By Gene Kershner
ARCADIA, Ca. – After a two year hiatus from the west coast, the Breeders’ Cup returns on Friday to sunny Southern California and beautiful Santa Anita Park for the first of two days of championship racing at the Arcadia track. Today’s featured event, the Ladies’ Classic, is one of the most anticipated races of the weekend as it features three former Breeders’ Cup winners and defending champion Royal Delta.
Friday’s six championship races will be carried live on NBC Sports Network (4 - 8 p.m. ET), the network formerly known as Versus. The Breeders’ Cup can prove very fruitful for the savvy horseplayer whose mining for gold within the deep fields of horses. Keep an eye out for potential overlays whose odds at post time that could offer tremendous value. The multi-race horseplayer must also make a stand and make a decision on whom to single and/or weigh heavily on based on opinion to be able to spread deeper in the wide open races. Fortunately the minimum bet for Pick-3’s, 4’s and 5’s is $0.50, which can make your play much more affordable.
Let’s look at the day’s last four Breeders’ Cup races and offer some quick picks and thoughts to consider when handicapping.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
This highly competitive division had five “Win and You’re In” races and four of the winners of those races will be in the gate at Santa Anita for the one mile turf race for 2-year-old fillies. Highly regarded Irish filly 3-Sky Lantern (3-1), winner of the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh, is the morning line favorite should not be discounted. She stretches out to the mile distance for the first time after making the trip over the Atlantic for owner Ben Keswick. The Chad Brown-trained filly 6-Watsdachances (4-1), won the Miss Grillo on yielding turf, and will race third off of a layoff. She’s run two 8.5-furlong races with top turf jockey Javier Castellano in the irons and looks to be my top choice.
5-Spring Venture (5-1), winner of the Natalma on Woodbine Mile day, ships in after working well for Mark Casse’s barn at Churchill Downs. She was flattered when second place finisher in the Natalma, Spring in the Air won the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland. If you’re looking for live longshots, two fillies look like they could make some noise in here. Bona Venture Stables’ 2-Summer of Fun (30-1) with Ramon Dominguez aboard could make a timed late run and 10-Waterway Run, a Euro who should have no issues stretching out to a mile, could be a potential upset win threat.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies
The Juvenile Fillies only drew eight entries, but a powerful group it is. Top trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher will each send out two fillies making up half the field. Baffert sends a First Samurai filly 2-Executiveprivilege (2-1) out to extend his five race winning streak. He has beaten Richard Mandella’s 1-Beholder (5-2), in their only two meetings, but the Henny Hughes sired filly has the top speed figure in the race. The sires of these two battled several times as juveniles, most notably in the Hopeful at Saratoga and in the BC Juvenile.
Pletcher sends out two impressive fillies, 5-Dreaming of Julia (5-2) and 8-Kauai Katie (3-1), both of whom posted impressive victories at Saratoga this summer and are both graded stakes winning fillies.
If you’re looking for a sleeper to upset the top four in this race, the aforementioned 3-Spring in the Air (15-1) joins Executiveprivilege (Del Mar Debutante) and Dreaming of Julia (Frizette) as the only other Grade 1 winner in the field. She could pick up the pieces if there is a pace meltdown as there is a lot of speed in this race.
Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf
In a competitive field of 12, I’m going to favor two of the Euros in this one. I absolutely love 4-The Fugue (7-2), my best bet of the Friday card. The John Gosden-trained filly won the Group 1 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood in Great Britain in August at the same distance and will be running on lasix for the first time. His main challenger is 10-Ridasiyna (4-1), a French filly whom owns a Group 1 win at Longchamp, and has the very talented Christophe Lemaire on board.
9-Marketing Mix (9-2), the Ontario-bred Medaglia d’Oro filly, has some terrific workouts on her slate and a win at the distance on the Santa Anita sod. She will challenge the top two Euros, but is more of a late pace horse and may find the top two difficult to catch on the firm Santa Anita turf.
A long shot play in this race would be 6-Lady of Shamrock (12-1), who is three for three on the Santa Anita turf course and has a win at the mile and a quarter distance for trainer John Sadler. One interesting twist is Pletcher’s 12-In Lingerie (12-1) who will try turf for the first time ever. The Black-Eyed Susan winner won the Grade 1 Spinster on the polytrack at Keeneland in her last start and adds intrigue to an already stellar race.
Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic
The biggest race of the first day of championship racing is unquestionably the Ladies’ Classic. The 9-furlong race is loaded with talent; most notably 6-Royal Delta (9-5) will attempt to defend her title as America’s top female race horse. She comes off a wildly impressive victory in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park where she crushed the field by nine lengths on an off track.
Trainer Bill Mott could set two records if his defending champion repeats: a third straight Ladies’ Classic and a fifth overall victory in the race. He won in 1997 (Ajina), 1998 (Escena) and 2010 (Unrivaled Belle). “I think it’s very competitive,” Mott said. “You have to respect a lot of the horses in there. It looks like a good, fast pace. And it looks like some horses have speed and good quality. There is no shortage of talent.”
5-Awesome Feather (3-1), undefeated in 10 lifetime races, has only raced four times since winning the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies race at Churchill Downs for trainer Chad Brown. The Awesome of Course filly has yet to be tested against top company since then, so I am still a wee leery about backing her on Friday. Brown is happy with how Awesome Feather has taken to the Santa Anita surface. “She’s come to Santa Anita, been on the track three days in a row, and every day she’s looked dynamite out there. I’m optimistic that she’s going to come with a big race,” said Brown.
2-My Miss Aurelia, last year’s Juvenile champ and 4-Questing, are co-third choices at 4-1. My Miss Aurelia has yet to lose in six career starts and held off Questing at the wire in the Cotillion at Parx in September, in a stretch run for the ages. One has to wonder if that took a little steam out of both of their engines. Questing had two impressive victories at Saratoga and has a relatively rookie jockey in Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard. She also was giving up a big weight break to My Miss Aurelia in the Cotillion. They will both race at 121 pounds in the Distaff.
These are four of the top fillies in the land, none of which has ever raced on the Santa Anita track. I’m going to favor Royal Delta as my top selection and play with long shot 8-Love and Pride (8-1), who I think could sneak up on this field. Pletcher decided to ship her to Santa Anita early and she won the Grade 1 Zenyatta fairly easily so we know she will take to the surface.
As a follow up to Sunday’s print article on Summer of Fun and Bona Venture Stables, I spoke with managing partner Dan Collins today and he said that St. Bonaventure president Sr. Margaret Carney sent her well wishes and she and the university will be cheering on Summer of Fun in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf. That race is scheduled to go off at 5:28 p.m. ET on Friday afternoon.
Be sure to come back and visit the Sports, Ink blog on Saturday afternoon, as I will be live blogging the Saturday card, starting with the first Breeders’ Cup race at 2:50 p.m. ET through the Breeders’ Cup Classic which is scheduled to go off at 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday night in prime time on NBC (Ch. 2).
Good luck and let’s go and cash some tickets!