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Handicapping the Breeders' Cup - Part 1: Friday's Races...By Hartley Henderson

The Breeders' Cup will once again take place over 2 days with 5 events occurring on Friday, October 24th and 8 others taking place on Saturday, October 25th. It seems the directors of the Breeders' Cup have decided that it is in their best interest to run the fairer sex on Friday and the Male horses on Saturday. A trainer at the cup suggested that it only makes sense since protocol has always dictated ladies first, but the truth is that the public is generally more interested in the races involving the male horses and the Breeders' Cup wanted them featured on a Saturday. One major difference in this year's Breeder's Cup from prior ones, which could prove quite interesting, is that for the first time the dirt races will be run on a synthetic surface. In past articles I mentioned that racing on dirt and racing on polytrack are two totally different animals. Horses that do well on polytrack generally will do well on either surface, but horses that perform well on dirt may not take to the synthetic track. Consequently, horses running for the first time on polytrack are risky bets. As well, there is more tendency for horses to come from off the pace on polytrack, particularly in races less than a mile, and at Santa Anita on the new surface there has been a definite bias against horses starting from the inside, particularly in sprint races.

So here are my fearless picks for the the first 5 races that make up the Breeders' Cup on Friday:

Fillies and Mares Sprint

The first race on the card is the Fillies and Mares Sprint, and Indian Blessing is the favourite. She won her last 3 races by a combined 19 lengths in times better than any others in the field have shown. Her only two losses were at races over a mile. If Indian Blessing does have a weakness, it could be the synthetic track. She had one race on the surface at 1/9 odds against 4 other rivals that she should have won going away, but in the end she held on for a narrow win. The time of 1:19 4/5 for the 7 furlongs was deceiving, as there was a major track variance that day which actually resulted in one of her slowest Beyer Speed figures. As well, in her last 3 races she faced nothing like what she will see here, not to mention she'll be hard pressed to get to the lead against a ton of other speed horses, and she likes to wire the field. Consequently, I'm looking to defeat her with either Zaftig or Dearest Trickski. Zaftig actually beat Indian Blessing by over 4 lengths in her last race in June, a race where she stumbled and had other misfortunes which could be the cause of her layoff. She has trained fabulously since then, indicating that any injuries are likely healed. She'll love the 7 furlongs, a distance at which she broke her maiden by 9 lengths in February and then ran away from a stellar field at Belmont in May. This will be Zaftig's first race over the synthetic surface, but if she is healthy and can handle the track she should be the one to beat. Dearest Trickski loves the polytrack surface and won on it several times in the past. In fact her only race on a dirt track that wasn't on polytrack produced one of her worst finishes. Like Indian Blessing, she loves to try and race on the lead which could be her one downfall if she gets caught up in a speed dual. Still, at 15/1 odds if she can get to the lead and put away Indian Blessing early she could pull off the surprise. Zaftig is the main play, though.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

It's hard to believe this field is actually racing for a million dollar purse. It looks more like a cheap stakes race than the Breeders' Cup. The favourite is a Canadian horse (Laragh) which had a good race in average time at Keeneland. The horse was bumped at the start and won easily, but arguably beat noone. In fact one of her competitors, C Karma, beat Laragh twice in races at Woodbine. Nothing indicates C Karma is a serious contender here. The reason Laragh is favoured is simple, there is no other compelling horse in the race. All the other horses are either trying turf for the first time or have raced on it previously and showed little. The European horses are always threats in turf races, albeit they have had limited success in California races in the past, but none of the horses coming from Europe looks like anything special. As a result, I'm looking for a value play in this race and believe I may have found it with Consequence. The horse easily won her maiden at Saratoga by 5 1/2 furlongs in August, and then came up short despite a strong rally in a graded race at Belmont in October at a longer distance. The time for the race was nothing spectacular, and she did lose to two other horses racing in this race (Maram and Freedom Rings). Maram started as a claiming horse and Freedom Rings is a maiden who has been average at best. According to her trainer, however, Consequence had trouble adjusting to the yielding turf in her last race and wasn't 100 percent. The race at Saratoga was on a firm turf, as she is likely to see at Santa Anita. Consequence certainly deserves another shot, and given the lack of any great talent in the race she could be worth a bet at decent odds.

Juvenile Fillies

Unlike the turf race, the Juvenile Fillies dirt race is intriguing. There are many good horses, although 3 stand out: Stardom Bound, Sky Diva and Dream Empress. Sky Diva is 2 for 2 in races at Belmont, including a 10 length win on a sloppy track for her maiden victory and an easy win in the mile Grade 1 Frizette Stakes. The two main questions are whether she'll take to polytrack in her first outing and whether she'll handle the commute. Many horses that do well in New York struggle when they come to California. Dream Empress had two average maiden races on turf, then came to life on polytrack at Keeneland where she ran away by over 4 lengths in excellent time against a good field. If she repeats that performance she could be the winner, although Keeneland horses haven't faired that great in past Breeders' Cup races held in California. For my money, I'm going with the favourite Stardom Bound. All 4 of her races have been in California on polytrack, and all have been memorable. In her first 3 races at DelMar she broke slowly and struggled, yet came home with the blazing final pace that wins so many polytrack races. In her last race, the Oak Leaf at Santa Anita, she got away slow, but seemed to handle the track better than she did in her earlier races at Del Mar. When it was time to run, Mike Smith showed her the whip and she blew away the field in the best time of any horse in this race. If she is as good as she looks on paper, at 8/5 odds Stardom Bound could represent great value.

Filly and Mare Turf

Like the Juvenile Fillies turf, there is nothing in this race that exudes excitement. Wait a While is the favourite, but there is no reason to be gung ho for her. The 1:59 time for her win in the 1 1/4 mile Yellow Ribbon was impressive, but given the times of other races on that day it was not that spectacular. She has lost to other horses here, including Dynaforce and Forever Together, but, again, neither of those horses appears to be a major contender. Mauralakana is the most intriguing of the U.S. horses. She has had a long career and won almost half her turf races. And the victory in the Beverly D stakes was very impressive, as the time produced a massive Beyer figure. Her defeat in the Flower Bowl can be excused, as she clearly doesn't prefer soft turf. I'm going to look to a European horse, however, to get the victory in this one. Handicappers I know well in England swear to me that Halfway to Heaven is the real deal. The horse has never been out of the money, has won half her races (many in group 1 racing) and loves a firm turf. In her only race at this distance, the Nassau Stakes, she beat Lush Lashes which many argue is the best female horse in Europe right now. I tend to avoid European horses in California races because they often don't like the harder turf footing, but Halfway to Heaven appears to be an exception given her races so far on the firm footing. Folk Opera could be a good longshot play also.

Ladies Classic

On paper, the Ladies Classic looks like a no-brainer. Zenyatta is 8 for 8 and has beaten almost all of her rivals. She likes polytrack, loves the distance and the inside post won't hurt at a mile and a quarter. Ginger Punch, last year's winner, is back to defend, but she lost by almost 8 lengths to Zenyatta earlier this year. She is 1 for 2 on polytrack. The only other two that appear to have any chance of contending are Music Note and Cocoa Beach, the latter upset Ginger Punch in her last race on a sloppy track at Belmont. Music Note has 5 wins in 7 tries and appears to be at the top of her game. She's never tried polytrack, however. My money will be 2 separate trifectas with Zenyatta over Music Note and Ginger Punch for 2nd and 3rd.

Part 2 will examine Saturday's card.

Hartley Henderson

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