Road To The Breeders’ Cup 2017: Trends and Storylines
Will Arrogate make amends?
What happens when a supposed super horse throws in one of the most unexpected clunker races in recent memory? Bettors have already begun making critical – and premature – assumptions about what to do with Arrogate following the superstar’s distant fourth-place finish in the San Diego Handicap July 22. Every horse deserves a mulligan now and again, and Arrogate will get his in the form of the August 19 Pacific Classic.
Should he run back to his brilliant form that included consecutive victories in the Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, all is forgiven and Arrogate is again the clear-cut choice to win the 2017 Classic.
A repeat of the San Diego Handicap probably induces an early retirement announcement and something in between those extremes will leave the bettors in limbo. By all accounts, however, Arrogate is working well for the Pacific which will make that race all the more interesting.
Will the Euros dominate the turf?
In the Filly & Mare Turf (run since 1999), European horses have claimed eight winners, but upon closer examination the majority of the American-trained horses were simply private purchases who began their careers, or raced significant portions of their careers in Europe.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile has been better to American-based horses historically with notable performances by Tourist, Tepin and Wise Dan in recent years. 2017 looks like a very average year for American turf horses, so don’t expect a reversal of these trends. The narrow configuration of the Del Mar green might be the only factor working in favor of the American horses.
Which race is most likely to produce an upset?
3 of the last 4 runnings of the BC Juvenile Fillies have produced tremendous upsets with Champagne Room (33/1) winning last year and Take Charge Brandi taking the 2014 renewal at 66/1. In general, a large field of young horses – many of which enter the race unproven at the distance and over the surface – is anything but a sure bet.
Bettors should pay close attention to the remaining preps for two year-old runners, noting subtleties such as horses who seem best suited for more distance and horses conpromised by poor trips. It’s also good practice to spead in these races on multi-race wagers.
Buy or Sell?
The strapping colt won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint impressively last year as a three year-old, but the verdict is still very much out on this Bob Baffert trainee regarding his chances for a repeat. Drefong missed an anticipated start in the Malibu Stakes at the end of 2016 and was considered likely for a trip to Dubai to run in the Golden Shaheen in March, before missing that opportunity as well.
All signs point to physical setbacks and the 2017 debut in the Bing Crosby saw him dump rider Mike Smith two strides out of the starting gate. Baffert has a history of getting horses ready for the big day, but Drefong seemingly has a lot to overcome before November 4.
2017 Three Year-Olds: SELL
In good years, late-summer, early-fall signifies the time when three year-olds are said to be physically ready to tackle older horses. Marquee races like the Grade 1 Jockey Club Goldcup at Belmont Park have witnessed the likes of Curlin (2007), Summer Bird (2009), and Tonalist (2014) defeating older rivals and announcing themselves as legit BC Classic contenders in recent years.
This year’s crop of three year-olds has been inconsistent and unspectacular to put it mildly. Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming came back to flop in his two subsequent races – the Preakness and Jim Dandy – and the rest of the bunch has been equally uninspiring.
Advice to bettors: don’t waste your time picking a three year-old in this year’s Classic.
Lady Eli: BUY
It’s easy to root for Lady Eli, the hard-knocking, harder-trying five year-old superstar who is a few necks away from being undefeated in 11 career starts. Lady Eli began her career 6 for 6, including a dominating win in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. The superstar and fan favorite was just hitting her best stride in 2015 with a recent victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks when she stepped on a rusty nail and became stricken with the potentially fatal hoof disease laminitis.
Always the battler, Lady Eli defeated triumphed over the disease and returned in August of 2016 in the Ballston Spa where she ran a valiant second – the first loss of her career. She came back to win the Flower Bowl Stakes and ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the Lady Eli train keeps rolling. She’s 2 for 3 this year with a pair of grade 1 wins and will be a force in the Filly and Mare Turf once again.
Bob Baffert: SELL
The veteran California-based trainer is one of the sport’s legends, winning at a dizzying clip and accomplishing unprecedented feats year after year. Once again, Baffert will show up to the Breeders’ Cup in his home state with a loaded deck.
That said, Baffert’s runners are almost always overbet, and this year the white-haired trainer could be vulnerable in some key races despite the credentials of his starters.
In brief: Vale Dori would have to turn the tables on Stellar Wind and beat a very talented field in the Distaff; Arrogate suddenly looks beatable in the Classic; Drefong isn’t the same Drefong that won the Sprint last year and Mor Spirit will have his hands full in the Dirt Mile. If there were a prop bet about Baffert getting shut out in these four races, we’d eagerly take 10/1.
The big mare is a win-machine and has enjoyed a brilliant career, losing just once – a nose defeat in last year’s BC Distaff – in 14 starts, while banking nearly $5 million. She’s 2 for 2 this year, notching a pair of grade 1 wins. So why are we selling?
For starters, the Distaff will feature possibly the deepest and most talented group of any Breeders’ Cup race with Stellar Wind, Vale Dori, Paid up Subscriber, Abel Tasman, Paradise Woods and others lined up to tackle Songbird. More importantly, however, Songbird has looked less than spectacular this year despite winning both starts. She was all-out to win the Delaware Handicap at 1/20 odds and that came after she appeared to be headed by Paid up Subscriber in the stretch of the Odgen Phipps. A short price in the Distaff is likely, so we are willing to pass.
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