The Grade 1 race features a matchup of top juveniles looking to finally face off on this big stage of racing, most likely with an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male awarded to the victor.
Over the years, this race has usually drawn an overflow field. While that is not the case this year, the field is quite top heavy with most of the elite 2-year-olds in this division shipping to Santa Anita to compete in the 2019 Juvenile.
With the race looking “top heavy,” the focus of this five questions will be on those runners while also going over general handicapping factors for the race.
1. “Dennis’ Moment — is he the horse to beat?”
With much of the early wagering and chatter leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, focused on Dennis’ Moment, expect him to be the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. When analyzing the favorite in any situation, basic handicapping should start with the four main elements; speed, class, pace, and form. After legitimate trouble with a rival crossing in front of him, clipping heels and losing his rider in his debut, Dennis’ Moment bounced back to break his maiden in his second start. His debut, while riderless, was impressive; he showed a lot of athleticism to stay on his feet and professionally moved up along the inside and then angled out to finish even with the winner before galloping out well in front of that horse. Dale Romans shipped to Ellis Park for his second start, and that move should not turn anyone off. Romans has been on record stating that he likes to take some of his better 2-year-old’s to Ellis Park as maidens to avoid a hard race against the top juveniles on the major circuits. To avoid any incidents for the second start, Dennis’ Moment popped out of the starting gate, settled in comfortably on the lead, and in a display of pure dominance ran away to a 19 ¼-length victory. He ran a stakes-type effort that afternoon and really appreciated that the rider kept him to task despite the open-length margin back to the rest of the field. Visually, he looked above and beyond his competition when returning to Churchill Downs and stepping up to graded stakes-company in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes. His class shined as he smartly rated off the pace and turned in a professional effort to win that afternoon. It was the type of effort you would want to see from a horse in a Grade 3, prior to stepping up into Grade 1 company. He has consistently run speed figures that stack up favorably in this Juvenile field. In terms of pace, he has tactical speed and, again, the class to position himself as necessary depending on the race dynamics. In terms of form, his recent efforts suggest he can continue to factor in this division and his workouts leading up to the race, and especially over at Santa Anita, have been impressive and have not gone unnoticed.
Bob Baffert does have a solid record in this race, including sending out the 2018 Juvenile winner Game Winner. Eight Rings was well-prepared and impressed in his Del Mar debut, showing early speed while patiently tracking outside horses and waiting for his cue to run. He made the lead off the turn and powered away in the stretch. The effort was impressive and earned him 1-2 favorite status for his second start and stakes debut in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. Unable to fulfill that promise that afternoon, as he veered in and lost the rider soon after the start. To his credit, he continued to run on riderless and, after being completely left behind after the incident, ran on late behind the winner Nucky and soon after galloped out in front of that rival. That riderless run, combined with his debut win made him a top contender leading into the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes, a race he was able to win quite easily on the front end as the 6-5 favorite. While he put forth a dominant performance that afternoon, there were some visuals and quirks that are worth addressing. Eight Rings' start was a bit awkward and he did seem to lose his footing breaking inward before John Velazquez sent him to the lead. From there, he controlled the front end. With a clear margin in the stretch, Eight Rings did seem to get distracted by the whip, flipping to his left lead in that final furlong. His brilliance in terms of early speed should be an asset in this race. Based on the preferred run style of others in the field, there are not many that prefer to race on the lead nor would seem to want to get into a duel with him. Expect Eight Rings to employ similar tactics here and to use that speed to his advantage in his toughest test to date.
Both horses have shown talent and had to overcome some real adversity in their limited starts. For Scabbard, he took on a lot of that adversity in his debut. Following a slow start, he quickly had to handle racing in tight along the fence behind and between horses. This is not something many 2-year-olds can handle and it does take talent to do so. He was able to wait inside and then showed grit to close between the rail and a rival before getting clear and opening up to the finish line in a five-length win. Much like his debut, he broke slowly and quickly found himself inside and behind horses in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes Aug. 10, but he showed determination and ability to recover and finish second. Given the sluggish start in his first two races, Scabbard was slightly more alert (slight lunge) to begin the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. Even with the better start, that did not completely eliminate him from trouble as he started to move up heading into the far turn and rallied right in behind horses, forcing him to steady and lose momentum. Scabbard then re-rallied and finished nicely behind Dennis’ Moment. While the trouble was present, it is of my opinion that the order of finish would have been the same had the trouble for Scabbard not occurred. With that in mind, I have a hard time seeing him turn the tables on Dennis’ Moment with both horses running their race on Saturday. That said, Scabbard deserves credit with the legit second-place finish behind the potential race favorite.
