Nothing makes a horseplayer smile quite like the reward of finding and cashing a ticket on a longshot, and no event offers greater opportunity to uncover a gem than the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
The 14 championship races bring together the best international competition in one venue for a sequence of world-class races in which multiple Grade 1 winners frequently step into the starting gate at odds of 15-1, 20-1, or even higher.
Every year, I try to uncover a dozen or so price plays for the Breeders’ Cup, some of which I’ll be betting to win and others I plan to include in exacta and trifecta bets in search of a nice payout. Let’s get right to it …
Friday, Nov. 1
#5 Encoder (15-1): This is one of my favorite longshots of the weekend, so I’m hoping to kick off the championship slate with a nice bankroll builder. Encoder is cutting back in distance after back-to-back stakes at one mile, a win in September in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes and a fourth-place finish as the favorite in the Zuma Beach Stakes Oct. 6, when he faded late after pulling early. He won his career debut at this five-eighths of a mile distance at Del Mar in August, finishing the final furlong in 11.46 seconds with a final three-eighths of a mile in 33.83 seconds according to Trakus data. In his stakes win, he covered the last eighth in 11.68 seconds going a mile. I think there is a chance he’ll get a dream, stalking trip under jockey Flavien Prat, who is clicking at 24% for the year and 24% at the current meet, and I expect him to have plenty left in the tank in the stretch cutting back to a sprint at his home base.
Pedigree note: Encoder is by champion English Channel out of a half-sister to the dam of Grade 1 winner Bolo and also to the dam of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Grade 1 winner Dullahan.
#13 Fort Myers (12-1): I think Fort Myers stablemate Arizona (#12) is vulnerable and you get similar talent here at nearly five times the morning-line price. Fort Myers ran third in group stakes in July and August in Ireland and then was fourth, beaten by 1 ½ lengths in a Group 2 race at seven eighths of a mile in England. He comes out of a confidence-building win on a synthetic track and I think he has the better two-turn pedigree than his stablemate. My pick on top is #4 Decorated Invader and I’m hoping to spice up the exacta with Fort Myers. If’s he’s 12-1 or higher, I’ll also play him to win.
Exacta Box (#7 Crystalle [8-1], #11 Sharing [12-1], and #13 Selflessly [8-1]): I almost always play the Euro invaders in this race, but the reality is that U.S.-based fillies have won nine of 11 editions of this race, including five straight. Chad Brown has won four of the last five, and I like his entrant Selflessly coming off a Grade 2 win in the Miss Grillo Stakes. The runner-up from that race, Crystalle, was absolutely flying late with a final quarter-mile in 22.17 seconds, which is absurdly fast for a 2-year-old filly. At 8-1, they both offer terrific value in this race. I’m also including Graham Motion’s Sharing coming out of a measured stakes win at Laurel Park, where she looked like she had plenty left to give. Motion won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf with Sharing’s dam (mother), Shared Account, and I think this filly could be special, too. I’m going to play one of the three to win and box all three in a healthy exacta. I respect the European fillies shipping over, but I think a few of them have some distance questions while morning-line favorite Albigna (#9) is coming out of a monster race that came on soft turf, which is completely unlike what she will compete on Friday.
#2 Wrecking Crew (20-1): I wrote about this horse a bit in my historical Juvenile analysis and I think he could sneak into the trifecta or exacta at a huge price. Wrecking Crew finished second in both the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes and Grade 1 Runhappy Del Mar Futurity in his two most recent starts. He’s shown class at the Grade 1 level for a trainer, Peter Miller, who has won four Breeders’ Cup races in the last two years.
He’s from the first crop of Sky Kingdom, a two-time graded stakes winner at 1 ½ miles, and there is also some stamina in the bottom half of his pedigree that indicates he could improve going around two turns … and he will need to with a career-best 99 Equibase Speed Figure and 79 Beyer Speed Figure. But at 20-1, the price is right.
