Thursday, November 05, 2009

Breeders' Cup, Day 2: Foreigners and Females Challenge the American Big Boys

By Steve Brady

Breeders' Cup events handicapped below begin with Race #2, Sat., Nov. 7, at Santa Anita Race Track, Arcadia, California. Televised coverage begins on ABC at 1:45 p.m. EST, and then switches to ESPN at 3:30 p.m. EST.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (Grade II), $1,000,000, Two-Year-Old Colts and Geldings, 1 Mile (Turf)
Two-year-old colts on the turf. I like the favorite, Interactif (4-1) [pictured, left]. Seems to have thrived with the switch to turf routes. He’s got a good closing style in a group that might be bunched up. Viscount Nelson (6-1) will be a little closer to the lead, but will probably save a little something for the finish. I’m also throwing in a longshot here: Gallant Gent. Aside from the fact that his name sounds like a men’s magazine from the '70s, at 30-1, this guy could surprise. He’s been in the money in all of his races, including the Grade 1 Norfolk, a tightly contested race, in which he held on for third by 2 ½ lengths to Lookin At Lucky (the 8-5 favorite in the more prestigious B.C. Juvenile) after going too fast early. The other pace-setters in that race folded on the turn, but G.G. held on quite well. He’s trying grass for the first time, but judging from his two turf workouts since then, it looks like he loves the stuff. Did I mention he’s 30-1??

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, $1,000,000, Three-Year-Olds and Up, About 6 1/2 Furlongs (Turf)
Santa Anita has the coolest turf sprint course in the country. The horses make the only right turn in the U.S., run down the hill, cross the main track, then pick up the turf again and take it all the way to the finish line. The ML favorite is California Flag (7-2). C.F. has ridiculous early speed, which was on impressive display last year for 5 ½ furlongs. Problem is, the race is 6 ½ furlongs. The race seems to set up better for him this year, as there doesn’t seem to be anyone to really challenge him up front, and he still holds the track record. Last year’s upset winner (at 36-1), Desert Code, is here again. Guess what? He’s gonna be 30-1 again. They’re saying he’s off form. Well, if he was on form last year, why did they let him go off at 36-1!! He gets the Mig at the helm again, and he’s got a lot more experience at this trip than anyone else in here. He also seems to be working okay over the turf again. I’m not saying I’m picking him, but it’s sure food for thought. I’m also looking at Delta Storm (10-1). He’s got the coveted outside post on this course, and should be tracking C.F. the whole way. He’s also got Gomez at the controls. When the favorite’s 7-2, no one knows what the hell’s gonna happen.

Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint (Grade I), $2,000,000, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 6 Furlongs
Big favorite (7-5 ML) in this race is Bob Baffert trainee Zensational (left). He’s won four straight sprints; three straight Grade 1s. Look at his workout line—four straight bullets, including a sub-58 five furlongs. Looks like a total monster. But I think he can be beat. He’s never faced competition like this, and there’s a lot of guys who are going to gun it early. A logical alternative is second favorite, Gayego (5-2), a sprint record holder on this track who likes to pick them off in the stretch. But I may actually take a crack at a much longer shot, Capt. Candyman Can (15-1). He also comes from off the pace, has competitive Beyers, and won’t be coming from quite as far back. And I’d like jockey Javier Castellano to fly back to New York with a smile on his face.

Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Grade I), $2,000,000, Two-Year-Old Colts and Geldings, 1 1/16 Miles
Once again we have the big favorite, Lookin At Lucky. I guess that makes sense. He’s another of Baffert’s charges, and he’s undefeated. He just won a Grade 1 Stakes race on this track. But I don’t know if I’m gonna take 7-5 in a race like this, especially when L.A.L.’s stuck out in hole #13, and when there’s just not the same kind of speed to go after. If I’m gonna use a closer, I’m gonna need a price. Beethoven is a good candidate. The Aiden O’Brien trainee ships in from Ireland with a big Racing Post number, and has a lot of experience in big fields. And get this: He’s 15-1! Bam. Actually, I’m leaning toward D’Funnybone (5-2). He’s won three of four races, and came in second in one by only a half length, and he seems to have thrived since moving to Richard Dutrow’s barn. He’s never run a route, but it looks like he’ll prefer a little more distance. Wait! Who’s this Noble’s Promise? Ken McPeek colt. Looks pretty sharp at 8-1. And he’s proven at this distance on synthetics. Won a G-1. This is a tough race. Good luck.

TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (Grade I), $2,000,000, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 1 Mile (Turf)
Girl Against Boys Alert!! (Pt. 1 of 3) This is the race filly Goldikova won last year. Pound for pound, the best horse in the world. She’s no Zenyatta; she’s kind of a slight little thing, but man can she run. She shows up from France last year, and damn if she doesn’t up and run a 107 Beyer. Against some of the world’s best male turfers!! Will she do it again? Probably. But she does have to contend with that outside post, and she did show a little hiccup last month at Longchamp. Perhaps stayed a little too close to a fast pace. This time, she’ll be chasing Cowboy Cal (6-1) and Gladiatorus (20-1) on the lead. And Court Vision is certainly eligible to come on fast in the stretch. There’s also a Brit named Zacinto (10-1) who may be tracking her every move. I think she’ll do it, but it’s certainly no lock. Ya'gotcher Olivier Peslier in the saddle. What the hell, let’s root for the French!!

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (Grade I), $1,000,000, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 1 Mile
Here’s a funny point to consider: The horse that holds the track record at this distance is not running in this race. That’s right. El Gato Malo is running in the downhill turf sprint—as a 30-1 shot. WTF!! Anyway, we can only work with what we have. And what we have is a lot of question marks. Ireland’s Mastercraftsman (above, left) is the prohibitive favorite at 6-5. But if he’s so great, why isn’t he running in the Classic? Huh? Answer me that! Why isn’t he going against Zenyatta two races later? Meanwhile, this whole group seems like the discards from the more significant races—and is Exhibit 1 in making the case that the Breeders’ Cup should be streamlined back to a single day event. Other interesting runners include Furthest Land (20-1) who ran a career best Beyer of 106 under Gomez last out at Turfway Park; that figure is certainly better than Midshipman’s last Beyer of 98 at Belmont. Still, Julien Leparoux is on Furthest Land, and Gomez is taking the call on Midshipman. Maybe Gomez believes in him. He sure showed promise last year, when he won the BC Juve, but he’s only had one race since then—a 6.5 F optional claiming race at Belmont, which he won. Still, it was no Grade 1. He’s been working steadily since, but nothing that really pops off the page. Who knows what to think?

Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (Grade I), $3,000,000, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
They start this race at about the same place they start the turf sprint, but then, after they pass the finish line, they go around the track another time. Red Rocks is running in this event for the fourth straight year. He won it in 2006; came in third in 2007; and was tenth last year. He doesn’t seem at the top of his game, and the pace doesn’t seem to favor him, so I guess that’s why he’s 20-1. Conduit (7-5) won this race last year, and seems to be returning in good form, but I don’t think the pace will help him either. That opens the door to Girl Against Boys Alert 2!! Dar Re Mi (3-1) is a filly owned by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. She was famously robbed of a victory in the Grade 1 Prix Vermeille, when French stewards evidently didn’t like the idea of an English filly winning their race. (Hmmmm… I may take back my pick in the Mile.) She also finished fifth to Sea the Stars in the Arc de Triomphe (Conduit was fourth). I kinda like Dar Re, but I also like Presious Passion (4-1). In fact, I saw this guy just a month ago, when he came in from New Jersey and wired the field in the G-1 Clement Hirsch. It was a pretty impressive win. That was at a mile and a quarter, but he’s run the mile and a half several times and done quite well at the distance. Elvis (Trujillo) is in the house for this ride, and I think he just might wire this field. Meanwhile, the ML favorite is Spanish Moon (5-2), who has impressive Racing Post figures, and who should also be up pretty close to the pace. When it’s a toss-up, I take the higher price, so I’m going with Presious.

