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 (check out ABR’s primer on gambling terms for more info). 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 37th Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland Race Course are vulnerable to lose at short odds? Here are five candidates:
Look back at this accomplished runner’s past performances, and in his only start around two turns, the 2018 Juvenile at Churchill Downs, he finished 10th of 13. Granted that was two long years ago, and he’s certainly excelled racing around one turn in seven-furlong and one-mile races in New York. But the Dirt Mile at Keeneland will be around two turns, and 2-1 is simply too short a price to take on this colt who is facing a very formidable field, including horses like Art Collector (6-1), Mr Freeze (6-1), Owendale (8-1), War of Will (10-1), and even longshots Mr. Money (20-1), Pirate’s Punch (20-1), and Silver Dust (30-1) who all have finished first in two or more stakes races around two turns on dirt.
This $1.35-million filly is undefeated through three starts for Bob Baffert in California, but her speed figures don’t stand out and she’s stepping up big-time in class against this field. Simply Ravishing (5-2) already has a Grade 1 win on this track and at this distance and Dayoutoftheoffice (5-2) is also unbeaten and her two graded stakes wins in New York were very impressive from the “eye-test” perspective. For that matter, another unbeaten filly, Dale Romans-trained Girl Daddy (6-1), looked good winning the Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs in September. Princess Noor was not challenged in the slightest back home in the Golden State, but I think that changes at Keeneland.
First of all, Ivar may not go off as the post-time favorite in what is an absolutely stacked edition of the Mile. I expect defending Mile winner Uni (5-1), English Two Thousand Guineas winner Kameko (6-1), and maybe even front-running Factor This (8-1) to be in the 5-1 range when the starting gates open. No doubt about it, this Brazilian-bred looked great in the Shadwell Turf Mile on this course last month, rallying from seventh in a nine-horse field to win going away. But he was 1-for-3 before that in North America after shipping up from Argentina, where he had dominated. In his prior start to the Shadwell, he finished third in a Kentucky Downs stakes race against some good opponents, but nothing like the ones he’ll face Saturday.
I’ll admit that this one is a bit of a stretch based on how dominant Jackie’s Warrior has been through his first four starts. He has one of the most balanced, controlled, and powerful strides I’ve seen in a racehorse over the past couple of years, and hasn’t been tested yet while winning by open lengths each time, including a 5 ½-length romp in the Champagne Stakes last month at Belmont Park. That came going a one-turn mile, and while Jackie’s Warrior should easily be able to handle an extra half-furlong in the Juvenile, Saturday will be his two-turn debut – and I just can’t shake the notion that he’ll ultimately be more like Mitole than Gun Runner, to compare him with a pair of recent Steve Asmussen-trained champions. Furthermore, there are several other contenders lined up who are loaded with potential and who have pedigrees more suitable to route races, starting with Essential Quality (4-1), who already has a Grade 1 win at this track and distance, and also including Sittin On Go (12-1) and Likeable (15-1).
Even Improbable’s most ardent backers would admit that he’s no dead-certain lock in the Classic, matching up against top-class foes such as Maximum Security (7-2), Tiz the Law (3-1), Authentic (6-1), and Tom’s d’Etat (6-1). Still, he is very much a deserving favorite in a competitive edition of the Classic, and if he matches the speed figures he earned in his recent Whitney Stakes and Awesome Again Stakes wins, he’ll be tough to beat. It’s worth keeping in mind that Tom’s d’Etat did defeat him back in the spring, in an Oaklawn Park stakes race that marked the seasonal debut for both horses. When they matched up again in the Whitney, Tom’s d’Etat lost all chance when he stumbled badly coming out of the starting gate, rallying wide to check in third. I expect both Tom’s d’Etat and Tiz the Law to fire big efforts in the Classic, and while Maximum Security is a wild card following his well-beaten second in the Awesome Again, regaining his best form makes him a win candidate here as well.