Breeders Cup Saturday highlights weekend

Profile Picture: Ted Black

Ted Black

October 30th, 2015

Roughly six months after American racing fans reached a state of euphoria when American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought by capturing thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown for three-year-olds, thoroughbred fans could once again reach a genuine state of heightened excitement when Keeneland Race Course hosts the second day of Breeders Cup championship races on Saturday.

In what is certainly expected to be the final start of his career, American Pharoah will assuredly go postward as the odds-on favorite in the Grade I, $5 million Breeders Cup Classic in a race that is largely anti-climactic. Regardless of the outcome, American Pharoah has already secured divisional honors and horse of the year and his expected showdown with Beholder was nixed earlier in the week when the talented mare was scratched from the Classic.

But well before the Classic, the ninth and final Breeders Cup race on the card and the 13th and final Cup race of the year, there will be other chances for horses, owners and trainers to garner Eclipse Awards and numerous good betting opportunities for those players who are willing to take a stand against several prohibitive favorites.

Saturday's third race is the Grade I, $1 million Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies on the main track and the race does not feature a genuine standout as at least six different freshmen fillies could reign supreme and later take home the Eclipse Award title.

Songbird (Mike Smith) has won all three of her starts in California for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and looms the 6-5 favorite here despite drawing post 10. But east coast runners Rachel's Valentina (John Velazquez) and Nickname (Javier Castellano) will certainly make their presence known early and late. Rachel's Valentina is a homebred daughter of Bernardini out of the infinitely talented Rachel Alexandra, who beat the boys in the Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Whitney Handicap en route to being horse of the year.

One race later in the Grade I, $1 million Breeders Cup Turf Sprint, typically a wide open affair, any number of runners could prevail. Defending champion Bobby's Kitten has been woeful in two starts this year and will likely be 20-1 or higher in his title defense.

But there are number of serious contenders who could score at a price. Lady Shipman has won seven of nine starts this year for trainer Kathleen O'Connell, but the speedy three-year-old filly may not prefer the softer ground that greeted runners on Friday.

Railbound Pure Sensation has won all three of his starts at the distance on the grass this year, but gets a much more serious test here. Undrafted has been second twice and third once in three starts at the distance and looms a threat. Marchman has won three of seven starts at the distance and owns a win over the course.

Then one race later in the Grade I, $1 million Breeders Cup Filly And Mare Sprint at seven furlongs on the main track, another defending champion will look to regain her winning ways.

Judy The Beauty won last year's edition of the F & M Sprint at Santa Anita one year after running second to Groupie Doll in the same event. She has yet to win in three starts this year but has been favored at even-money or less in each of those outings. She was a modest third over a sloppy Keeneland main track as the choice in the Grade II TCA at the beginning of the month, but she certainly has every right to make amends on Saturday.

Cavorting looms as the favorite for this event and the Eclipse Award for champion filly-mare sprinter for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin while riding a three-race win streak that includes the Grade I Test and Grade II Prioress at Saratoga. She typically does her best running from well off the pace and should not be hindered much by post 14.

But several other talented distaffers have upset chances. Dame Dorothy already owns a Grade I win for Pletcher. Taris was thumped at 3-5 in her prep, but she owns the best win over the track courtesy of her nine-length score in the Grade II Raven Run Stakes last fall. La Verdad has won all six of her starts this year for trainer Linda Rice, including a trio of Grade II victories. Wavell Avenue was a good second to La Verdad last out, Stonetastic crushed allowance foes at Parx last month, Kiss To Remember has been second in each of her last two and the Maryland-bred filly is a live longshot at 30-1.

One race later the Grade I, $2 million Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf offers an intriguing puzzle. Legatissimo is the obvious favorite off consecutive Grade I races in France and England and the three-year-old daughter of Danehill Dancer should relish the soft going and the distance.

But those seeking value could try Hard Not To Like, Sentiero Italia, Photo Call, Queen's Jewel, Dacita, Miss France, Bawina, Stephanie's Kitten and Secret Gesture. Hard Not To Like, Sentiero Italia and Queen's Jewel were all beaten favorites in their latest outings and should be generous prices on Saturday.

