(WHAS11) -- Welcome to the most difficult handicapping challenge of the year, the Breeders' Cup.
It's the weekend that you can find a Grade One winner at 20-1 and big payoffs seem possible in every race. They are possible. But they are hard to hit.
And your mind set should be: One big race can make the weekend. You will get a lot of races wrong and many favorites will disappoint. But one great exotic bet and you'll be playing with house money.
Let's start with the weather. Santa Anita is expecting temperatures in the low 80s on Friday and high 70s on Sunday. That's perfect for people, but horses like it cooler. One year it hit a hundred degrees during a California Breeders' Cup and a lot of good horses just melted.
The warmer weather can be a problem for the European shippers, who also have to overcome the long flight to California. Despite those handicaps, you never count the Euros out of the grass races.
Because of the millions in purse money, many trainers point their older horses for this weekend. So, in past performances, watch the progression of runners, who might be coming to a peak, especially the third or fourth start off a break in training.
It's also difficult to maintain the type of fitness necessary to win a Breeders Cup race. Past winners like Groupie Doll, Wise Dan, Trinniberg and Fort Larned are not a lock to repeat. And take notice of the champions, who traveled to Dubai in search of millions at the Meydan Race Course. The Dubai trip requires a recovery time of months. Some horses have never bounced back. If you see a Meydan race in March, bet with caution.
OK! Let's go to the races. The Breeders' Cup Marathon is a collection of allowance horses and some former claimers who are trying to run a mile and three quarters. And because it's such an uncommon distance, I'm thinking it's more of a rider's race.
There are no real favorites in this race, and that makes it a pretty good betting race. But if you're late to the race track and miss this one, I don't think you'll miss great racing. But if you must, Worldly comes out of a Churchill Downs stakes where he finished within shouting distance of Fort Larned and at 6-1he has a chance. Ever Rider comes from Argentina and gets Gary Stevens in the irons. Hey, an Argentine horse came out of the clouds to win this race in 2012. And then there's London Bridge, a British shipper, who's been running these long distances. Mike Smith has the ride and could be the difference.
2. Ever Rider
3. London Bridge
4. Pool Play
The second race on Friday is the Juvenile Turf at a mile and if you think the marathon is a crap shoot, this is a journey into unknown potential.
For my top pick, I choose a horse with an Italian name, who has run three times in Ireland but was bred in West Virginia.
Giovanni Boldini has won two out of three in Ireland and he's a son of War Front. His wins have been on synthetic turf but he's made for grass.
The favorite in this race will likely be Bobby's Kitten, one of Ken Ramsey's multiple Breeders Cup' entries. He won the Grade three Pilgrim at Belmont with a 91 Beyer and it's hard to bet against Ramsey.
I also like Poker Player, who's moving in the right direction after wins at Kentucky Downs and Keeneland. Channing Hill rides for Wayne Catalano, who has been on a hot streak.
1. Giovanni Boldini
2. Bobby's Kitten
3. Poker Player
The Dirt Mile goes off at 6:05 Louisville time, and while Dirt Mile is not an attractive name, it's still worth a million dollars.
Verrazano will likely get top billing in this race and while he was not a horse for the Derby distance, he certainly is a capable miler. In fact, Verrazano won the Haskell at a mile and an eighth in a romp.
The mile seems to attract horses, who are distance challenged or a grade below the Classic horses. Taptowne seems to fit that profile and should have the early lead but can he hang on? Probably not.
Pants of Fire is a tough old campaigner who has won two in a row. He'll be dangerous and close to the lead.
3. Pants on Fire
The fourth race on Friday is the Juvenile Fillies Turf and I have the perfect combination of Euro and West Coast offense to catch your attention.
Clenor was bred in Ireland and hit the board in a Group three race at Curragh.
Then she was transferred to Doug O'Neill in California, where she won three straight on the turf. And the numbers say she's getting better with each race.
And now, we turn to the real Euros. Chriselliam has won a Group One on the turf at a mile. Jockey Richard Hughes makes the trip from Great Britain to ride.
And third, I have the undefeated My Conquestadory, who won the Alcibiades at Keeneland. But she was even better on the turf in Canada.
3. My Conquestadory
4. Al Thakhira
And the first day closes with the Distaff, which was once called the Ladies Classic but which is again "The Distaff."
And here is my advice. Don't bet against Princess of Sylmar.
As I learned on Kentucky Oaks Day. Don't bet against Princess of Sylmar.
Then again I learned while watching the Alabama at Saratoga: Don't bet against Princess of Sylmar.
To that accumulated knowledge we add that Princess of Sylmar beat champion Royal Delta in September at Belmont. Royal Delta is the two time defending champion in this race but DON'T BET AGAINST PRINCESS OF SYLMAR.
1. Princess of Sylmar
2. Royal Delta
4. Close Hatches
And that's the first day of Breeders' Cup. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?