Dan Liebman

Dan Liebman, a man who has covered the art of Thoroughbred racing for nearly 40 years dating back to his early days at The Daily Racing Form and one of my most favorite people on this green Earth, takes a close look at the top 3 turf races scheduled for the Breeders’ Cup.

Rob Murphy, Breeding Analyst

Rob Murphy, another long-time racing advocate and an owner-breeder who had the classy Platinum Tiara run second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs years ago, will be handicapping the top 3 dirt races scheduled for the Breeders’ Cup.  We will be adding his picks to our comprehensive list this week.

Gene McLean

Gene McLean

And, I will be completing the batting order, as well.  Together, we hope to provide you with insights and perspectives that help you in your own handicapping techniques leading up to this year’s Breeders’ Cup extravaganza.

Here are Dan’s picks:

FILLY & MARE TURF:

Cambodia (6), who is 8-1 ML, has not only improved as the year has gone along, she has thrived since arriving in California during the summer. Her two-for-two record at Del Mar shows how much she loves the surface and her training since her last victory shows she has remained in top form. She is poised for the upset. A number of years ago a leading equine publication published an article titled, “One Hit Wonders,” about trainers that had won one Breeders’ Cup race. Trainer Tom Proctor took exception to the piece. He could get his second in this spot. All Lady Eli (9) has done is win 10 of 13 starts, with three seconds by a combined length. A morning line of 5-2 seems generous. A cut back in distance should have Avenge (12), 8-1 ML, acting tough on or near the lead and Queen’s Trust (10) at 12-1 ML, winner of this race last year, has been meeting the best in Europe.

MILE:

Consistency … a great quality in any athlete in any sport. Ribchester (10), at 7-2 ML, has competed against the best in Europe and has consistently been a factor in all of his races. He will sit behind the leaders, make his move, and be right there when the real running begins. Heart to Heart was really game in his last effort, the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland. He may be pressed on the pace but he doesn’t cave easily. Third off the layoff, expect him to hang tough down the lane. Another who figures to be up close is World Approval (5), at 9-2 ML, who has found a distance at which he thrives. Watch out.

TURF:

The Turf usually goes through the Europeans and this year is no different. They again bring top runners for this turf marathon. We are not normally a fan of horses exiting the Arc for the Turf, but then last year Highland Reel (3), 5-1 ML, did exactly that. Though he returns, Ulysses (5), at 7-2 ML, may be the pick of those from across the pond. Looking for an upset? Bigger Picture has been well managed this year and is sitting on a big effort. The guess is Johnny Velazquez will try to get a jump on the late-running European contingent. Beach Patrol’s (12), at 4-1 ML, last race, in the Turf Classic at Belmont, was visibly impressive.

Here are the selections from Rob Murphy:

Dirt Mile:

Sharp Azteca (3) has shown that he can travel. He has shown he is fast. Five for seven at the distance. Mor Spirit (6) was a nice 3YO heading up to the Kentucky Derby, but not quite the mold for a Triple Crown contender. Once turned back to shorter distances, he has been very competitive. I don’t like the amount of time he has been on the sidelines, but he is trained by Bob Baffert. Accelerate (8) has beaten Arrogate. He likes Del Mar (3 for 4). He likes the distance. Sharp Azteca (3) nearly carried it all the way to the wire, before finally giving in to Battle of Midway (9), at the very end. A true battle for the ages. Awesome Slew (5), a deep closer, held off the embattled Practical Joke (10), who had no shot from the 10 post, for third.

Sprint:

Drefong (2). Enough said.

Classic:

Arrogate (1) is my pick. It is tough to throw out a horse which just ran a 114 BSF when he wasn’t quite 100%. Arrogate looks better now. He has been working like he is a happy horse now. Gun Runner (5) is next. His form says he is ready. Gunnevera (9) is my third pick. There should be a very fast early pace in here. Gunnevera is the horse that can pick up the pieces at a price.

