Friday kicks off two of the best betting days in horse racing of the entire year. I don’t consider myself an expert when it comes to horse racing, but I really enjoy the sport. Some of my favorite sporting events I have attended in person have involved horse racing. From ducking beers in the lawless Preakness infield at Pimlico to the betting bonanza during Travers weekend at Saratoga. In 2015, I was lucky enough to see Triple Crown winner American Pharoah finish a close second at Saratoga and then win the Breeder’s Cup at Keeneland to complete the first ever Grand Slam. Each time, I relied on my horse guy – I feel like every bettor has a "horse guy" – @mrgamehunter, who has come through more times than not.
I asked Game to preview the four Friday races for us, which you will find below. Also, make sure you check back in on Saturday morning for a preview of day two.
Breeder’s Cup Preview
November 3, 2017
It is Breeder’s Cup time. This year, it is being run at the beautiful Del Mar Racetrack in California over two days, November 3-4, with the first four races being run on Friday. The Breeder’s Cup is the pinnacle event in horse racing, attracting the greatest horses the sport has to offer from around the world.
For beginners to horse racing, it is important to understand that the fastest horse does not always win the race. Running style, pace of race, freshness and trip are just as important or more important.
For example, picture yourself running a mile race yourself. If you were in first place after a half mile – and had set a leisurely pace while conserving a lot of energy – you would have a lot of “gas” left in the tank for the second half mile, which would give you a better chance to win. Conversely, if you were pressured the first half mile by others trying to take the lead – and went really fast while burning up energy – it would be much tougher to hold on to win, which would set up some of the runners coming from behind who conserved more of their energy.
It gets significantly more complicated when there are 10-14 runners in each race. This increased traffic requires horses to alter course or to take wider trips around turns, which, as a result, causes them to travel farther distances. Simply put, the fastest horse on paper does not necessarily win, especially with more crowded fields.
Welcome to the greatest two days annually in thoroughbred horse racing! Here is a preview of the top runners in Friday’s four Breeder’s Cup races and my selections:
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
RACE 6 – 5:25 PM EST
#2 HAPPILY – Only two-time G1 winner in the field. She beat the boys in the G1 Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantily in France on 10-1 (see video below) after winning the G1 Moyglare Stud Stakes in Ireland. She drew well, which means she should be able to find good early position. One of two (#10 September) in this race for trainer Aidan O’Brien. She was supposed to run in the Fillies’ Mile in Great Britain a few weeks ago, but missed it due to a temperature. Consequently, she was re-routed into this race, so that’s the primary concern here. With four wins in five starts, if she runs her race, she will be really tough to beat.
#1 BEST PERFORMANCE – Blossomed on the turf. Was wide early and ran well in the Miss Grillo, but was beaten by #8 Significant Form, who had a much easier and cleaner trip. (See video below in Significant Form’s profile.) Adds Lasix. Tried to close into a pace-less race at Kentucky Downs where she couldn’t catch #5 Ultima D. This race should set up nicely for her.
#8 SIGNIFICANT FORM – Was DQ’d in a maiden win at Saratoga on August 27th, where she was clearly the best horse. However, she made amends winning the G3 Miss Grillo (see video below) at Belmont beating #1 Best Performance. $575,000 yearling purchase was meant to compete at the highest levels. One of Chad Brown’s two starters here (#11 Rushing Fall). Good tactical speed to find solid position. Chad Brown has won this race three times with horses out of the Miss Grillo.
#11 RUSHING FALL – Two for two so far. Won her stakes debut in the G3 Jessamine Stakes at 1 1/16th miles on a soft turf course on October 11th at Keeneland (see video below). She was 12 lengths back in 12th place at the half mile marker – and 10 lengths behind at the top of the stretch – before absolutely crushing the field in the stretch. A strong closer so will need a good pace to run into, and must avoid traffic. Both her wins set up nicely for her closing style. This should be a much tougher task, but you have to respect the ability.
