Secretariat

Breeders’ Cup Handicapping & Analysis

It is time for the Breeders’ Cup again, and although this will be another surreal event, all systems are go for a sensational two days of racing. Writing this on Thursday morning, I haven’t completed my handicapping, especially the Europeans, but this will provide a good overview with the focus on the Classic and some longshots at whom I am taking a serious look. I am also starting off with some interesting nuggets of information you might want to ponder. Any late revelations I will post on my Facebook page later in the week. ~ Steve Haskin

Breeders’ Cup Handicapping & Analysis

By Steve Haskin

 

You don’t need me to tell you what favorites to bet on, so I usually go into the Breeders’ Cup looking for potential longshots because you can hit six or seven favorites and lose your shirt. You need at least one, possibly two, price horses if you want to make money. Not having the funds of the big bettors with tons of money to spend, I don’t have the luxury of betting Pick 5s or 6s or trifectas and superfectas in the majority of these races. So, we’ll just have some fun and try to find a few longshots and as usual focus on the Classic, breaking that race down.

First off, here are a few tidbits of information that might prove interesting.

Three-year-olds have won only five of the last 19 Classics, so it’s not easy to beat top-class older horses, although three of those were trained by Baffert in consecutive years. But two of them were monsters – American Pharoah and Arrogate, and two of three to do it before the Baffert triple were Hall of Famers Curlin and Tiznow. So it’s not the norm.

There has been a lot of talk about Tiz the Law drawing post 2 in the Classic and how he doesn’t like being inside horses, which is sheer nonsense. In the Champagne Stakes, he was outside, dropped to the inside where he steadied briefly, and then rallied in tight between horses to win going away. In the Holy Bull Stakes he was down on the rail after breaking from the inside, dropped back and had to check sharply running up behind horses, then moved out and again won going away. This horse breaks sharply all the time and he will get in good position, likely behind Maximum Security and Authentic and then most likely look for a way outside.

Barclay Tagg firmly believes the horse simply does not like Churchill Downs, having lost his only two races over that track. We saw that with Skip Away, whose two worst performances came at Churchill Downs. As a possible example of horses not liking Churchill, but liking Keeneland, the last Blue Grass Stakes winner to win the Kentucky Derby was Strike the Gold 29 years ago. That is a long time for a major Derby prep to go dry. Also, only three Ashland winners in the last 36 years have come back and won the Kentucky Oaks and two of those were superstars Monomoy Girl and Silverbulletday. But even then, both those fillies were far more impressive at Keeneland than they were at Churchill.

In the Juvenile Fillies, Princess Noor is the 9-5 favorite and has been visually impressive, but looking at Thoro-Graph, Dayoutoftheoffice ran a “3 1/4” in the Frizette (the lower the figure the faster), while Princess Noor ran a dismal “10” in the Chandelier making her the second slowest horse in the field on Thoro-Graph. That throws a monkey wrench into handicapping the race unless you just want to ignore that speed figure and go by what your eyes tell you or use it to bet against Princess Noor.

If you want a real mind-boggling statistic in the Juvenile, looking once again at the Thoro-Graph figures, Jackie’s Warrior ran a faster number in winning the Hopeful as a 2-year-old than Authentic ran in winning the Kentucky Derby and Tiz the Law ran winning the Travers. This horse is a beast, but can he duplicate that going two turns for the first time? If he can, there isn’t a horse in the field who can compare to him speed-wise.

Speaking of Thoro-Graph figures, what in the world happened to Knicks Go after being turned over to Brad Cox? Following his strong second in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he went totally sour, going winless in his next nine starts and finishing out of the money in seven of them. In his two races with Cox he has won both by a combined 17 1/2 lengths and in his last start off a 7 1/2-month layoff he ran an outrageously fast negative-4 Thoro-Graph figure.

And one more Thoro-Graph tidbit. Guess which fillies have the two fastest figures in the Distaff? No, one isn’t Monomoy Girl and one isn’t Swiss Skydiver. It is Horologist in the Molly Pitcher and Valiance in the Spinster. Go figure that one out.

Can you imagine if Maximum Security wins the Classic and Firenze Fire wins the Sprint and you have the two big horses trained by Jason Servis win Breeders’ Cup races when most everyone was expecting them to have a significant drop in form going to new barns following the infamous drug scandal.

