By Noel Michaels
Day 2 of the Breeders’ Cup is perhaps the best day of the year for horseracing and wagering, with the nine championship races going a long way in deciding divisional crowns and even Horse of the Year.
The 37th edition began Friday with five races at Keeneland, all for 2-year-olds, and concludes Saturday with the $6 million BC Classic (G1), as in most years, the showcase race. The Classic could decide three champions – 3-year-old male, older dirt male and Horse of the Year.
There will be 12 races on the program, including three undercard stakes, with the Breeders’ Cup races slated as 4-12. The BC races can be combined by bettors in a Pick 6 on the last six races, a Pick 5 on the last five races, and rolling Pick 3s and daily doubles. The Pick 4 will be offered on races 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12. No on-track crowd will be in attendance.
Of course, the best day of the racing can be made even better not only betting, but winning. Here are some tips and trends relevant to each of the nine races Breeders’ Cup.
Best of luck!
Filly & Mare Sprint (Race 4)
Distance: 7 Furlongs
Best running style: Pace presser
Winning tip: Look for a horse showing a first- or second-place finish in a high-profile sprint prep race, preferably at the 7 furlong distance.
The 2020 F&M Sprint is the day’s shortest field with only nine entries, mostly because a trip of strong favorites – #2 Gamine, #7 Serengeti Empress, and #6 Venetian Harbor – have scared other horses away. The winning and probably the exacta and possibly the trifecta will come from that trio, with Gamine holding the edge on the morning line as the 7-5 favorite. Gamine lost the Kentucky Oaks in her last start, but that was when she was stretched beyond her limit at 1 1/8 miles. Back in a sprint, however, Gamine could prove tough to beat based on her tour-de-force victories in the Test at 7 furlongs and in the Acorn in a one-turn mile. This will be her first stakes outing against older horses, so you can’t take anything for granted with a horse like Serengeti Empress, who also benefits from 7 furlongs based on her two wins and two seconds in four career outings at the distance, including a win in Saratoga’s Ballerina.
When considering running styles, this is a tough race in which to go wire-to-wire, and even 2019 winner Covfefe, who was usually a speed burner, rated a bit and pressed the pace en route to victory. Gamine, Serengeti Empress, and Venetian Harbor all have blazing early speed. Perhaps it will be the member of that group that is capable of rating that will be the winner.
Turf Sprint (Race 5)
Distance: 5 1/2 Furlongs, turf
Best running style: Speed and pressers
Winning tip: Outside posts are preferred in 5 1/2-furlong turf sprints at Keeneland, and it helps to be able to come from off the pace.
In a race that’s as wide-open as the Turf Sprint, it couldn’t hurt to fall back on horses that best match the local course’s winning profile in order to make your selections. In the history of Keenelend turf sprints, two things seem to be favored: middle-to-outside posts; and off-the-pace runners that rally from between two lengths and six lengths behind with a half-mile to run. Upgrade outside runners in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, especially on courses where outside horses run well in these races, because the betting public often mistakenly overlooks outside posts in turf sprints. On Saturday, this approach to handicapping would lead you to pick outside horses that can stalk the pace such as #7 Leinster, who is 3-for-4 with a second on the local layout, #8 Oleksandra, a filly who won a stakes in her only prior outing at Keeneland and exits a win in Belmont’s Jaipur (G1), fellow filly #12 Got Stormy, who comes in off back-to-back turf sprint stakes wins, and #14 Extravagant Kid, who has been a top-rung turf sprint performer in Kentucky and elsewhere for quite some time.
Dirt Mile (Race 6)
Distance: 1 Mile
Best running style: Stalker/Closer
Winning tip: It helps to be able to stay out of any pace dispute in this race. Give preference to horses cutting back from routes as opposed to stretching out from sprints. It is difficult to trust far outside posts at Keeneland at one mile.
