Breeders' Cup Picks- 2007

Is there a better time of year for sports than October? You’ve got college and NFL football in full swing, the World Series and of course the often underrated but always exciting world championships of horse racing, also known as the Breeders’ Cup. This year, the powers that be decided to extend the festivities at Monmouth Park into a two-day event, adding three divisional championships to Friday’s race card. Personally, I think that the Juvenile Turf race is a bit much, but I like the addition of the Dirt Mile race because it gives middle distance dirt horses that don’t have the speed for the six furlong Sprint or the stamina for the ten furlong Classic a suitable alternative; and let’s face it, enough races are run on the dirt each year at eight or eight and a half furlongs to justify a separate division. The other new race is the Filly and Mare Sprint, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it will certainly alleviate one of the many difficulties of handicapping the already grueling Sprint. On the other, it takes some of the fun out of that handicapping process, not to mention the awe that resulted from fillies beating the boys at six furlongs.

Whatever your opinion, the fact is that Breeders’ Cup weekend is now two days long and eleven races, and I don’t see too many negatives about that. A few words on my handicapping strategy if I may:

When picking Breeders’ Cup races, one often feels the desire to bet on every horse, since all are so talented to even be running. Obviously, doing so is rarely profitable, so one of the first things I do is single out horses that I think will be overbet relative to their actual chances of performing well in the race, and I try to beat them. This helps to eliminate horses. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a shot, it just means that I like other horses better for the money. Additionally, you’ll notice that I put a lot of stake in Beyer speed figures, which attempt to assess a horse’s speed based on a number of factors including race time, track condition and the type of trip the horse had in the race (i.e., did the horse run the whole race 5 wide or did he get a full rail trip?) This helps to compare different horses across different races, distances and track conditions. I find these numbers important, because my experience has been that the horse that runs the fastest usually wins the race (I’m being completely serious).

Finally, the press has been giving the specifics of the Monmouth course a lot of weight in the weeks leading up to this event. It’s a unique racecourse, which aside from having a reputation as a speed-biased track, also has tight turns and short stretches, and is not suited to the running style of some horses. At times when I really couldn’t decide between two horses, I usually gave the edge to the horse that had demonstrated some ability (and sometimes, extraordinary ability) to handle the track and perform well. To add to the confusion this year, it appears likely that the surfaces are going to be very wet, so looking into how the horses have performed on off-track conditions can’t hurt either.

Here’s my careful analysis and expert opinion (ha, ha…) as to how all the races will play out. I won’t be betting the Juvenile Turf, as I find it to be borderline ridiculous, so I did not include any analysis. Aren’t the juvenile dirt races enough of a crapshoot as it is? I’ll be betting the other ten races, focusing on exacta boxes and place betting on my win choices. I might even throw in some dime superfectas for good measure. Anyway, here goes:

FRIDAY:

Filly and Mare Sprint, 3:25 CST, 6 furlongs

As mentioned above, this new Breeders’ Cup race gives the speedy girls a chance for glory without having to go against the always tough male competition in the Sprint. This is actually the race that I’m having the most trouble with, especially after La Traviata’s connections came to their senses and opted to run her here. I’ve got to pick somebody, but I’ll be wagering small on this one because of my uncertainty. Dream Rush has been virtually unstoppable this year, finishing no worse than second in six starts. Her speed figures aren’t showstopping (103 top), but she’s well-seasoned and will be the one to beat in this one. Although 7f may be her ideal distance, I like her combination of closing style and tactical speed to win this race as the favorite, although starting from the #3 post, a lot of people expect her to press the pace. Another horse with a big chance is Oprah Winney, who is likely to offer better value than either of the other two. She’s won her last two starts, both of which where at this distance and one of which was at Monmouth, and hasn’t missed the board yet this year. Her top speed figure of 103 came on this course, which puts her on par with some of the best here. The aforementioned La Traviata is somewhat of an enigma, but I am terrified to leave her out of my exotics. She’s lightly raced, winning all three starts this year and posting a 104 speed figure in her last race which is the highest in the field. She’s faced nobody so I won’t be playing her except in exotics (especially since she’s likely to be the second choice), but she certainly seems to have a lot of natural talent. Handicappers simply don’t have very much information on her, so bet her carefully, but don’t forget about her. Miss Macy Sue has been consistent, winning five of six starts at this distance. Her 103 Beyer speed figure last time out at 6f puts her right in the mix, and her stalking style could be a huge asset if the pace breaks down, which is fairly likely. She’s never won at Monmouth, and she can’t be ignored completely, but I’m going to try to beat her based on her low average of speed figures at this distance (91, 97, 96 and 91 in her last four starts before running the 103) and the general lack of competition she’s faced in her victories, not to mention that a horse that likes to stalk is going to have trouble coming out of the #1 post in a race with this much speed. If the track is wet, a horse to keep an eye on is Wild Gams, who finished a game second to Miss Macy Sue two races back. She boasts a 6f victory on a wet Monmouth track from September of last year and could hit the board at a price. Shaggy Mane ran a 108 speed figure earlier this year when she won the Sunshine Millions Sprint at 6f, but hasn’t been close to the board in two of her last three starts. She figures the be the pace of the pace, and should go to the lead immediately. If she runs to her full potential, she has a shot, but given her inconsistency I like others more here, and think she’ll fade after setting a torrid pace. Winless Rahiyah and Miraculous Miss are probably in over their heads here, while Argentian-bred Jazzy takes a big step up in class, although many like her as a longshot. Maryfield has a win over Oprah Winney from way earlier this year, but has looked a step slower than the rest of this field in her past few starts despite winning the 7f Ballerina. I think she may need more distance, although she could be flying on the close and is another one that stands a chance if the hot pace causes the favorites to fade early. If I don’t like Maryfield, I can’t like Baroness Thatcher either, although she closed hard to nearly capture the Ballerina at the wire.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Dream Rush (2-1)

