By Barry Faulkner
Favourites have won a third of the Breeders’ Cup races when they have been held in California, beginning at the now defunct Hollywood Park in 1984.
I think there are a trio of contenders at the weekend who are more than worthy of their place at the top of the market and I have suggested three who may be worth opposing. Three to believe; three to leave…
BOLT D’ORO (Juvenile, Saturday 10:58pm)
Mick Ruis’s pupil comes into this race with just the sort of profile that cries out to favourite-backers ‘Get stuck in!’ And the evidence for his place at the top of the market is compelling.
He’s the only runner in the Juvenile with a triple digit speed figure already in his locker. The Beyer team awarded him that after his romp in the Front Runner G1, over the full Breeders’ Cup Juvenile trip at Santa Anita five weeks ago. That was the second time he had been given a significantly improved number compared with his previous start and there is every indication that there is more to come. His nearest rival on the figures (Firenze Fire) has to improve ten points to even match this lad’s current mark.
He has shown a good finishing kick on all of his three starts, all under local veteran Corey Nakatani, and, after heads turned for home on his last start, bolted in – if you’ll pardon the pun. He’s also won twice over this strip and his recent work has been pleasing so what’s not to like?
Bolt D’Oro will be banker material for many.
LADY ELI (Filly and Mare Turf, Saturday 9:00pm)
This lass is one of the ‘story’ horses at the Breeders’ Cup. After winning her first six races, three as a two-year-old, including the Juvenile Turf, she had what looked like a minor accident after claiming the Belmont Oaks in July 2015. Stepping on a nail seemed no big deal initially but she showed signs of developing laminitis, a potentially life-threatening condition. Remarkably, she responded so well to treatment that she returned to training early last year.
She is undoubtedly a battler who doesn’t like getting beaten. Overall, she won 10 of her 13 starts and finished 2nd in the other three, missing by ¾ length, a head and a nose! Mind you, she can leave things pretty late herself. Although her supporters will have been relieved that, on her last start in the Ballston Spa G2 at Saratoga, she was victorious by a relatively luxurious 1¾ lengths.
Blessed with just the sort of sharp finishing kick that is essential in the short Del Mar straight to go with her stout constitution, Lady Eli comes into this as my idea of the winner and at the time of writing is a very backable price.
DREFONG (Sprint, Saturday 9:37pm)
My approach is always to try to beat the favourite. I tried and I tried and I tried to beat Drefong, but couldn’t.
True, there are a few in here who could test him. Three-year olds Takaful and Imperial Hint, together the more venerable Roy H could try to challenge him for the front end early but they’ll have to be prepared to go through half a mile no slower than 44 seconds. The downside is that they are drawn 7, 10 and 8 respectively and, with Bob Baffert’s charge coming out of post 2, it’s definitely advantage to Drefong.
The Silver Fox probably loves to win this race as much, if not more, than any race at the Breeders’ Cup with its requirement for raw speed, not surprising given his background in quarter-horse racing. He has also proved adept at getting one ready to repeat, as he did with Midnight Lute in 2007 and 2008. Last year Drefong’s final prep was a big win in a Grade 1 at Saratoga at the end of August going seven furlongs and that pattern has been repeated in 2017.
Baffert is clearly a creature of habit but, if it works, why change? Drefong can prove him right again on Saturday.
MOR SPIRIT(Dirt Mile, Friday 10:05pm)
Mor Spirit travels to Del Mar after a long lay-off but with a dazzling performance when last seen, taking the Metropolitan Mile in the middle of June at Belmont by 6¼ lengths from Sharp Azteca. That was his third win from four starts in 2017 and he’s another horse with a Beyer figure edge compared with his rivals based on that run. My difficulty is that he will be the second horse in two years coming into the Breeders’ Cup with a top number arising from the Met. Last year Frosted earned an eye-popper but never matched it in his three remaining races last year, including in the Classic.
It’s true this ridgling won’t be facing the likes of Arrogate or California Chrome but there are still accomplished opponents to tackle, notably Accelerate, who finished 3rd in this division last year behind Tamarkuz and has shown improved form in 2017.
Mor Spirit will have plenty on his plate to get the job done and looks too short to me.
LADY AURELIA (Turf Sprint, Saturday 7:37pm)
My problem with Lady Aurelia is that she’s just too short a price in the betting.
True, she has looked very impressive when winning and even getting beaten over here. And she wasn’t troubled on her one start in US this year when collecting the Listed Giants Causeway over five and half furlongs at Keeneland in April. Although, even her most ardent admirers will concede that she didn’t beat much there.
A lot has been made of Marsha’s ability to tackle the turn. However, as a two-year-old she did break her maiden over the six-furlong course at Catterick, which features a pretty tight left hand turn and followed that up with a win around the half turn at Dundalk going five. She’s proven that she is a pretty smart sprinter.
However, Marsha isn’t the only other sharp sort in here. Tough old lags such as Disco Partner, Pure Sensation and Bucchero (who recently reverted to turf in some style at Keeneland) will ensure that it won’t be a cakewalk for the favourite.
Lady Aurelia will have plenty on her plate and, at her current price, she’s not for me.
UNIQUE BELLA (Filly and Mare Sprint, Saturday 8:14pm)
If there is one runner that has the backstretch dogs barking at Del Mar this year, it’s Unique Bella.
A perfect four for four in 2017, she began the year being targeted at the Kentucky Oaks. On her third start of the campaign, following facile victories in a pair of G2 events, she took the scalp of the eventual Oaks winner Abel Tasman in another graded event in early March. Following that score, she developed shin problems and veteran trainer Jerry Hollendorfer backed off, allowing her time to recover and develop. By all accounts that is what happened and she has returned a bigger and stronger filly.
OK, so what is my problem?!
First, it’s her price; it’s very short for such an inexperienced filly.
Secondly, she hasn’t yet wowed the figures gang. Her achievements, when measured by the Beyer team, do not put her at the top of the class and her best numbers have come against patently outclassed opponents. (She was only once sent to post as big as evens and twice won at 1/10.)
Thirdly, although she did face older opposition for the first time on her return, they were a largely unaccomplished group and this is the first time that she’s properly joining in with the big girls at playtime.
Unique Bella may be the champion in waiting that shrewder rail birds than me have been raving about this week but, if she wins, it will be without my modest monetary involvement.