In the long history of Keeneland, one-mile on the dirt is a relatively new distance that was created prior to the last Breeders’ Cup there in 2015. There’s a short run to the first turn and the outside is at a disadvantage, and that appears to be key this year with so many of the favorites drawn outside. In terms of the history of the Dirt Mile, horses cutting back from routes have done better than horses stretching out from sprints. and the pace of this race always tends to be too fast, which hurts the chances of wire-to-wire hopefuls. All of these trends go against favorite #10 Complexity, who dueled for the lead to win the Forego at Saratoga and pressed the pace and won the Kelso Handicap in his last race. He’s a vulnerable favorite. #5 Knicks Go exits a wire-to-wire win with a 107 Beyer speed figure at Keeneland, but will need to work harder for the lead in this race and will make it tougher for any front runner to work out a wire-to-wire win. #9 Mr Freeze exits a Keeneland win in the Fayette and owns a high-profile mile win earlier this year in the Gulfstream Mile with a 107 Beyer speed figure. He’s a major contender, and his only question mark is Post 9. The horse that seems to have all the trends in his favor is #1 Art Collector, who posted five straight wins this year, including the Blue Grass at Keeneland, and has also won sprints as well as routes. He gets a cozy inside post, and won’t be on the lead, but rather stalking, at this one-mile distance against some real speed burners.
Filly & Mare Turf (Race 7)
Distance: 1 3/16 Miles, turf
Best Running Style: Pressers and Stalkers
Winning tip: Bet pace-pressing and stalking foreign invaders.
Trainer Chad Brown rules this category domestically and North American-based horses have held their own in some recent runnings, but generally speaking this race has been dominated by European invaders, many of whom can press or stalk the pace. This seems to be a lethal combination. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that this year’s edition should come down to a battle between Brown’s entrants and the best of the European shippers. On the morning line, it is Brown horses like favored #6 Rushing Fall and 2018 champion #2 Sistercharlie who would seem to hold the edge, but in reality it might be foreign horses that are less well-known to American bettors who are actually the horses to beat. This includes August Group 1 winner at Deauville #11 Audarya, who was a close third last time out in Europe’s key prep for this race, the Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp, as well as #3 Peaceful, trained by Aidan O’Brien, who won the Irish 1,000 Guineas and who hit the board in other key Group 1 stakes. The morning line on both Peaceful and Audarya should seem extremely juicy for handicappers as 12-1 overlays.
Sprint (Race 8)
Distance: 6 furlongs
Best running style: On or close to pace
Winning tip: Look for horses exiting good efforts in major prep races. Keeneland sprints favor horses that can stay on or close to the pace. BC Sprint winners are usually established winners, and rarely come out of the woodwork.
The Sprint routinely features big fields and wild pace scenarios, but those factors surprisingly have not led to this race producing a lot of big prices in dirt track runnings. The principal contenders can be expected to be exiting races like Belmont’s Vosburgh, Keeneland’s Phoenix and the Santa Anita Sprint, and there are several of those in this year’s Sprint field. With morning-line favorite Vekoma scratched due to a fever, look to California-based horses, who have done well in the race. One who ticks all the boxes of a Sprint winner is #2 C Z Rocket, who got good in 2020 to the tune of five straight wins, including a Keeneland summer race followed by Del Mar’s prestigious Pat O’Brien and in the 6 furlong Santa Anita Sprint for trainer Peter Miller. Fellow California shipper #3 Collusion Illusion won the Bing Crosby among other races, and also has a shot at 20-1. If not, it will probably come down to one of the 1-2-3 finishers from Keeneland’s prep, the Phoenix – #11 Diamond Oops, #9 Empire of Gold, and #1 Echo Town.
Mile (Race 9)
Distance: 1 Mile, turf
Best running style: Closer
Winning tip: Bet against European underlays and front-running speed horses attempting to go wire-to-wire.
With big full fields annually, the Mile is a great spot to find your long shot, if not to win than certainly for place and show and in your exotics. In this regard, you’ll do well looking for mid-priced horses. Also, European invaders always are heralded in this race, but usually go down in flames. It is the Americans who tend to do much better. The other thing you want to bet against in the Mile are early speed horses. Horses have a difficult time trying to go wire-to-wire. Prime North American contenders who don’t need the lead to win who are in with good chances at solid odds in this year’s Mile include #14 Raging Bull, who unfortunately is marooned out on the parking lot in post 14 for Chad Brown. Instead, perhaps the other Brown is the way to go, and that’s #5 Digital Age. The winner of the local prep, the Shadwell Turf Mile, #11 Ivar, also looks like a great pick. #12 Uni, the defending champion who also won Keeneland’s First Lady, is also entered. The race should come down to Digital Age, Ivar, and Uni.