2. Oprah Winney (6-1)

3. La Traviata (5-2)

CAN’T IGNORE: Wild Gams (10-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Miss Macy Sue (6-1)

Dirt Mile, 4:35 CST, 8 furlongs

The inaugural running of the Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile is loaded with talented horses that probably would have been seriously up against it in the Classic. Everyone is still waiting for likely favorite Discreet Cat to perform up to his full potential. After winning all five starts in 2006 (three of them at the 8f distance), he finished way off the board in the 10f Dubai World Cup before closing for third place in the 6f Vosburgh. It looks as though those troubles can be attributed to his preference for the 8f distance, and if he can run back anywhere close to the 115 and 116 Beyer figures he posted last year at a mile on the dirt, he’ll be the one to catch in this one. His connections have been gearing up for this one all year, the Vosburgh served as a pretty good prep, and I think he’s going to be ready and will be very tough to beat at this distance. Coming out of the #1 post shouldn’t hurt him too much, and should keep him close enough to the pace to be in position to make a strong move, that is if there’s anyone ahead of him anyway. Home field advantage goes to the underrated Gottcha Gold, who has gone 3-2-1-0 in his last three starts, all of which have been at Monmouth. He’s posted a respectable Beyer speed figure of 108 at 8f on this track, and should offer some value. He’ll have to be careful not to engage in too much of a speed duel as he likes to compete for the lead, but if he’s able to rate a bit off the pace, he has a big chance here. Corinthian looked strong in winning the Met Mile earlier this year but hasn’t been able to duplicate that effort in has last two starts, missing the board in the 9f Woodward and the 10f Suburban Handicap. Certainly this is his best distance, but he’ll need to improve upon his last two starts to have a shot here. He’ll be among the stalkers, so if the pace breaks down in front of him, he should be in position for the kill. Wanderin’ Boy figures to head straight for the lead along with High Finance, who is unproven around two turns, looked awful his last time out in the 7f Forego, and is probably better suited for shorter distances. He does have the highest Beyer speed figure at this distance this year (115), but that was back in May. I expect both of these horses to fade out of the picture on the turn for home. Lewis Michael is somewhat of a question mark for me, as he’s run some impressive races at a variety of distances, is improving rapidly and shows great versatility. I prefer others more as I worry that this race isn’t the ideal distance for him and that he might be a polytrack specialist, but he’s worth a look at a price. Park Avenue Ball and Xchanger are both taking pretty big steps up in class here, but the former has a lot of experience on the Monmouth course and the latter has been improving and stands a chance if the pace disintegrates.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Discreet Cat (2-1)

2. Gottcha Gold (8-1)

3. Corinthian (7-2)

CAN’T IGNORE: Lewis Michael (6-1)

TRY TO BEAT: High Finance (5-1)

SATURDAY:

Juvenile Fillies, 11:30 CST, 8.5 furlongs

I usually only place modest wagers on either of the Juvenile races, as I generally find them to be a complete crapshoot; these are horses that have developed to the equivalent stage of about a 10th grade human. Nevertheless, I’ll have to bet on somebody in order to entertain myself during the race, so there is handicapping to be done. There could be a great deal of value in taking a chance on Backseat Rhythm, who followed up her 8.5 f turf victory with a hard closing 2nd place finish in the 8f Frizette. Her top turf speed figure (92) will blow this field away if she can duplicate it on the dirt, and her last outing definitely showed that she will benefit from the extra half a furlong. She seems to be being ignored, and I’m going to take a chance on her. Whether she will have enough to catch the likely favorite Indian Blessing, who defeated her in the Frizette last time out, remains to be seen. Indian Blessing posted an 87 Beyer speed figure in that one, before which she easily won her 5.5f maiden. She’s a little underseasoned for the price she’s likely to offer, but don’t skip out on her in your exotics. Smarty Deb is undefeated in four starts, including a two turn victory over this distance in her last outing. There are definitely class questions to be raised, but she’s not getting a lot of respect and is worth a look at a price. Cry and Catch Me posted a speed figure of 81 in her hard fought nose victory over Izarra in the Oak Leaf. The former was scratched with a fever, but the latter has a chance to win if she can improve upon that effort. Proud Spell and Phantom Income have both looked sharp as well, but they have yet to run past 7f and therefore I have trouble playing them. Grace Anatomy and A to the Croft appear to have a shot if the can improve on their efforts in the Alcibiades, while Clearly Foxy will be taking their undefeated records into a new level of competition. A lot of people like Irish Smoke as well, but I’m not really seeing it as she was badly beaten in her only start past 7f by a few of the horses running here.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Backseat Rhythm (12-1)

2. Indian Blessing (3-1)

3. Smarty Deb (30-1)

CAN’T DISMISS: Izarra (6-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Proud Spell (5-1)

Juvenile, 12:10 CST, 8.5 furlongs

The 8f Champagne Stakes is often the prep race that determines the Juvenile favorite. The same will probably be the case this year, and I’m going to go in a similar direction but pick the runner-up of the Champagne to win the Juvenile. Pyro closed very gamely to make up 5.5 lengths over the last furlong and will greatly benefit from the extra half of a furlong in this race. He should offer some value, and his speed figure of 100 dominates all other runners here besides the horse that beat him in the Champagne. That horse, of course, is War Pass, who is likely to be one of the day’s biggest favorites after his win in the aforementioned race and lightning quick 103 speed figure. He’s a deserving favorite off of that effort, but I’m not quite willing to pick him as the winner without any feel of his ability to go the extra distance; his pedigree leans more toward shorter distances (by Cherokee Run). Wicked Style can’t be taken lightly either, as he enters the race undefeated in his three starts, including a win over 8.5 f. His speed figures are much lower than my first two picks (86) but he’s probably the next best bet. Tale of Ekati boasts the next fastest speed figures (94,95) over shorter distances, so he certainly has a shot, although again I am uneasy about picking horses that haven’t run two turns yet. In addition, his trainer wasn’t happy with a lightning quick 4f work this week that came in about three seconds too fast. In any event, I like him more than fellow sprinter Kodiak Cowboy. Dixie Chatter was impressive in winning the 8.5f Norfolk last time out, beating some of the contenders here, but doesn’t seem as speedy as the best here. The rest of the field appears top be a cut below.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Pyro (6-1)

