Seeking a Home-Court Edge At the Breeders' Cup At Santa Anita
by James Scully
The Breeders’ Cup will be held for a record eighth time at Santa Anita and an affinity for the dirt and turf ovals in Arcadia, California, is often beneficial.
Seven of the 14 horses that finished first in 2013 (She’s a Tiger was disqualified to second) had run well at Santa Anita previously and the home-court advantage was never more accentuated than in 2003 when five winners from eight races (including a dead-heat in the Turf) met that criteria.
Contenders such as Shared Belief, Goldencents, Magician, Close Hatches, Secret Circle, Rich Tapestry, Reneesgotzip, Judy the Beauty, Angela Renee, and Conquest Eclipse are easy to identify, as they all ran well at Santa Anita and will be among the favorites in their respective events, but I’ll identify some potential longshots whose past form merits a look.
Since the Turf Sprint was inaugurated in 2008, every winner owned a previous stakes victory over the course (four runnings at Santa Anita; twice at Churchill Downs). Home Run Kitten (12-1) fits the criteria to a T, winning both attempts down the hillside course including the Eddie D on September 26. The three-year-old colt has never been better, registering career-best BRIS Speed (96) and Late Pace (106) numbers last time, and the speed-loaded Turf Sprint should set up well for his dynamic late kick. Trainer David Hofmans is a three-time Breeders’ Cup winner, including the 2008 Turf Sprint with the deep-closing Desert Code at 36-1.
Tiz Midnight (10-1) is listed as the sixth choice on the morning line as she makes her second career stakes start in the Distaff. An 11-length maiden scorer at Santa Anita in June, the Bob Baffert-trained filly followed a pair of allowance wins at Del Mar with a fine second in the local Distaff prep, the September 27 Zenyatta. She easily out-hustled Beholder and Iotapa to the early lead last time and after being overhauled by Beholder turning for home, Tiz Midnight was coming again late, reducing a two-length deficit to three-quarters of a length at the wire. That race served as a nice building block and a speed-favoring track will play to her advantage Friday – Tiz Midnight will be showing the way from post No. 2.
One Lucky Dane (10-1) will receive more support following the defection of stablemate and 2-1 morning line favorite American Pharoah, but he’s still a last-out maiden winner facing a field with eight stakes victors. However, I wouldn’t put a strong showing past him given the impressive nature of his last performance, a 9 ½-length romp going two turns at Santa Anita October 4. Trainer Bob Baffert won the 2013 Juvenile with a last-out maiden winner (New Year’s Day at 10-1) and One Lucky Dane rates as an extremely promising prospect for next year’s Kentucky Derby.
Tom’s Tribute (15-1) may not be good enough to overcome a deep contingent of European-based rivals, but he equaled Wise Dan’s course mark (1:31.78) when capturing the Thunder Road at Santa Anita in April and exits a pair of graded stakes victories at Del Mar. Last seen on August 24, the four-year-old colt runs well fresh for trainer Jim Cassidy and will retain the services of all-time leading Breeders’ Cup rider Mike Smith. He’s one to consider for at least a minor award.
Big John B (20-1) faces an extreme class check against the Euros but the reformed claimer has never been better, easily capturing the Del Mar Handicap prior to fast-finishing third in the John Henry Championship at Santa Anita on September 28. The deep closer appears to relish extended distances, winning his first attempt the Santa Anita’s turf at 1 ¼ miles this summer, and Mike Smith will be up. The gelding is eligible to outperform the other American-based contestants with a top three placing.