The path to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup is a road with plenty of ups and downs as talented racehorses vie for a spot in one of 13 championship races. This blog provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and three horses whose Breeders’ Cup chances are not quite as strong as they were a week or two ago.
For this week’s edition, I focused the heating up section on a few horses that I believe have bolstered their chances to make a big splash in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. I did not place too much emphasis on final workouts. Keep in mind that these are the best horses on the planet preparing for a championship race … they should be in peak form and look like a million bucks in the morning.
One other note along this train of thought: all reports indicate that California Chrome has never looked better and three-time champion Beholder is a picture of health. They both have been featured in this blog on several occasions leading up to the Breeders’ Cup. California Chrome is a worthy favorite for the Classic and I think Beholder has a huge shot to win the Distaff.
For the cooling down segment, I switched up to favorites that I think are a bit vulnerable.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has nine career Breeders’ Cup victories, including five in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but I think he made a terrific call here opting for the Filly and Mare Sprint for Carina Mia, who was cross-entered in the Distaff when pre-entries were released. Two of the Malibu Moon filly’s best three lifetime Equibase Speed Figures came at this seven-eighth of a mile distance and there is considerably less star power in this race. Carina Mia probably would have been 15-1 or greater in the Distaff but should be one of the top three betting choices in the Filly and Mare Sprint. She boasts early speed to stay within striking distance but I think she’s at her best when she settles in midpack and makes one big run as she did when winning the seven-furlong Eight Belles Stakes by six lengths in May and the one-turn mile Acorn Stakes by 1 ¼ lengths in July. She comes into the race in terrific form having posted a career-best 113 Equibase Speed Figure when second to unbeaten Songbird in her most recent race and all reports indicate she has trained magnificently for Mott at Santa Anita.
To me, the biggest advantage Southern California-based runners have at the Breeders’ Cup when Santa Anita hosts is in the TwinSpires Sprint, especially in a race with no clear standout. It’s no secret that speed is king out west and the three-quarter-mile distance looks like an ideal spot for a pair of local sprinters: Lord Nelson and Masochistic. It’s no swing for the fences with an outrageous bomb here, given these two are the 5-2 second choice and the morning-line favorite, respectively, but I think we have the two most likely winners. Lord Nelson has reeled off four straight wins and has the speed to race just off of a blistering pace and still finish powerfully. He enters the race off of back-to-back wins at this distance having posted his two career-best Equibase Speed Figures (119, 118) for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and he posted a pair of bullet works (meaning the fastest at that distance on that day) before a visually impressive final half-mile final tuneup on Oct. 31. He’ll be tough to beat. I also really like Masochistic, who seems to have matured really nicely for trainer Ron Ellis. He’s won his only two races this year after finishing last in the 2015 Sprint at Keeneland Race Course and posted the two best speed figures of his career (117, 119). Mike Smith, the all-time leading rider in Breeders’ Cup history, has the mount in this race and Masochistic also had a pair of bullet workouts before his final drill. Chances are, he’ll blast right to the lead in the Sprint and try to take the field from start to finish, but I think he could rate just off the pace if needed and still win. I expect A. P. Indian and Lord Nelson to vie for favoritism, so you might actually get some value if morning-line favorite Masochistic drifts up to 3-1 or 7-2. Horses whose final prep race came in Southern California have won four of the eight Sprints held at Santa Anita.
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella has eight career victories in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. All eight came at Santa Anita Park. He’s got a terrific chance to add to that with Beholder in this year’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but I encourage readers to keep an eye on Avenge, who has trained like a monster for this race and represents a nice value at 15-1. With great early speed, Avenge figures to get a nice trip from post-position #4, either setting the pace, as she’s done in two of her last three races, or racing just behind Catch a Glimpse. I expect Avenge to take the lead in the stretch and fight like crazy to try to hold on. It will be a tall task given the presence of some serious European invaders, but I think Avenge will run far better than her odds and hold on for a top-three finish. She’s 6-for-9 lifetime on the grass and is in elite form for Mandella, as evidenced by a superb five furlong workout on the main track in :58.80 on Oct. 31, the fastest of 25 at the distance.
Don’t get me wrong, I still expect California Chrome to win the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is an expert at getting his runners ready for this event with 12 wins and 12 seconds from 90 career Breeders’ Cup runners. He’s following the same blueprint he used last year for American Pharoah by bypassing a final prep race after running in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes in August. The only difference is that while Pharoah was attempting to rebound from his first loss of the year, Arrogate turned in a record-breaking performance when winning the Travers by 13 ½ lengths. After setting a 1 ¼-mile record by completing the distance in 1:59.36 (at a racetrack that opened in 1863), Arrogate got a well-deserved freshening and from all accounts has looked like a monster leading up to the Classic with one impressive workout after another. Expect Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to send him right to the front and play “catch me if you can.” With one of the sport’s best finishers on his back in Smith, Arrogate could give California Chrome his first truly serious challenge this year.
COOLING DOWN (Favorites I’m Betting Against)
I hate to make a quasi-hunch play my number one here, but I just don’t like Dortmund in the Dirt Mile. Yes, I know he’s 2-for-2 going a mile, but he’s never chased a racehorse as brilliant as Runhappy and Dortmund is clearly at his best when he can use his massive, ground-devouring stride to wear down an opponent. He might do just that to Runhappy, but I really like Gun Runner to pass them both in the stretch along with Tom’s Ready for a nice exacta. I’ll bet the pace is pretty taxing and I expect three straight times batting probable Horse of the Year California Chrome takes the starch out of Dortmund. At 6-5 on the morning line, this will be a race where I take a strong stand against a favorite.
OK, I admit this is a bit of a cop-out since Pure Sensation is the most tepid favorite on the entire 13-race Breeders’ Cup card at 5-1. But … there is no race in the Breeders’ Cup where experience on the racing surface is more important than the Turf Sprint when held on the unique downhill turf course at Santa Anita. Four of the five editions of the Turf Sprint held at Santa Anita have been won by horses with previous wins on the downhill course. So, while Pure Sensation is in terrific form coming off three straight wins, he’s in for a new experience in the Turf Sprint. First, he’s going to have to navigate a race in which he starts off running downhill and also has to turn a bit right before then turning left, which is actually a disadvantage from Pure Sensation’s inside post (#1). Then, he’s going to have to cross over the dirt main track, which often is met with surprise in a horse’s first attempt no matter how many times they train on the downhill course. Finally, for a horse with early speed like Pure Sensation, he’s going to have to hold off the deep closers in the stretch. I’m going to take a chance and toss him from my tickets. I respect the horse and his trainer, Christophe Clement, but I’m going to seek horses with quality races on the downhill turf course or European runners who have more experience on undulating turf courses.
Understanding full well that I’m going to get skewered for this one, I’m going to try to beat Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Did I not learn my lesson from last year? Um, apparently not. Didn’t I watch her dominant effort against elite European runners at Royal Ascot? I did watch - in respectful awe - and actually bet on her to win that day. It’s not that I think Tepin will run poorly; in fact, I expect her to be right there in the stretch. I just like a couple of the others a little bit better here. With Photo Call, who set a torrid early pace when defeating Tepin at Keeneland in the Grade 1 First Lady Stakes, and Midnight Storm guaranteeing a brisk early tempo, I think Tepin might be asked to stay a little closer early on and have a little less punch than usual in the stretch. I love the chances of Ironicus in the Mile and also really respect Alice Springs, whose explosive late burst in the race I included below was set up by a bit of pace. I also think French invader Limato has a big chance in this race as does Miss Temple City.
2016 Coolmore Fasnet Rock Matron Stakes