2. War Pass (5-2)

3. Wicked Style (10-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Tale of Ekati (7-2)

TRY TO BEAT: Kodiak Cowboy

Filly and Mare Turf, 12:55 CST, 11 furlongs

Most of the racing world is tearing their hair out over the Distaff, a race I will address later. To me, this race appears much deeper and harder to figure out than the Distaff (I actually am fairly confident about my picks in that race). The addition of the undefeated Nashoba’s Key, who probably would have been an even money favorite in the Distaff, just throws another wildcard in a race that is already full of them. The good news is, I really like the horse I’m picking to win, and that horse is Honey Ryder. I’ll start by saying I’m throwing out her sixth place finish in her last start in the 9.5f Beverly D. Aside from being a furlong and a half shorter than this race, a lot of odd things happened there, including eventual Yellow Ribbon winner Lahudood finishing a distant sixth. I was inspired to relearn that Honey Ryder actually threw in a clunker in the Beverly D last year, finishing a well-beaten fourth, before rebounding nicely to finish a charging third in this race a year ago. She’s well-classed and has performed competitively against some of the best males in the country, and has shown ability over her career to win on yielding turf surfaces. She’s had two and a half months to prepare, and I really like her closing style in this race that has only been won by a pacesetter on one occasion. Her second place to male turf contender English Channel on this racecourse was very impressive, and I see lots of reasons to like her the best of these. After that, I like about seven others, but must narrow it down. I’ve learned my lesson betting against the Europeans in this one, so I took a long, hard look at Passage of Time and she ended up frightening me. Although she appears to have been a lot better in 2006, the chances of this turf coming up softer than ideal for the Americans gives her a huge advantage. After a rough start in June at 12f, she rebounded nicely last time out at Longchamp, finishing third to top company at the same distance. She’s still developing at only three years of age, and I’m guessing her connections will have her primed. The undefeated Nashoba’s Key will try her hand at the turf when she likely would have been a heavy favorite in the Distaff. She may well be the favorite here as well, which isn’t completely crazy considering she’s never lost a race in her career. However, the quality of the competition she’s beaten is somewhat of a question, as is her ability to handle a soft turf surface and the distance of the race. She appeared to still have some steam in winning her first start on turf last time out, but that’s still a lot of question marks. Since she’s proven to be a win machine and I won’t be leaving her out of my boxes, but I can’t help but think she’ll be an underlay. If she does win, and the big four in the Classic don’t show up, she’d be my vote for Horse of the Year. The other Americans likely to get some attention are Wait A While, who was a star turf filly last year as a three-year-old, and Lahudood, who’s been consistent and was impressive in winning (somewhat surprisingly) the Flower Bowl last time out. In the case of the latter, she’s never raced on anything but firm turf, and took a pretty big step forward in her last race. Wait A While was on my radar, but trainer Todd Pletcher seems disturbingly concerned about the condition of the turf, and has even gone so far to say that Wait A While could be scratched if the turf is less than firm. That doesn’t sound like a good sign of confidence to me, even if the turf does turn up firm. A horse that’s really been more successful at distances shorter than 10f, I was trying to talk myself into giving her a chance, but Pletcher pretty much talked me out of it. There’s too much intrigue in this race, so I’ll move on. Argentina has been touted as somewhat of a “no-win-machine” as she’s yet to win in her eight career starts. However, she’s shown improvement and most noticeably has finished her races with a strong late kick. She’s yet to run this distance and there is reason to believe that she wants it. She has experience, though no victories, on soft and yielding turf, and she’s run respectably. If you like Passage of Time, then the Irish import All My Loving deserves a look as well. She’s well-classed at extraordinary distances (most on soft turf of course), and beat that one two starts back. She’s hit the board in seven of her eight starts this year. Danzon may be the wise-guy horse in this race off of her fairly impressive finish against the boys in the Turf Classic on Derby Day on yielding turf, but I prefer others. Precious Kitten will be a decent price and she’s been very consistent this year as well, but she’s primarily a 9f horse and the distance of this race poses a big question mark. The other Euros, Arravale, Timarwa and Simply Perfect appear to be a cut below, but you never know in this one.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Honey Ryder (9-2)

2. Passage of Time (7-2)

3. Nashoba’s Key (3-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Argentina (12-1), All My Loving (15-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Wait a While (4-1), Lahudood (10-1)

