Breeders' Cup picks
This may be the best race of the day as there are five or six legitimate stars in here. It's also not an easy race to handicap simply because it's so competitive. The pace scenario should go a long way toward deciding things. Will Azeri and Imperial Gesture go after one another and set things up for someone else or will one take back off the other? The guess here is that jockeys Mike Smith and Jerry Bailey are too smart to get caught up in a costly pace duel. The pick will be Imperial Gesture. Since returning from her Kentucky Oaks debacle she has been nothing short of awesome. She whipped Take Charge Lady in the Gazelle and then never gave anyone else a chance when beating older horses in the Beldame for another easy win. Is she so good right now that she's better than Azeri? That's the question she will have to answer. As for Azeri, how do you fault a filly who is 9-for-10 lifetime and has lost just once this year? The only minor, minor fault you can find in her form is that her last two Beyer numbers were below her best. Then again, she was winning so easily maybe she just didn't need to run any faster. Mandy's Gold has made a fascinating turnaround this year. Trainer Michael Gorham has taken a speedy sprinter and turned her into an effective closer in route races. After winning the Ruffian, she didn't get a good tactical ride in the Beldame. She dropped 12 lengths behind Imperial Gesture before making a solid stretch run, but was simply too far back early to catch a filly that is that good. Expect her to be a little bit closer to the pace and to run another good race. Take Charge Lady is certainly a very talented filly, but she could not beat either Farda Amiga or Imperial Gesture in recent starts. Why should that be any different today? Farda Amiga has risen to the occasion in the Kentucky Oaks and the Alabama, but has never faced older fillies and may not be quite good enough. Summer Colony is the only horse to beat Azeri this year, which she did in the La Canada at Santa Anita. She is coming off a poor race in the one-turn Beldame, which is the main knock on her. She's never been effective around one turn, so maybe that was her problem that day.
Picks Summary: 1. Imperial Gesture 2. Azeri 3. Mandy's Gold
Cup Juvenile Fillies
Don't see any reason to go against Storm Flag Flying, who, on paper, is clearly the most talented horse in this field. Beautifully bred daughter of Storm Cat out of My Flag looked spectacular when winning the Matron. Her win in the Frizette was a bit more on the professional side, but she was never in serious jeopardy of losing and beat a good one in Santa Catarina. Though he hasn't had an impact in the Breeders' Cup in a long time, trainer Shug McGaughey remains one of the best and is sure to have his filly primed for her best effort. Hoping that the Frizette proves to be the key race as the second pick will be the Bob Baffert-trained Santa Catarina. She got a great draw here, getting the rail in a race that figures to give the inside horses a big advantage. She just wasn't good enough to beat Storm Flag Flying that day but was easily second best. Just think she's still better than everyone else in here. Composure, another 2-year-old filly from the Baffert barn, beat a weak field in the Oak Leaf, but she won impressively and seems to be on the improve. Ivanavinalot is an interesting proposition. If you go strictly by speed figures, it looks like she's the second fastest horse in the race behind only Storm Flag Flying. The question is class. She has been crushing her opposition in Florida, but what will happen here when she runs against much better horses? Also don't like the fact she bears out in all her races. Westerly Breeze got a terrible draw with the 10 post, but might challenge if jockey Robby Albarado can work out a good trip. She improved quite a bit in her last to win the Alcibiades in a good number. It may be that she moved up in the slop that day.
Picks Summary: 1. Storm Flag Flying 2. Santa Catarina 3. Composure
We've seen a lot of supposed European superstars fall on their faces over the years in the Breeders' Cup, but there doesn't appear to be anything phony about Rock of Gibraltar, a.k.a The Rock. He might just be the best horse in the world today. At the very least, he is the most accomplished. His seven straight Group I wins broke the European record set by the great Mill Reef. He can win on firm, soft or heavy ground. With the 10 post he didn't get the greatest draw, but it should take more than that to get him beat. Would have been interesting to see how he would have done in the Classic, but his connections made the right choice. There was no sense running in a race where he was a complete unknown when the other alternative was starting in a $1 million race where the horse will be 4-5. Good Journey had a lot go his way when he sat behind a very fast pace in the Atto Mile, but his stretch kick could not have been more impressive. He hasn't been out since Sept. 8, has drawn well and is consistent. Not many knocks on this one. Aldebaran hates to win, but never runs a bad race. He's run second five straight times this year, all of them against quality stakes horses on the dirt. A half-brother to Good Journey, he won his U.S. debut, which was a one-mile turf race. The surface should not be a problem and he has class. Forbidden Apple is 0-for-4 this year, but got a great draw with the one hole and has been competitive all year versus very good horses. Beat Hollow is sure to take some money at the windows, but do you really want to take him off his subpar effort in the Shadwell Turf Mile? Landseer won the Shadwell, but is clearly no better than a second stringer in the Aidan O'Brien stable and drew terribly.