Breeders' Cup Classic (Grade I), $5,000,000, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 1 1/4 Miles
Girl Against Boys Alert 3: As much as I’d like Zenyatta (left) to defeat this field and make a strong statement in the argument that she’s the best female horse in the world, I just can’t recommend a bet on her at 5-2. It’s too short a price in a field like this. (She’s never faced males before, and until I looked at these past performance lines, I didn't realize Zenyatta had faced so many five- and six-horse fields—going against 12 might be an eye-opener to her.) I actually wonder if Zenyatta will go off as the favorite; the public could easily overrule oddsmaker John White and make Rip Van Winkle the favorite by post time. Anyway, there are several in here who could win, and I’d rather go after a price. I can get Gio Ponti with Ramon Dominguez riding at 12-1? Really?!!? Richard’s Kid just won the Pacific Classic over Einstein and Rail Trip, and I get him at 12-1?!!? I can have Einstein at 12-1?!!? I can take all three of them at what is effectively
4-1?!!? It’s absurd. We’ll see what these prices are like at post time.

Meanwhile, there’s an even longer longshot that I like in the Classic race: Twice Over, another Brit (left). He’s won three straight Grade 1 events; he’s been in the money in 12 of his 15 lifetime starts; he’s been in the money in six of seven lifetime races where there were 10 or more competitors; and just a little over a year ago, he just beat and then was just beaten by Raven’s Pass, last year’s Classic winner. The knock against him seems to be that he faded when he faced Sea the Stars and Rip Van Winkle in the Eclipse Stakes on July 4. But if you watch that race, you will see that Twice Over was bumped in the stretch, just at the time he was beginning to move forward, and he had to put on the brakes. He was taken completely out of the race, and he finished 17 lengths behind. If you throw that race out, he's always there at the finish. There’s also a question of whether or not he can run on synthetics. (All 15 of his career races are on turf.) I’m gonna guess if they shipped him over here, they think he can do it. Unfortunately, he’s got no published works, so we won’t have any idea how he travels over the Pro-Ride until Saturday afternoon. Finally, I’m glad to see his jockey for his last eight races, Thomas Queally, is coming over for the ride. (Aside from the ones I mentioned, I think these other horses could come in the money: Colonel John; Quality Road; Regal Ransom.

Steve Brady is Sports Media America's Los Angeles-based handicapper. When he's not working as a commercial actor or comedy improviser, Steve can often be seen trackside at Santa Anita, Del Mar, Hollywood Park and other California horse palaces.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Breeders' Cup, Day 1: Distaff Lineup Faces Talented European Invaders at Santa Anita

By Steve Brady

The Breeders’ Cup is a two-day event. With one exception (The B.C. Marathon), Day 1 is dedicated to distaff events (female horses only), and Day 2 is for male horses (although there will be some significant females “taking on the boys”). Breeders' Cup events handicapped below begin with Race #3, Fri., Nov. 6, at Santa Anita Race Track, Arcadia, California. Televised coverage begins on ESPN2 at 3:35 p.m. EST.