Maxfield has shown a lot of talent and it’s hard to argue with the fans of this horse against his chances in the Juvenile. He broke his maiden in the race that followed the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes Sept. 14 at Churchill Downs. His talent was clearly on display as he had to make up for the slow start by rating behind horses before making an outside move around the turn. Maxfield showed a lot of determination in the stretch to reel in his rivals for a three-quarter-length win. In a confident move by the connections, he was challenged off the debut maiden win and entered against graded stakes competition just three weeks later in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. It was a tall ask going in, though one he answered with a 5 ½-length win that afternoon. His trip was similar to the maiden win — from the slow start to making a late, outside move and determined stretch drive for the win. He is clearly a horse that loves to run and compete, and you can see that even in the way he trains in the morning. There is, in addition to talent, a lot of heart in this colt. While that is hard to knock in any racehorse, he again will face a big test in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He has had to overcome a lot to win both career starts and needed to do so in short time. That does come into play here as he will be asked to make his third start in about 45 days.
4. “Is there an upset lurking beyond the top-heavy main contenders?”
While it is tough to look past the main contenders in the field, one horse worth noting and with potential upside is Shoplifted. He made his debut at Saratoga a winning one back in July. While winning as the favorite that afternoon, Shoplifted’s victory suggested he had room to improve with more distance. He made his second start in the Grade 1 Runhappy Hopeful Stakes, in which he had some complications both in terms of the rail draw and sloppy track conditions. With both of those elements against him, he gave a very honest effort to finish second in that Grade 1 race. His connections subsequently had several options in terms of stakes, and decided to ship him to Southern California early and enter him in the Grade 1 American Pharoah rather than rush into the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. He had a subtle trip considering the race shape, with trouble in the early stages that seemed to cost him a better run in the American Pharoah. He was placed in tight between horses early and forced to give up position heading into the first turn. Shoplifted made a move from off the pace to advance on the backstretch and continued to move up around the turn. The top-two finishers, including winner Eight Rings, were forwardly placed throughout and he was really the only horse to make a move from the back of the field. Given the early trouble that afternoon, he is capable of tracking nearer to the pace and working out a more favorable trip in the Juvenile than he had Sept. 27 in the American Pharoah.
5. “Who will win the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile?”
My handicapping and wagering usually begins with assessing the favorite, and in this case Dennis’ Moment is a legit favorite for all the reasons listed above. While this is not the overflow field we have seen in years past, the field is not short on quality. With Dennis’ Moment ticking all the boxes as the favorite, he is hard to make a case against. In terms of value for wagering, Shoplifted could be dismissed off his recent fifth-place finish in the American Pharoah, and the horse that is most appealing outside of the winner (Eight Rings) coming out of that stakes race. Shoplifted has a lot to make up on Dennis’ Moment, but he offers some value even as the less likely winner of the pair. Additionally, he does have experience on this main track, something that has been a topic of discussion in the weeks leading up to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup. A lot of general attention is focused on how horses shipping in will handle the heavy Santa Anita main track. Some theories have suggested that those with experience on the main track will have an advantage; whether that theory holds remains to be seen. Like any race day, the focus should be sticking to the principals of handicapping and wagering. Then, on race day make those adjustments as far as track surface, profile, visuals, tote changes, etc., as necessary.
A deep field of nice juveniles for the TVG Breeders Cup Juvenile will close out the first day, but is just one of the many exciting races on the weekend. I appreciate everyone reading, submitting questions, and offering feedback this year. For more information and extended race analysis for the Breeders’ Cup visit OptixEQ.com.
Best of luck this weekend! —Emily (@EmilyOptixEQ)