If ever the adage ‘pace makes the race’ applied to a race it certainly applies to the Filly and Mare Sprint.
Morning line favourite Covfefe (1) generally likes to get on with things and being drawn inside means she looks sure to be used early. The problem for her is that she is unlikely to have things her own way in the long run out of the seven furlongs chute at Santa Anita.
Heavenhasmynikki (3) is a potential speed spoiler. She’s been largely beating up local opposition in her birth state of Ohio but did win a G3 at Belmont wire to wire in May. A greater pace problem for the favourite may come from local speedster Selcourt (7) who took the field along in the FM Sprint last year. She only knows one way of running and looks guaranteed to be vying for the lead. If she can trap Covfefe on the inside – which has reportedly been an unfavourable spot - then the chalk will have plenty to overcome.
The two lasses most likely to benefit from a pace meltdown are Come Dancing (4) and Bellafina (6). The former is a tough cookie with an identical four from five record as the favourite and, although she has an obvious chance, there doesn’t appear to be much juice in her current price. I prefer BELLAFINA(6) who looks sure to have a nice trip, just off the speed. Like her three-year-old males chums she was on the classic trail in the spring but her best run this year came at this trip. This is her third start back from a lay off and I get the feeling that Simon Callaghan’s trainee is sitting on a big run.
Selection: BELLAFINA (6)
Watch the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
Well, this a proper crapshoot as the locals might say. 5-1 the field is a good summary of how difficult this is to unravel and it could simply be won by the runner who gets the breaks.
One thing that is for sure is that it is very disappointing that not one sprinter from this side of the Atlantic is having a go but that may be a blessing in disguise for my view of the race. After Aidan O’Brien decided not to send his two pre-entries, the door opened for SHEKKY SHEBAZ (4) and Final Frontier (9). The addition of these two speedballs to the party means this is guaranteed to be a burn up.
Shekky Shebaz (4) has upped his game in two starts since joining Jason Servis – he isn’t the first to do that – and although he was edged out in his last run by Final Frontier, that was over six panels and he gets a 4lb pull in the weights. I think with an ideal post, a shorter trip than last time – he’s two for two at five furlongs - and a firmer surface persuades me to have a few bucks to win.
Selection: SHEKKY SHEBAZ(4)
This looks like a ‘Are you with him or against him?’ type of race. The ‘him’ in question Omaha Beach (5).
He was knocked off the Kentucky Derby trail with a breathing problem just after he had collected a major prep, the Arkansas Derby, beating Improbable (2) by a length. After a near seven months lay-off he returned with a gutsy win in the Santa Anita Sprint Handicap, where he outgamed Shancelot, who runs in the Sprint later. For me there are two reasons to be cautious. First that was a tough old return run and he could easily bounce out of it. And secondly there’s a lot of speed in here so he’s unlikely to be able to boss the race as he has done in his two turn wins against his own age group so far.
For me the bet at the prices is IMPROBABLE (2). He took in a couple of the Triple Crown races before having a midseason break. He won a minor stake in late August and his chance in the PA Derby next time all but disappeared with a poor break. Rafael Bejarano gets aboard for the first time and with a stalking trip, could get the job done to add another Breeders’ Cup success to the resume of Bob Baffert.
The horse with the best early speed in the race is Todd Pletcher’s Coal Front (7). He’s had a relatively quiet time after winning the Godolphin Mile in Dubai at the end of March but will really have to be the speed of the speed in a pace packed contest, but his recent win at Parx showed that a return to the peak of his powers isn’t out of the question.
Selection: IMPROBABLE (2)
The defection of Magical on Monday deprives us of potentially of one of the great Breeders’ Cup duels. As it is, it looks very difficult to find an alternative to the hot favourite SISTERCHARLIE (2). She’s the defending champion and, although a deep closer, has shown she doesn’t need a particular pace set up to show her best. She’s won when the field have gone though the first six furlongs in a tick over 70 seconds and last year prevailed at Churchill Downs with the leaders setting a pace over eight seconds slower! Her most potent weapon is a devastating late kick and that has looked as sharp as ever this year. Regular jockey Johnny Velazquez knows the acceleration he’s got aboard this lass and knows how to use it!
As could be expected, there is a solid numerical challenge from this side of the pond. Aidan O’Brien ships in Fleeting (3) and Just Wonderful (11) to join his son’s Iridessa (1), Billesdon Brook (4) for Richard Hannon, Fanny Logan (12) – John Gosden, with Castle Lady (8) - Henri-Alex Pantall and Prix de l’Opera winner Villa Marina (9) - Carlos Laffon Parias representing France.
