A challenging proposition awaits handicappers keen on betting Friday’s $2 million Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland Race Course.
The feature race on “Future Stars Friday” at the Breeders’ Cup, the Juvenile serves as a year-end showdown for the best 2-year-old colts and geldings in North America. The 1 1/16-mile event frequently determines the division champion and also serves as a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” prep race awarding 20 qualifying points to the winner.
With so much on the line, the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has attracted a full field of 14 youngsters to the mix. The field is stacked with talent from top to bottom, which raises a tough question – should bettors support 7-5 favorite #7 Jackie’s Warrior as the most likely winner, or should they oppose him in hopes of cashing a big payoff with an upset winner?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both strategies. Certainly Jackie’s Warrior is a formidable contender. Under the care of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Jackie’s Warrior has gone undefeated in four starts, including gate-to-wire victories in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes Presented by Miller Lite, Grade 1 Runhappy Hopeful Stakes, and Grade 1 Champagne Stakes. In terms of Beyer and Brisnet speed figures, Jackie’s Warrior is clearly the fastest horse on paper – he’s posted triple-digit numbers on both scales, whereas none of his Juvenile rivals have cracked the triple-digit mark even once.
Jackie’s Warrior’s greatest weapon is his abundant early speed. A pure front-runner, the son of Maclean’s Music can craft his own racing luck, sprinting to the front and staying out of trouble. He put his speed to good use in the Hopeful, winning eased up in the stakes-record time of 1:21.29. And he was arguably even more impressive in the Champagne, powering clear down the homestretch to win by 5 ½ lengths.
Granted, 7-5 is a short price to accept in a large field. Those odds suggest Jackie’s Warrior has a roughly 40% chance of winning, which seems a bit high given the caliber of competition he’ll be facing. There’s also the question of distance – Jackie’s Warrior will be stretching out over 1 1/16 miles and racing around two turns for the first time, two potentially significant obstacles to overcome.
But if you want to oppose Jackie’s Warrior… who do you oppose him with? Many bettors will choose the undefeated Godolphin homebred #5 Essential Quality, who powered to victory by 3 ¼ lengths in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity over the same track and distance as the Juvenile. Trainer Brad Cox and jockey Luis Saez have been on fire at Keeneland, but Essential Quality has yet to approach Jackie’s Warrior on the Beyer and Brisnet speed figure scales, suggesting he’ll need improvement to vie for victory on Friday.
Other bettors may take a shot with #8 Classier, hailing from the barn of four-time Juvenile-winning trainer Bob Baffert. A beautifully-bred son of Empire Maker out of a Bernardini mare, Classier is bred to improve with maturity and thrive over classic distances, making him an exciting prospect for 2021. He showed a world of potential when dominating his sprint debut on Oct. 24 at Santa Anita Park, but could tackling the Juvenile be an instance of taking on too much, too soon? Classier is stretching out in distance, facing much tougher competition, and running back just 13 days after his maiden win. That’s a lot of challenges to conquer at once.
Street Sense Stakes winner #2 King Fury and impressive Churchill Downs maiden winner #1 Camp Hope are likewise wheeling back on short rest and ascending the class ladder, #4 Likeable and #11 Next have dominated easier competition, but both are front-runners faced with dueling Jackie’s Warrior for early supremacy. #9 Sittin On Go and #13 Rombauer are capable late runners, but they’ve yet to run particularly fast in terms of Beyer and Brisnet speed figures.
In short, Jackie’s Warrior’s rivals also have questions to answer, and there isn’t a clear-cut alternative to the heavy favorite. If you believe Jackie’s Warrior is capable of winning this race two out of every five times – which seems reasonable – then 7-5 is actually a fair price for win betting purposes.
The only horse I can definitely envision giving Jackie’s Warrior a run for the money is #3 Reinvestment Risk, runner-up in both the Hopeful and the Champagne. Although he’s been no match for Jackie’s Warrior so far, Reinvestment Risk is clearly the second-fastest horse on paper and might enjoy a more beneficial trip in the Juvenile.
Reinvestment Risk was never more impressive than in his debut at Saratoga, where he settled two lengths off the early lead in fourth place before seizing command and drawing clear to win by 7 ¾ lengths. This was quite a contrast to his efforts in the Hopeful and Champagne, when Reinvestment Risk was forced to chase Jackie’s Warrior in order to prevent the front-running favorite from enjoying uncontested leads.
Despite being taken out of his game with pace-pressing tactics, Reinvestment Risk finished clearly second-best in both the Hopeful and Champagne, beating the rest of his rivals by a minimum of 8 ¾ lengths. If Likeable and/or Next engage Jackie’s Warrior in a battle for early command in the Juvenile, Reinvestment Risk can enjoy a much more relaxed journey, biding his time before unleashing one sustained rally in the homestretch. With just the right trip, I believe he can turn the tables on Jackie’s Warrior.
For bettors playing on a small budget, I recommend playing Jackie’s Warrior and Reinvestment Risk together in the exacta, emphasizing the lower-paying combination with Jackie’s Warrior on top. Bettors with more capital to invest are advised to key Jackie’s Warrior and Reinvestment Risk in the trifecta, using King Fury, Essential Quality, Classier, Sittin On Go, and #12 Hot Rod Charlie for the remaining slot.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$6 exacta: 7 with 3
What to say at the betting window: Keeneland, 10th race, $6 exacta 7 with 3
$4 exacta: 3 with 7
What to say at the betting window: Keeneland, 10th race, $4 exacta 3 with 7
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$2 trifecta: 3,7 with 3,7 with 2,6,8,9,12 ($20)
What to say at the betting window: Keeneland, 10th race, $2 trifecta 3,7 with 3,7 with 2,6,8,9,12
$1 trifecta: 3,7 with 2,6,8,9,12 with 3,7 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Keeneland, 10th race, $1 trifecta 3,7 with 2,6,8,9,12 with 3,7
Good luck, and enjoy the race!