Here are the Selections from Gene McLean:

Friday, Nov. 3:

Juvenile Fillies Turf:

Friday, Race 6: 11-2-13-10-8-5-14-9-7…Rushing Fall (11), a daughter of More Than Ready, did not get any breaks when she drew 11-hole in the post position draw.  It may be the only thing that can beat her on Friday.  She will have to negotiate a tough trip, from, arguably, the toughest post positions and have to go in, around, up and over a whole host of good runners in front of her. Not easy for a late closer in this group. Has 2 wins in 2 starts — including a fast-closing victory over Stainless — in the Jessamine Stakes at Keeneland in her last. Can come from the clouds. Rushing Fall has won back-to-back starts this year with a ferocious rally in each — a MSW event at Belmont on a firm turf, and a similar late rally at Keeneland on a soft track. Watch out. Happily (2) is an Irish-bred 2YO daughter of the great Galileo. Has won 2 in a row (both Group 1 events) and four of the last five tries. Overall now, she has 4 wins and a second in 6 career outs. Juliet Capulet (13) picks up flashy rider Frankie Dettori, who rode this one to victory her last out at Newmarket in September.  Lost the glasses in the last, and that sure seemed to help her progress. September (10), nipped a nose in a Group 1 in Newmarket in her last, and Significant Form (8), who should have 2 wins in 2 starts if not for a disqualification in her debut, both have big chances to hit the board in here. I bet the 11 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta and then key those 3 over/under the rest in another smaller version. We hit with the winner. Rushing Fall (11) moved a bit quicker and sooner than usual, but spurted clear at the top of the stretch and then held off the longshot Best Performance (1) for the win. September (10) — who bucked all the way through the post parade into her warmup — closed for third. We hit the win/place/show ticket, but miss the exacta.  We start a nice Pick 3 ticket here.

Dirt Mile:

Friday, Race 7: 10-3-7-6-9-8-5…Practical Joke (10), a 3YO who is undefeated with 5 wins in one-turn races, will now try a 2-turn mile.  Interesting configuration here at Del Mar. Comes into this one off a ultra-impressive victory in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (formerly known as the King’s Bishop) at Saratoga on Aug. 26.  Although not seen in the afternoon since then, this son of Into Mischief has been working lights out for trainer Chad Brown. Gutty, determined, and gritty colt will give all.  Is it enough? Sharp Azteca (3) has raced 5 times this year, with 3 wins a second and a third. Brutally quick and fast, too boot. Won the G2 Kelso by 4 and the G3 Monmouth Cup by 71/2 in the last two. Could not be sharper. Cupid (7) won a Stakes at Del Mar in his last performance here — and it was at this distance. Son of Tapit has 2 wins in 3 starts this year, and has been working super. At 8-1 ML odds, he becomes very attractive. Mor Spirit (6) and Battle of Midway (9) both have grand credentials in what promises to be a battle royale. I bet the 10-7 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta and then key those 3 over/under the rest of the numbers in a smaller version. See above. We miss here, except we did use the longshot Battle of Midway in the Pick 3, which helped us to a nice ticket.

Juvenile Turf:

Friday, Race 8: 4-6-7-1-8-5-10-13-2…The top 4 numbers are my keys in this one.  Catholic Boy (4) sits at odds of 12-1 ML, and I love this undefeated son of More Than Ready — who looks and runs like a man-child. After breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in July, he was immediately shipped to Saratoga to face the big juniors. He whipped them all in the G3 With Anticipation Stakes on Aug. 30. Has trained well here in Southern California and may be primed for another huge effort. Masar (6) figures to get plenty of window action, coming here from France where he was third in a Group 1 event, but beaten only 11/2 lengths. Has 2 wins and 2 thirds in 4 starts for Charles Appleby, a top trainer across the pond. James Garfield (7) won a Group 2 at Newbury in his last and was second a nose in a Group 3 at York before that. Gets the services of the flashy Frankie Dettori in the saddle, and he knows how to win BC races. Mendelssohn (1) ran a game second to the highly regarded U S Navy Flag in their last matchup, and was beaten only 21/2 lengths. The latter opted to go in the Juvenile dirt race. Can’t dismiss. I bet the 4-6 across the board and then box the top 3 choices in one exacta box and then key the top 4 over (only) the rest of the numbers. Catholic Boy (4) got a horrible ride, checking throughout the first half mile on more than one occasions. He sat behind the winner, Mendelssohn — who I moved up on the spreadsheet charts and then announced as one of my Best Bets of the Day prior to heading to the track. When it came time to run coming out of the stretch, Ryan Moore pushed the right button and this son of Scat Daddy took off. Great ride. Great conditioning. Easy and impressive winner. Flatters the very good 2YO colt U S Navy Flag, who runs on the dirt in the Juvenile Saturday. Mendelssohn lost to U S Navy Flag by over 2 lengths in their last out. Miss the Exactas, but I do hit a WPS wager and the Pick 3 — $720 for $1.