Saturday, Nov. 2
#8 Legends of War (20-1): I was leaning toward putting Stubbins (#5) here at 12-1 on the morning line, but Legends of War beat him in his last start in a Grade 3 race at 6 ½ furlongs Sept. 12 at Kentucky Downs. Prior to that, Legends of War won a turf sprint at this five-eighths of a mile distance at Del Mar with a final furlong in 11.57 seconds and his final three-eighths of a mile in 33.63 seconds, according to Trakus data. Group 2-placed in England as a 2-year-old, Legends of War’s only bad start in the U.S. came when stretching out to a mile and I think he’s found his groove sprinting on the grass. Legends of War is rested and has been training well, and he was flattered when Stubbins came back and won the Woodford Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select Oct. 5 at Keeneland.
#12 Fanny Logan (15-1): When you are scouring the PPs for longshots, sometimes you have to make concessions, and Fanny Logan is light on class compared with the opposition. But she’s in terrific form and I trust her trainer, John Gosden, who was based in Southern California in the late 1980s. Gosden understands that it takes a certain type of horse to handle the firmer turf in California coming from the much softer ground in Europe. Gosden has five career Breeders’ Cup wins, including four since 2008, plus five other top-three finishes from 35 lifetime starters in the Breeders’ Cup. If Gosden thinks Fanny Logan is ready to step up, I believe him. She’s won four straight races by open lengths, all at 1 ¼ or 1 5/16 miles, including an easy Group 3 win at Newmarket Oct. 11 under an ultra-confident ride from Frankie Dettori. Sistercharlie (#2) has won six straight and will be a heavy favorite to repeat. Several other Europeans have much flashier resumes than Fanny Logan, but I think she is a serious win contender. I’m planning to play her to win and place and I might plan an exacta box with her, Sistercharlie, and Vasilika (#7).
#7 Whitmore (15-1): Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up showed a flash of his top form when closing for second in the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes Oct. 4. I am a little concerned that Whitmore’s only previous trip to Southern California resulted in an eighth-place finish in the 2017 Sprint, but I think he’ll get some pace to set up his closing kick and he’s finished first or second in 21 of 29 starts. I’m hoping jockey Flavien Prat takes him well back, lets Whitmore just make one late run, and he finds his way into the top three, maybe even the exacta, at a nice price.
#13 Hey Gaman (12-1): Take a look at this 4-year-old colt’s past performances, then draw a line through the four races on soft turf and look again. Much, much different racehorse you’re looking at. He’s one of my favorite longshots of the whole weekend, but post-position 13 was an absolute kick in the gut. There’s very little speed in here, though, so I’m hoping jockey Frankie Dettori can get him out of the starting gate cleanly and tuck in just behind the pacesetters.
#5 True Valour (20-1): After disappointing in two starts in North America in 2018, this 5-year-old has shown significant improvement in 2019. He has some back class as a Group 3 winner in Ireland, and he won the Grade 3 Thunder Road Stakes by a half-length in February. True Valour returned from an eight-month layoff Oct. 5 to win the Grade 2 City of Hope Mile at the Breeders’ Cup Mile course and distance. He covered the mile in 1:32.82 to equal his career-top 114 Equibase Speed Figure and has a chance to hit the board at a big price.
#6 Wow Cat (15-1): The 5-year-old mare has finished first or second in 13 of 15 career starts, including a runner-up finish in last year’s Longines Distaff. A Horse of the Year in her native Chile, she returned from an 8 ½-month layoff following the Distaff in July but has not been as sharp as she was a year ago. I thought she looked a little more like herself when running second to prohibitive Distaff favorite Midnight Bisou in the Grade 2 Beldame Invitational Stakes Sept. 28 and she’s eligible to take a step forward in her fourth race of the year, which last year was also this race. I’m leaning toward playing just a $10 straight exacta in this race Midnight Bisou over Wow Cat.
#9 Mongolian Groom (12-1): It was easy to dismiss Mongolian Groom’s 2 ¼-length win over McKinzie in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes Sept. 28 as a fluke. I definitely did and so did a lot of astute handicappers. But the more I look at him with the best last-race Equibase Speed Figure and Beyer Speed Figure in the field and connections willing to supplement him to the race for $200,000, the more I’m starting to like his chances to run another big one. Sure, he might see more competition up front early from Vino Rosso, War of Will, and McKinzie (with a new rider), but I don’t expect the pace to be especially fast. There is a chance the others view his Awesome Again as a fluke, too, and let him set the pace while content to track just behind him. The leading Classic contenders are very good, but there is no clear standout in this race. If we see an upset I think it’s going to be Mongolian Groom.