One race later in the seventh, the Grade I, $1 million Breeders Cup Sprint at six furlongs on the main track, Runhappy will be the solid choice but several others look capable of overhauling the fleet-footed three-year-old in the lane.

Runhappy emerged on the scene by posting an 11-1 upset in the Grade I, $500,000 King's Bishop on the Travers Day card at Saratoga in late August then came right back to win the Grade III Phoenix over the sloppy Keeneland strip as the 7-5 favorite. His last two wins will certainly make him the favorite, but the Super Saver colt is hardly a lock in this spot.

Private Zone has won his last two starts in sharp fashion for trainer Jorge Navarro and the six-year-old Macho Uno gelding also possesses ample early speed. But he and Runhappy could duel each other into defeat and set it up for one of several solid closers in the field.

Wild Dude and Kobe's Back rallied from far back to finish one-two in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship earlier this month and both would relish a hot early tempo here. Likewise, Salutos Amigos and Stallwalkin' Dude finished second and third, respectively, behind Rock Fall in the Vosburgh at Belmont Park last month and both will be factors late. Favorite Tale prepped with a handy allowance score, but before that was third behind Rock Fall and The Big Beast in the Grade I Vanderbilt and easily won the Smile Sprint at Gulfstream and looms a threat from post 14.

Then one race later in the eighth, the Grade I, $ million Breeders Cup Mile on the grass, Make Believe (Olivier Peslier) looks like the solid favorite. But the Andre Fabre trainee is not an absolute cinch in this spot.

Make Believe has won a pair of Grade I races across the pond in stellar fashion, but in between them was a dull, fifth-place finish where he was beaten 13 lengths. If Make Believe runs his race, he wins for fun. But if he reverts back to that performance two starts back, he is not going to hit the board.

So those looking to take a stand against Make Believe could easily back a trio of runners. Mondialiste won the Grade I Woodbine Mile after facing only modest opposition in Europe. But the same cannot be said for Impassable, Esoterique and Time Test who are all peaking at the right time and any two of them would complete a healthy exacta if Make Believe does not fire his best shot on Saturday.

Then one race later in the Grade I, $1 million Breeders Cup Juvenile for two-year-old colts and geldings on the main track, look for either Greenpointcrusader, Brody's Cause or Nyquist to prevail. But do not completely toss out Conquest Big E or Ralis, both of which delivered good efforts over the track earlier in the month.

Then one race later in the Grade I, $3 million Breeders Cup Turf, all eyes will certainly be on Golden Horn (Frankie Dettori), sharp winner of the prestigious Arc de Triomphe at Longchamps in his last start for trainer John Gosden. The three-year-old Cape Cross gelding has won six of seven starts and arrives as the best grass horse in Europe, where the best horses in the world compete on a regular basis.

But if Golden Horn fails to fire his best shot tomorrow, take a swing with Slumber, Twilight Eclipse, Big Blue Kitten and The Pizza Man, all of which will be very generous prices thanks the presence of the Arc winner.

Then one race later in the penultimate race on the card but the final Breeders Cup race of the year, all eyes will certainly be focused on American Pharoah (Victor Espinoza), the Bob Baffert-trained Triple Crown winner who has already secured divisional honors and horse of the year regardless of the outcome in the Grade I, $ 5 million Breeders Cup Classic.

American Pharoah actually bypassed last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile with a minor foot bruise, but he more than made up for lost time this year by winning several preps and then the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont and then the Haskell before settling for second to Keen Ice in the Travers. He will be the solid 4-5 choice in his career finale on Saturday, but the three-year-old champ is hardly a cinch to topple older runners.

In addition to Keen Ice and Frosted, two horses that have been accustomed to chasing American Pharoah all spring, summer and fall, the Classic includes Tonalist, Smooth Roller and Honor Code. Granted, Tonalist typically runs his best races at Belmont Park and rarely fails to take his best efforts with him, but he and Honor Code are worth backing at decent prices here since American Pharoah will likely get well overbet in his career finale and is certainly no lock to best older rivals at the one-mile and one-quarter distance over the Keeneland strip which was playing fast but fair on Friday.