Distaff:

Friday, Race 9: 2-7-5-6-4–1…Forever Unbridled (6) gave her heart and soul in this race a year ago, losing by only 11/4-lengths to two fillies by the name of Beholder and Songbird.  Remember those two? Since then, all this filly has done is win 2 in a row for trainer Dallas Stewart — beating the great Songbird in the G1 Personal Ensign in her last. Deep closer has only 2 starts this year and is well rested for another try this year. I WAS fully on board. Until. Until the owner came up with the idea to switch riders without telling his trainer. Until he took off a rider who had ridden the mare the last six races — including a huge win in the G1 Personal Ensign. John Velasquez is a great rider, but KARMA is a bad thing and the timing here is awful.  So, I adjust…She slides down to fourth for me now. Instead, I go this way: First —  Stellar Wind (2) has raced 3 times this year after finishing 4th in that Distaff of a Lifetime. She has won all three, albeit by small margins.  This 5YO daughter of Curlin is one tough cookie and always gives all.  She will be stalking what figures to be a contested pace and will have first jump on her rivals. Second — Paradise Woods (7), who came back for the grand trainer Richard Mandella in the G1 Kenyatta Stakes to run a huge number and impressive race. She will face older for the first time — much like Songbird did a year ago.  I’m not saying that Paradise Woods is a Songbird, but she does have flashy speed and may be able to carry these throughout the early going on the Del Mar historic “bullring.” Elate (5) is the “Hot Horse” on the grounds, after winning the G1 Alabama over It Tiz Well by 51/2 lengths and the G1 Beldame by 81/4 lengths. The world is now in love.  She may stomp these, but I avoid the hype and the low odds in a wonderful race full of contenders. I bet the 6 to win/place/show and then box the 6-2 in one exacta solidly and then key those 2 over/under the rest in a smaller version. Should have stayed with the 6 on top! Impressive winner had to alter her style a bit today and moved much earlier for the new rider. Held on to beat Abel Tasman, who ran a nice one for Bob Baffert. Paradise Woods battled for the lead in the early stages, but gutted out a nice third. Hit the Exacta and the Trifecta here. And, stuck with the 6 for a WPS saver, as well.

Very Nice Day 1.

McLean’s Breeders’ Cup Selections For Saturday:

Juvenile Fillies:

Saturday, Race 4: 1-7-9-13-4-8…Heavenly Love (1) comes into this one off two straight victories — each by 5 lengths or over. One of those was going short on grass and the other was going around two turns for the first time on dirt.  Meaning? Special filly. Moonshine Memories (7) comes into this one off three straight wins and has finished strong in each.  Daughter of Malibu Moon was highly regarded as a yearling and ever since. Training very well and is back on the track where she won 2 in a row. Tough. Alluring Star (9) is a speed ball from the barn of Bob Baffert.  He has trained her very long breezes to put more wind in the lungs. Last time out in the a.m., she went 7Fs.  Don’t be surprised if she carries them deep into this one. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 choices in the exacta.  I then key those 3 over  (only) the rest of the numbers in a smaller version.

Turf Sprint:

Saturday, Race 5: 3-6-1-7-12-10…Despite every effort I made to find another horse to win this race, I couldn’t find one better than the 3YO filly who will be facing older colts — again.  She beat them last year as a 2YO, and she has beaten them once already this year.  Why not in the Breeders’ Cup? Training super and my only question at this juncture is whether or not she will take to the firm going, having not seen a grass course like this one — ever. Marsha (6) is another filly, although this one is a year more advanced at 4. She has faced colts all her life and has put together an impressive resume of 15 ITM finishes out of 17 starts. Ran 2nd at Longchamp in a G1 in her last and seems to be ready for this challenge. Disco Partner (1) seems to be the best of the NA lot, coming off a win in his last in the Belmont Turf Sprint.  He has 4 wins in 5 tries this year, and has never been better.  I bet the 3-6 (both) across the board and then box the two fillies in one exacta and then key the two over/under all the rest in two more.

