LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- In the early days of the Breeders' Cup it was fun to sit in the old Churchill Downs press box and handicap the races with Chuck Olmstead. We miss you Chuck on days like this and others. So, Chuck, this one's for you.
As we approach Classic Day, your Breeders' Cup handicapping challenge becomes just a little easier. A little easier but not much. In the Classic, Ron the Greek is out. The Greek was an incredible wild card. He's one of those horses who could occasionally throw in a spectacular race. He had just won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York with a 114 Beyer. If he repeated that race at Santa Anita, everybody was running for second place. But now, he's nursing a quarter crack and won't run.
Another scratch is Dale Roman's Cleburne in the Juvenile. Cleburne won the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill with a stunning stretch run. He had already worked at Santa Anita but came down with the curse of two year olds, bucked shins.
We could see him on the Derby trail this winter, but not at the Breeders' Cup.
Like a lot of handicappers, I have my favorite races on this day. The Juvenile always captures my attention because of its implications for the next Kentucky Derby. But, only Street Sense has won both races.
I love The Sprint because it brings together the fastest horses in racing. And with all that speed, it always seems to be won by a closer. Even though Santa Anita favors speed, get ready for a speed duel that wilts in the stretch.
The turf races are always full of European horses and speed figures that don't quite translate to our American Beyer numbers. If you throw in the travel and the climate change, it's always hard to figure what they will do. But, Euros are inevitably factors in the grass races.
And then there's the Classic. It's a cast of champions. Nine of the entries have won more than a million dollars. It is horse racing perfection.
OK! It's time for fearless forecasting.
Let's go to the races on championship Saturday, the best horses in the world.
The Juvenile Fillies is an East Coast-West Coast showdown and I'm gonna side with the home team.
She's a Tiger has a lot of experience and has never been worse than second for Jeff Bonde. This is a long striding filly that also has the advantage of Gary Stevens in the saddle.
Never count out Baffert in a juvenile race and Secret Compass seems to be getting better at just the right time. John Velazquez gets the mount on a filly with a series of good works at Santa Anita.
It may be the right time and the right distance for a Tapit. Untapable comes out of the Pocahontas at Churchill and Steve Asmussen is good with early bloomers.
1. She's a Tiger
2. Secret Compass
4. Sweet Reason
Next, the Filly and Mare Turf. It's Derby distance on the grass with the ladies. And Europe has dozens of fillies who can run distance on the grass and many times against the boys.
Dank ships in from Great Britain as the morning line favorite and why not? She's done it before. Sir Michael Stoute took Dank to Arlington Park in August for the Beverly D and she won by four lengths with a 107 Beyer.
Tiz Flirtatious has the home court advantage at Santa Anita where she beat Marketing Mix in a Grade One in September. Kitten's Dumpling might surprise.
1. Dank (maybe even a single)
2. Tiz Flirtatious
3. Marketing Mix
4. Kitten's Dumpling
The Filly and Mare Sprint goes seven furlongs and the big question is, what to do with Groupie Doll? The much loved mare is still working bullets at Churchill Downs but is this the same horse that won the Cup last year? Perhaps not, but she still might be good enough to win this race.
So, I'll stick with Buff Bradley to make it two in a row with Book Review second and Judy the Beauty checking in third. I like Dance Card as the one with a chance to pull an upset.
1. Groupie Doll
2. Book Review
3. Judy the Beauty
4. Dance Card
If there's a Breeders' Cup race that is bound to stump the bettors, it's the Turf Sprint. The Turf Sprint is 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill grass course that crosses the dirt course at the top of the stretch. A few races on this course never hurts.
So I'm going to choose a horse that has never run in California. If Havelock, can duplicate the closing kick he showed coming from dead last at Keeneland, then he should handle this group. But hold your breath. He's a closer.
Mizdirection is the defending champ but has not run since June. She does have some fast works at Santa Anita this fall.
And Reneesgotzip is coming off two 100 Beyer performance this summer.
They all have a chance, including 3 year old Capo Bastone, who has never run on grass.
4. Capo Bastone
The Juvenile for two year olds is not a preview of the Kentucky Derby, with one exception 2006.
But it is a fascinating look at lightly raced, emerging young horses.
The fastest of these precocious youngsters is Havana who scored a 102 Beyer while breaking his maiden and then won the Champagne Stakes by a neck.
But, he was life and death to hold off Honor Code.
Despite the speed bias I think Havana is set up to be passed in the last 16th by one horse or more.
I think Bob Baffert is gonna have a big day and I'm going with maiden winner Tap It Rich. It's a huge jump to take on winners in a Grade One but this one is wide open.
Havana holds on for second, New Year's Day another Baffert entry gets third and Bond Holder from Doug O'Neill is fourth.
And I have an upset special Mexikoma, a recent Team Valor purchase from Delaware Park.
1. Tap It Rich
3. New Year's Day
4. Bond Holder
Which brings us to the Turf or (The European Invitational).
A mile and a half race is not that common in this country, but distance on the grass is THE race in Europe.
The Euros are not crazy about warm weather and firm turf but that should not bother three time Group One winner The Fugue.
Holding up the American side in this race, who better than Ken Ramsey. Big Blue Kitten has been very consistent this summer and should challenge.
And Point of Entry always seems to get up for the big races. Defending champ LIttle Mike could hit the board.
1. The Fugue
2. Big Blue Kitten
3. Point of Entry
4. LIttle MIke.
As I mentioned at the top of the entry, the Sprint always seems to be a race that is won by a closer, even a deep closer.
This looks like a California grudge match between Baffert and O'Neill. Secret Circle was off for more than a year but posted a 104 Beyer in a comeback race. The Baffert trainee has shown the ability to rate and catch a leader.
On the other hand O'Neill's Private Zone is a front runner, who has won twice since a misadventure in Dubai.
Also hitting the board, Justin Phillip, trained by Steve Asmussen always seems to be around at the end, and won the Vanderbilt at Saratoga.
Defending champ Trinniberg just doesn't seem to be the same horse. My long shot is a comeback by Fast Bullet.
1. Secret Circle
2. Private Zone
3. Justin Phillip
4. Fast Bullet
The Mile is perhaps the most fascinating race of the day. It's a rematch between horse of the year Wise Dan and Silver Max who beat Dan at Keeneland. Throw in a few Euros and you have a real competitive ten horse affair.
But, I don't think Silver Max can beat Dan again. If the real Wise Dan shows up, this will be a coronation.
But, the Euro shippers are lurking. Olympic Glory just won a Group One at Ascot.
Plus, Irish bred Obviously has a lot of California turf experience.
1. Wise Dan
2. Olympic Glory
3. Silver Max
And now the Classic, and I admit I was afraid of Ron the Greek. I thought the Jockey Club was one of the best performances of the year. But the Greek is on the sidelines and I'm going to take last year's bridesmaid to make the winner's circle.
Mucho Macho Man has a recent win over this track and was second in this race last year. I think Kathy Ritvo has this guy ready win and retire.
Moreno is the speed in this race and should be the one to catch at the top of the stretch. He can hang in there for a piece.
Will Take Charge will be running at the leaders down the stretch and so will Palace Malice. Flat out will be there too.
1. Mucho Macho Man
3. Will Take Charge
4. Palace Malice
5. Flat Out
Oh! I left out the favorite, Game on Dude.
I guess I'll just take my chances. And that defines betting on the Breeders' Cup.
Good luck. Thanks for reading. Gary