Analyzing the Classic

I have already thrown a few nuggets of information at you, and here is an historical hunch that looks strong on paper as well. With Tiznow being retired from stud duty just last week, and with this being the 20th anniversary of his memorable gut-wrenching victory in the Classic against Giant’s Causeway, who died in 2018, there is no way I can pass up betting an exacta box of Tiz the Law, who is out of a Tiznow mare, and Tom’s d’Etat, who is out of a Giant’s Causeway mare. Happy Anniversary.

Now for the race. I have already addressed Tiz the Law’s post position. Of course anything can happen when you’re down on the inside, but bad things can happen to horses on the outside, like getting hung wide on the first turn, and that is exactly what can happen to Maximum Security and Authentic, and even Improbable, unless they break sharply and can find a clean path to the inside. Remember, directly inside the Baffert trio is Global Campaign, who wants to be on or just off the lead, and just inside him is Higher Power, whose best races have been stalking the pace and who has been training sensationally at Keeneland with five brilliant works at five, six, and seven furlongs, so he very well might have found a new life and a jolt of energy away from California and has already won a grade 1 at a mile and a quarter.

So we could have quite a log jam going into that turn. But knowing Baffert, you can bet he will have Max and Authentic, who have more natural speed than anyone in the field, gun to the lead at all costs and then sort it out between themselves as to who will set the pace and who will sit right off the other’s flank.

Although Maximum Security has more natural speed than Authentic, it is the latter who appears to be more dependent on the lead, so expect him to set the pace with Maximum Security sitting right off his flank. I admit I have a soft spot for Max and am willing to toss his last race. He is a fighter and has won at a mile and and quarter and I can see him taking over the lead and holding off the others.

Either way, I expect the pace to be strong and contentious with Global Campaign, Tiz the Law, Higher Power, and By My Standards chasing right behind. There is no deep closer to fear, with only the longshot Title Ready capable of rallying from the back of the pack. That leaves Improbable and Tom’s d’Etat, who have the perfect midpack running style and can sit behind all the speed.

The big difference is that Improbable is likely going to be the favorite as the 5-2 morning line choice. There is no doubt he is going to be very tough coming off three dominating grade 1 victories. But if you are looking for a reason to bet against him consider that his last two starts were perfect setup races for him.

In the Awesome Again, there were four speed horses and him in a five-horse field and he let them go out there in fairly quick fractions and knock themselves out. When he made his big sweeping move, which was visually impressive, to take the lead, it was through a very slow :26 quarter, and then he came home in a slow :13 2/5 final eighth. Even making up four lengths he still came home the last three-eighths in a sluggish :38 3/5. In the Whitney it was a complete reverse setup. He stalked the pace through crawling fractions of :49 3/5 and 1:13 1/5 and came home fast, while Tom’s d’Etat had a brutal start and lost all chance dropping too far off such a slow pace.

Tom’s d’Etat could be the one with the perfect setup this time. Some may feel coming off a three-month layoff might be too long, but this is a 7-year-old with only 19 career starts who has made a career of coming off layoffs and winning. He won his first race off a two-month layoff and won his second race off a 7 1/2-month month layoff. Then he won coming off a 15-month layoff. He was second to McKinzie in the Alysheba Stakes off a 3 1/2-month layoff; won the Oaklawn Mile off a 4 1/2-month layoff beating Improbable, who had opened a two-length lead at the eighth pole; and won the Stephen Foster off a 2 1/2-length month layoff.

A winner of 11 of his 19 starts, he is nine-for 13 on fast tracks. Two of his defeats came in the slop, one on a good track, and one on the grass. The only race he won in the slop was at Keeneland.

Everyone who watched the Whitney knows he lost all chance when he broke terribly and dropped back to last, six lengths behind that ridiculously slow pace. But of all the horses in the race he has proven to be the most consistent closer time-wise race in and race out. He came home his final eighth in :11 2/5 in the Whitney, :12 flat in the Foster, :12 4/5 in the Clark :12 2/5 in the Fayette at Keeneland, and :12 3/5 in the Alydar. He came home the final quarter in :24 4/5 in the Oaklawn Handicap, and even in his maiden victory, which was at a mile and a quarter in the second race of his career, he was rank early and still came home the final quarter in :24 4/5.

And if you want versatility, he has won on the lead, coming from second, coming from fourth, coming from fifth, coming from sixth, and coming from eighth.

