The fun starts at 2:55 pm EDT.
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It's the big day: Breeders Cup Saturday. It doesn't need an introduction.
Before we dive into the races themselves, we'll take a moment to talk about yesterday's races, in particular how the dirt and turf courses played. The dirt favored speed, but not excessively so: We would not go so far as to call it a bias, but forwardly-placed horses definitely had an advantage. The turf course was pretty fair, though on it, horses coming from far back fared less well. We suspect, however, that this may have had more to do with the pace of the races run on grass yesterday, While we'll have to pay attention, especially to the early, non-Breeders' Cup races on the undercard at Santa Anita today, we are expecting the surfaces to play today like they did yesterday, with an edge to speed on the dirt, and mostly fair on the sod.
We are going to play the races today just like we did yesterday: we will identify our top contender in each race, and play them to win, and also key them in the rolling Pick 3s that run throughout the card. All races are Grade 1 stakes. Let's go.
Santa Anita, Race 4, Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, 2:55 pm ET
7 Furlongs, dirt, Fillies & Mare 3 & Up
Nine females go in the Filly & Mare Sprint. The headliner is 1-Covfefe, who has won five of her seven career starts, and has run very fast doing so. She can take the lead, but doesn't need it to win: She has won stalking the leader in each of her two starts. It's the kind of versatility that is good to see in a sprinter.
Her issue today is the post: She's breaking from the rail, which is a bad spot in sprints. Even worse, she has two very speedy horses, 2-Danuska's My Girl and 3-Heavenhasmynikki, just outside of her. Covfefe probably has the speed to outrun these two early, and she will probably need to use it, because ceding the lead to them will leave her pinned against the rail, behind a wall of horses. It will be very, very tough for her to win from that kind of spot.
On a different track, we would probably try to beat her, but the speed-favoring Santa Anita dirt makes Covfefe the pick, and a strong one. We thinks she goes right to the front and stays there all the way. This is a case where a disadvantageous post will force her jockey, Joel Rosario, to do what he should do anyway, which is gun for the front. She's 2-1 on the morning line, and she is our pick.
Santa Anita, Race 6, Breeders Cup Turf Sprint, 3:33 pm ET
5 Furlongs, turf, 3 & Up
Twelve horses will line up for the Turf Sprint. This race has historically been run down the Santa Anita hillside turf course, at a distance of 6 1/2 furlongs, but the issues at Santa Anita this year have caused track management to close the auxiliary turf course, and due to Santa Anita's layout, that results in a distance of 5 furlongs for the Turf Sprint. We mention this because it radically affects how we are going to handicap this race: we are placing a much, much greater emphasis on speed, as it's going to be much harder for a horse to win coming from well off the pace than it is coming down the hill. The difference between 6 1/2 and 5 furlongs may not seem like much -- it's about 330 yards -- but the race will play much different at the shorter distance.
Our pick is 7-Leinster. This 4-year-old colt, trained by George Weaver, is in good form, having run regularly and well since June. We like him in a tough field, and in a race that we find difficult to handicap, for two reasons: one is his stalking style, which we think will work today; the other is his affinity for the distance -- he's run 5 or 5 1/2 furlongs on grass four times in his career, and he's won three of them, and finished second in the other. He has good stalking speed, a good closing kick, and at 8-1, Leinster is our pick.
Santa Anita, Race 7, Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, 4:10 pm ET
1 Mile, dirt, 3 & Up
This is one of the toughest Breeders' Cup races to win every year, as the middle-distance dirt horses are, as a group, usually very good. This year is no exception; the field of 10 is deep and talented.
We will get one thing out of the way, and we will get it out of the way bluntly: 2-Improbable is the 3-1 second choice, and we wouldn't bet him with counterfeit money. We were on this 3-year-old colt all spring, through all the Triple Crown prep races, through the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but at this point, it is clear what his abilities are, and they are well short of winning a Grade 1 race of this caliber. He's run in six races this year, and won one of them, an overnight stakes at Santa Anita in which he beat a grand total of three other horses. Add to this the fact that trainer Bob Baffert has suddenly gone cold, and Improbable is a stone-cold play-against. We wish we could book the bets of those who want to bet on him.
