Breeders’ Cup takes as Pre-entries loom

Profile Picture: James Scully

October 25th, 2016

Pre-entries won’t be released until tomorrow (Wednesday, October 26) but early Breeders’ Cup PPs have been available from for nearly two weeks. The blockbuster 13-race program provides numerous storylines to follow and here are my thoughts as we await the pre-entries announcement:

Classic Chrome: The $6 million Classic defines the Breeders’ Cup and California Chrome’s presence provides a boost. The 2008 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita did little to captivate audiences, with Raven’s Pass edging fellow European Henrythenavigator in the Classic, but the 2009 edition proved extremely memorable as the unbeaten Zenyatta became the first female Classic winner, utilizing her thunderous late kick to nearly raise the roof at Santa Anita. It was more of the same last year with American Pharoah – he made for a highly successful event at Keeneland – and California Chrome is cut from the same cloth, dominating big races like the Dubai World Cup, Pacific Classic and Awesome Again this year. My colleague Kellie Reilly covered the historical ramifications of California Chrome’s Classic bid and the bright chestnut won’t be facing deep competition, with Arrogate and Frosted as the only viable win contenders outside of the prohibitive favorite.

Distaff Dandy: Plenty of fanfare surrounds the $2 million Distaff, which highlights the four Breeders’ Cup Friday races, and the superb 3-year-old filly Songbird leads the way. She’s won all 11 starts in convincing fashion but will step up to meet elders for the first time. Beholder, the 2012 Juvenile Fillies and 2013 Distaff winner at Santa Anita, is a high-class foe along with 2015 champion 3-year-old filly Stellar Wind, who has narrowly defeated Beholder in her last two engagements. As a result of the top 3 being so strong, quality Grade 1 winners like Curalina, Forever Unbridled and I’m a Chatterbox are relegated to second-tier contenders.

Juvenile Depth: The $2 Juvenile is one of the most exciting races due to its depth. The major regions are well-represented, with serious win contenders from the East Coast (Practical Joke, Syndergaard and Theory), Midwest (Classic Empire and Not This Time) and West Coast (Gormley and Klimt), and an unbeaten dynamo from Florida (Three Rules) adds more intrigue. There’s no telling how the odds will play out in the contentious field and it has all the makings for a great Juvenile.

Incredible Comeback: Breeders’ Cup history is filled with memorable moments and Lady Eli will rank among the most heartwarming with a victory in the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf. A smashing winner of the 2014 Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita, Lady Eli improved to 6-for-6 with an impressive win in last year’s Belmont Oaks (G1) but became sick afterward. She battled back from her greatest challenge, overcoming a near-fatal bout with laminitis to return 13 months later, and established herself as the probable Filly & Mare Turf favorite when capturing the Flower Bowl (G1) at Belmont Park in her final prep.

Tepin seeking Wise Dan redux: Tepin will make a title defense in the $2 million Mile but must rebound after having an eight-race win skein snapped with a runner-up finish in the First Lady (G1) at Keeneland. The defeat will bolster the hopes of bettors playing against the expected favorite, but Tepin remains eligible to bounce back similar to Wise Dan, who had a lengthy win streak broken in the 2013 Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland before repeating in the Mile at Santa Anita. Tepin and Wise Dan both finished second in the final prep to a loose-on-the-lead rival who failed to stop.

Runhappy Dangerfield: A popular winner of last year’s Sprint, Runhappy is receiving little-to-no respect for this year’s Breeders’ Cup. The colt stretched his win streak to six when concluding 2015 with a romping tally in the Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita but didn’t make it back to the races until October 1, prepping for the $1 million Dirt Mile in the Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs. If Runhappy had won the Ack Ack, he may have gone favored in the Dirt Mile. Instead, he came back a little rusty, weakening to fourth as the overwhelming favorite, and the luster is now completely gone. Every opinion I’ve seen centers around trying to beat Runhappy; does anybody actually like his win chances?

International raiders: Be on the lookout for European-based contenders because the foreign team excels in turf routes at Santa Anita, which will host the Breeders’ Cup for the sixth time in nine years. From the last 25 combined runnings of the Turf, Mile, Filly & Mare Turf, Juvenile Turf and Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita, horses making their previous start overseas have captured 15 races, a 60% win rate.