And for his trainer Al Stall, this is the 10th anniversary of his historic upset of Zenyatta with Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Tom’s d’Etat is listed at 6-1 on the morning line and is a strong horse to have in all exotic bets. But it will take a pretty decent bankroll to make a lot of money on him with a straight win bet.

That brings us to the most enigmatic and frustrating horse in the field, Tacitus. If you are on Facebook I just wrote a long column on why I was hoping Bill Mott would take the blinkers off him, especially considering most of his top performances came last year without blinkers. He has been an extremely hard-luck horse in his races and the blinkers have taken away his closing kick and put him on or just off the lead where he does not want to be. But it doesn’t look as if Mott is taking the blinkers off, even with him drawing the rail. If Jose Ortiz can get him to drop back to the middle or rear of the field and get him to settle with the blinkers he does have the class and the closing punch to at least get into the exotics at a huge price, which would be a big overlay for a horse who has gone off as the favorite in six of his last eight starts. He did romp in the Suburban Handicap by 8 3/4 lengths this year in a sprightly 1:59 2/5 for the mile and a quarter, but he was beating slow stayers and just totally outclassed them. He really turned everyone off him by losing the Woodward to Global Affair at 3-5, again racing too close to the lead, and then finishing third at 3-5 behind two second tier three-year-olds in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, in which he wound up setting the pace. This is not Tacitus and not how he wants to run, which is why I felt he needed a wake-up call and get those blinkers off him. But it was not to be.

I still feel he has a big race in him if he can revert back to his old running style, and it may be the opposition who will help him accomplish that by simply outrunning him. If he is too close to the pace again, then we will never know what might have happened with the blinkers off. The bottom line is that I am going to put a win bet on him for old times’ sake and knowing what this horse was and still may be capable of achieving with a clean trip and by running his race.

Talk about wake-up calls, as mentioned earlier, don’t toss Higher Power from your exotics based on his amazing transformation since he’s been at Keeneland, turning in five sensational workouts.

Now, how to sort all this out? Tom’s d’Etat has to be my key horse and Tacitus would be my longshot stab.

I also have been extremely impressed by what I’ve seen from Tiz the Law in the mornings, especially his spirited powerful gallop only two days after turning in a sharp :59 1/5 work. This horse has been thriving, is full of energy, and should appreciate the time off since the Derby. Whether or not he dislikes Churchill as his trainer and jockey say, remember he was the first horse ever to come into the Kentucky Derby off a mile and a quarter race, and with only four weeks between races compared to his usual two months. His Travers performance was brilliant in fast time, but coming into the Derby off a mile and a quarter race it could very easily have dulled him. He really hasn’t beaten anyone of note this year, but you can’t help but feel he is an immensely talented colt who can run with anyone. There is no way I can leave him out of the exotics.

But this is a very tough race, with the majority of the field having a good chance to win. So I am still going to play around with it and see if I can come up some bets I am happy with.

Right now, I am looking at a trifecta part wheel of Tom’s d’Etat over Maximum Security and Tiz the Law over Improbable, Maximum Security, Tiz the Law, Tacitus, and Higher Power, and another with Maximum Security over Tom’s d’Etat and Tiz the Law over Improbable, Tom’s d’Etat, Tiz the Law, Tacitus, and Higher Power and I will put a saver win bet stab on Tacitus just in case he decides to wake up.

Looking at Some of the Other Races

I won’t do much with the Juvenile, not knowing how Jackie’s Warrior will handle two turns. This field is made up more of Derby horses than Juvenile horses, with at least nine of them having the pedigree to go a mile and a quarter and having shown enough to suggest they are top-class colts. One horse in particular, Reinvestment Risk, has a world of talent, but he has to stop chasing Jackie’s Warrior. He put a scare into him in the Champagne, but it was only for a few seconds before Jackie waved goodbye to him. If he can take back and make one late run, he could close the gap on Jackie and be right in the mix.

The juvenile fillies Turf normally is not won by Europeans, but I like what I’ve seen from the English-trained Nazuna in her races and in the morning at Keeneland. Her big question is how she will handle a turn, having only run on straightaways, so that is something to consider. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Mother Earth is only one for seven, but that one win was the only time she raced on a left-handed track, even if it was at Naas. She is coming off a strong third in a Group 1 at Newmarket, but she looks like a horse who prefers softer ground, so we’ll see how much give in the ground there is come Friday, with the course having been very deep last weekend.