Breeders’ Cup Marathon, $500,000, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 1 3/4 Miles
The Marathon kicks off the festivities this year. It’s about as long a race as you ever see in North America. The heavy favorite in this race is Mastery. He has the highest Racing Post numbers (kind of the English equivalent of Beyers); is used to these marathon distances; has been consistently finishing in the money in Graded Stakes races in Europe; and has the pace-tracking style that has been successful on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface this meet. He’s also going to have world-renowned jockey Frankie Dettori on his back, who is a proven commodity at Santa Anita and in the Breeders' Cup. Still, Mastery has very little experience on anything other than turf, and if he doesn’t handle it well, you’ll feel like a chump buying in at low odds. A nice alternative in this event is another European, Father Time (pictured, above). He’s lightly raced, but is proven at long distances, and has won on synthetics. He will be closing. It would also be reckless to overlook last year’s winner in this event, Irish runner Muhannak. He’s not favored, as it’s seen as a stronger race this year. Still, he’s proven over this distance and surface, and that’s tough to ignore at 12-1. I also like another 12-1 shot here—Black Astor. His last race at Del Mar, he ran absurdly fast, 10 lengths ahead of the pack, and then sputtered out in the lane. I am hoping pace specialist Alex Solis can get him to relax, let Nite Lite take the lead, and reserve some energy for the lane. Black Astor is a turf specialist, but judging from his recent workouts, I’m sure he can handle the Pro-Ride just fine.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, $1,000,000, Two-Year-Old Fillies, 1 Mile (Turf)
Juve fillies. Even at the top level, this can be an unpredictable bunch. They’ve been protecting the turf for the past month, saving it for this day. That means the rails will be at zero, and closers will have an even chance. Not only that, while there isn’t any blistering speed in this race, several of these feel comfortable racing towards the front. I think that’ll open the door for some closers, and another European. My top pick is the morning line favorite, the Irish filly Lillie Langtry (pictured, above, winning at Newmarket). Calculating off her Racing Post figures, she seems the toughest of the group. Plus, I always give an edge to young horses who can close—it shows they’ve got a head on their shoulders. For many of the same reasons, my second pick here is the ML 2d favorite, House of Grace. I’ll also take a look at Dale Romans’ trainee, Tapitsfly. She’s a frontrunner, but she’s been in the company of next-out winners, and she wired the field in her only turf attempt at a mile and a sixteenth. Garrett Gomez is waiting in the wings on one of two also-eligibles, who could get in if there are any early scratches.

Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (Grade I), $2,000,000, Two-Year-Old Fillies, 1 1/16 Miles
Juve fillies again, this time running long on the Pro-Ride. This seems to be a pretty wide open affair. Blind Luck and Connie and Michael are the two ML faves—a closer and a speedster (both styles I don’t like on the main track at S.A.). I want something close to the pace, but not setting the pace. Those two may be near the wire at the end, but I’m leaning towards Devil May Care. She already won a G-1 in New York, and already won going long, despite stumbling at the break. Todd Pletcher knows what he’s doing, right? Plus, you get John Velazquez in the driver’s seat.

Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf (Grade I), $2,000,000, Fillies and Mares, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
Fillies and mares, going long on the grass. The ML favorite is Forever Together. 2d favorite is Magical Fantasy. I like Midday (pictured, left) at 4-1. She’s been facing some tough competition in Europe (four straight G-1’s), and she’s got a good, tracking running style. Also, she seems to do much better on firmer turf, and she’ll definitely be getting that in Arcadia. Plus, odds of favorites go down, and odds of third favorites go up, so I think I’ll get better than 4-1 at post time.

Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (Grade I), $1,000,000, Fillies and Mares, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 7 Furlongs
Fillies and mares sprinting. I finally get to pick Garrett Gomez. Ventura is the morning line favorite, and seems like the clear choice to me. This mare has faced the boys a few times over the past year and done consistently well. Best last-out Beyer; most consistent Beyers. She doesn’t get a super fast pace to run at, but at least six of these should be running towards the front. This is the closest I have to a single for the two days.

Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (Grade I), $2,000,000, Fillies and Mares, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 1 1/8 Miles
Two in a row, I’m going with the chalk. I don’t really see a way around Music Note (left) at 8-5. She’s got the Beyers, the pace set-up, and is a very consistent performer. It’s possible Careless Jewel could get loose on the lead and wire them; it’s also possible M.N. could try to stay too close to C.J. and tire out, and open the door for Life Is Sweet. Meanwhile, I don’t ever remember seeing M.N. jockey Rajiv Maragh riding at Santa Anita, so his lack of familiarity with the track could create problems. Still, looking at the horses alone, I think Music Note should take it.

Steve Brady is Sports Media America's Los Angeles-based handicapper. When he's not working as a commercial actor or comedy improviser, Steve can often be seen trackside at Santa Anita, Del Mar, Hollywood Park and other California horse palaces.

Next Up: Breeders' Cup, Day 2: Plucky Females Try to Show Who's Boss
Undefeated mare Zenyatta takes on the big boys in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and Goldikova (right) defends her title in the Breeders' Cup Turf Mile. Bookmark SMA and check back tomorrow for Brady's analysis.