Just as young children eagerly await Christmas morning, horse players do the same for Breeders’ Cup. It is the culmination of the racing year, featuring the best thoroughbreds from around the world. For the fourth consecutive year, this event consists of fourteen (14) races spanning two (2) days, with total purses exceeding $25 million.
Friday is unofficially “Ladies Day”, in that 5 of the 6 races run are restricted to fillies and mares. The only exception is the 1¾ mile Marathon, the first of the Breeders’ Cup races (5th on the card) this year held at Churchill Downs, Post Time is 4:10pm EDT and broadcast live on ESPN2. That’s right, twilight racing is a first for Breeders’ Cup. These 6 races will be enough to wet the appetite of hard-core horse players. It’s like being able to open a present or two on Christmas Eve, to help quell your excitement in order to settle down enough to get a goodnights’ sleep before the big day. Saturday features eight (8) BC races, concluding with the $5 million Classic where the 6 year old, undefeated mare Zenyatta will compete on the track for the last time, trying to finish her career a perfect 20 for 20.
Below I’ve provided some insight and facts on each of Friday’s six (6) Breeders’ Cup races as well as a Horse To Watch in each, which does not necessarily mean that’s who I pick to win that race. For that information and more exotic wager plays, go to GQ’s No Chalk Zone selections .
2010 G3 BC Marathon – 1 3/4 miles (dirt) – $500,000 (CD – Race 5)
The Marathon was added to the BC program in 2008. The winners in the first 2 runnings of this event were European shippers, while only 6 of the past 18 runners have come from across the pond.
The first two years were run on the synthetic surface at Santa Anita. The 2010 Marathon will be run on natural dirt. This years field of 12 compromises of just two (2) Europeans, #10 Bright Horizon (10-1) and #11 Precision Break (15-1). Neither has raced on dirt in their 11 and 21 race careers, respectively.
The Horse to Watch may be #7 – Awesome Gem (4-1) who will be making his 4th Breeders’ Cup appearance. This 7 year old was cross-entered in the BC Mile, which was his “first preference” but the connections decided to run him here citing he has often encountered troubled trips throughout his 38 race career, so the combination of the longer distance and shorter field, as well as jockey David Flores expressing to trainer Craig Dollase and ownership (West Point Thoroughbreds) that the son of the 1998 BC Classic winner (Awesome Again), could handle the added distance. Though the Marathon total purse money is only half of what is offered for the BC Mile ($1 million), the Marathon winner takes home $270k which is still $90k more than what the runner-up in the Mile will earn.
Fact: #8 – Giant Oak (4-1) is Morning Line 2nd choice, but is 0 for his last 13 and has just 1 lifetime win on dirt.
2010 G1 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf – 1 mile (Turf) – $1,000,000 (CD – Race 6)
This event features 14 potential future female turf stars in horse racing. Most of these 2 year olds only have a couple career races under their belt (er uh, bridle), but have already flashed greatness. The filly with the most experience (#13 – Together; 5-1), with 7 turf races was bred and races in Ireland.
The Horse to Watch may be #10 – New Normal (10-1). She’s a speedy filly who has been on or near the lead in all 3 career (turf) races at Woodbine (Toronto, Canada). Jockey Javier Castellano guided her to victory in her last race, but has also ridden the equally speedy #9 – Fancy Point (15-1) to a win and a 3rd place finish in her last two at Belmont and Saratoga, for NY connections. Considering Castellano’s tack is in NY, makes one go “Hmmm” about his decision. Draw your own conclusion.
Fact: Food Network star chef Bobby Flay owns #11 – More Than Real (10-1).
2010 G1 BC Filly & Mare Sprint – 7 furlongs (Dirt) – $1,000,000 (CD – Race 7)
It’s strange that a race with “Sprint” in the title is run at 7 furlongs (FYI – 8 furlongs = 1 mile), which in this industry is often referred to as a “middle distance” race. This distance requires speed and stamina, a special combination possessed by only a minority of thoroughbreds. The most successful ones in here when racing 7 furlongs are #4 – Informed Decision (7-2) has won 7 of 11, #13 – Rightly So (3-1) is 3 for 3, and #8 – Sweet August Moon (30-1) is 2 for 4.
The Horse to Watch may be #9 – Switch (20-1). She’s a 3 year old having raced only 9 times, 7 of them in graded stakes. In her last start, she faced older horses (4 & up) for the first time in her career, taking the lead late only to be caught in the final strides before the wire, to some horse named Zenyatta. If you have never heard of her, stop reading immediately, Google Zenyatta, read about her then with your tail between your legs in shame, you may come back and finish reading this blog.