The favorite is 5-Omaha Beach, who's 8/5 on the morning line, and we think he's the horse to beat. We would normally line up to bet against this 3-year-old colt in a tough spot like this, but we like him for two reasons: one is that he's trained by Richard Mandella, who is as good at conditioning racehorses as any human alive; the other is that Omaha Beach's last start, a win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, was absolutely eye-popping. For Omaha Beach to win a race like that, off a layoff... well, we think that he can make another leap today. He's up against some very tough competition, including 7-Coal Front, who excels at this distance and who we considered making our pick, but the colt's freakish abilities, plus the presence of Mandella, give the nod to Omaha Beach.
Santa Anita, Race 8, Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf, 4:54 pm ET
1 1/4 Miles, turf, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
After the scratch earlier in the week of 6-Thais, a field of eleven drew into the Filly & Mare Turf, and.... man, what a race. If the past performances for this one don't get your blood flowing, then you probably need to find a new hobby, like tiddlywinks. This race has just about everything that makes this game the greatest in the world -- and it has it from both a sporting and wagering perspective.
The headliner here is Chad Brown's 2-Sistercharlie, an Irish-bred, 5-year-old mare who came to the United States in the summer of 2017 after a brief career in France. She is nothing short of sensational: She's won 10 of her 14 career starts, and finished worse than 2nd only once, a 4th place finish in her second career start. She is as game and consistent as they come. She is a deserving 8/5 favorite in this race: don't try to find a flaw in her past performances, because there isn't one.
But this race has a very deep and very talented field that Sistercharlie will have to run against, and it includes six European-based horses making their North American racing debuts. We don't think that Sistercharlie has ever faced a field quite as good as this one, not even when she won this race at Churchill Downs last year.
While there's nothing wrong with Sistercharlie's form, or her abilities, we are going to try to beat her, and we will do for two reasons -- one is that we expect her post-time odds to be somewhere around even money, and the other is the Santa Anita turf course: Sistercharlie is a deep closer, a mare with little early speed, but a devastating closing kick, and the grass in Arcadia was not fond to those kinds of horses yesterday. The Juvenile Fillies Turf is a good example of that. Despite fast early fractions, the horses coming from far back could not catch up to the stalkers. We expect the turf to playing similarly today, and that puts Sistercharlie at a disadvantage.
We are picking a long shot in here, 12-Fanny Logan. This Irish-bred filly checks several of our pet handicapping boxes. The first is that she is a rapidly improving 3-year-old, and they are extremely dangerous this time of year. She also has several traits we like to see in grass horses coming to the U.S. from Europe: She has run better on firmer rather than softer turf; she is trained by a skilled horseman, John Gosden, who is as good as it gets; and she has a forwardly-placed, midpack running style that is a very good fit for how we expect this race to be run. Add to this the fact that Gosden is intimately familiar with Southern California racing -- he spent most of the 1980s based at Santa Anita -- and all signs point to go with this filly. At positively juicy 15-1, she merits a strong win play.
Santa Anita, Race 8, Breeders Cup Sprint, 5:36 pm ET
6 furlongs, dirt, 3 & Up
This one looks pretty easy to us: 10 horses will go to the post in the Sprint, but we think that 9/5 favorite 4-Mitole has the rest of the field over a barrel. He has been absolutely brilliant this year, and he looks to us to be faster than the other horses. Sometimes it really is that simple: Take the fastest horse. He can win on the lead or stalking it; we think he probably sets the pace today. When the best horse is the fastest horse, and will also be helped by a speed-favoring racing surface... well, go to the windows. We will bet Mitole less to win than we will use him as a key single in multi-race exotics, but either way we think he is the likeliest winner of the day.
Santa Anita, Race 9, Breeders Cup Mile, 6:20 pm ET
1 Mile, turf, 3 & Up
A field of 14 will go to the post in the Mile, which every year is one of the toughest Breeders Cup races to handicap. This year is no exception.
13-Hey Gaman is our top pick here. He's another Euro who should improve on the firm Santa Anita turf, and he has a stalking running style that should also work. His last race on firm grass course was a win in a Group 3 race at Longchamps in France, and we expect a similarly good effort today. He's 12-1, which is a square price. We will bet him to win, but we will also be spreading wide in the multi-race exotics, as this race is as wide open as any on the card.
Santa Anita, Race 9, Breeders Cup Distaff, 7:00 pm ET
1 1/8 miles, dirt, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
A field of eleven goes in the Distaff. It's a good field, with some talented female runners, highlighted by 8/5 morning-line favorite 4-Midnight Bisou, who has been very, very good all year long.
