By Ed McNamara
If you dream of making big scores on the 38th Breeders’ Cup, pay attention to Saturday’s card at Keeneland. The five-stakes program is a dress rehearsal for the year-end championships Nov. 5 and 6 at Del Mar.
Keeneland will showcase four “Win and You’re In” races — Turf Mile (Mile), Breeders’ Futurity (Juvenile), First Lady (Filly and Mare Turf) and Thoroughbred Club of America (Filly and Mare Sprint). All but the TCA (Grade 2) are Grade 1, and besides the winners, it’s likely some of the also-rans will show up on the big weekend in Southern California.
The fifth stakes isn’t offering a guaranteed berth, but the Grade 2, 5 1/2-furlong Woodford annually sends contenders to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
Here’s the opener of an all-stakes pick 5 (50-cent base bet), and I’ll give you horses I think you should include. If the pick 5 seems too ambitious, think about playing doubles, rolling pick 3s or the pick 4, which begins in the race after this one, the Thoroughbred Club of America.
Wesley Ward has called Golden Pal (2) the best horse he’s ever trained, and the three-time stakes winner will be tough. Disregard his seventh-place dud last time in a Grade 1 in York, England, where he led from the start before tiring against a much tougher field than this one.
Consider singling him, and if he doesn’t win, I don’t know who will. Extravagant Kid (6) looks like the only option, but the 8-year-old is 0-for-5 at Keeneland and has only one win in his last 10 starts.
Speedy Frank’s Rockette (1) and standout closer Bell’s the One are by far the most logical win candidates, and their career records are outstanding. The only time Frank’s Rockette was worse than third in 16 starts was in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint against males. She’s 5-for-9 at 6 furlongs. Bell’s the One (9-for-20 overall) is 5-for-6 at 6 furlongs after falling short by a half-length last month in a stakes at Churchill Downs.
Defending champion Inthemidstofbiz (3) has enough speed to bother Frank’s Rockette but I can’t see her repeating that 13-1 upset.
England-based Althiqa (3) looks like a solid bet to win her third consecutive Grade 1 in the U.S. She’s a big finisher who should like Keeneland’s demanding stretch.
Singling her makes sense, but if you’re looking to spread, also use Princess Grace (10), Viadera (13) and Empress Josephine (2). All three have won stakes against weaker rivals at the distance, where Princess Grace is 3-for-3 and Viadera 5-for-6. Empress Josephine won an Irish classic, the 1,000 Guineas, this spring over marshy ground at the Curragh. She could have run in a stakes at Ascot next weekend, but Aidan O’Brien chose to send her to Kentucky. Interesting.
Looks like a good spot for an upset. There’s so much speed in here that I searched for a closer, and I landed on Great Escape (9).
Few first-time starters can zip the final furlong in 11 4/5 seconds, but that’s what Great Escape did going 6 furlongs Aug. 11 at Ellis Park, where he earned the rare footnote “flying late.” He then stalked and coasted at 7 furlongs at Churchill, and I think he’ll handle two turns. Two bullet workouts at Keeneland show he likes the surface, and the price will be tempting.
Other closers who interest me are Double Thunder (1) and American Sanctuary (7), who ran 1-2, respectively, in Monmouth’s Sapling. Speedy Classic Causeway comes off a 6 1/2-length debut score at 7 furlongs, and he could be right there if he doesn’t get hung wide from post 13.
If your pick 5 ticket is alive into this final leg, I hope it includes Order of Australia (10) and Pixelate (7). Aidan O’Brien pulled off a 73-1 upset in Keeneland’s 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile with Order of Australia, whose odds will be infinitely lower. He’s in sharp form after running second and third in French Group 1s. He gets major class relief and is the most likely winner.
Pixelate, 7-for-7 in the money at a mile on turf, is admirably consistent but doesn’t fit at the Grade 1 level (fifth twice). The draw hurt Mike Maker’s pair of Field Pass (post 12) and Somelikeithotbrown (13), but they still might fight it out for third.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.