Analysis Paralysis: a situation where the sheer quantity of analysis overwhelms the decision making process itself.
As I wrote in my most recent blog post for the NTRA, I was determined this year to follow the simple yet profound adage “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Last year I drove myself crazy in advance of the Breeders’ Cup by picking apart every little detail, reading every single article, pondering all possible scenarios—all to no avail when it simply came down to this: every horse that won over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface had previous all-weather surface or turf experience, and European horses dominated.
What's more, despite all the hype, each race is still just a race, so why not handicap them in the same way? After all, the fundamentals still apply...
With that in mind, here are my impressions for Friday’s Breeders’ Cup races—prime contenders and longshot potentials, as I see it.
Marathon (3:35 p.m. Eastern)
Perhaps the most spectacularly difficult to handicap, as there are far too few races of this distance in North America, let alone quality races. It’s all about pace and stamina. Last year’s winner Muhannak is back, but doesn’t have the same strong form coming into this race, thus I can’t back him. I love 9-year-old Cloudy’s Knight who is back in form after a long layoff and rehabilitation for new trainer Jonathan Sheppard. He is a G1 winner against international competitors (2007 Canadian International), a class edge certainly over his fellow North Americans—but he’s never run on an artificial surface.
Of the Europeans, Godolphin’s 3-year-old Mastery looks strongest, with a G1 win in the English St. Leger last out, and a placing this year in the 2 mile ENG-G3 Queen’s Vase at Ascot. He’s beaten Father Time twice this year, but that one likes a faster pace which he should get with Black Astor likely to be sent (à la Presious Passion) to the early lead with, according to trainer Todd Pletcher, Nite Light prominent as well.
Of the longshots, Eldaafer appeals to me in terms of his connections and stamina potential. Man of Iron interests me not because he’s a half-brother to G1 Belmont victress Rags to Riches, but his two all-weather victories this year (albeit in allowance company—but, hey, Muhannak didn’t have much more last year).
However, the one that most peaks my interest is Gangbuster who ran well fresh with Kent Desormeaux up in the Fort Harrod at Keeneland, winning by nearly 11 lengths. After running sixth to Brass Hat in the G3 Louisville Handicap on turf, he returned to Polytrack, finishing second behind Rumor Has It at this distance in Arlington’s Polar Expedition Stakes. In the 12-furlong Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar, he finished fourth, just two lengths behind victor Usual Suspect, the talented Richard’s Kid, and last year’s Marathon runner-up Church Service. His performance in the G3 Turfway Park Fall Championship wasn’t good, but off a freshening, and with Kent back aboard for his brother Keith, I think Gangbuster is a real threat for a piece of the exotics, if not an out-and-out winner.
$1 Trifecta box: Cloudy’s Knight, Father Time, Mastery (4, 5, 6)
$2 WPS longshot flyer: Gangbuster (10)
Juvenile Fillies Turf (4:08 p.m. Eastern)
Aidan O’Brien-trained Lillie Langtry is G1-placed in Europe, which will garner support for her, but I think there are plenty of strong candidates from this side of the Atlantic. Lightly-raced House of Grace is 2 for 2 (one on turf, the other Polytrack), and both wins came at a half furlong longer than this race—the drop back in distance is surely a positive. Smart Seattle finished just behind her last out, and looked better on turf in her previous effort. From all accounts, Tapitsfly is working gangbusters since arriving in California, and looks to rebound from disappointing effort in the off-turf Miss Grillo at Belmont—a race that had only three runners, which completely threw out any real pace. If she runs back to her form in the P.G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga, she’ll be tough to beat.
Other possible exotic players: Steve Asmussen’s sole Breeders’ Cup entry, Jungle Tale, was a narrow second-place finisher in the 8 furlong G3 Natalma over the Woodbine turf last out. Todd Pletcher-trained Rose Catherine comes in off an impressive 6 furlong maiden win.
My longshot flyer is Potosina who comes in off a victory in Belmont’s 8.5 furlong Good Mood Stakes over a soft turf. She’s out of hot sire Cactus Ridge whose 3-year-old daughter Hot Cha Cha recently won the grassy G1 QE II Challenge Cup; her dam was not only champion turf mare in Chile, but has also produced two Chilean champion turf fillies. Being an on-pace runner breaking from the rail with Johnny Velazquez aboard again, I think she’s a strong possibility to finish in the top three.
