PAULICK’S SATURDAY PICKS: A BIG DAY FOR THE EUROS

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am
By Ray Paulick

Top to bottom, this may not be the most talented group of Breeders' Cup horses that's ever been assembled, but it's the biggest handicapping challenge I can ever recall, especially considering new races like the Marathon, Turf Sprint, Dirt Mile and Juvenile Turf.

As mentioned yesterday, the Breeders' Cup Web site has loads of good information, including race schedules and post times, wagering menu, free Equibase past performances, a useful wagering calculator, a list of simulcast locations and advice for beginners. You can bet the Breeders' Cup races through any of the approved account wagering companies.

My handicapping philosophy is to beat the favorite whenever possible, since the average percentage of winning favorites is around 33%. You might discern from the following selections that I think the Europeans are going to have a big day on Saturday. The factors leading me to believe that will be true are 1) the synthetic surface that some Europeans train on; 2) the tighter medication rules that specifically ban anabolic steroids for the first time; 3) the quality of European horses being sent to this year's event.

Here's my advance prognostication on the day's nine championship races. Good luck and safe racing to all.

Special note: please be sure to check back in to the Paulick Report, beginning around 3 p.m.  Eastern, for my live blog of Filly Friday. I'll also be live blogging Saturday's nine races, beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Marathon

This looks like a two-horse race between European runner Sixties Icon and Zappa (whose namesake, the late rocker Frank Zappa, was the founder of the Mothers of Invention and was a real-life sixties icon).  That works for me, but it's an all chalk exacta. I give the edge to Sixties Icon, in part because of jockey Frankie Dettori's experience edge at mile and a half races. Zappa is sharp and may try to steal the race under Garrett Gomez. Muhannak has plenty of synthetic track experience in Europe and likes the distance. Cedar Mountain  will be closing late.

Selections: 1-Sixties Icon 2-Zappa 3-Muhannak 4- Cedar Mountain

Turf Sprint
One of the great things about the Breeders' Cup is finding a horse you absolutely love and then discovering that it's a longshot. That's the case with Only Answer, a French-based filly in the care of the legendary horseman Andre Fabre, who is in top echelon of Breeders' Cup trainers. I think she has an excellent chance to beat the boys in this spot, and Santa Anita's ace morning line maker Jeff Tufts has her pegged at 20-1 on the morning line. Jockey Olivier Peslier, in my opinion, is as good a big-race rider as there is in the world, and he knows this filly well. The downhill turf course is a tricky one for horse and rider, with the run across the main track causing difficulty for some. It's one of the best “horses for the course” plays in racing, which makes local runners California Flag and Get Funky formidable challengers in here. Fleeting Spirit has a lot of class, as does Diabolical, either of whom are good enough on their best days to win. I'm going for the price play.

Selections: 1-Only Answer 2-Fleeting Spirit 3-Get Funky 4-Diabolical

Dirt Mile

The status of Mast Track is in doubt as I write this, and I would be very surprised if trainer and owner Robert Frankel runs him on Saturday. If he is scratched, that's going to make things a lot easier for Well Armed, a Tiznow gelding who seems to have found a perfect spot here, though I'd prefer  him to have drawn more of an inside post position. The Eoin Harty runner can go to the lead or rate, depending on the circumstances, and the mile distance suits him perfectly. Surf Cat should be more effective at this distance, too, after running dull races in his last two starts. Bruce Headley has tightened the veteran up with some quick works. No one seems to have more confidence in his horse than Wayne Catalano, and there's a lot to like about Lewis Michael, who grabs the advantageous rail post. Pyro's a tough one to assess in here. His only synthetic track try at Keeneland was a disaster, but all synthetic tracks aren't the same.

Selections: 1-Well Armed 2-Surf Cat 3-Lewis Michael 4-Pyro

Turf Mile

Irish-bred filly Goldikova has made few mistakes in her eight-race career for French trainer Freddie Head, who has enough confidence to run her against colts here at her best distance. She's drawn perfectly in the four post and has big-race rider Olivier Peslier in the saddle. It's not the strongest Mile field we've seen. Shakis is a game old-timer who always finishes with a rush. If Alan Garcia can avoid traffic problems from the rail, he won't be far away at the finish. Kip Deville ran a puzzler last time out in Canada on a yielding track for Rick Dutrow. I'd throw that race out as he goes for a defense of his crown. U S Ranger doesn't win very many but usually gets up for a share of the money and has been facing tough company all year. Whatsthescript got an impossible post position on the outside.

