Day one of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs runs Friday with five BC races taking place, all featuring juveniles on what’s been billed as “Future Stars Friday.”
One major factor that could alter the advanced handicapping is the amount of rain expected for to fall in the Louisville area on Thursday. The softer the turf course, the more it favors the European horses.
Here’s a look at Friday’s races.
Juvenile Turf Sprint (12:21 p.m.): This has to be Soldier’s Call race to lose. His last start was against older horses in France and he was a solid third. Now he drops back to his age and just looks more seasoned than the rest of the field. I wouldn’t be myself unless I put an American runner on my ticket and that will be Stillwater Cove for trainer Wesley Ward. Two back at Saratoga she flew home for a win and the 5-1/2-furlong distance they are running here. In her last start she went out to mile and led at the top of the lane in Woodbine before falling back and finishing fifth. Now she’s back at her best distance and I look for the horse to be there fighting for the win at the end. For a price I will add Pocket Dynamo to my ticket. In his last start he had trouble throughout, constantly lacking running room yet kept fighting. A cleaner trip today will yield a much better race and at 20-1 on the morning line, it’s a nice value add to the ticket! If you want one other value horse, take a look Todd Pletcher’s Bulletin. The horse run only one race, but it was a win in a stakes race at 5-furlongs on the grass – and it was by seven lengths. Now he gets an upgrade at jockey. He might be green, and this may be too much as this point, but it’s worth a look at a price.
Plays: Soldier’s Call on the win end, as well as on top of Stillwater Cove, Pocket Dynamo and Bulletin in exacta and trifecta plays.
Juvenile Fillies Turf (1:00 p.m.): The most likely lock of the first day here with Newspaperofrecord. The morning line is 2-1 and I would be happy to get those odds when they got to post in the one-mile race. Two starts, two romps for trainer Chad Brown. She came out in her debut at Saratoga and cruised by six lengths in August. To prove that wasn’t a fluke, she crushed to field in the Miss Grillo, a Grade III at Belmont in September, winning by over six lengths again. Since then she had a consistent number of solid works at Belmont leading into this race. Just Wonderful is an interesting runner that closed from the clouds to win graded race at Newcastle. She will need some pace to run at, but given the trainer is Aiden O’Brien, I am thinking we will see her closer to the pace and realistically lower than the 6-1 morning line. Lily’s Candle is coming off a gutsy win in France where she had trouble finding room but stayed at it and pulled off the win. This is the type of horse you like in big fields – ones that keep fighting when faced with traffic. Don’t sleep on the much less heralded Concrete Rose. Also has two wins in two starts, the last a three-length score in a Grade II at Keeneland on October 10. Can come from off the pace, which is she stays clear of traffic, could be a nice score here at odds likely more than the 8-1 morning line.
Plays: Much like the first race, I will play the favorite for the win, as well as on top of three others for the exacta and trifecta. Newspaperofrecord gets the call on the win and will sit on top Just Wonderful, Lily’s Candle and Concrete Rose in the exacta and trifecta.
Juvenile Fillies (1:40 p.m.): Bellafina has thus far justified every bit of her $800,000 purchase price, winning three straight races, all by air in Southern California for trainer Simon Callaghan. Her last score was a six-length win in the Chandelier at Santa Anita. Some have her as the lock of the weekend, but I am not so sure as this looks to be a contentious race. Serengeti Empress is an interesting runner that beat a field of lesser runners than she’ll see today by 19-lengths in her last start. Still it was a big margin and it was over the Churchill track, her home track. Since then there’s been a solid series of drills for trainer Thomas Amoss and 7-2 would be some very playable odds for this winner of three of four starts. The other than I like here is Jaywalk (7-2). With three wins at three different tracks in her last three outings for trainer John Servis, the horse shows she has no problem with shipping. Two back she came from off the pace and in her last start she wired the field, so there is flexibility in her running style. A couple of plays for people looking for a price would be Sippican Harbor (12-1) and Cassies Dreamer (30-1). Sippican Harbor has much better credentials, had a 17-length maiden romp at Saratoga and has won two of three starts. Cassies Dreamer is only one of three, but in her last start she ran third to Jayhawk after a bobble at the start. At the price of 30-1, this may be a fun runner to take a chance on as she should be moving in the lane.
Plays: Here I will go with Jaywalk on the win end and hope that she drifts a bit higher than her 7-2 morning line. I am going to put all five of my horses in exacta and trifecta boxes and hope like crazy that either – or both – Sippican Harbor and Cassies Dreamer find their way into the top 2/3.
Juvenile Turf (2:22 p.m.): This is a race where the European horses usually shine, but when the most highly touted of the European contingent drew the tough No. 14 post, it opened the race up. Anthony Van Dyck, the Irish horse is stuck in the outside gate and as a result is the lukewarm favorite at 4-1. He has early speed and trainer O’Brien will need the horse to use it all to get in early position out of the gate. The question is, how much will that take out of him? That may leave Line of Duty as the top European runner. The Charles Appleby runner drew the No. 5 post and should have a much better time of things out of the gate. Two wins and two seconds in four starts on the other side of the pond will make him a popular choice at the window. I would be shocked if you got the 10-1 morning line odds on the horse. I am going to take a chance and make my play Much Better out of the Bob Baffert barn. At 10-1 for a Baffert runner in a juvenile-stakes it’s a great play. I expect her to get the early lead and let the rest of the field chase her. I’ve got to add a closer to chase what appears will be an honest pace and that falls to King of Speed out of the Jeff Bonde barn. Ridden by Gary Stevens, King of Speed came from off the pace to run down Much Better in their last start and she has closed well in her last five starts. There’s every reason to expect her to be in the mix in the final strides.
Plays: Much Better will be my win play, with all four my horses being in exacta and trifecta boxes. If Much Better and King of Speed run 1-2, we will be dancing around the Pleasanton OTB!
Juvenile (3:05 p.m.): There figures to be at least five horses that will vie for the early lead, if not six. This race screams for someone to come from off the pace and that’s why Game Winner is an overwhelming 9-5 favorite for trainer Bob Baffert. Okay, so the fact his is 3-for-3, including a four-length score in a route race in his last start doesn’t hurt either. He should get the win here and give Baffert the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby next year, that is until all of his other 2-year-olds start running next year! Complexity (5-2) figures to get plenty of play as the horse has had a pair of easy, front running wins in his two starts for trainer Chad Brown. The difference here is the horse won’t have it as easy out front. Could he still wire the field? Sure, but this will be the early litmus test. Let me give you some others to come off the pace. Code of Honor (5-1) had a horrible start in the Champagne but rallied to finish second behind Complexity. Gunmetal Gray bobbled at the start in his last race for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, then rallied to chase Game Winner around the track before finishing second. There’s every reason to expect improvement here.
Plays: As much as I would love to find a value play here, I just don’t see it happening. Time to hammer Game Winner and put him on top of the other three in the exacta and trifecta.
By Dennis Miller