There’s an abundance of history and statistics that can be helpful when handicappers study the Breeders’ Cup races. Except for one.
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint is the 14th and latest addition to the slate of Breeders’ Cup stakes.
It will make its Breeders' Cup debut on Friday as the fifth race of the day and the first of the five Breeders’ Cup stakes on the card. Since it is the first running of the race, there are no past editions to reflect on in your quest to find a winner. Yet there are some factors that should be taken into consideration in this 5 ½-furlong turf sprint for 2-year-olds.
For one, look for a European first. While that might seem an obvious thought, there are some good reasons for it in this instance.
Remember this is a new race and relatively new category in American racing. There were only a handful of graded stakes for 2-year-olds on the turf and by this time of year, the best 2-year-old turfers are stretching out and racing around two turns in a race like the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
Meanwhile, in Europe there have been a score of group stakes for 2-year-olds at sprint distances, making those runners battle tested as they arrive in America.
Just look at Soldier’s Call. Trained by Archie Watson, he was third in the five-furlong Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp, losing by a head and a nose in a race that featured older horses. Prior to that, he had a Group 2 win and a win and a third in Group 3 stakes.
First of all, don’t be distracted by her gender. Around two turns, the guys might have an advantage. But at a sprint distance, especially at age 2, females can not only keep step with males, they can beat them.
So Perfect has already competed in four group stakes, losing by less than a length in a Group 1 race against fillies, and finishing second by a half-length in a Group 1 contest against males. Sergei Prokofiev, also trained by O’Brien, has raced in four group stakes.
Meanwhile, the average American starter has typically raced twice on turf and one of them was a maiden race.
Realistically, there could be an exceptionally talented American in the field, but the edge in conditioning should play into the Europeans’ hands.
With one exception. While the most shocking development about the race is that Brown does not have a single horse among the 28 pre-entries for the race, it’s no surprise that American trainer Wesley Ward has six of them.
Ward is a master at getting his 2-year-olds to fire in the spring and he’s America’s ace when it comes to sending 2-year-olds over to England for Royal Ascot in June and winning races.
As proof, one of Ward’s three juveniles who are among the 12 horses expected in the main body of the race is Shang Shang Shang, a filly who beat the boys to grab a “Win and You’re In” spot in the Juvenile Turf Sprint by winning the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot.
He also has another filly among the 12 likely starters in Stillwater Cove, who raced at Royal Ascot, finishing 13th against fillies in the Albany Stakes but then won a turf sprint stakes at Saratoga and was fifth at Woodbine in a Grade 1 stakes at a mile.
Ward’s four on the also-eligible list are Chelsea Cloisters and Moonlight Romance, who are the first two on the also-eligible list, as well as Mae Never No and Dragic. Chelsea Cloisters is expected to run after it was announced It's Gonna Hurt, one of the top 12, would not be entered in the race.
If anyone knows how to beat the Europeans at their own game, it’s Ward, making him the backup plan if you sour on the Euros.
So, keep all that in mind when you handicap a Breeders’ Cup race that may not have a history, but certainly has some reasonable expectations.