Fact: Six (6) of the 14 runners have either never won a 7 furlong race or even started in one.
2010 G1 BC Juvenile Fillies – 1 1/16 mile (Dirt) – $2,000,000 (CD – Race 8 )
In the 26 year history of this race, the winner has never become a superstar. You won’t find the names Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra, 2 of the most famous female thoroughbreds in recent memory, on the list of winners. Yes, some very nice fillies (re: Go For Wand and Indian Blessing) have gone onto have a brilliant career but in general, this race is won by the right filly at the right time. The ones you’ll hear about the most will be #8 – A Z Warrior (7-2), #3 – R Heat Lightning (4-1) and a Great Britain turf runner making her USA and dirt surface debut, #2 – Theyskens’ Theory (10-1).
The Horse to Watch is #7 – Izshelegal (30-1) that’s WNST Morning Show co-host Glenn Clark’s most asked question when out on the town. An unlikely winner here, but is an interesting one in that after four (4) lifetime races she is still a maiden (i.e. has yet to win a race). It’s not because she is a so-so race horse, but because her connections have never run her in a maiden race. She debuted in a $100k stakes race, where she finished 2nd by ¾ of a length. Her next start was in a Grade 3 race, finishing 3rd by 1 length, then her last 2 were in Grade 1’s (highest level possible) managing 4th place in both. Today is her first start on natural dirt and adds Blinkers to boot. She’s a late runner, so you may not even see her during the race unless she fires into contention in deep stretch.
Fact: Favorites have won this race 58% of the time, the highest percentage among Breeders’ Cup races.
2010 G1 BC Filly & Mare Turf – 1 3/8 mile (Turf) – $2,000,000 (CD – Race 9)
Here’s a race that has been dominated by European runners. Eight (8) of the eleven (11) runnings have resulted in a non-North American bred crossing the Finish Line first. Half of the field (i.e. 5 of 10) is foreign bred (and raced). #7 – Midday (6-5) is one such runner who is attempting to become the first back-to-back winner of this event. She’s been pointed to this race ever since she won it last year, passing up a chance to run in the prestigious L’Arc De Triomphe in France, because it would have altered her training schedule for this race. She’ll be the shortest Post Time price of the day.
The Horse to Watch may be #10 – Red Desire (8-1). She is a Japan-bred filly who ran 3rd in her North American debut by way of Japan and Dubai. Japanese owned and trained, she has faced the boys in 3 prior races, winning a Grade 2 in Dubai and a 3rd place finish in a Grade 1 in Japan. Word has it that after her morning workout and gallops over the CD track this week, she hasn’t even appeared to be winded.
Fact: #5 – Shared Account (30-1) races under the ownership of Sagamore Farm (Reisterstown, MD). The historic horse farm is owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank who is restoring the farm to build a horse breeding and racing empire. He’ll succeed. You can take that to the bank!
2010 G1 BC Ladies Classic – 1 1/8 mile (Dirt) – $2,000,000 (CD – Race 10)
Eleven of the twelve best dirt distance running fillies and mares have assembled to compete for the title of Ladies Classic Winner. The one that is missing is Zenyatta. She’ll run in Saturday’s “non-gender specific” Classic to defend her crown while attempting to finish her career a perfect 20 for 20. The field here is deep with a good mix of early speed, tactical speed and late runners which makes handicapping it very tough.
The Horse to Watch is #10 – Blind Luck (9-5). She’s only a 3 year old, but in 14 career starts she’s never been worse than third, winning 9, being runner-up 3 times and 3rd twice. Her largest margin of defeat has been 1¼ lengths. Three of her victories have been by the smallest of margins, a nose. Her running style would be described in horse racing terms as a Deep Closer, meaning she lags far behind early then makes a furious run in the stretch. Her jockey will be wearing bright pink silks, so you cannot miss her. If she runs to form, this Breeders’ Cup race will end the day with fans anxiously awaiting Saturday’s races, the way a young child anticipates Christmas morning.
Fact: 2009 Horse of the Year (Rachel Alexandra, remember her?) ran second this year to #6 – Persistently (12-1) and #8 – Unrivaled Belle (8-1).
Take a break from your normal weekend routine and enjoy a few exciting chase scenes known as The Breeders’ Cup.