Filly & Mare Sprint:

Saturday, Race 6: 11-2-9-4-7-12-14…Unique Bella (11) is one super talented filly. Only time she was beaten was in her career debut on June 23, 2016 at Santa Anita. Off a step slow that day, she came running to finish a game second. Has run 5 times since then. The closes any filly has come to her at the finish is 21/4 lengths — and that was this March when she went to the sidelines immediately thereafter with sore shins. Comes into this one off an easy win and several impressive breezes. Figures to be unmatched. But she is a 3Yo faces older for the first time, and she can’t afford a misstep at the start again. Paulassilverlining (2) is a daughter of Ghostzapper who is as game as any racehorse in the land. From April through July, she won 3 straight Graded Stakes events — each one by a neck.  Faltered in the G1 Ballerina when it appeared she was dragging a bit. Freshened since then by trainer Chad Brown and looks the part once again. Finley’sluckycharm (9) is super quick and super fast. The big question for her is the distance — 7 furlongs. She has won at the distance this year, but it is stretching her outer limits. Vulnerable. Finest City (4) and By The Moon (7) both could hit the board. I bet the 2 (take note) across the board and then key the 6-2 over/under in the exactas. I take a solid 6-2 box, as well.

Filly & Mare Turf:

Race 7: 9-14-6-13-7-8-12-1…Lady Eli (9) deserves; has earned your trust and support. What a damn filly. Guts. Determination. Will to live. Now, time for Glory. How can anyone root against this girl? Seriously? It would have been the tribute of an industry if all the other parties decided not to entry; or better yet, scratched.  If the bettors of this land want to organize a strike, it should have been for that purpose.  That would actually mean something good. She deserves that kind of tribute for her last race. If you don’t know her story, do yourself a favor and go look it up and read it. Makes even the most callous of jerks cry. But the more I thought about it, the filly wouldn’t want to go out with a walkover. She would want to win; nose to nose; hoof to hoof. So let’s the games begin. Rhododendron (14) won the Group 1 in Chantilly on Oct. 1. Game as heck in the finish of that one. Looks to be the one to beat, although she has a very difficult post that makes her more than a bit vulnerable. Cambodia (6) will be saddled by my good friend Tom Proctor, who is having a super Fall. Rooting for him, as well, and this filly loves this surface, having won back to back Grade 2s here this summer. My longshot play is Goodyearforroses (13), who draws outside, too. This one will have to break well to obtain a good stalking position without losing too much ground.  But if she does, without using too much energy, she can make a run under a top lawn jock in Corey Nakatani. Dacita (7) is hard to knock. I bet the 9 to win/place/show and then key over/under all the rest of the numbers here.  Gosh, I hope this filly wins.

Sprint:

Saturday, Race 8: 2-6-8-7-5-9-10…Drefong (2) may be the best horse to run over these two days for great races. The only time he’s lost a horse race since Oct. 24, 2015 when he was off a step slow and ducked in in his career debut — came here in July when he ducked in at the start and dumped rider Mike Smith.  Every other time, he has won. The smallest win margin was in this race a year ago when he won the BC Sprint by a meager 11/4 lengths. The smallest margin of victory other than that was 31/4 lengths. The man. Mind Your Biscuits (6) was awful in the G1 Forego in his last out, but other than that he is normally a monster in the last 1/4 of any race. He looks to be back on his game, and he is sure to make a run late. Roy H (8) is 7-2 ML and I find that to be really low and I would be shocked if those odds didn’t slide up at PT. Ran a good one last time out and has a game second here in the Bing Crosby. I bet the 2 to win/place and then key the 2 over the rest of the numbers strong, strong, strong.  If you want to cover, do it in the horizontals (Doubles, Pick 3s, etc).