LAS VEGAS DIRT MILE
RACE 7 – 6:05 PM EST
One of the more intriguing BC races with an outstanding field. The two fastest horses in this field by far are #6 Mor Spirit and #3 Sharp Azteca, but that does not necessarily guarantee either of a win. This race has a very short run into the first turn, therefore, trip is a major factor, and several horses will lose ground due to their trip and positioning. The outside posts are true detriments here. You can make a sound argument for just about every horse in this race.
#3 SHARP AZTECA – Was no match for #6 Mor Spirit in the Met Mile, but has fired two great races recently at Monmouth and winning the Kelso at Belmont. Has lots of early speed and could easily wire this field on his best like he did in the Kelso (see video below). His sheet numbers have improved after his solid performance in the Met Mile – and outside of Mor Spirit, his sheet numbers on his best will crush the field. Long travel from East Coast is cause for concern, as well as a potential contentious pace up front early. Has won around two turns before.
#2 GIANT EXPECTATIONS – Was very impressive with an extremely wide trip when winning the G2 Pat O’Brien here at Del Mar (see video below). Flopped in most recent race in the Santa Anita Sprint when he acted up in the gate before the start. Do we excuse the last race? This race could set up nicely for a closer if Sharp Azteca and Mor Spirit press each other early.
#1 IRON FIST – Four wins in five races around two turns. Tough test, but drew very well. Was crushed by #6 Mor Spirit at Lone Star. Five-year-old sired by Tapit enjoying best season of his career. Good tactical early speed to make good use of rail position. Asmussen has had success with dirt runners in California. Shipped out early to get acclimated, and his last three show figures that can compete here.
#6 MOR SPIRIT – His dominant effort in the 2017 Metropolitan Mile at Belmont was absolutely scintillating (see video below). Anything even close to that race will crush the field. However, the problem is that race must have taken a lot out of him, as he has not raced since (June 10th) with a five-month hiatus. His sheet number for that race is EYE POPPING. Has done his best running outside of California, and this is his first race at Del Mar. Tough to play him as the favorite, but you certainly have to include because he could blow these away.
#8 Accelerate beat the great Arrogate (in Saturday’s $6 million Classic) in the SD Handicap, but has no wins at two turns and drew poorly. Prepped for this in the Pacific Classic at a longer distance of 1¼ miles, where he was beaten by Collected and Arrogate, bur certainly is not out of the question. #9 Battle of Midway finished third in the Kentucky Derby and gets a little break in weights as a 3-year-old, but drew poorly. Raced well last out when blinkers were added. #10 Practical Joke, another 3-year-old getting weight, needs a ground-saving trip as he drew terribly. He’s 5-5 in one-turn miles and 0-5 in two-turn miles like this.
RACE 8 – 6:50 PM EST
Large field with lots of potential traffic and a short run into the turn.
#6 MASAR – Irish runner makes his North American debut off a third in the G3 Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly October 1, a win in the G3 Belbright Solario Stakes at Sandown September 2, a second in the minor Chesham Stakes in June and a win at first asking. In the Jean-Luc Lagardere, he was head and head for the lead with a half-furlong of uphill finish left, but victorious Happily (who runs in the Juvenile Fillies Turf) got away from him late on the soft turf. Should get more solid footing to run on today and is the one to beat.
#7 JAMES GARFIELD – Another Irish runner. Has hit the board in five of six career starts for trainer George Scott – two wins, a second and two third-place finishes. He makes his North American debut off a good win in the G2 Dubai City Free Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury September 23rd, which followed a second in the G3 Acomb Stakes at York on August 23rd, a fourth in the G2 Vantage Stakes at Goodwood and a maiden score at Doncaster in July. Has shown serious improvement lately. Strong closer.