On what we have seen so far some sort of case can be made for most of them but if one of ‘ours’ is to take this, improvement is needed, alternatively the favourite has to misfire badly.
Selection: SISTERCHARLIE (2)
This race is a real shoot out of confirmed speedsters against a small posse of stalkers / closers.
Shancelot(6) is the most obvious front enders, having not been headed at the first call in any of his five races to date. He got a ludicrously high speed figure for his victory in the Amsterdam, against his own age group in late July but has been nailed at the wire in his two starts since. On his latest start it was Omaha Beach, who goes to post as favourite in the Dirt Mile earlier on the card, that nabbed him at the death. That was his first go in open aged company and I fear he will struggle to wire this group.
To me the most likely winner is MITOLE (4) from the barn of Steve Asmussen. He has won five of his six races in 2019, with his only defeat coming at the hooves of Imperial Hint (9) at Saratoga. His trainer has said that he may have undercooked for that run following his victory in the Met Mile at Belmont in June. He was certainly impressive in his next races when beating Firenze Fire in the Forego last time. He’s speedy enough to lie up with the pace and tough enough to be putting in strong strides when others are crying enough.
Imperial Hint (9) can’t be discounted having chased home Roy H in the last two renewals on this race, finishing 3rd last year and 2nd in 2018. His last two runs have shown that he has come back in cracking form after a trip to Dubai to tackle the Golden Shaheen. He was sent to post as 8/5 favourite for the Sprint in 2019 and will have his supporters again. He will also stalk the pace and should give his backers a bold show.
Others in the mix include locally-trained Catalina Cruiser(1), who is back sprinting after tackling the Dirt Mile last year, and Whitmore (2) who closed to take the runner up spot last year but he has looked out of sorts this time around.
Selection: MITOLE (4)
A full field of fourteen will face the starter for the Mile, a race that has been traditionally one when challengers from ‘over here’ have done rather well ‘over there’!
A strong group from Great Britain and Ireland is headed by Circus Maximus (9) who travels to California with an excellent CV. Despite trying various trips, his best runs have come at a mile where he has collected a couple of G1s (at Royal Ascot and Longchamp) and was only bested in by a rejuvenated Too Darn Hot at Goodwood. His chance is obvious and his price in the week would certainly not have put his supporters off. He has another positive and a possible negative. On the Plus side his win round Chester’s tight left-hand circuit was good experience for one facing the Santa Anita turf track. Against that the draw gods have not been too kind for one who generally races close to the pace.
Lord Glitters (12) is an in and out performer but his best form is a proper fit here and his outside draw shouldn’t be a problem for him as it will enable closing ace Jamie Spencer to drop in before mounting a late charge.
I wouldn’t completely write off Trais Fluors (4) on his first start for trainer Ken Condon as he attempts to avenge the controversial defeat of Romanised by Circus Maximus in the Prix Du Moulin.
The local defence is headed by the Chad Brown trained mare Uni (11) who will want a strong pace to run at and will be accompanying Lord Glitters looking for cover moving inside.
Having said all that, I’m having a bit of a swing for the fences at a price here with the other Chad Brown runner, and former John Gosden pupil, WITHOUT PAROLE (10). He had a pretty decent time of it last year winning the St James’s Palace Stakes but appeared to lose his way afterwards and was virtually pulled up in the Lockinge at Newbury in May. It is interesting that his handler has chosen to make this entry for his charge. He has put in a steady slate of decent works in the run to this race and has been impressing knowledgeable judges with his condition in the morning.
Selection: WITHOUT PAROLE (10)
Midnight Bisou (4) sets the standard here with her task made easier by Bill Mott’s decision to target Elate at the Classic. With an impeccable record 7 for 7, she is clearly the one to beat but my issue is with her price. Just about everything has gone her way this season as she had bossed small groups of opponents. She will have to be right on her mettle to see off this group and I’m going for a mare who has only raced once away from California and has an excellent record at this track.
PARADISE WOODS (1) finished 3rd to Forever Unbridled in the Distaff at Del Mar in 2017 and, after a quiet 2018, has returned in fair form this year. John Shirreffs has handled his charge well and, after a stuttering start put paid to her chances in the feature fillies and mares race at Del Mar, he backed off, before returning with a victory in a G2 last time. She’s a backable each way price and I find it difficult to see her not hitting the frame.
Of the rest, Dunbar Road (5) may be best of the younger generation and Wow Cat (6) who ran on into 2nd last year can be expected to put her best hoof forward after troubled trips on her last two starts.