Midnight Bisou's merits are obvious, but we are going against her. We are picking 9-Serengeti Empress, whom we like quite a bit: The winner of this year's Kentucky Oaks is a cinch to make the early lead, and A) that will play well on the Santa Anita dirt, and B) her best races, including her win in Kentucky, have all been in wire-to-wire fashion. There will be no doubt about what jockey Flavien Prat will do with her: he is going to send her right to the front, and we think she is going to stay there all the way. At 12-1, she is a great win bet.
Santa Anita, Race 10, Breeders Cup Turf, 7:40 pm ET
1 1/2 miles, turf, 3 & Up
A field of twelve will vie for the trophy in the Turf, and it's a good field, and reminiscent of the Filly & Mare Turf, as a sensational U.S.-based runner trained by Chad Brown tries to hold off an imposing group of European invaders. In this race, Brown's flag-bearer is 9/5 favorite 9-Bricks and Mortar, who is undefeated this year and who just may end up Horse of the Year with a win in this. He's a horse with a very interesting running style: he lurks at the back of the pack during a race's early stages, and then makes a late rally that is just enough. He doesn't usually win by large margins, but he does win: He's taken five graded stakes in a row.
Bricks and Mortar is a fine horse, but he's another favorite we are playing against. We are going with the horse just outside him, 10-Old Persian, who is trained by Charlie Appleby. This globe-trotting 4-year-old colt has won 9 of his 16 career starts, and he has done so at the highest level; we like that, but we like even more that he runs his races much closer to the front than Bricks and Mortar does. We expect Old Persian to stalk the pace, to be in the group just behind the leaders, to seize control of the race at the top of the stretch, and hold off the deep closers, including Bricks and Mortar. At 4-1, Old Persian merits a win bet.
Santa Anita, Race 11, Breeders Cup Classic, 8:44 pm ET
1 1/4 miles, dirt, 3 & Up
The Classic is the headliner of the Breeders Cup card, and it's important to pace oneself: there's so much good racing on the undercard that's is easy to exhaust oneself before we even get to the classic.
We like 9-Mongolian Groom in this spot. Something clicked with this 4-year-old colt over the summer, and whatever it was, it caused him to improve dramatically. He ran third in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in July, then fifth two weeks later in the Woodward at Saratoga, but it was his last, a wire-to-wire win in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita, that showed how dramatic his improvement has been: he earned a 100 Beyer Speed figure in that race, which is the best last-race figure earned by any horse in the field. He's fit, he's ready,and we see Mongolian Groom stalking the pace from his outside post position, and riding the speed-favoring Santa Anita dirt to victory. At 12-1, he's another horse who is worth a win play.
Now here is how we are going to play these. We are not going to list every bet, because that is too much information, but we will play our top picks in each race to win, in varying amounts, and also play them as singles in the Pick 3s, played with all the logical contenders in the other two races in the sequence. We have listed the logical contenders for each race at the bottom of the post.
There is one additional single-race bet that we want to make: in the Dirt Mile, we will not bet on Omaha Beach to win at 8/5; instead, we will play the superfecta and trifecta by keying Omaha Beach on top, keying Coal Front in the spots underneath, and playing all everywhere else. The trifecta tickets will be 5-7-ALL and 5-ALL-7 and we'll do the same thing in the superfecta. With a field of ten, each of these combinations will cost 80 cents at the 10-cent minimum.
That's all for today. Enjoy the racing -- it really is racing's best day -- and today, more than any other, good luck at the windows.
Contenders for Pick 3 tickets:
Filly & Mare Sprint: 1-Covfefe
Turf Sprint: 1-Totally Boss, 2-Pure Sensation, 4-Shekky Shebaz, 5-Stubbins, 9-Final Frontier, 10-Eddie Haskell
Dirt Mile: 5-Omaha Beach, 7-Coal Front
Filly & Mare Turf: 1-Iridessa, 2-Sistercharlie, 3-Fleeting, 4-Billesdon Brook, 8-Castle Lady, 9-Villa Marina, 12-Fanny Logan
Mile: 3-Space Traveller, 6-Got Stormy, 3-Circus Maximus, 11-Uni, 12-Lord Glitters, 13-Hey Gaman
Distaff: 4-Midnight Bisou, 9-Serengeti Empress
Turf: 5-Anthony Van Dyck, 7-Alounak, 9-Bricks and Mortar, 10-Old Persian
Classic: 5-Yoshida, 6-Elate, 8-McKinzie, 9-Mongolian Groom, 10-Vino Rosso, 11-Code of Honor