Sprint, 1:35 CST, 6 furlongs

The Sprint is always one of my favorite races. It’s always so deep, so quick, so engaging. Many handicappers find this race the hardest to figure out year after year, although I’ve had much more success in this race over time than in any of the turf races. I like a lot of horses in this field and had a lot of trouble narrowing it down. In the end, I can’t dismiss Smokey Stover, a winner in five of his six starts this season at this distance. He’s posted consistently high speed figures (110,111,113) , and has shown versatility in winning races on the lead and from off the pace. He’ll start on the rail from the #1 post, which might be a concern for some, but I think it will give him the perfect opportunity to snuggle up just off the pace for a short trip, as a lot of the speed starts from much further outside. The only concern with Smokey Stover is that his only loss this year came on a wet track. He was also coming off a three month layoff in that race, so whether or not it was the wet track, the layoff or simply an off day remains to be seen. I’ll take my chances simply because he’s shown that he knows how to win, and his last victory was an impressive tuneup over this racetrack. Midnight Lute is the talk of the town after his eye-popping performance in the 7f Forego in which he earned a year-high 124 Beyer speed figure. He’ll be flying from off the pace, and I really thought he might have made the Dirt Mile more interesting, but I learned long ago not the ignore speed figures even if the race doesn’t appear to be a horse’s ideal distance. Trainer Bob Baffert has said that Midnight Lute is one of the top ten most talented horses he’s ever trained, which is no small statement. A concern with this horse is the fact that his Forego performance virtually came out of nowhere; he was somewhat of a nobody earlier this season, losing his other three starts and only hitting the board in one of them against sub-par competition. I won’t be betting him outright, but with speed figures like that, I’m admittedly afraid to leave him out of exotics. Another hot horse is Idiot Proof, who aside from the classic name boasts a victory in his last start at 6f as well as the course record at the 6f distance at Monmouth (1:07.2) from three starts back. Think that matters? It’s probably worth taking into consideration, especially since he’s likely to offer a pretty decent price. He earned a competitive 113 speed figure in that one. His ability to stalk would benefit him most here, and coming out of the #7 post, hopefully he’ll be able to avoid getting into too much of a speed duel. Another horse I like is Benny the Bull, who I have a real tough time leaving out of the trifecta. (I may just have to box four!) He’s one of the most experienced sprinters in the field, although like Midnight Lute, likes to close and could be in a bit of trouble if the course turns up sloppy. He ran a game second in the 7f Forego, posting a blazing 119 spreed figure (maybe that race was just fast for everyone?) He had a bad trip in the 6f Vanderbilt but still got up for fourth, narrowly missing the board. The underlay of the race in my opinion is Greg’s Gold, who is getting a lot of respect for losing narrowly in two of his last three trips. This begs the question, if a horse keeps running into traffic troubles in races, is that something that he is ever going to overcome or is that just an element of his nature? His top speed figures at this distance are a notch below a lot of the horses here, so he’s going to need a perfect trip to get near the board if you ask me. He’s another one who likes to close, and I like others better. On the pace, expect to see Commentator, Bordonaro and Talent Search coming over from outer posts trying to get to the lead. I generally prefer stalkers and closers in this race even though it is very short, but I’ll address each of these horses anyway. Commentator probably is the speed of the race, and has a shot if he can get away from the field on a wet course, but he has generally faded down the stretch, and demonstrated a tendency to stop running once he’s been passed. I picked Bordonaro to win this race last year and ever since then he’s seemed to be only a shadow of his former self. He only knows one gear, and that is to be on the lead, and he’s very susceptible to a speed duel with horses that at this point in time appear to be faster. Of the three, I like Talent Search best. He’s well tested at this distance, and although his speed figures aren’t world-beating, they’re more impressive than Greg’s Gold (108 top) and he also has a very impressive six length victory over this distance on the Monmouth course. He’s at risk to falling into too quick of a speed duel and fading, but if you’re a believer in the Monmouth speed bias or “horse for the course” theories, this might be your guy, and at a decent price to boot. Kelly’s Landing is the only real mystery in the race. The winner of the prestigious Dubai Golden Shaheen at Dubai in March hasn’t raced since and has appeared slightly off in his workouts. He didn’t fare well in this race last year, and I for one think the Dubai race was fairly weak despite its prestige. Winning this race off a seven month layoff would be quite a feat, and while not impossible, there are too many horses that I like in this race to spend too much time on him. Forefathers starts from the furthest outside post, and already had a lot to overcome.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Smokey Stover (7-2)

2. Midnight Lute (2-1)

3. Idiot Proof (10-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Benny the Bull (6-1), Talent Search (15-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Greg’s Gold (9-2)