#1 MENDELSSOHN – Comes back off just three week’s rest after a huge improvement in his last when he added blinkers. Was a $3 million yearling purchase. Often runs on the wrong lead in the stretch and acts a bit greenly. Has one win and a second-place finish in four career starts. He arrives in the US off a second in the G2 Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket on October 14th, a seventh in the G2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster on September 16th and a maiden score at Curragh in August. Trainer Aidan O’Brien has sent a runner to eight BC Juvenile Turf races and has come away with three wins and three seconds. Sibling to the great Beholder.
#8 VOTING CONTROL – Chad Brown trained colt has two career starts with a win and a second-place finish – both at Belmont Park. He made his stakes debut last time out and finished a respectable second in the G3 Pilgrim Stakes September 30th after an impressive maiden score at first asking.
#12 HEMP HEMP HURRAY – Wesley Ward trained colt has three career starts with two nice wins and a second-place finish. Last time out was a second behind Untamed Domain in the G2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine on September 17th after a win in the minor Tyro Stakes by an eye-opening 7 1/4 lengths at Monmouth Park on August 6 and a maiden score by four lengths at first asking at Belmont Park on July 9. Drew terribly but does have some tactical speed to get decent early position.
RACE 9 – 7:35 PM EST
1 1/8 miles matching some outstanding 3-year-olds against some top mares, but I lean to the more seasoned veterans.
#2 STELLAR WIND – The 5-year-old mare finished fourth in this race last year. She has banked $2.2 million in her career. This former Eclipse Award winner as 2015 Champion 3-Year-Old Filly arrives on a nice three-race win streak – the G1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (see video below) here on July 30th, the G1 Beholder Mile at Santa Anita on June 13th and the G1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 14th. Prior to last year’s BC Distaff, she had another good two-race win streak – both over the terrific Beholder including the G1 Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita October 1st, 2016 and the G1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes on this track on July 31st, 2016. She also had a second behind Beholder after a seven-month layoff in the G1 Vanity Mile June 4th, 2016 and a good second in the 2015 Breeder’s Cup Distaff. She now has 10 wins, two seconds and a third-place finish in 15 career starts, has won five of her last six overall and is as competitive as they come when healthy.
#6 FOREVER UNBRIDLED – Consistent 5-year-old mare for a sharp trainer, Dallas Stewart. Finished third in this race last year. Mare has seven wins, three seconds and four third-place finishes in 16 career starts – banking just over $2 million. She enters off a win in the G1 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga over champion Songbird on August 26th, which followed a nice 1 3/4 lengths win after closing from sixth in the G2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 17th (see video below) in her only other start this year. If she gets a good pace to chase, she will be one tough customer.
#7 PARADISE WOODS – She was favored for the Kentucky Oaks, but burned out in a suicidal speed duel on the lead to fade to 11th. She stumbled at the start of her next start at Del Mar, but showed a return to form last race by going wire-to-wire to win the G1 Zenyatta Stakes by more than five lengths (see video below). Should be on or near the lead early and has shown her strongest races when allowed to get loose on the lead. Has a shot to wire the field.
#4 ABEL TASMAN – Talented 3-year-old has six wins and three second-place finishes in 10 career races. She has been one of the best fillies or mares in the nation since winning the Kentucky Oaks, closing from 14th lengths back in 14th (last) place going 6 wide in the slop (see video below). The daughter of Quality Road broke her maiden at Del Mar. She should not have an issue with the surface. Now that jockey Mike Smith’s original Distaff mount, the venerable Songbird, has retired, he can jump aboard this Bob Baffert trainee for the Distaff run. Another one that needs a strong pace to close into to fire her best shot.
#5 ELATE – She skipped the Kentucky Oaks and other major races for fillies in the spring, and as recently as May ran second in an allowance race at Churchill. Since then she’s won three of four, the last two of those being Grade 1 events. She blew away a very good field last out in the (G1) Beldame at Belmont Park (see video below), and did the same in winning by more than five lengths two starts back in the (G1) Alabama at Saratoga. For her, distance won’t be an issue. Trainer Bill Mott has won the Distaff five times.