There are so many top-class Europeans in the Juvenile Turf, I haven’t even begun to sort them out.

In the Juvenile Fillies, the top four choices are a combined 11-for-11, but don’t ignore the Frizette runner-up Vequist going two turns for the first time. She could prove to be the steal of the race at 8-1 with Joel Rosario up for the first time.

Turning to Saturday, we start off with a bang in the Filly and Mare Sprint, which promises to be the battle of the day between speedballs Gamine and Serengeti Empress. Both want the lead, both are blazingly fast, but Serengeti Empress needs the lead, and coming off half-mile fractions of :43 3/5, good luck trying to outrun her. And Serengeti Empress has shown she is a warrior when eyeballed in the stretch. Gamine gets the inside and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. If for some reason they burn each other out, watch out for closer Bell’s the One and deep closers Nancy’s Curlin and Sconsin to come charging late. And we’ll see if Come Dancing has returned to her form from the summer of 2019 after her recent victory in the Honorable Miss in 1:08 3/5, and how the classy 3-year-old Speech reacts to dropping back to a sprint after five two-turn races and an impressive score in the Ashland at Keeneland. This is some race.

I am not touching the Dirt Mile, which is a mish mash of Grade 1 and 2 horses, and good luck trying to sort this one out. I could have a horse by Saturday, but right now I am totally confused, possibly leaning toward Rushie.

As of this writing, I have not sorted out the European grass horses yet until I see more of them. I can only say for sure they are a strong bunch headed by the amazing Magical, who is a running machine and thrives on running against the boys. She gave the great Enable all she could handle in the 2018 Turf. I can’t wrap my arms around any of the American grass horses right now, and from what I have seen in the morning I am really intrigued by the 30-1 German filly Donjah, who looks like an old pro galloping out there on the dirt. Although she has been racing against lesser competition in Germany and Italy, she has raced against the boys in seven straight races and won Germany’s biggest race this year, the Preis von Europa, and ran off with last year’s Gran Premio del Jockey Club in Italy. She will be a monster price and I’ll put a couple of dollars on her just for the fun of it and from what I have seen in the morning.

There is one big bomb in the Breeders’ Cup Mile that is worth mentioning. Ryan Moore naturally has chosen to ride the Queen Anne winner Circus Maximus for Aidan O’Brien, but keep an eye on O’Brien’s other horse Lope Y Fernandez at 30-1. He has been sprinting and has finished seventh in his last two starts, but they both were on soft ground. In his two previous starts on firm ground, he was a close second to one-time super horse Pinatubo in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at 40-1, beaten only three-quarters of a length, and then was a close third, again beaten three-quarters of a length, in the Group 1 Prix Maurice Gheest. Now he gets Frankie Dettori and stretches back out to a mile, where, in his only start at the distance, the Irish 2,000 Guineas, he made a big early move then got caught late to finish third behind Siskin, who could be tough in the Mile himself if he breaks cleanly.

My longshot pick in the Filly and Mare Turf is Terebellum at 20-1. This classy filly from John Gosden and Godolphin has raced once on firm ground and won the Group 2 Dahlia Stakes before getting beat a head by Circus Maximus in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. Throw out her fifth last out in the group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes run over heavy ground. She gets Frankie Dettori back and you know how dangerous the Gosden — Dettori team is.

In the Sprint, which is loaded with speed, I am looking for the old warrior Whitmore to find one more big run with this good setup and mow them down at a big price, with an eye on Firenze Fire as another possibility to pick up some of the pieces.

I am just going to enjoy the Distaff and hope for a great race between two exceptional fillies. But there are other good ones in there that cannot be taken lightly, as I mentioned earlier. Like Ce Ce, the leader of the division early in the year, who did not care for the deeper California tracks and has now been sharpened with a strong seven-furlong grade 1 race at Churchill Downs. Don’t be surprised to see her make her presence felt in the stretch. Also, I mentioned earlier that Horologist and Valiance have the fastest Thoro-Graph figures in the field. And the hard-knocking Ollie’s Candy is always right there, and how good is Harvest moon coming off a four-race winning streak. This should be a great race, but I may just put a few bucks on Ce Ce at an enticing 12-1 and play her in the exotics. She hasn’t been higher than 4-1 all year.

Good luck and have fun, and if I have any late revelations, especially with the grass horses, I will post them on Facebook later in the week.