Mile, 2:20 CST, 8 furlongs

This is always one of the most difficult Breeders’ Cup races to handicap, and it isn’t made any easier this year by the addition of an extra 70 yards thanks to the Monmouth course. In any event, this race boasts everything from European imports to inconsistent American milers and horses that might need a little more than 8f to race in ideal fashion. You can probably tell by that sentence that I’m not really crazy about any of the entrants; my top two choices in this race, Shakespeare and Crossing the Line, ended up not being able to run due to injuries. So it seems as good a time as any to really go out on a limb. Kip Deville is a pure miler, and was very successful early in the year, winning his first two starts at the distance and winning from off the pace, a tactic that has been successful in this race over time. His stock dropped off after a confusing 6th place finish in the 8f Shoemaker, and his connections chose to run him on the dirt, where he wasn’t successful either. After returning to the turf, he ran a game 3rd on the Monmouth track and then looked back in peak form in losing narrowly to the aforementioned Shakespeare, who happened to be carrying seven less pounds. He’ll offer some value, and I think he’s got the best chance of the Americans because he’s tested at the distance, he’s run at Monmouth recently and has the speed to compete with the top horses here (105 and 106 Beyers at 8f). His tactical speed gives him a real shot to hang just off the pace in a race that is very rarely won wire to wire, and should get a nice spot coming out of the centrally located #8 post. My main cause for concern would be that he experienced some soreness this week which will need to be monitored over the next 48 hours. The favorite here will likely be the European import Excellent Art, who will be tough to bet against and impossible to leave out of exotics, especially on softer turf. All of his four starts have been at this distance, winning once and finishing second twice. He’s been hot of late, running consecutive seconds to top European miler Ramonti, and appears to be the classiest horse in the field. The other European to keep an eye on here is Jeremy, who appears to be a step slower than rival Excellent Art, but if that one demolishes the field, he won’t likely be far behind, and he has a real chance to hit the board (again, especially if the turf is softer than the Americans are accustomed to). He’s also been well classed, battling Ramonti to a photo finish in the 8f Queen Anne stakes. I’ve still got a soft spot for Remarkable News after his solid 8f effort two starts back in the Firecracker, where he wired the competition and posted a field-best 110 Beyer speed figure. His 4th place finish last time out wasn’t as bad as it looks on paper, and if he runs his best he could surprise at a price. Negatives include his two losses to Kip Deville and preference for firm turf, so that may be a red flag if the course turns up soft. Heavy betting will come in on American stars After Market and Nobiz Like Showbiz. In After Market’s case, he’s certainly been successful at 9f and 10f turf races, but he is 0 for 3 lifetime at this distance and may need a longer course to fully realize his potential. At the odds he’s likely to draw, I’m going to have to pass, although his closing style could come into play if the pace breaks down in front of him. Nobiz Like Showbiz was one of the premier dirt three-year-olds before the Triple Crown races, and has switched to turf recently, winning all three of his starts at 9f. I have serious questions about his ability to meander his way around Monmouth’s tight turns with his giant frame, and also don’t really see him as a miler. His speed figures also leave something to be desired compared to the best here, and he’s likely to be a huge underlay thanks to his easily recognizable name. Trippi’s Storm is the horse that beat After Market last time out, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see him in the mix here, but I still think he hasn’t found his niche and don’t have any reason to believe that this is his best distance. He reminds me a bit of Miesque’s Approval though, who won this race last year and burned me bad at long odds. I was kicking myself for weeks.  I’ll also have to throwout the lower-tier Americans Cosomaut and Purim, who haven’t fared as well against some of the tougher competition they’ve faced, and also will have big problems on softer turf. The female My Typhoon is really up against it in my opinion and she would probably benefit from an extra furlong and doesn’t have much experience against world-class male milers. Her 107 Beyer speed figure at this distance makes her worth a look at a price, but I can’t feel good about playing her. Rebellion, Host, Silent Name and Rabatash look in over their heads here, although Host has a great closing kick and could hit the board if the pace totally disintegrates. An interesting longshot here is Icy Atlantic, who comes out of the #2 post. Used as a rabbit for English Channel in last year’s turf, he’ll certainly go straight to the lead, and he has great speed. He usually fades, but this is a shorter race, so you never know. Overall, this race really comes down to how the Euros handle the unfamiliar track conditions.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Kip Deville (6-1)

2. Excellent Art (3-1)

3. Jeremy (5-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Remarkable News (12-1)

TRY TO BEAT: After Market (7-2), Nobiz Like Showbiz (8-1)