Picks Summary: 1. Rock of Gibraltar 2. Good Journey 3. Aldebaran
Another fantastic race loaded with quality. Swept Overboard is an enigmatic horse. His performance in last year's Breeders' Cup was nothing short of phenomenal. He made up a ton of ground closing along a dead rail when fourth, a length behind Squirtle Squirt. Then he runs two lousy races this year before winning the Met Mile in what may be the best performance turned in by any horse this year in this country. So what does he do next? He runs like a bum in the Ancient Title. If the good Swept Overboard shows up, he can win this. Trainer Craig Dollase is very capable. Don't be the least bit surprised to see him have this one geared up for a big effort. Since Wayne Lukas wisely put Orientate back on the dirt after two failed turf tries, he's been the best sprinter in the country. His Beyer figures put him above the rest and he has comfortably beaten his competition in four starts. But what makes him stand out here from some of the others is his running style. Every year it looks like there's going to be a suicidal speed duel in the Sprint and it doesn't always work out that way. This is another speed-jammed field. That should suit Orientate because he has the speed to keep up with anyone, but isn't as one-dimensional as horses like Bonapaw and Xtra Heat. With master tactician Jerry Bailey aboard, he can sit just off the leaders and go after them when called upon. You gotta love Xtra Heat. She makes every race and runs hard every time. It certainly wouldn't be any surprise if she won this time out, especially after she broke through and finally beat males when winning the Oct. 5 Phoenix at Keeneland. She managed to get in front of some very fast horses last year in the Sprint and will try to do so again. The only knock on Bonapaw earlier this year was that he hadn't proven himself against classier company. Then he goes out and whips a decent field in the Grade I Vosburgh. So much for that knock. Another top contender. Disturbingthepeace has risen to the top of the sprint division in Southern California with six straight wins. Just have the feeling he doesn't have quite as much gas as the man contenders. Trainer Bruce Headley has sure taken it easy on Kona Gold this year, giving him just two starts. He's a wonderful old horse, but it looks like he's finally lost something at age 8. Carson Hollow wouldn't be the first 3-year-old filly to run big in this race, but this is an awful tough assignment for her.
Picks Summary: 1. Swept Overboard†† 2. Orientate 3. Xtra Heat
Cup Filly & Mare Turf
This looks like the one Breeders' Cup grass race where the Americans can lead the charge to the finish. With the possible exception of Islington, the European fillies are not necessarily top class. The filly to beat is obviously Golden Apples, who has emerged as the best grass filly in the U.S. She's won over this distance, has won over this course, is in great form and is tremendously consistent. There's always the standard worries about what kind of trip she will get, but she simply looks better than anyone else in here. Starine may be the sleeper horse. She beat Golden Apples in last year's Matriarch and finished second behind her this year in the Santa Ana. After she was beaten a head by Astra in the Gamely, Bobby Frankel announced that he was retiring her. But he changed his mind and did not bring her back until the Sept. 28 Flower Bowl. Considering that was her first start since May and she was running over a demanding soft turf course and it was an obvious prep for this, her fourth-place finish wasn't bad at all. She should improve two or three lengths today and that might just be enough to win it all. Islington looks like the best of the foreigners and a win by her would not be a surprise. She won two straight Group I's before a creditable fifth against the best in Europe in the Arc. Looks like she doesn't like soft turf, but with little rain in the forecast that shouldn't be a problem. You might want to throw 50-1 shot Chopinina on your exacta and trifecta tickets. Out of nowhere, she ran a phenomenal race in the Atto Mile against the boys. She set fractions of :44.80 and 1:08.80 and still held off everyone but race winner Good Journey. Is an unknown at this distance. Banks Hill doesn't look like the same horse who won this race last year. Though she missed by just a half-length to European superduperstar Rock of Gibraltar in the Prix du Moulin, she is just 1-for-5 on the year and is coming off a lackluster third-place finish in the Yellow Ribbon as the favorite.
