The Breeders' Cup pre-entries were announced on Wednesday, and as usual, the fields are large and talent-filled, creating no shortage
of tempting betting opportunities.
Actually, even more so this year because a BC record 15 races will be run next weekend at Churchill Downs -- six on Friday, Nov. 4, and nine on Saturday, Nov. 5.
And, as usual, the $5 million Classic, which will wrap up the proceedings on Saturday evening -- about an hour before Alabama-LSU kickoff -- will grab most of the attention.
Not, unlike last year, when the BC ran for two days, and I doubt anyone can name another winner beyond Blame (beating Zenyatta) in the Classic.
In fact, the magnificent mare Zenyatta was the reigning BC star the last two years. You'll recall she won the '09 Classic as the favorite, beating multi-champion Gio Ponti, and, last year, again as the favorite, she lost that heart-breaker to Blame.
A similar story line unfolds again this year.
Zenyatta of course has been retired, and is embarking on a new career as a mom, but once again a filly is the star of the show. Her name of course is Havre de Grace, a 4-year-old filly trained by Larry Jones, and, counter to the opinion in DRF, she will go favored
in a full field of 14 in the Classic.
I've enjoyed handicapping success through the years in the Breeders' Cup, and I expect I will continue to so next weekend. My full-card picks will be up and running 24 hours in advance both here online, and toll-free on the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283).
I will wait as long as possible to make selections in order to see how Churchill is playing. Last year, over the same venue, the rail was dead, giving outside closers a huge edge. We will have to wait and watch the first few days of the meet to see if we get an outside bias
again or not.
And since nine of the 15 Cup races will be run on the main track, we can't overestimate the importance of track conditions.
As for the turf course, over which six Cup races will be run, it's no secret that a soft or yielding surface would help the foreign horses.
Not that they need much help. For instance, 10 of the last 12 runnings of the Turf have been won by foreign horses.
We'll try to touch on all the BC races in this space next week. As for now, I want to concentrate on the Classic.
The race lost a major player on Monday when Tizway, the premier older horse on the East Coast, sustained a suspensory injury, and was immediately retired to stud.
This was the Horse of a Lifetime for trainer Jimmy Bond, and you have to feel sorry for the guy. After all, a victory by Tizway in the Classic, which was to be the final race of his career, would have clinched Horse of the Year...not to mention the little matter of a $3
Now Havre de Grace remains as the only horse in the Classic who would clinch HOY with a Classic victory. If she doesn't win, the HOY race will be thrown wide-open, with I guess the Classic winner having the edge.
The loss of Tizway also changes the dynamics of the Classic. I imagine, if Tizway was in the race, he would have been the main speed. Without him, Uncle Mo becomes the main speed, with Game On Dude chasing.
If jockey Sutherland takes back on the Dude, Uncle Mo, who showed a liking for the track last year when he romped in the Juvenile, may find himself loose on the lead, and thus extremely dangerous...despite the distance issue.
Mo has not won beyond the 1 1/16 miles of the Juvenile, and, in his lone try at 1 1/8 miles, he finished a weary third in the Wood Memorial. Personally, I know I'm not going to pick Mo in the Classic, but the sight of him opening five down the backside under a hold by Johnny V would be very scary.
For that matter, will or can Havre de Grace -- who at 123 pounds will be getting three pounds from her older male rivals -- get the mile and a quarter of the Classic?
Trainer Jones is on record often as saying his filly's best distance is a mile and an eighth. Her four Grade One victories have come at 1 1/16 and 1 1/8 miles, and, in her only race going 1 1/14 miles, she was nailed on the line by arch-rival Blind Luck.
Jockey Dominguez always makes his move on HDG on the far turn. Such strategy has been remarkably successful going shorter distances. But will it work at 10 furlongs?
That's only one of the issues handicappers will have to face in the Classic, a race so strong that Ice Box, the Nick Zito-trained 2010 Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby runnerup, will be -- off his present form -- the rank outsider.
Ice Box presently is an also-eligible, but I imagine he'll get in becausetrainer O'Brien is saying he will scratch Await the Dawn from the
Classic, and run him instead in the Turf, where he will be single-digits.
That would leave 10 millionaires of the 14 in the Classic, and two others -- Ice Box and To Honor and Serve -- on the brink.
The biggest money-winner in the race is a horse you probably never heard of. His name is So You Think, a 5-year-old who, racing in Australia and in Europe, has compiled a 12-4-1 record from 19 starts for earnings of $7.6 million.
That's no typo.
O'Brien is and always has been a major international player. But he's 0-for-8 in the Classic, although just missing with Giant's Causeway and Henrythenavigator. So You Think has been favored 11 times in his last 12 starts abroad, all in stakes company, nine times at odds-on, and he's won Grade Ones under as much as 133 pounds, seven more than his Classic impost.
Don't say you weren't warned.
One horse who should like the distance is Flat Out, the long-obscure 5-year-old fresh from four terrific New York graded stakes performances -- victories in the Suburban and Jockey Club Gold Cup, seconds in the Whitney (to Tizway) and Woodward (to Havre de Grace).
The JCGC victory was the first Grade One for trainer Dickey in his 40-plus years on the racetrack. This indeed is a horse of a lifetime for Scooter, as he is known on the racetrack, a claiming horse-trainer for those four decades.
His rider, Alex Solis, enjoyed a long, successful career on the West Coast, but when his business dried up earlier this year, he took a shot at New York...and when Scooter needed a rider for rank outsider Flat Out in the Suburban, Solis was the only jock available and willing to ride him.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
That said, Flat Out is the racing story of the year. Just imagine what he'll be if he wins the Classic (and Horse of the Year?)
Then there are the 3-year-olds. The 3-year-old division has taken a beating this year, but it would be no shock if one of the 3-year-olds -- Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty, Prayer for Relief, Ruler on Ice, To Honor and Serve, Rattlesnake Bridge -- jumps up and wins the Classic.
The four-pound concession from the older horses doesn't hurt their chances.
The field is so deep that the last two Belmont Stakes winners -- Ruler On Ice and Drosselmeyer -- will be double digits despite fast-closing seconds to BC rivals in their last starts.
It pays to note that the Kentucky Derby winner (Animal Kingdom), Preakness winner (Shackleford) and Haskell winner (Coil) will all pass the Classic.
Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, keep the Hot Line on your speed-dial, and see you back here next Thursday for a detailed look at the Breeders' Cup.
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