Distaff, 3:05 CST, 9 furlongs

This is one of the deepest Distaff fields in years, as virtually every entrant has a chance to win. What will weigh the most interesting as this race plays out is how a seemingly talented group of three year-old fillies (minus likely division champ Rags to Riches) stacks up against the older horses. My success in playing this race basically depends on the accuracy of my conclusion that the three year-olds are all collectively a notch below their older competition. Unbridled Belle seems to be the hottest filly right now in this wide open field, having won her last start at this distance narrowly over tough competition. She has improved a great deal over her 2006 season and is well seasoned at the 9f distance. She’s yet to finish worse than second this year and her top speed figure of 104 puts her in contention for sure, although she gets a tough assignment coming out of a wide post. Narrow morning line favorite Indian Vale has lost her last two matches with Unbridled Belle narrowly, but this is surely her ideal distance. She struggled a bit in the middle of the year with 10f races, but she should feel comfortable here. Being on the pace in this race hasn’t traditionally been a bad thing (Round Pound and Adoration both pulled upsets recently running on the lead), and a horse to watch could be Hystericalady. A tough filly at 7f and 8f, she’s unproven beyond the 8.5f distance, but her connections chose to run in the Distaff instead of the 6f Sprint, which is probably too short for her. She’ll almost certainly try to get to the lead out of the gate from her tough #12 post, and whether or not any horses will catch her after she gets there is anybody’s guess. Her narrow loss last time out can be blamed on her general inability to handle polytrack surfaces. After her previous loss on polytrack, she rebounded with a stunning sixth length victory over this racecourse, and posted a 105 Beyer Speed figure to boot, which is tops in this race. I don’t think she’ll be able to hang on quite long enough for the win, especially after losing a lot of ground to get there, but they’ll all have to run her down at some point. As for the 3 year-old contigent, it is awfully tough to separate Octave, Lady Johanne and Lear’s Princess if you ask me. Octave and Lady Johanne have traded victories while both have beaten Lear’s Princess, who then added confusion by knocking off the star (but possibly not 100% at the time) filly Rags to Riches her last time out. I suppose I like Octave the best of the three as she’s been the most consistent and seems to relish the 9f distance, but without a speed figure above 100 between the three of them, I’ll be passing on the whole three-year old contingent. The same goes for the versatile but niche-less Panty Raid and polytrack specialists Tough Tiz’ Sis and Bear Now. Ginger Punch was one of the hottest fillies in training before her 3rd place finish in the Beldame, and now I’m starting to wonder whether or not she can get the distance. Her top speed figure (100) leaves something to be desired, and I’m not sure her rise to prominence was the result of beating very strong competition. Balance was hot early in the year on the west coast but has struggled since then, losing her last four races to some of the better horses here and not showing much fight. Teammate is classed but several steps slower than the best here, and Prop Me Up is really up against it.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Unbridled Belle (9-2)

2. Indian Vale (3-1)

3. Hystericalady (8-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Octave (10-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Ginger Punch (7-2)

Turf, 3:50 CST, 12 furlongs

This race is comprised of the smallest field of the day with only eight entrants, so value is a little tougher to find. Dylan Thomas is likely to be the biggest favorite on the day, probably less than even money, and for good reason. He’s run against the toughest horses in Europe, winning five of his eight races and finishing second in the other three. His consistency makes him very tough to bet against, especially since Europeans have typically owned this race over time. The only real concern is how well he’ll handle the new surroundings; his only trip to America didn’t work out so well as he finished a well-beaten fourth in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, but that was on dirt. Especially if the turf comes up softer than the Americans are used to, he can’t be left out of exotic bets for any reason and is probably the surest Pick-6 single of the day. Searching for value, I came upon Grand Couturier, who was very impressive in winning the 12f Sword Dancer two starts back over top American turf horse English Channel. He came up short last time out in the Man O’War but closed nicely and was gaining. I think he’ll benefit from the extra distance here as long as there is some sort of a pace for others to chase after, and also should have an edge due to his seasoning from having raced in Europe last year. If he’s anywhere near his morning line odds, he could be the overlay of the day. Speaking of English Channel, it’s hard to dismiss his chances. He won the 11.5f United Nations Handicap over this course which gives him a huge advantage, and posted a field-high 106 Beyer speed figure in winning the Turf Classic in his last start. He’s experienced and an old-favorite, and this could be his final race. Another old-favorite is Better Talk Now, an eight-year-old gelding who will be making his fourth straight start in this race after winning on his first try back in 2004. After missing the board in 2005, he finished a game second last year, and it’s tough to count him out. It does seem like he’s lost a step this season, as English Channel had his number last time out, but he’s raced very lightly and it wouldn’t be any surprise to see him steal the race, let alone hit the board. Last year’s winner Red Rocks returns to defend his title, although he hasn’t looked very good at all in Europe this year. Last year’s race was strange and wide-open enough for me to almost write it off as a fluke; he’s missed the board in three of his four starts in Europe so unless there’s reason to believe he was sandbagging to fool us crazy Americans again, I think there’s better places to look based on the odds he’s likely to offer. After those five, all we have to work with are Shamdinan, Transduction Gold and Fri Guy, who all look at least a tier out of their league in this one.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Dylan Thomas (7-5)

2. Grand Couturier (10-1)

3. English Channel (5-2)

CAN’T IGNORE: Better Talk Now (9-2)

TRY TO BEAT: Red Rocks (7-2)