Picks Summary: 1. Golden Apples 2. Starine 3. Islington
Hold The Tiger's win in the Group I Grand Criterium at Longchamp was something to see. Trailing the field early, he didn't start his move until inside the final furlong and then just exploded. Don't worry that he's never run on the grass. He's by American sire Storm Cat and is a half-brother to1996 Belmont winner Editor's Note. His pedigree suggests he'll be even better at a distance on the dirt. Aidan O'Brien proved he can win this race last year when getting the job done with Johannesburg. While Sky Mesa has been getting all the hype in the U.S., Whywhywhy has quietly been putting together an outstanding year. He's won a Grade II and a Grade I, is improving and drew a fabulous post in the one hole. He's by Mr. Greeley and has never gone beyond a mile or around two turns, so the distance is a worry. But there are several other factors on the plus side of the ledger. I've cooled a bit on Sky Mesa. He didn't get a great draw with the nine post and he was nowhere near as impressive in the Breeders' Futurity as he was in the Hopeful. Predictably, John Ward is saying Sky Mesa's five-furlong work in a dreadful 1:05 is no big deal, but that was one slow workout. It can't be a good thing. Vindication could not have been more visibly impressive when winning the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, but he beat a weak field and his 87 Beyer figure is nothing to write home about. Kafwain is consistent and drew well. He could hit the board. Poor Toccet. He has no chance after drawing the 14 post. These races should have been run at a mile.
Picks Summary: 1. Hold The Tiger 2. Whywhywhy 3. Sky Mesa
High Chaparral was the best 3-year-old in Europe at this distance all season. He emerged when beating stablemate Hawk Wing in the Epsom Derby and came right back to score an impressive win in the Irish Derby. Next out, he finished third as the 2-1 favorite in the Arc de Triomphe, but the race is better than it looks. High Chaparral was one of many in the Aidan O'Brien stable who missed training time due to an illness and O'Brien has said he ran a short horse in the Arc. But that race should have him perfectly tight for the Turf. With his best, he's probably the best in the field. His main competition could come from fellow European Golan. The 4-year-old has run just twice this year, winning the King George before finishing second behind rival Nayef in the Juddmonte International. He hasn't been out since Aug. 20, but has a history of running well fresh. A top class horse and a real threat. They are the Big Two from Europe in a race that figures to be dominated by European horses. Best bet of the day: box these two in the exacta. The American contingent just isn't good enough to strike fear in anyone's hearts. By process of elimination, Denon looks like the best American turf runner. He's not exactly a star, but, unlike some others in here, he's been doing everything right lately and seems to be on the right path for a good run. Falcon Flight is a longshot you can't dismiss. He might have won the Arlington Million if not for getting into a serious jackpot in deep stretch when he had no room. He had more traffic problems when second in the Canadian International and had to make up ground behind a very slow pace. The Tin Man will be the speed, something that is always dangerous in marathon turf routes. Ballingarry won the Canadian International, but was no better than a third-stringer in the Aidan O'Brien barn before being purchased by American connections. Like everyone else, I'm assuming that the venerable With Anticipation is over the top after a poor showing in the Turf Classic. He tailed off at about the same time last year.
Picks Summary: 1. High Chaparral†† 2. Golan 3. Denon
Trainer Bobby Frankel has seven horses in the Breeders' Cup and seven strong shots. But the one he can't stop raving about is Medaglia d'Oro. Frankel will be under the microscope some because he's chosen to give his horse two months off rather than use a prep. But he says it's been a blessing because the horse is in great form. Was sensational in the Jim Dandy and very good in the Travers. This is not an easy race, but he is one who passes most of the tests. He's got the ability, the class and there's every reason to believe he'll be in form. Evening Attire hasn't gotten much credit throughout his career and that's not likely to change before they go into the gate. But this horse has really gotten good all of a sudden with big wins in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup and the Jockey Club Gold. Would love to see a wet track, but that's not likely to happen. Came Home is another who doesn't geta whole lot of respect, but he answered a huge question last out when he won the Pacific Classic at a mile and a quarter. Still think he's better at nine furlongs than 10, but you can't fault his consistency or the fact he beat older horses last time out at this distance. One of the keys to the race will be the tactics they employ with E Dubai. It's important that he drew the rail. From that position, he's more likely to be gunned toward the lead, which will hurt War Emblem. And what about War Emblem? Everyone jumped off his bandwagon after he ran sixth in the Pacific Classic. Remember, though, he faced a speedball that day in Sky Jack. If he gets the right trip here and doesn't get pressed too hard while going to the front there's no reason why he can't win it. Hawk Wing is the mystery horse. He's obviously got some quality, but will have to prove that he can handle the dirt.
Picks Summary: 1. Medaglia d'Oro 2. Evening Attire 3. Came Home