushie, 20-1 (Liam’s Map – Michael McCarthy/TBA – 7: 3-1-2 - $493,151): Rushie bounced back from his distant third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) by capturing the Pat Day Mile (G2) on the cutback. But did Rushie beat a strong field in the Pat Day Mile? The second-place Sonneman and third-place Tap It To Win are not Grade 1-level horses. The fifth-place Echo Town probably did not handle the one-mile distance. Rushie now starts against dirt milers more talented than Sonneman and Tap It to Win. The task for him is too difficult right now. Toss.
9. Sharp Samurai (2nd Preference: Mile), 20-1 (First Samurai – Mark Glatt/TBA – 22: 8-6-2 - $1,021,270): If he runs here, Sharp Samurai might find himself farther off the pace than people expect. He pressed the pace in the Pacific Classic (G1), but at 1 1/4 miles it is easier for a horse used to shorter distances to stay close to the pace. He used stalking tactics in the one-mile City of Hope Stakes (G2), but a more grueling pace is expected in the Dirt Mile. Sharp Samurai ran well in both races, finishing second to Maximum Security and Mo Forza, respectively. Dirt is probably not an issue, but Sharp Samurai feels a touch too slow to compete for the win. He also lost ground to Maximum Security in the stretch run of the Pacific Classic, which is sometimes the sign of a turf horse not grabbing the surface. He might close for a piece of the pie with a good trip, but search elsewhere on top. Use underneath.
10. Silver Dust, 20-1 (Tapit – Bret Calhoun/TBA – 30: 6-7-5 - $875,677): He finished a good third in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) with no pace to close into, losing second by only a head to Owendale. Three starts ago, he also lost the Blame Stakes by only 3/4 of a length to the same opponent. But even though Silver Dust had better position at the top of the stretch, Owendale ran him down fair and square in the stretch run. This could be a longshot to throw into the bottom slots of the trifecta or superfecta, but he is not a win contender. Use underneath.
11. Vekoma (1st Preference: Sprint), TBA (Candy Ride – George Weaver/TBA – 8: 6-0-1 - $1,245,525): If Vekoma runs in the Dirt Mile, he figures to flash more speed than he would in the Sprint. He set the pace in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (G1) en route to victory, but went on the shelf afterwards. Capturing a Breeders’ Cup race with no prep race is a difficult task for any horse. Furthermore, the public is not going to let him go at value odds because of the layoff. As the Carter Handicap (G1) and Met Mile winner, he is going to attract attention and run as the second or third choice behind Complexity, if he starts here. But he probably is a play-against on top because of the lack of prep race. Use underneath.
12. War of Will, 10-1 (War Front – Mark Casse/TBA – 17: 5-1-3 - $1,871,803): This is an overrated horse who is a sentimental choice for some bettors because he won the Preakness Stakes last year. War of Will went on a five-race losing streak afterward and finally won against this year by a desperate nose in a weak Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) before running a flat third in the Woodbine Mile (G1) with no real excuse after the 7-year-old mare Starship Jubilee outkicked him in the stretch. Ignore this horse in all tickets. Toss.
13. Pirate’s Punch, 30-1 (Shanghai Bobby – Grant Forster/TBA – 17: 5-3-4 - $332,751): Pirate’s Punch figures to add speed to the race. But judging by his last two starts, the connections are teaching him to rate slightly. He ran as a stalker in the Salvatore Mile (G3) before winning by two lengths in the stretch. He also crossed the wire first in the Philip H. Iselin Stakes (G3) after pressing the pace, but a disqualification knocked him out of the top spot. This is not a win contender. For those hoping for Knicks Go and Complexity to weaken, he is capable of messing up the pace with his natural speed. Toss.
14. Jesus’ Team, 50-1 (Tapiture – Jose Francisco D’Angelo/TBA – 11: 2-3-3 - $256,640): This grinding closer did well to pick up third in the Preakness Stakes at 40-1. But he still lost by 10 lengths and never posed a threat to Swiss Skydiver or Authentic. Two starts ago, Mystic Guide outkicked him in the stretch run of the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). Facing older horses for the first time is not an easy task. At the risk of losing the trifecta again, he fails to make the cut in this analysis. Toss.
15. Mr. Money, 12-1 (Goldencents – Bret Calhoun/TBA – 17: 6-3-0 - $1,360,430): He finally picked up a win again in the Ack Ack Stakes (G3). But this horse always has been overrated because of his wins in the Midwest Derby races last summer. He did not beat any scary runners in the Ack Ack, unless Bourbon Calling and Thirstforlife are difficult horses to beat. Three starts ago, he was no match for C Z Rocket in an optional claimer. Four starts ago, Owendale and Silver Dust simply outkicked him in the stretch run of the Blame Stakes. He is not appealing. Toss.
Note: The Also Eligible list also includes True Timber, Hog Creek Hustle, Bodexpress, Nashville, Midnight Sands, Jasper Prince, Bon Raison and Pingxiang.
If he is not the favorite, Knicks Go is the right choice. As long as Vekoma opts for the Sprint, Knicks Go is supposed to secure the lead and use his newfound talents from that point. If Knicks Go secures a one- or two-length cushion, he is the winner.
According to the overseas markets, Complexity is the betting favorite. If that holds true in North America during live wagering, then Knicks Go is a win/place bet at second choice or higher. If bettors can get 9/2 or more, that is a value.