ARCADIA, Calif. -- And so after all the talk about championships and European invaders, after the noise about Lasix and smaller fields and, finally, after a moment's genuflection before the regal fillies of the Ladies' Classic, the Breeders' Cup comes down to this: Who's going to win?
That question asks for a conclusion where only a surmise is possible, and so it inevitably veers into other questions, such as: Who's the best horse? Who could win? Who has the talent to win but needs everything to go perfectly for such a thing to happen? Who can't win? And, whose victory would cause a realignment of the planets? Well, here are some thoughts.
Juvenile Turf: The general feeling is the European horses are much better at these grassy endeavors than the Americans. And that remains the assumption even though the Europeans had more trouble than success on the first day of the Breeders' Cup extravaganza. Dundonnell comes here highly regarded and he has progressed this week, looking a little better each day. Fantastic Moon has lost but once, and he had a very rough trip in that race, the Royal Lodge Stakes. Artigiano has made a positive impression here. Balance The Books, Noble Tune and Brown Almighty appear best among the American horses.
2. Fantastic Moon
3. Noble Tune
Filly And Mare Sprint: Unbeaten since donning blinkers, Groupie Doll is the most probable winner of the day. She looked like that on paper, where no race was ever won, and she looked like that this week at Santa Anita, where she has sparkled in her preparation. Dust And Diamonds, Rumor and Switch have made positive impressions. Turbulent Descent apparently has been training sharply, reportedly outworking Stay Thirsty in New York before traveling here. And Musical Romance, who won the race last year, is back. But Groupie Doll, quite simply, is best.
1. Groupie Doll
2. Dust And Diamonds
3. Turbulent Descent
Dirt Mile: On Friday, the Santa Anita surface clearly handed speedsters an advantage. Beholder led from the start to win the Juvenile Fillies, for example, and even Royal Delta, who's usually a stalker, won the Ladies' Classic by seizing the lead early. If that pattern continues here, Shackleford will be very tough to beat. He's quickest of this group. In the Kelso Handicap, after grabbing the early lead, he capitulated in deep stretch at Belmont, but that was around one turn, and he could be much more effective on this surface around two turns. Emcee will probably enjoy a perfect stalking trip. Rail Trip and Delegation are live long shots.
4. Rail Trip
Turf Sprint: With the unique downhill course and an evenly matched group of competitors, this is a very intriguing race that could produce a surprise or two and maybe a payoff explosion. California Flag won the Turf Sprint when it was last run here, in 2009, and he has won 6 of 9 on the downhill course; the old pro has made a very positive impression this week. On this course, where there's a slight right-handed turn, the outside post positions actually have an advantage -- which could work for Unbridled's Note, an improving colt who might have found a home on the turf, where he has won his only outing. Reneesgotzip, who's making her turf debut, has a pedigree that insists she'll love the grass, and she has made a positive impression, as has Upgrade.
1. California Flag
2. Unbridled's Note
Juvenile: Power Broker is a handsome chestnut who has just begun to learn what's expected of him. When he switched strides in midstretch of the FrontRunner Stakes, he took off, and then he galloped out strongly. The improving colt has looked very sharp all week. Shanghai Bobby is unbeaten in four outings, and in the Champagne Stakes the speedy colt showed a willingness to control his speed. He could give Rosie Napravnik her first victory in the sport's championship event, and she could become only the second woman to ride a Breeders' Cup winner. (In 2003 at Santa Anita, Julie Krone won the Juvenile Fillies on Halfbridled.) Title Contender has some speed and appears to be very athletic. On a speed-favoring surface, he could be dangerous from the rail. Speak Logistics is another who has some speed.
1. Power Broker
2. Shanghai Bobby
3. Title Contender
4. Speak Logistics
Turf: The Europeans have dominated this race. No horse based in America has won the Turf since English Channel in 2007. But that could change here with Point Of Entry. He has won five consecutive races, including four stakes. St. Nicholas Abbey won this race last year, and, like many Europeans, he has looked better each day this week. Trailblazer has had a useful race here since arriving from Japan and appears ready for a top effort.
1. Point Of Entry
2. St. Nicholas Abbey
Sprint: Over the years, the Sprint has been the most unpredictable of Breeders' Cup races, and it's often the one that produces the kind of payoff that sends the tote board into a paroxysm of confusion. This is the race to try something weird, venture into the unorthodox and swing at the high fastball. In the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, his first race on dirt, Jimmy Creed finished third despite some trouble and despite racing on the worst part of the track. Trinniberg looked sensational on the track Friday morning, bursting with energy and contemplating some outrage, a jump over the grandstand perhaps, or maybe a victory in the Sprint. The blinkers have him focused -- on what isn't yet known. Gantry has won 6 of 7 at this distance and will come charging, as will Coil.
1. Jimmy Creed
Mile: After looking anxious and washy early in the week, Excelebration looked good on the track Friday. Maybe he just got the news that Frankel has retired. Take Frankel out of his life, and Excelebration has won 8 of 9. It could be 9 of 10 by Saturday night. Wise Dan has won 4 of 5 this year and had trouble in his only loss. Moonlight Cloud had trouble when she lost to Excelebration and finished in a photo with Black Caviar. Animal Kingdom, last year's Kentucky Derby winner, has looked outstanding.
2. Wise Dan
3. Moonlight Cloud
4. Animal Kingdom
Classic: As trainer Bob Baffert said, the opening half-mile will probably determine the outcome. How fast will Game On Dude have to run early if he's determined to stalk the pace? And there could be plenty of pace. Still, Game On Dude is the most accomplished horse in the field, he has been training sharply and he's unbeaten here. With a victory, he'll be Horse of the Year. Bill Mott knows how to hit a big moment squarely, and he has brought three horses here for the Classic. To Honor And Serve and Ron The Greek have looked very good to this eye. Mucho Macho Man also has good early speed, and he reportedly was training superbly before coming to Santa Anita, where he has made a good appearance. Fort Larned has been consistently good all year.
1. Game On Dude
2. Ron The Greek
3. To Honor And Serve
4. Mucho Macho Man