Classic, 4:35 CST, 10 furlongs

The highly anticipated marquee race of the day features a four way battle for Horse of the Year honors. Any Given Saturday has made vast improvements since his eighth place finish in the Kentucky Derby, a race in which he sustained a foot bruise. Since then, he’s been impressive in winning his last three starts, including a convincing victory over this course in the 9f Haskell. The 113 speed figure he posted in that win puts him right in the mix. He’s still yet to win at the 10f distance, but there isn’t much reason to doubt his stamina. He’s easily the most improved three-year-old since the Triple Crown season, and if he continues to improve upon his past three races he will be the one to beat here. I also think his win over the Monmouth course two starts back gives him a huge advantage; he isn’t a deep closer and should be able to stalk the pace and make his move so I don’t worry as much about the track condition. Curlin is one of the most physically imposing racehorses of the past decade, an absolute monster of an animal that has accomplished a lot this year without any seasoning as a two-year old. He looked very strong in his stretch-running victory over Lawyer Ron last time out at this distance, and his stalking style should put him in perfect striking position. The only causes for concern include his lackluster showing two starts ago on this racecourse in the Haskell, where he was soundly beaten by Any Given Saturday, and the fact that the pace scenario doesn’t exactly set up perfectly for his grinding running style. I suppose one could wonder about how well he will maneuver his massive frame around the tight turns and short stretches of the Monmouth course on his second attempt as well, but the fact is that he has monstrous strength and might just be too talented for the rest of the field. He’s proven he can get the distance, and after the steps forward he’s taken this year I don’t worry that the Jockey Club took too much out of him. A sentimental favorite here has to be Street Sense, who I correctly picked to win the Kentucky Derby earlier this year. I’m sure his connections are happy with his #2 post, as Calvin Bo-Rail will have an opportunity to hug the rail as he loves to do and save ground for that patented closing kick. His narrow loss on polytrack in the 9f Kentucky Cup Classic is eerily familiar to his 2nd place finish in the Blue Grass before his Derby win, and his recent works have been stellar and reminiscent of his pre-Derby works as well. He’ll certainly be a factor, especially if he gets a good trip, but the other two three-year-olds have made bigger strides forward since May, and I think he’ll fall just short of the win unless he stays a little closer to the pace than he normally does. Lawyer Ron boasts the highest Beyer Speed figure in the race as a result of his Woodward triumph (119) and has proven his invincibility at the 9f distance. However, that final furlong has always given him trouble and is a major cause for concern here. He showed improvement last time out and nearly held off Curlin in the 10f Jockey Club Gold Cup, but finished 9th in last year’s Classic and 12th in last year’s Kentucky Derby in his only other career attempts at this distance. He has a tendency to be rank and try to bolt to the lead too early, which won’t bode well with such strong closing speed in this race, and I think he’s susceptible to getting caught in a speed duel with Hard Spun considering his #1 post, and that could be his downfall as he’ll be burnt out pretty quickly if he tries to keep up with that one. I also worry that his hard fought second place finish last time out took a lot out of him. Nevertheless, his speed figures alone give him a strong shot on his best day and if he’s able to rate and then get loose, the mud could play to his advantage. Hard Spun has run quite a campaign, and finally got a victory last time out, beating Street Sense in the 9f Kentucky Cup Classic. Still, I don’t think he’ll ever win at this distance, although he probably would have been my pick had his connections chose to run him in the Dirt Mile. It will certainly be entertaining watching him and Lawyer Ron battle for control of the early pace, and if either one of them gets loose in the mud, who knows; we all remember what Ghostzapper did in this race three years ago in a similar pace scenario, although I don’t think either horse is nearly as gifted as he was. Tiago is another three-year old who has shown much improvement and probably has the most dangerous stretch kick in the field, but I still think he’s a few steps slower than the top three-year olds and am going to avoid taking a deep closer in this race. European invader George Washington will try his hand again at the Classic after finishing sixth a year ago. While talented, he still has yet to demonstrate any success over such a long distance and would probably have a much better chance in the Mile; I can’t like him too much in this one. I still think that Diamond Stripes had a big chance in the Dirt Mile and can’t imagine why his connections chose to run him here against this field, although maybe they see something I don’t. Sure, he’s hit the board in all five starts this year (all 9f), but has never raced 10f in his career, and has been beaten twice by Lawyer Ron without really showing much closing kick. Awesome Gem has had some success on the West Coast and also finishes well, but he is a bit overmatched here.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Any Given Saturday (4-1)

2. Curlin (3-1)

3. Street Sense (3-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Lawyer Ron (5-2)

TRY TO BEAT: Hard Spun (8-1)

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