As I went through the fourteen Breeders’ Cup races to establish the three runners to put in the ‘believe’ section and the three to ‘leave’, I have to admit it was tougher to find the believes than the leaves.
That is probably unsurprising given the poor performance of favourites in the Breeders’ Cup races held in California from 2000 onwards. Those of you who voraciously devour all the content on this excellent microsite will be aware that the favourite stats are not great – to say the least!
The new Millennium has seen just 26% of favourites succeed out West, delivering a loss of 18% for local punters, which is greater than the California Tote takeout which indicates that betting random numbers would have been a better approach.
It gets even worse when considering dirt races where the win percentage drops to 22% and the losses plummet to a dire 37%. The relief comes from following the turf jollies where a 31% win rate delivered a modest 5% profit.
Watch the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
Coincidentally, my three believe runners are all on the turf, with the three leaves competing on the main track!
As mentioned above all my believe horses are due to contest their divisional titles on turf with two of them arriving from this side of the pond, with the third a local trying defend her crown.
Aidan O’Brien has an excellent record in this division and won it the last time it was held in California, courtesy of Mendelssohn, who recorded a pretty straightforward score. He stalked the pace on the inside after breaking from post 1 before asserting in the stretch. He arrived at Del Mar off a 2nd place finish in the Dewhurst.
Arizona also travels to California after taking the runner up spot in the Dewhurst and looks to have a more impressive CV than his predecessor at this stage. He won the Coventry at Royal Ascot before preforming with credit in his three subsequent Group 1s.
Timeform have him rated higher than Mendelssohn going into the Juvenile Turf but he may need to be, given that the local challenge looks a bit stronger this year, but not strong enough to put me off.
The main concern may be his outside post - 12 of 14 - although it looks like he has a fair bit of dead wood immediately inside him and I think he has the tactical speed to overcome it.
Arizona looks likely to me to add to his handler’s list of Juvenile Turf winners despite an inconvenient draw which may be the most difficult opponent he faces.
Chad Brown’s magnificent mare is back to defend the crown she won last year, running down Godolphin’s Wild Illusion. It was a cracking effort as Charlie Appleby’s charge had arrived at Churchill Downs in top form having annexed two Group 1s, the Nassau and Prix De L’Opera on her two prior starts.
Sistercharlie has added a hat-trick of top grade scores from three runs this year heading into this contest. She doubled up in the Diana at Saratoga and the Beverley D at Arlington before taking the Flower Bowl at Belmont at the beginning of last month.
There has been some discussion whether her Beyer figure for her last run – 10 spots below her Beverley D rating – indicates a decline. Poppycock! They ambled through the early stages there making a big figure impossible and, to me, given her late closing style, I think it is more to her credit that she got the job done under an ice-cool Johnny Velazquez.
A match with Magical was not to be – what an encounter that would have made - and it means we can crown the Stateside Queen of the Turf - Sistercharlie.
Circus Maximus has had an interesting season to say the least.
A victory in the in the 10½ furlongs Dee Stakes at Chester put him firmly on the Derby trail but he appeared not to stay the 12f trip. Even so, it was a bit of a surprise to find him dropped back to a mile for the St James’s Palace Stakes for his next appearance with so many lucrative ten furlong targets available.
He put up a cracking performance to win at Royal Ascot and the Sussex Stakes over the same trip at Goodwood was the next obvious target. Unable to handle the resurgent Too Darn Hot there, it was back up in trip, over York’s 10½ furlongs for his next assignment but, again, he appeared to struggle over the extended distance.
Next time, back at a mile, he got the better of Romanised by a nose in the Prix Du Moulin at Longchamp in one of the most controversial finishes in Europe this year. I’m not alone in believing his number would have been taken down a few years ago under France’s less liberal stewarding regime back then.
With hindsight, his win at Chester can be viewed two ways. The negative is that a victory over outclassed opposition led to the belief that he could stay a trip but the positive is that it proved that a tight left-hand turning track, as he would encounter at Santa Anita, would hold no terrors.
Circus Maximus looks a bet to me at the current price 3-1 and I’ll be keeping an eye on the local tote to see if the locals look like letting him go off at a more generous price.
As mentioned above, although all my believe horses are competing on turf, my trio of dodgy favourites will all try to prove me wrong on the Santa Anita dirt track.
This satirically named filly (see Peter Fornatale’s blog) has developed into a more than useful sprinter this year, after a couple of juvenile runs that hinted that there was better to come. She followed her maiden score with a 4th place finish in the Frizette, behind subsequent last year’s Juvenile Fillies winner Jaywalk.
Kept to sprinting in 2019 she has collected the winner’s share in four of her five starts, the most recent two at this long sprint trip. So, what is not to like?
One of my favourite angles for opposing horses is when they move out of ‘restricted’ competition; in this case taking on her elders. Playing in the big girls playground is a very different proposition to beating up her own age group as she has done in her four victories.
She was beaten on her one run in an open-aged group and, although an early bump didn’t help her cause, I think this front-end type could struggle again in a pace laden event, including local speedball Selcourt.
Covfefe has got a couple of fancy figures to her name but they were both effectively time trials, she won’t have that luxury on Saturday.
The Dirt Mile has been a race that has struggled to excite over the years but this time around there is one contender to pique interest.
That horse is Omaha Beach. Although Richard Mandella’s charge took five goes to lose his maiden certificate, he put himself firmly in the picture for the 2019 Kentucky Derby winning a division of the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby on his next two starts. Unfortunately, a trapped epiglottis derailed him from the Triple Crown trail and a long layoff loomed.
He returned at the beginning of October in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship going six furlongs where he got the better of a real arm wrestle with Shancelot, a major contender for the Sprint later on the card.
Omaha Beach really had to dig deep to get the better of his rival by a head there and that is my main concern. Although that was a sprint trip and may bring him on, I think it may be likelier that he will regress. That combined with the fact that there are solid opponents in the group is enough for me to oppose him.
It will be a major achievement if Richard Mandella can get Omaha Beach back to take this but I’m prepared to oppose his trainee, particularly at a price that looks skinny enough.
Sometimes pundits know they are putting their necks in a noose – I did it last year with Enable and got strung up! This year’s noose runner is another filly – Midnight Bisou.
It is undeniable that she has had a stellar 2019 winning all her seven starts, three of them Grade 1 contests. She has started no longer than 17-10 and was odds-on in four of them – 1-20 on one occasion - and has faced no more than five rivals in any of her races.
She’s beaten Elate, who is headed to the Classic, on three occasions and overcame trouble in running last time.
She ticks a lot of boxes but is taking on the toughest group she has faced this year with a strong combination of accomplished older lasses and up and coming fillies. The former group includes Paradise Woods, ideally boxed on the inside, and Wow Cat who was 2nd in this division last year – one place ahead of ‘Bisou’.
The youngsters are headed by Chad Brown’s Dunbar Road who has a nicely progressive profile.
Again, my decision is price driven. I think she could easily go off at odds-on and at such a skinny price, I am prepared to let Midnight Bisou beat me.