The Breeders’ Cup World Championships is the ultimate handicapping puzzle for horseplayers, and it’s especially appealing to those who adhere to the maxim of “bet a little to win a lot.”
The 14-race slate brings together great horses from all regions in the U.S. as well as from overseas, which means that year after year, top-class runners with full résumés go off at odds far higher than they would in any other setting.
Finding and playing longshots in the Breeders’ Cup can become even more lucrative if you are able to also select – and toss from your betting slips – several horses that are underlays; that is, ones that are receiving more support from bettors than they should and thus carrying lower odds. Zigging while everyone else zags is the essence of astute betting in any environment, and in horse racing it can lead to astronomical payouts.
So, which morning-line favorites in the 36th Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park are most vulnerable to lose at short odds? Here are five candidates:
McKinzie may actually not be the Classic favorite once the starting gates open. Vino Rosso and Code of Honor are both 4-1 on the morning line, and both could end up receiving more support from bettors. Still, Bob Baffert’s charge is the top California-based contender and his 12-for-13 career record in the exacta speaks for itself. The one blemish does stand out, though: last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, where McKinzie packed it in early and finished 12th of 14. It’s hard to forget that effort, or lack thereof, and while McKinzie did run much better at a mile and a quarter earlier this year in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, he still couldn’t seal the deal and lost by a nose to Gift Box. Shorten this race up by a furlong, or better yet a furlong and a half, and McKinzie looks much more formidable. But it’s called the Classic for a reason.
Coolmore trainer Aidan O’Brien has won the Juvenile Turf four times since the race was introduced in 2007, and has also finished second four times. It’s therefore no wonder his Group 2-winning colt is the morning-line favorite for this year’s edition. But the competition is very tough, and it’s worth noting that a) Arizona has never run the mile distance before; and b) his young sire No Nay Never, while off to a good start at stud, was a sprinter. This colt prefers to race on or near the lead, and should have a lot of company. A hot pace should set things up for the closers, led by impressive Summer Stakes winner Decorated Invader and the three horses coming out of the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park. Local Zuma Beach Stakes winner Hit the Road is also interesting here at 10-1 odds.
I’ve been following Mitole since the very beginning when he dazzled during Oaklawn Park’s 2018 meet, and his win in the Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap back in June is easily one of the year’s standout performances. However, 9-5 odds on a horse competing in Southern California for the first time – even if his workouts at Santa Anita have been good – are too low to accept in a race of this quality. Ultra-fast Shancelot already has a race on Santa Anita’s track under his belt, and Imperial Hint may actually get the best trip sitting just behind the speed if he breaks well (UPDATE: Imperial Hint was scratched on Nov. 2 due to a foot issue). But the biggest threat in my view comes from Catalina Cruiser, who’s 7-for-8 lifetime, 2-for-2 at Santa Anita (both wins coming in his first two starts, and at six furlongs), and 3-for-3 breaking from the inside post, where he’ll be Saturday. If his 4-1 morning-line odds hold up come post time, and Mitole’s also stay steady, Catalina Cruiser’s the better play.
Sistercharlie’s potential biggest rival in this race, Coolmore’s star filly Magical, spiked a temperature earlier this week and was retired. That's a big advantage for this champion turf mare, who already deserved favoritism based on the fact that she won this race last year and is currently on a six-race winning streak (all Grade 1 events). Truth be told, if Sistercharlie gets a good trip and a clear run through the lane (something John Velazquez almost always pulls off), she could make 8-5 look like a gift. But seven of Sistercharlie’s 10 wins have been by a length or less, so the margin for error is slight with this confirmed closer. Furthermore, I think this is the toughest field she’s faced since last fall’s Filly and Mare Turf, even without Magical. Vasilika is 11 for 12 lifetime (!) on Santa Anita’s turf course, and Mrs. Sippy held her own against Sistercharlie last out in the Flower Bowl Stakes. And Euro shippers Villa Marina, Fanny Logan, and Castle Lady (the last a gorgeous Shamardal filly who I think will improve off of her U.S. debut in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes Presented by Lane’s End at Keeneland) are all worthy of consideration as longshot upset candidates. UPDATE: Sistercharlie's “rabbit” stablemate Thais was originally entered in this race but was withdrawn on Oct. 31. That alters the projected race shape of the Filly and Mare Turf and could result in more relaxed early fractions, making Sistercharlie's task more difficult.
You won’t find many bigger Omaha Beach fans than myself, having pegged him as an under-the-radar Kentucky Derby candidate early last winter and even seeking out a future bet on him in Las Vegas that, fortunately as it turned out, was not made. Based on pure talent, I think he’s a cut above his Dirt Mile opponents, with only Mr. Money (who should appreciate the cutback in distance) and Improbable (ditto) in his orbit. Omaha Beach has posted three stellar workouts at Santa Anita following his rousing comeback win in the six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship over Shancelot last month, and by all appearances is ready to extend his cruising speed up to a mile … still, I think that both of his 3-year-old foes mentioned above, along with 5-year-old multiple graded stakes winner Coal Front, will not let him get an uncontested lead, and that could make Mike Smith use more of his colt’s energy earlier than anticipated. Omaha Beach has a proven well of stamina to draw from in the stretch if a fast pace does occur, but he’s no ironclad lock in a race that I think shapes up to be tougher than it initially appeared.