$1 Trifecta box: Smart Seattle, House of Grace, Tapitsfly (3, 7, 10)
$2 WPS longshot flyer: Potosina (1)
Juvenile Fillies (4:45 p.m. Eastern)
I see this as an “East vs. West” competition, with Keeneland’s G1 Alcibiades and Santa Anita’s G1 Oak Leaf as the two major form lines.
From the East, Negligee impressively won the Alcibiades and has worked well in advance of this—but draws so far out (10) that I’m not hopeful of victory. She Be Wild lost to Negligee last out, but gets a more favorable post (8) and jockey change to Julien Leparoux. Beautician ran into all kinds of problems in the Alcibiades; a jockey change to Robbie Albarado and strong works at Santa Anita bode well for her chances.
Oak Leaf winner Blind Luck drew post 3, while runner-up Always a Princess is unfortunately stranded out in post 11. It’s actually the third-place finisher from the Oak Leaf that appeals to me—Kelly Breen-trained Bickersons has posted three impressive works since that race, draws post 5, and gains the services of local sensation Joel Rosario. At morning line 20-1, I’m all over her here.
Of the others, the ill-named Connie and Michael comes in off a maiden win at Keeneland—is she special enough to handle far more experienced fillies? Devil May Care put on a gutsy performance winning the G1 Frizette, but has zero all-weather or turf experience.
$1 Trifecta box: Beautician, Bickersons, Negligee (4, 5, 10)
$2 WPS longshot flyer: Bickersons (5)
Filly & Mare Turf (5:23 p.m. Eastern)
Defending champion Forever Together is back, but off two consecutive losses, I don’t see her as unbeatable. Magical Fantasy is on a four-race win streak, including victories over the likes of Visit and Black Mamba. With her experience over this track, she’s a major threat. Pure Clan had her number last year, and comes in on an upswing—though with new rider Garrett Gomez, as Leparoux sticks with Forever Together. The lone European entry Midday has excellent form, including a G1 victory over this distance in August. With Lasix for the first time, she’s hard to leave out of the exotics. I also like Rutherienne who has twice finished behind Forever Together this year, but the distance is such a concern.
$1 Trifecta box: Forever Together, Magical Fantasy, Midday (2, 4, 6)
$2 WPS longshot flyer: Rutherienne (3)
Filly & Mare Sprint (6:02 p.m. Eastern)
My full analysis for this race is available at the NTRA site here, but I’m leaning more and more towards Ventura on top and Informed Decision back in third or even out of the money. I can’t fully articulate my uneasy. However, if Leparoux is riding well prior to this race, I’ll give her a bigger chance. I do think one (or both) of the two Godolphin fillies will be tough. I’m particularly fond of Seventh Street, but Sara Louise is the fresh, hot young thing, and from all accounts has taken to the Pro-Ride surface. Much like the then 3-year-old Indian Blessing, I think Sara Louise will finish second behind Ventura.
$1 Trifecta box: Sara Louise, Informed Decision, Ventura (2, 8, 9)
$2 WPS longshot flyer: Evita Argentina (6)
Ladies’ Classic (6:45 p.m. Eastern)
The Godolphin duo that finished second and third behind Zenyatta in last year’s Ladies’ Classic (Distaff) return once more. If you asked me back in June about Cocoa Beach’s chances of being here, I’d respond with great skepticism, but she put in a good effort against Zenyatta and Lethal Heat in the G1 Lady’s Secret last out, and has been working well over the track. Still, she had beaten Ginger Punch coming into this race last year...With an even more limited preparation, her stablemate Music Note is the one I prefer, with victories over Indian Blessing and Informed Decision in the 7-furlong G1 Ballerina and over the in-form Unbridled Belle in the G1 Beldame. Rajiv Maragh has been riding her a treat, so I give her a big chance from post 7.
Careless Jewel and Rainbow View will get lots of support, but I believe their youth won’t overcome these saltier competitors. While Life Is Sweet has good form (particularly behind her stablemate Zenyatta), I just think she was better earlier in the year. Lethal Heat also looks a threat, and I wouldn’t be disappointed if she won, but I’m not sure she can carry her speed against these.
For a longshot, I like Mushka. In her two all-weather races—both victories at Keeneland over this distance—she’s posted strong times, and she’s rounding into form unlike the others who may have peaked earlier.
$1 Trifecta box: Mushka, Cocoa Beach, Music Note (3, 6, 7)
$2 WPS longshot flyer: Lethal Heat (4)