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 Nov. 5-6 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 remunerative payouts.
So, which morning-line favorites in the 38th Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar are vulnerable to lose at short odds? Here are five candidates:
It’s definitely hard to argue against backing a filly that’s dominated her three races by a total of 16 ¾ lengths and has handled stretching out in distance each time – from 5 ½ furlongs to seven furlongs to a mile – with ease. The Spinaway Stakes and Frizette Stakes winner should be the Juvenile Fillies favorite against a five opponents … but at morning line odds of 4-5? Fact is, two other fillies are entered who are also coming into the race off of overpowering graded stakes wins, and both of them have won at 1 1/16 miles around two turns. Granted, Juju’s Map and Hidden Connection (both 5-2) are shipping in from a Kentucky circuit that is a bit less formidable than Echo Zulu’s New York base in terms of talent, but they both have also been visually impressive when winning by open lengths and are training exceptionally well. I don’t think Echo Zulu’s jockey change to Joel Rosario is a drawback given Rosario’s prior success at Del Mar, but the lack of two-turn foundation is just enough of a question mark to make me look elsewhere, especially at odds of 4-5.
Gamine at her best justifies the 3-5 odds and would handily defeat this small field (only four opponents with the late scratch of Estilo Talentoso). But is she at her best in 2021? Based on what I’ve seen, she is still an elite female sprinter, but her Equibase Speed Figures have slipped a bit and her margins of victory in her two Grade 1 wins this year – the Derby City Distaff Stakes Presented by Kendall-Jackson Winery and her most recent start, the Ballerina Stakes – have “only” been by 1 ½ and 1 ¾ lengths, respectively. New York-based 3-year-old Bella Sofia (5-2) is turning heads with her blazing speed and dominant, open-length wins just like Gamine did during her sophomore season a year ago. If she and Gamine get hooked up in a grueling pace dual, Grade 1 winner Ce Ce (4-1) has the rallying running style and proven stamina to post the upset.
Coolmore’s Golden Pal, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, is the definition of a lukewarm favorite at 7-2 odds in a 12-horse field. He’s certainly a top-class turf sprinter, and the five-furlong distance of the Turf Sprint at Del Mar (versus 5 ½ or six furlongs in most past editions of this race) suits him perfectly. He’s a need-the-lead type, though, and even with regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, I don’t see him getting an easy early trip from post-position three; in fact, the horses drawn to his immediate outside, locally-based Lieutenant Dan (6-1) and Golden Pal's Wesley Ward-trained stablemate Arrest Me Red (12-1) could put the pressure on Golden Pal from the outset. Overall, more than half the horses in this field have a legitimate shot to win, and I will be playing a four-horse exacta box of closers with defending Turf Sprint winner Glass Slippers (6-1), fellow Euro shipper Emaraaty Ana (5-1), Kimari (6-1), and Gear Jockey (5-1). Kimari, the third Ward trainee in this race, is pace-dependent, but in my opinion this filly is the most purely talented runner in the 2021 Turf Sprint and is deserving of a win bet as well.
Analyzing War Like Goddess’s chances in the 2021 Filly and Mare Turf really boils down to one question: after dominating on these shores, can she flash that same brilliance when facing a quartet of top-class international shippers? The Bill Mott trainee has toyed with East Coast-based domestic horses since last spring. On paper, she appears to be two or three lengths better than any of the four U.S.-based runners entered in the Filly and Mare Turf, and three of the seven foreign horses as well. But the remaining four are very formidable, and that’s reflected in their odds: recent French Group 1 winner Rougir (6-1), the Coolmore filly Love (4-1), Japanese-based and -bred Loves Only You (4-1), and defending Filly and Mare Turf winner Audarya (5-1). Audarya actually may be an underlay at those odds as she’s gone winless in four starts since her 17.80-1 upset at Keeneland last year, but the other three are scary. In particular, Love’s form over the past year and a half is flat-out superior – she’s won four Group 1 stakes since June 2020, and two of her three losses since then have come against males Adayar (the Epsom Derby winner) and Mishriff (the Saudi Cup and Dubai Sheema Classic winner), while the other one (in her most recent start) was by a nose. Both Love and Loves Only You may prefer racing longer than 1 3/8 miles, while War Like Goddess is undefeated in three starts at this distance, but their level of competition has been much tougher. This is going to be a fantastic race, and I would not be surprised if War Like Goddess actually is the second or third betting choice when the gates open.
I have taken a stand against this horse several times over the past year and, save a decent payout in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Met Mile, have only discarded tickets to show for it. Knicks Go is the dictionary definition of “one-dimensional,” but it’s a demoralizing dimension whereby any challengers who enter it spend the entirety of the experience viewing his galloping hind quarters and wagging tail before returning to the barn defeated. On paper, the Longines Classic would appear to give contrarians such as myself the last, and best, chance to bet against Knicks Go based on a projected pace scenario that puts Medina Spirit (4-1), Art Collector (8-1), and possibly Hot Rod Charlie (4-1) right up to challenge (or at least pressure) the front-runner through the first six furlongs or so, which will keep him from getting into his normal cruising rhythm that appears so effortless but in fact is overpoweringly fast. If that chaotic front-end scrum fails to materialize, it’s all over and I’ll tip my cap to a horse that first came on the scene as a 70-1 shocker at age 2 and is now the clear Horse of the Year favorite at age 5. But if it does come to pass, this Longines Classic should set up for a stalker with stamina – think Knicks Go’s stablemate Essential Quality (3-1) or even Max Player (8-1) – to come from behind and win.