DISTAFF (Race 10)
Distance: 1-1/8 Miles
Best running style: On or close to pace
Winning tip: Horses that can stay on or close to the pace do well in this race, and do well at this distance at Keeneland.
The Distaff looks like a good place to hang your hat on the favorite(s), thanks in large part to perhaps the day’s biggest favorite, #10 Monomoy Girl, who was the 2018 champion and Breeders’ Cup winner who took 2019 off and has come back apparently as good as ever in 2020 with three wins in three outings, most recently the La Troienne at Churchill Downs. She has the perfect pressing/stalking running style for Distaff success, and can overcome post 10. If she loses, it will probably be to the other favorite in this race, #5 Swiss Skydiver. Swiss Skydiver beat the boys in the Preakness in her last race and has put together a magnificent 3-year-old season that also includes wins in the Alabama, Santa Anita Oaks, and Gulfstream Oaks. She has a similar running style to Monomoy Girl, setting up a classic 3-year-old filly versus older mare duel.
Turf (Race 11)
Distance: 1-1/2 Miles, turf
Best running style: Either up front or far back
Winning tip: Key a European sleeper and box him/her with contenders in exactas and trifectas.
Not always, but European-based horses often have success in the Turf. Last year was an exception when Chad Brown’s Bricks and Mortar locked up Horse of the Year honors with a victory. From a pace perspective, if you can’t steal this up front it seems better to stay far back and unleash a winning rally. It almost always is key to see a horse that is already proven at 1 ½ miles. The horse that best meets those criteria this year looks like #3 Tarnawa, a filly who bypassed the Filly & Mare Turf to try this spot. She has won five of her last six outs dating back to last year, including two Group 1 wins in a row. If not her, the other best European hope is #2 Magical from the Aidan O’Brien stable. She is another consistent veteran performer at the Group 1 level, usually up against the best turf males in the world. She will set or press the pace and fill the bill as a horse that stands a chance to steal this race up front. Top American hopes seem to rest with the red-hot #9 Channel Maker, who has won back-to-back 1 1/2-mile Grade 1s in the Sword Dancer and Turf Classic. You can also make a case for last year’s BC Turf runner-up #7 United, and #1 Arklow, the winner of the Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs in his last race.
Classic (Race 12)
Distance: 1-1/4 Miles
Best running style: May the best horse win!
Winning tip: Bet lightly-campaigned older horses instead of the 3-year-olds.
With so much importance to this year’s Classic, it is only fitting the race has come up strong, featuring several standout competitors in a wide open affair that will be a memorable betting race. Among the headliners are top 3-year-olds #9 Authentic and #2 Tiz the Law, and the country’s best older horses, #8 Improbable, #10 Maximum Security, and #4 Toms d’Etat. Any of them could lock up divisional titles, as well as a Horse of the Year with a win.
Maximum Security has been the best horse in the country for two years, and will cap off his year with a resounding win that, for once, will not be taken away from him. Appears to love 1 1/4 miles, has loads of speed, and can carry that speed the distance for Bob Baffert. Tom’s d’Etat offers the best value of the key players in the Classic, mostly because his loss last out in the Whitney came after he stumbled out of the gate and lost all chance. He’ll be tough against these based on his best efforts if able to handle 1 1/4 miles. Tiz the Law has been a special 3-year-old, likes 1 1/4 miles, and will benefit from more time between races than he had when he ran second in the Kentucky Derby.
|2||Tiz the Law||Manuel Franco||3-1|
|3||By My Standards||Gabriel Saez||10-1|
|4||Tom’s d’Etat||Joel Rosario||6-1|
|5||Title Ready||Corey Lanerie||30-1|
|6||Higher Power||Flavien Prat||20-1|
|7||Global Campaign||Javier Castellano||20-1|
|8||Improbable||Irad Ortiz Jr||5-2|
|10||Maximum Security||Luis Saez||7-2|
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.