By Gene Kershner
ARCADIA, Ca. -- The weather is picture-perfect in Arcadia, just outside of Los Angeles, for this weekend's Breeders' Cup (BC) world championships. We're back at beautiful Santa Anita Park amid the palm trees and the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. The two-day festival of racing will feature 14 Breeders' Cup races culminating in the $5 million BC Classic in prime time Saturday evening on NBC (Ch. 2, 8-9 p.m. ET).
Friday's five championship races will be carried live on NBC Sports Network (4-8 p.m. ET). The big rematch between Princess of Sylmar and Royal Delta in the BC Distaff should be th highlight of the day at the Great Race Place.
Let's look at Friday's last four Breeders' Cup races (Races 7-10) making up the late Pick-4 and offer some quick picks and thoughts to consider when handicapping. It's time to dig for some gold, similary to Kentucky Derby day; there is opportunity for a major score based on past history.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
My Pick-4 will be do or die early on with the $1 million Juvenile Turf for 2-year-olds. I decided to put my marbles on two of the horses in here and am hoping they will stay true to form. The talented Kitten's Joy 2-year-old 5-Bobby's Kitten (5-2) and 2-Giovanni Boldini 7-2), a $675K purchase sired by War Front are my top two selections.
The Ramseys ran away with the title of top owner at Saratoga this year. They set a record number of wins in one meet (22), while amassing $1.7 million in earnings. They will be seeking their third career BC win, the first coming at Santa Anita in 2010 in the Dirt Mile (Furthest Land) and again in the Juvenile Fillies in 2011 at Churchill Downs (Stephanie's Kitten).
Stalwart European trainer Aidan O'Brien sends two horses postward in Giovanni Boldini and 9-Wilshire Boulevard (8-1). Ryan Moore jumps off Wilshire after a fourth-place finish in a Group 1 race at Longchamp in France to ride the second choice, Giovanni Boldini. Moore has won the BC Juvenile Turf the last two years (Wrote - 2011; George Vancouver - 2012), so he knows how to win this race Trainer O'Brien (83-7-11-6) has won over $12.4 million in BC purse money and rarely brings a horse that can't compete to the Cup. I'm banking on the Euro factor here.
I'll round out my trifecta with 4-Outstrip (4-1) and the all-time leading BC jockey in wins, Mike
Post Time Outlook: 1-Giovanni Boldini; 2-Bobby's Kitten and; 3-Outstrip
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
In six previous editions of the $1 million BC Dirt Mile, the favorite has never won and has hit the board only one time (Discreet Cat, 2007, third), which doesn't bode well for 10-Verrazano (3-1), the morning line favorite. This race appears to wide open so we'll be going fairly deep in our Pick-4 play in an attempt to catch a price. This race typically sees a hot early pace with splits of 22 and 45 and change, usually resulting in a pace meltdown with the winner coming from the back of the pack. With Santa Anita likely to be a super freeway over the weekend, we'll include front runner and late pace horses in our play.
A horse that has revived his career is 11-Pants on Fire (6-1). The son of Jump Start has been working lights out for owners George and Lori Hall and trainer Kelly Breen. He comes off two graded stakes wins and his running style looks to be favorable in this race. Regular rider Paco Lopez will be in the irons for the Halls.
Another horse I'm including is 4-Brujo de Olleros (8-1), second to Graydar in the Grade 2 Kelso, a horse that likely would have been favored in this race before pulling out over the weekend. He comes in third off the layoff for trainer Richard Mettee, who is looking for his first BC training victory. the horse was bred in Brazil and raced in Uruguay before coming to the States in the middle of 2012 for new owner Team Valor.
A horse that may relish a cutback in distance is 1-Taptowne (15-1), a colt that finished second to Pants on Fire in the Ack Ack Handicap two races back at Churchill Downs. Keep in mind he also shares the same sire as last year's Dirt Mile winner, Tapizar, who paid $32.60 to win. [UPDATE FRI AM 11:45 a.m.: Taptowne has scratched due to a foot bruise]
If there is a complete pace meltdown, it will be difficult to keep last year's Travers dead-heater 2-Golden Ticket (12-1) off your Pick-4 ticket as he will surely be making a late run at the early front runners.
I will include two west coast entries 5-Fed Biz (6-1) and 12-Goldencents (4-1), as both have had success over the Santa Anita strip and will relish the souped-up track. Both horses have been working well in the mornings.
Difficult to exclude Verrazano, but I've burned too much money on him already this year and it's time to take a stand against him.
Post Time Outlook: 1-Pants on Fire; 2-Brujo de Olleros and; 3-Fed Biz
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
In the five-year history of the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf once again the favorite has never won the race and has only hit the board twice. The fact that second choice 14-My Conquestadory (9-2) is on the far outside surely doesn't make one lick their chops either. We'll try and beat her with some wacky strategy by going fairly deep into the field.
Get a load of this logic, I'm throwing in the three Euros, 6-Vorda (4-1), 8-Chrisellium (6-1) and 12-Testa Rossi (8-1) with the three Chad Brown-trained fillies (red-hot turf trainer). Brown's three include 4-Kitten's Kaboodle (12-1), 5-Granny's McKitten (20-1) and 11-Ready to Act (8-1). Toss in 10-Clenor (8-1) from the SoCal circuit and we're hoping to catch decent price horses in the middle two legs.
Post Time Outlook: 1-Testa Rossi; 2-Vorda and: 3-Ready to Act
Breeders' Cup Distaff
The biggest race of the first day of championship racing is unquestionably the $2 million BC Distaff (formerly known as the Ladies' Classic). The 9-furlong race will feature a rematch between two-time Distaff winner 4-Royal Delta (8-5) and the likely 3-year-old female champion 6-Princess of Sylmar (9-5). In last month's Grade 1 Beldame Invitational at Belmont Park, the Princess surged past the 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker in deep stretch to win in her first try against older horses.
Trainer Bill Mott can extend two records if his defending champ repeats: a fourth straight Distaff and a sixth overall victory in the race. He won the Distaff in 1997 (Ajina), 1998 (Escena) and 2010 (Unrivaled Belle). He can also set a new record with a third straight victory with the same horse. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride Royal Delta, who ironically was in the saddle for Princess of Sylmar's biggest win in the Kentucky Oaks last May. Mott will also send out another filly, 3-Close Hatches (6-1), runaway winner of the Cotillion at Parx in September, who also had Smith in the irons subbing in for the injured Joel Rosario, who regains the mount here.
The connections of Princess of Sylmar who proclaimed during the summer meet at Saratoga that she likely wouldn't head to Santa Anita, quickly changed course after the win in the Beldame. The possibility of a Horse of the Year title could await the Princess if she wins impressively in the Distaff and Game on Dude falters on Saturday in the Classic. Jockey Javier Castellano has ridden her to victories in her last three races, retains the mount for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Another horse who should be given consideration is last year's BC Juvenile Fillies winner 5-Beholder (5-2) trained by Richard Mandella and ridden by 50-year-old Gary Stevens. With all of the attention being drawn towards Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar, this is a filly that is proven over the track and only lost by a half-length in the Kentucky Oaks to the Princess.
Rarely does Bill Mott show up on the biggest days with his horses not ready to run. I'm going with Royal Delta for the three-peat in a hotly-contested race to avenge last month's loss in the Beldame.
Post Time Outlook: 1-Royal Delta; 2-Princess of Sylmar; and 3-Beholder
Be sure to come back and visit the Sports, Ink blog on Saturday afternoon for a live blog of the Saturday card, starting with the first BC race at 3:05 p.m. ET through the Breeders' Cup Classic.