His first race goes off at 4:43 pm EDT.
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The Breeders Cup, which is at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, is exactly five weeks from today. Four or five weeks is, as Thoroughbred trainers see it, the ideal amount of time between races for top horses, and that means there are a lot of Breeders Cup prep races this weekend and next. One thing to remember as we work our way through these races is that while they are worth handicapping, and betting, in their own right -- these are great races -- we want to do so with an eye on the Breeders Cup itself. Trainers want horses to peak in five weeks, not now, and sometimes horses who will be ready for a top effort in five weeks may not be cranked up all the way today. We will also note that we've skipped some races with short fields and overwhelming, short-priced favorites: We don't want to be the pinhead who touts a 2/5 shot to beat three other horses.
We are looking at Breeders Cup preps at Belmont Park and Santa Anita today. We expect good weather, and fast dirt and firm turf, at both places. Let's go.
Belmont Park, Race 8, 4:43 pm ET
Grade 1 Beldame Stakes, 1 1/8 miles, dirt, Fillies & Mares 3 & up
The Beldame drew a short field of six, and the headliner is 1-Midnight Bisou, who is perhaps the top distaffer in training in the country right now. Since her third-place finish in last year's Breeders Cup Distaff, she's racked up six wins in a row, at the sport's highest level, including her win last time out in the Personal Ensign, in which she prevailed after a thrilling duel with Elate that lasted the length of the Sataroga stretch. This was one of the best races of this year, or any year, for that matter, and it's very hard to find fault with the form of a filly whose record is perfect this year.
But Midnight Bisou is 2/5 on the morning line, and will likely be shorter at post time. There is nothing wrong with taking a shot at beating a short-priced favorite, especially one who ran such a taxing race last out, and may be a little bit short as a result. It's also worth keeping in mind that while the Beldame is a great race in its own right, it's not the ultimate goal this year for her human connections -- the Breeders Cup Distaff is. Taking 10 cents on the dollar on a horse who may not even be trying to win the race is not something we find particularly appealing.
Most of the rest of the field looks to be simply outclassed; they couldn't beat Midnight Bisou if she were running on three legs. But there is one filly that we think may have a chance: it's the Chilean-bred mare 6-Wow Cat, who is trained by Chad Brown. Wow Cat won this race last year, and finished a good second after that in the Breeders Cup Distaff, but has not been the same horse this year, losing both her starts. We are going to hope that she is ready for a top effort in this, her third start of the year, so we will say a novena and bet her to win at 5/2. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 8, $15 to win on 6-Wow Cat.
Belmont Park, Race 9, 5:16 pm ET
Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, turf, 2-year-olds
The Pilgrim drew a field of nine, and it's a good group, and a nice contrast to rest of the stakes racing at Big Sandy today, which is notable for short fields. We like 6-Our Country, who's trained by George Weaver, in this spot. This son of Constitution was a well-beaten favorite in his last, the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga, but that was an oddly run race, with an early pace so slow that it virtually eliminated the chances of the come-from-behinders, which is what this colt does. We see a much more honest pace here, and a much better effort from him today. He should be able to save ground, and get a good stalking trip, and from there, we expect him to take the prize with a strong stretch run. We will bet him to win at 4-1. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 9, $35 to win on 6-Our Country.
Belmont Park, Race 10, 5:49 pm ET
Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, 1 1/4 miles, dirt, 3 & up
This is one of the most distinguished races of the Belmont Park fall meet, and though it drew a pathetically small field of five older horses, it's still a decent race to bet.
We like 4-Preservationist in this spot, and we like him a lot. This Jimmy Jerkins-trained 6-year-old is not only in good form -- he won the Woodward at Saratoga last out -- but he possesses a significant pace advantage over the other four runners, who all like to come from off the pace. We see Preservationist on the lead here, setting dawdling early fractions, and that will make him very, very tough to catch. We will bet him to win at 9/5, and we will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 10, $50 to win on 4-Preservationist.
Santa Anita Park, Race 7, 6:38 pm ET
Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship, 1 1/4 miles, turf, 3 & up
The John Henry drew a field of eight, but we have eyes for only one: it's 5-United. This 4-year-old Richard Mandella trainee, and son of top international turf sire Giant's Causeway, is an example of why Mandella is as skilled a conditioner of race horses as there is anywhere in the world: this colt has been brought along slowly, been given time to develop physically, presumably because he needed it, but also because he's a gelding, and there is therefore no rush to get him to the breeding shed. He has an excellent combination of decent tactical speed and a strong late kick, which is the absolutely perfect style for a 10-furlong race on the grass. We think he outclasses this field, and we expect a huge effort from him today. We will bet him to win at 3-1. The bet: Santa Anita Park, Race 7, $40 to win on 5-United.
Santa Anita Park, Race 9, 7:41 pm ET
Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes, 1 1/4 miles, turf, Fillies & Mares 3 & up
This the female counterpart race to the John Henry, older females going a mile and a quarter on the Santa Anita turf course. 6-Paved is the pick here. There are some talented females here who look to be suspect at 10 furlongs, but we think the distance suits this 4-year-old filly almost perfectly. She finished a good second in this race last year; we think she wins it this time around. She should be at the back of the pack early, and rolling late. We will bet her to win at 5/2. The bet: Santa Anita Park, Race 9, $35 to win on 6-Paved.
That's all for today. As always, good luck at the windows.