ARCADIA, Calif. – Saturday is big of course, because the Breeders’ Cup is always big. It’s a celebration of what’s good in racing – for racetracks, horsemen, and fans.
For the 10th time in its 36-year history, Breeders’ Cup has landed at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains, at picturesque Santa Anita Park. It is the track also known as the Great Race Place. Also known, for many, as home.
Perhaps Breeders’ Cup 2019 is a good time to enjoy Santa Anita racing just for the fun of it.
Santa Anita hopefully will host many more big days, like past Breeders’ Cups and the 82 Big Caps and cards that include future Triple Crown winners such as Justify and American Pharoah. At Santa Anita, you can practically feel the history by walking past big, grand statues of Seabiscuit, Zenyatta, and John Henry in the paddock gardens.
At the Breeders’ Cup, you want the sport to be big also. You want more history to be made. You want another Santa Anita thriller such as Beholder and Songbird nose and nose in the 2016 Distaff, or a $269.20 bomber like 1993 Classic winner Arcangues. You want Zenyatta storming down the stretch in the 2009 Classic. “This-is-un-be-lie-vable!”
Saturday, the stage is set.
Bricks and Mortar (Turf), Midnight Bisou (Distaff), and Sistercharlie (Filly and Mare Turf) may have clinched divisional championships already. They will try to finish their seasons undefeated before lobbying resumes for Horse of the Year.
Mitole (Sprint) and Omaha Beach (Dirt Mile) have targets on their backs, as do many favorites. And on the 10th anniversary of Zenyatta, the veteran mare Elate will try to upset favorite McKinzie in the Classic.
It will be fun to see championships clinched, and Horse of the Year determined. Eclipse Awards are important, and so are the optics. Fans will hold their breath watching many of the world’s top Thoroughbreds go head and head. Here’s to safety.
There is more. There is gambling. Breeders’ Cup offers attractive betting opportunities. You don’t have to be right that often, because most of the time the odds are generous. One or two unique handicapping opinions, if correct, can produce exponential wagering profits.
Breeders’ Cup is where the best meets the best.
Unless of course, you are Omaha Beach. He could have entered the BC Sprint, one of the toughest races on the card. But rather than take a swing at Mitole in a $2 million race, Omaha Beach ducked. He entered the Dirt Mile instead. Big whoop.
Omaha Beach is off to stud at some point, with a reputation to protect. If running in the Dirt Mile, a race with half the purse and less prestige than the Sprint, gets that done, then nice job. From a fan’s perspective, it would have been cool to see Omaha Beach in the Sprint, battling Shancelot again, facing Mitole and Imperial Hint for the first time.
Who knows, Omaha Beach might have a fight on his hands anyway. Improbable at 5-1 in the Dirt Mile is more appealing than Omaha Beach at 6-5.
Of course, Omaha Beach as a heavy favorite is appropriate for the Breeders’ Cup this year. It seems there are more lopsided favorites than usual. Omaha Beach, Sistercharlie, Midnight Bisou, and Bricks and Mortar all are 7-5 or less on the DRF line.
But the Dirt Mile is race 6 on Saturday, so let’s back up, and take the big races in the order they will be run, starting with race 4, the first Breeders’ Cup race on Saturday.
The Filly and Mare Sprint has nine entrants, matching the lowest in its 13-year history. Test Stakes winner Covfefe is favored while trying to be the first Test winner to win the Filly and Mare Sprint. Eight tried and failed, including four as the favorite. Spiced Perfection is this handicapper’s reluctant choice. Longshot bettors could do worse than take flyers on likely pacesetter Selcourt or route-to-sprint Bellafina.
The Turf Sprint fizzled when Santa Anita abandoned the hillside course due to safety perceptions. Now the Turf Sprint is five furlongs on the main oval; distance specialist Eddie Haskell is the pick. It will be a surprise if the best horse wins. Chaos is an unavoidable byproduct when 12 runners scream five-eighths. At 6 1/2 furlongs on the hill, at least bettors could be relatively confident the best horse had a fair shot.
Dirt Mile upset? On a media teleconference last week, Bob Baffert posed a revealing question: “Nobody’s going to ask me about Improbable?” Trainer tips are not always relevant, but when Baffert gets bullish, be certain the horse will fire. Improbable and jockey Rafael Bejarano occasionally have gate issues, so the start is everything. One misstep, and the race is over. It might be over anyway. Omaha Beach is very good.
Sistercharlie in the Filly and Mare Turf, or Dan Ward-trained longshot Vasilika? Ward is assistant trainer to Jerry Hollendorfer, currently disallowed from Stronach Group tracks. Vasilika won 10 straight races at Santa Anita for Hollendorfer. If you think Hollendorfer is bad for racing, go ahead and root against Vasilika. This handicapper will cheer her on.
Mitole will be tough in the Sprint, even against speedsters Shancelot and Imperial Hint. And who makes the lead? Answer that and find the winner – 15 of 26 sprints (through Sunday) at six furlongs were won by the pacesetter. (Half the races were maidens.)
Circus Maximus is rock solid in the Mile. As for the Distaff, it is deeper than Midnight Bisou. Paradise Woods and Ollie’s Candy both have a look, notwithstanding posts 1 and 2. Bricks and Mortar is legit chalk in the Turf, while outclassed front-runner Acclimate is not impossible. He ran super last time setting a wicked pace.
The $6 million Classic is the final race Saturday, and one participant commented on the quality of the field: “It’s not the best group ever.” The quote was not for attribution.
Perhaps lukewarm favorite McKinzie will stay 1 1/4 miles. Maybe longshot closer Yoshida will rally from the clouds. Higher Power has a look if he does not stumble at the start. One can hope.
One hopes Saturday helps to purge a season of turmoil, and that the Breeders’ Cup returns many more times to Santa Anita.
One hopes the track continues as a Great Race Place.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.