Selection: PARADISE WOODS (1)
This is a division that has been kind to European invaders in the past with some great names on the Roll Of Honour, not least the mighty Enable last year. But not for the first time in recent years, a Chad Brown runner leads the local defence.
Many US judges were surprised when Brown aimed BRICKS AND MORTAR at the Turf rather than the Mile, doubting whether this trip was ideal for this son of Giant’s Causeway. Sometimes we just have to have faith! Since returning from a lay off of over a year this lad is unbeaten in six runs, picking up three iconic US turf G1s along the way. He’s in the hands of a master of his craft and I’m edging towards him but will not be having a heavy financial involvement.
Aidan O’Brien is represented by Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck (5) who has failed to add another win in three subsequent starts and isn’t for me together with Mount Everest (4), which I think is a fair summary of the task that faces him.
Charlie Appleby runs Old Persian (10) who picked up a G1 at Woodbine last time out. Take out a complete clunker in the Coronation Cup, the day before Annthony Van Dyck’s Derby win, and his overall form in 2019 gives him a major chance.
ALOUNAK (7) could be a lively longshot based on his runner-up effort in the Canadian International at Woodbine.
Selection: BRICKS AND MORTAR (9) – Longshot: ALOUNAK (7)
It’s the Classic but it doesn’t look like a classic Classic! To my eyes there are more reasons to be against the most of the field than with ‘em.
Math Wizard (1) was claimed for $25,000 by trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. at the end of January and he has done his trainer proud since in a number of state Derbies before providing a 31-1 shocker in the Pennsylvania version last time. However, he deserves his place at the foot of the odds board.
Seeking the Soul (2) finished 2nd in the Dirt Mile last year and there isn’t a lot of evidence that this ten furlongs trip will suit him. I’m also not sure he is as effective outside the state of his birth, as six of his seven wins have come in the bluegrass.
War of Will (4) won the Preakness and looked like he could progress as the year went on to become a major player in horseracing across the Atlantic. He will need to settle better here than in his two recent races to get back on the win trail and even that may not be enough.
Yoshida (5) finished 4th last year after bobbling at the start. He looked like the winner turning for home but didn’t go through with his effort which may have been due to being used early after his stumbling start. Trainer Bill Mott was quick to snap up the services of Mike Smith when he was relieved of the ride on McKinzie (8). He looks sure to play a part again.
ELATE (6) is Bill Mott’s other runner and she is a bold entrant, diverting here from the Distaff. The one thing that is guaranteed with this lass is the ability to see out the trip. She won a strongly run Alabama as a three-year-old and has added the last two editions of the Delaware Handicap, all at ten furlongs. That guaranteed staying power is enough to persuade me to take a chance on the one female in the field.
Higher Power (7) will be written off by many for his defeat last time out behind Mongolian Groom (9) and McKinzie (8) in the Awesome Again over nine furlongs but I think that run can be tossed straight into the bin. He completely missed the break there and had to sit and suffer behind a tepid pace that suited the winner but not the two that followed him home. He won the Pacific Classic over this trip on his prior start and is certainly a contender here.
McKinzie (8) is a bit of a puzzle. For a runner who is clearly as talented as him, and who has gone off as favourite in his six runs in 2019 – odds-on in five of them, just two ticks in the win column is not a great return. Mike Smith let Mongolian Groom (9) set his own pace last time and was unable to get past. The ride saw him removed and replaced by Joel Rosario here. It will be interesting to see whether his new pilot makes more use of him early but I can only see that tactic handing the race to the definite stayers in here. They, of course, will be hoping we get the kind of pace profile we often saw before the Dirt Mile was instituted and taking away the crazy speed types.
Mongolian Groom (9) may have ‘stolen’ the Awesome Again in the eyes of many but win it he did and it was enough to persuade his connections to part with a serious chunk of change to get into this race. Good luck to them – I think they’ll need it unless he is (again) gifted the softest of soft leads which I don’t think is likely, even though there isn’t a lot of screamingly obvious speed in the race.
Vino Rosso (10) was first past the post in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last time out, the second time he had gone under the wire in front in a ten furlongs race. Unfortunately, an equine altercation with Code of Honor (11) meant that places were reversed in the Stewards’ Room. His initial ten furlongs score came at Santa Anita at the end of May and he should be mixing it again at the business end here.
Code of Honor (11) was making it a hat trick of victories in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and is the latest example of the patient approach of his trainer Shug McGaughey. He certainly gives the impression we haven’t seen the best of him yet. If he is anything like his sire, Frankel’s full brother Noble Mission, who won the Champion Stakes as a five-year-old, owner Will Farish can look forward to the future with relish. It could easily start in the Classic.
Selection: ELATE (6)