Mile:

Saturday, Race 9: 10-5-12-8-9-14-2…Ribchester (10) gets my top slot here after much thought and study. Tough, tough race. But this one has 6 starts this year with 3 wins, 2 seconds and a third in nothing but Group 1 races abroad. He has 4 wins, 3 seconds and 2 thirds lifetime at this distance. He has not ducked a single horse or a single race, and comes into this one off a tremendous performance where he ran 2nd, but edged Churchill. The choice. World Approval (5) is in top form, no doubt. Has 4 wins in 5 starts this year, including an inspiring 21/2-length victory over Lancaster Bomber (4) in the G1 Woodbine Mile in the last out. Never beaten at this distance. Roly Poly (12) is a full sister to juvenile U S Navy Flag. Comes from a great family. Connections choose to take on the colts in this spot — which is very aggressive and somewhat questionable. Tough post makes the job even tougher. My top longshot here is Home of the Brave (9) at 20-1 ML. Beat Suedois (8), who is 6-1 ML, two races back. And, now he gets the services of Mike Smith. Take note. I bet the 10-9 across the board and then key the 10-9 over/under all the other numbers in the exactas.

Juvenile:

Saturday, Race 10: 5-11-1-3-2-6-12-4…Free Drop Billy (5) is the most talented 2YO, two-turn horse in the country right now. The son of Union Rags can close and will close with a rush. Just needs a decent trip and an opening.  If he gets it, the rest of the country will get it. Super talented Bolt D’Oro (11) has been super promoted and super hyped. Too bad most horses — especially the young ones — can never live up to that standard. He has a history of breaking slowly.  If that occurs today, from this post position and against this talent, he will be toast. Beware of the downside. U S Navy Flag (1) is the focus of my “Pedigree of the Day” focus piece today.  Worth reading.  While he may be trying the dirt surface for the first time against a really top notch group of colts, I would NOT dismiss this guy.  Comes from the same female family that produced two Kentucky Derby runner-ups in Menifee and Desert Wine. Take heed. I bet the 5-1 across the board and then box those two in one nice exacta and then key the 5-1 over/under all the rest of the numbers.

Turf:

Saturday, Race 11: 5-3-4-12-9-10-13-8…Ulysses (5) ran third in the Arc in his last against the great Enable. Three races back, he ran second to her in the G1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. In-between, he won the Juddmonte International at Ascot. The son of Galileo is a man, but figures to make his own racing luck in this spot today. Huge rider switch to flamboyant Frankie Dettori, who despite his arrogance can ride. Highland Reel (3) won this race a year ago, and, eerily, comes into this one in similar fashion. Two wins and a third in 5 starts this year. Decorated Knight (4) could make this a European sweep. Another son of Galileo has lost to Ulysses twice and Highland Reel once in three of the last four. The top American figures to be Beach Patrol (12), but he is parked so far wide that it has to compromise his speed to some degree. My top longshot? Seventh Heaven (9) is 20-1 ML and has two tough runs in a row. But if he can run back to May form, watch out. I bet the 5-9 to win/place/show and then key those two over/under all the rest of the numbers listed. I box the top three choices in one exacta, as well.

Classic:

Saturday, Race 12: 8-1-5-11-6-10…West Coast (8) is a 3Yo facing olders for the second time in his career, but this will be the first time he’s eyeballs this caliber. Yet, the son of Flatter is certainly capable. He has won 6 of his last 7 races, and the lone setback was by a head in the Lexington Stakes and came on a head-bob at the wire. Like the great Arrogate (1) a year ago, he won the G1 Travers Stakes and here’s the thing: West Coast finished that 11/4-mile test in nearly the same fractions as his stablemate; just a tick off the last 1/2 mile time and nearly the same last 1/4.  This one is 6-1 ML and I think he drifts up on the odds board before PT. My choice. Arrogate appears to be back to near the same horse who won 7 in a row before being hit by a bout of exhaustion from the trip to Dubai, and, perhaps, a preoccupation in watching the fillies go by in the shed row. Never doubt the mastery of trainer Bob Baffert, who handles both of my top two choices. The guy is that good. Gun Runner (5) is the modern day fancy of the betting public after his runaway wins in the Stephen Foster, the Woodward and the Whitney Stakes this summer. He has never beaten Arrogate, though, and opted to run in the BC Mile a year ago to avoid him. Question mark until he does. I bet the 8 to win/place/show and then key the 8-1 over/under in the exactas.

Good Luck &

All the Best/Gene