Handicapping the first of two Breeders' Cup Super Saturdays: prohibitive favorites abound

Profile Picture: James Scully

September 26th, 2015

Horseplayers seeking value face a number of heavy favorites on the first of two Super Saturday programs for the Breeders’ Cup.

The Zenyatta (G1) at Santa Anita serves as a prime example, with Pacific Classic (G1) winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) contender Beholder expected to extend her record to 5-for-5 this season against seven overmatched rivals. The spectacular 5yo mare is listed at the early 2-5 choice.

Other overwhelming morning-line favorites include La Verdad (4-5), Nyquist (6-5), Rockfall (2-5), Songbird (3-5) and Wedding Toast (6-5).

I’ll offer a brief preview Saturday’s stakes races with Breeders’ Cup implications:


Beldame: Wedding Toast loves Belmont (4-for-5) and will make her first appearance since a convincing victory in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Her BRIS Speed numbers tower over the competition, but Catch My Drift looks intriguing following a 6 ¼-length romp in the August 24 Summer Colony at Saratoga. The 4yo was making only third start of 2015 last time and appears to be developing into a quality filly for Chad Brown.

Gallant Bloom: As the lone speed at 6 1/2f, La Verdad looks set for another wire-to-wire victory. Room for Me enters in good form for David Jacobson, finishing a respectable third in the Ballerina (G1), and rates the best chance for an upset if the speed falters. But I won’t mind seeing La Verdad dominate because I’ll be playing against her at 7f in the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).

Pilgrim: The 1 1/16-mile race will produce runners for the Juvenile Turf (G1) and appears contentious once you can get past Eidmilaad, who I expect to be closer to 8-5 than his 3-1 morning line odds following a sharp debut score for Chad Brown. Forever in Love may not have faced much in his August 28 unveiling, handily defeating six New York-bred rivals, but the Scat Daddy colt impressed nonetheless and trainer Linda Rice adds blinkers (23%). He’s eligible to show more today.

Vosburgh: Rock Fall is a 6f specialist on a six-race winning streak, registering excellent BRIS Speed ratings of 105 and 104 for wins in the True North (G2) and A.G. Vanderbilt (G1) in his last two. The Todd Pletcher-trained 4yo colt won a Keeneland allowance by 9 ¼ lengths in April and given that Private Zone probably prefers 7f, Rockfall should make a strong case for favoritism in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) with another strong showing. Palace returned from a similar freshening last year with a nice win that netted him a 107 Speed rating and the multiple G1 winner and will be making his first start at his favorite track (6-3-2-1 at Belmont) since last fall. Don’t know if he’s sharp enough presently but I’ll give the Rice trainee the best chance at an upset.

Joe Hirsch: Red Rifle is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line but I expect him to be favored following a smart win in the Bowling Green (G2) and an excellent second to Flintshire in the Sword Dancer (G1). The 5yo Giant’s Causeway gelding is peaking at the right time for Pletcher and can stake a claim as the leading U.S. representative for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

Santa Anita

Frontrunner: Nyquist proved much the best in the Best Pal (G2) and Del Mar Futurity (G1), but didn’t finish full of run in the latter as he came home slowly. From the immediate female family of graded stakes-winning sprinters Sahara Sky, Seeking Regina and Seeking the Sky, Nyquist may carry his superiority forward at 8 ½ furlongs versus these rivals but I’ll try to beat the likely odds-on favorite in his two-turn bow. Mt Veeder posted a 95 BRIS Speed rating when improving his record to 2-for-2 13 days ago, winning both starts by open lengths, and the speedy colt doesn’t figure to catch serious pressure up front. Bob Baffert’s stable has been heating up in recent weeks and Mt Veeder is a legitimate wire-to-wire threat.

Zenyatta: They’ve still got to run the race but quality competition is lacking against Beholder, who figures to sail. Big Book is a lightly-raced, improving 3yo filly for Tim Yakteen who is eligible to complete the exacta in her second attempt against graded company.

Chandelier: Songbird could be any kind for Jerry Hollendorfer, winning her first two attempts in devastating fashion, and the expected withdrawal of Pretty N Cool eliminates her top foe. She should cruise at 1-9.

Rodeo Drive: Hard Not to Like exits a game Diana (G1) win at Saratoga and captured the Gamely (G1) at Santa Anita two back. The shorter 1 3/16-mile distance of this year’s Filly & Mare Turf (G1) could benefit her and the 6yo gray is clearly the one to beat today for Christophe Clement, but I like Fanticola's chances on the front end. She exits a close fourth in the John C. Mabee at Del Mar and should appreciate returning to her favorite course at Santa Anita, and Fanticola appears to be controlling speed with Mike Smith. The outside post could prove to be an advantage in the large field.

Awesome Again: Can’t envision the 1 1/8-mile race having any impact upon the Classic but Bayern could be under consideration for the Dirt Mile (G1) if able to rebound from a ninth-place drubbing in the Pacific Classic. And he should have things completely his own way as the lone speed among eight contestants. Last year’s Classic is winless from four attempts this season, the best result being a third in the San Diego (G2), and Baffert knows Bayern has no chance against American Pharoah even with a win today. But the 4yo can still head to stud on a high note with the Dirt Mile and Cigar Mile (G1) remaining as viable targets.

Churchill Downs

Ack Ack: Tapiture threatened to run past Goldencents before settling for second in last year’s Dirt Mile and trainer Steve Asmussen hopes to get the multiple G2 winner back on track for another serious assault at Keeneland. However, Tapiture’s recent form leaves a lot to be desired and Viva Majorca appears quite formidable. He exits an encouraging performance, a rallying third to Private Zone and The Big Beast in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga, and there is some speed in today’s race. And the 4yo gelding likes Churchill, earning his third local tally when taking the 7f Kelly’s Landing three starts previously in late June. Won’t be surprised to see Viva Majorca head to Keeneland off a good-looking win.

Lukas Classic: I’ll be against the top two betting choices, Mylute and Departing. Mylute remains a legitimate win threat following a fifth in the Woodward (G1) and can earn a Classic berth, but he’s 0-for-16 in previous stakes attempts and a confirmed closer in a race lacking speed. I’ll let him beat me at short odds. Departing doesn’t appear in top form following a couple of dull efforts on turf and a dirt sprint. Abraham was claimed for $50,000 at Saratoga two starts back, registering a 102 Speed rating for a neck second at today’s distance, and his Early Pace numbers are the best in the field. He’s worth a look at 12-1 on the morning line.

Beholder winning the Pacific Classic courtesy of Benoit Photos