By Ed McNamara
Before the Breeders’ Cup expanded its original menu of seven races in 2007, Saturday was a one-day pari-mutuel orgy. Now there are five Friday stakes featuring 2-year-olds – the Juvenile Turf Sprint, Juvenile Turf, Juvenile Fillies, Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Juvenile. They often showcase the stars of tomorrow, which for bettors is far less significant than who will run big now.
Many have raced only once or twice, so there isn’t a lot of form to go on. Dealing with so many young horses who are “unexposed,” as they say in Europe, makes it a far tougher handicapping challenge. Often the obvious favorites finish 1-2-3, but if you can find a long shot who’s ready to peak, it can be glorious. Even if it only finishes second to the chalk, the exacta can make your day.
I made a nice hit in the 2017 Juvenile Turf at Del Mar, when 12-1 Untamed Domain rallied to miss by a length against Aidan O’Brien’s Mendelssohn. The exacta combining the horse with the best late-pace figure and the 9-2 favorite from the world’s leading trainer paid $146.60. Don’t be surprised if a similar scenario plays out Friday at Santa Anita.
I’ll be looking for value while respecting the favorites who look very tough. Hopefully, my analysis and picks will help to steer us in the right direction.
Will it be a repeat of last year, when Bulletin led throughout at Churchill Downs? Or will a closer capitalize on what should be a hot, contested pace?
America’s 2-year-old king, trainer Wesley Ward, entered three, with the versatile Kimari looking like his best chance. He missed by a head after setting the pace in a 25-horse field at Royal Ascot, then overcame a slow start by circling the field to win a Keeneland stakes. Ward’s Cambria and likely pace-setter Four Wheel Drive (3-1 favorite) also shape up as major players, as does Chimney Rock, a close second to Kimari and Cambria.
Royal Ascot winner A’Ali and Alligator Alley look like the top Euros, who may not handle what should be very firm ground.
Chimney Rock (10-1) is a strong finisher who may work out a good trip from the rail with Jose Ortiz. I’ll be playing Chimney Rock across the board and boxing him in exactas with Four Wheel Drive, Kimari, Cambria, A’Ali and Alligator Alley.
1 Chimney Rock 2 Kimari 3 Four Wheel Drive
The Europeans have won nine of 12 runnings, including three of the last four, with the Irish genius, O’Brien, taking four. His best shot appears to be Royal Ascot winner Arizona, coming off a strong second to undefeated Pinatubo, Europe’s top 2-year-old. Unfortunately for Arizona, he’s stuck outside in post 12 and likely will lose a lot of ground in the short run to the first turn.
Peace Achieved, Decorated Invader and deep closer Vitalogy have the best credentials among the Americans. Peace Achieved had a perfect trip in Keeneland’s Bourbon Stakes and held on by a neck over fast-closing Vitalogy, who overcame post 14, a wide trip and just missed. With a better race flow, Vitalogy (10-1) can score this time.
1 Vitalogy 2 Decorated Invader 3 Arizona
Surprisingly, Bob Baffert has won this race only twice, and not since 2007. He’ll send out two-time stakes-winner Bast, but she’s no lock, considering she beat Doug O’Neill’s Comical by only a head last time. Brad Cox’s British Idiom dominated Keeneland’s Alcibiades (G1) by 6½ lengths after stalking early and could benefit from likely quick fractions.
Donna Veloce has run only once, a 9¼-length romp over 6½ furlongs. I’m leery of her inexperience and doubt whether she deserves to be the 3-1 morning-line favorite. Lazy Daisy and speedy Wicked Whisper also are in the mix.
1 British Idiom 2 Bast 3 Comical
This is Chad Brown’s race, with five victories in 11 runnings, including four of the last five. However, his Grade 2 winner Selflessly (post 13, 8-1) doesn’t remind anyone of his Juvenile Fillies heroines Newspaperofrecord, Rushing Fall, New Money Honey and Lady Eli. Crystalle, a strong closer, and speedy Sweet Melania have better resumes than Selflessly, as does England’s Daahyeh, the top-ranked European. I’ll be rooting for Joel Rosario, considered by many to be America’s best jockey, to sit off fast fractions and come surging late on Crystalle (8-1, post 7).
1 Crystalle 2 Daahyeh 3 Sweet Melania
Eight Rings, who crushed his Grade 1 prep at Santa Anita by six lengths, will try to give Baffert his fifth Juvenile trophy. Temperament, not talent, could be this Empire Maker colt’s undoing. After breaking his maiden by six, he ducked in, was bumped and threw Drayden Van Dyke leaving the gate as the 1-2 favorite in the Del Mar Futurity (G1).
Eight Rings’ biggest challenger is morning-line favorite Dennis’ Moment, who coasted in Churchill Downs’ Iroquois Stakes (G3). Dennis’ Moment lost his rider in his debut, so both standouts come with caveats.
Dennis’ Moment had a spectacular workout at Santa Anita but never has raced there. Eight Rings gets a slight edge as a course-and-distance winner, having dominated the Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile American Pharoah by six lengths. Scabbard ran second to Dennis’ Moment in the Iroquois and could complete a chalky trifecta.
1 Eight Rings 2 Dennis’ Moment 3 Scabbard
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.