Selections: 1-Goldikova 2-Shakis 3-Kip Deville 4-U S Ranger

Juvenile

Post positions really come into play here, with the two horses I like the most, Bushranger and Midshipman, drawn way outside, a distinct disadvantage in the relatively short run to the first turn. Munnings, who has chased juvenile division leader Vineyard Haven (not entered in the Breeders' Cup by trainer Robert Frankel) in his last two starts, draws the much friendlier rail post for his first try around two turns. That's enough to give him the edge in this spot for trainer Todd Pletcher, especially in a race without much early speed. The son of Speightstown should get the best trip under John Velazquez. Bushranger  may be the best horse and he'll have to be overcome his 11 post. Street Hero has been steady since breaking his maiden in June and remains in top form for Myung Kwon Cho.

 

Selections: 1-Munnings 2-Bushranger 3-Midshipman 4-Street Hero

Juvenile Turf
Westphalia
looks to me like the obvious choice here, and I wouldn't be surprised if he is bet down to near favoritism from his 5-1 morning line. He's in top form and has had a bit of a rest since his last win at Doncaster in mid-September. Coronet of a Baron obviously has is precocious and talented, and the shift from synthetic to turf by trainer Eoin Harty is an interesting move. Darley already has Midshipman going in the Juvenile and this gives them a good chance to sweep the two races. Of course, arch-rival Coolmore has Bushranger in the Juvenile and Westphalia in here, giving them a strong hand as well. The Darley-Coolmore rivalry will be interesting to follow throughout the two days. Bittel Road is unbeaten on turf and is the morning line choice, but he hasn't seen this kind of competition yet. Donativum is in the more than capable hands of trainer John Gosden, who knows how to have a horse at peak form when it matters most.

Selections: 1-Westphalia 2-Coronet of a Baron 3-Bittel Road 4-Donativum

Sprint
Smallest number of runners in this race since 1986, obviously a byproduct of two new races: the Filly and Mare Sprint and Dirt Mile. I doubt that defending champ Midnight Lute scared anyone away based on his only start of the year, a dismal 10th in the Pat O'Brien at Del Mar. He's worked sensationally for Bob Baffert since then, but it's hard to see him up sharp enough to beat the likes of Street Boss or In Summation. I give the clear nod here to the California horses, led by the Bruce Headley-trained Street Boss. My intuition tells me Bruce Headley didn't have the son of Street Cry cranked to the max for the Ancient Title when second to Cost of Freedom, and recent works suggest he's ready to roll here. In Summation is a thorough professional who can be counted on to run his race. Midnight Lute will be running late. Fatal Bullet has the best chance of upsetting the local horses' applecart.

Selections: 1-Street Boss 2- In Summation 3-Midnight Lute 4-Fatal Bullet

Turf

While Europe's bigshots were locking horns in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 5, Mike de Kock was bringing the top-class Eagle Mountain back to the races from a fractured pelvis and year layoff at Newmarket. The Rock of Gibraltor colt won the comeback, a Group 3 race at Newmarket, and some big money subsequently came in on the horse with a British bookmaker  to win the Breeders' Cup Turf. The former Coolmore/Aidan O'Brien runner looked sharp in a morning spin at Santa Anita is primed for a big effort. Soldier of Fortune comes off a hard-fought defeat for O'Brien in the Arc. That was just his third race of the year and he might have another good one in him. Winchester turned in a monstrous performance at Arlington Park to win the Secretariat for Dermot Weld, far surpassing his European form. This is a big step up, but he showed a fondness for American style racing in that effort. Conduit completes my all- European superfecta. American turf horses appear weak again this year, but let's not forget how English Channel romped in the 2007 Turf over supposedly superior Europeans.

Selections: 1-Eagle Mountain 2-Soldier of Fortune 3-Winchester 4-Conduit

Classic

By the time the finale rolls around, we should have a pretty good idea how European turf horses have adapted to Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride surface. I don't have the benefit of knowing that right now, so I can only speculate how Duke of Marmalade, Henrythenavigator and Raven's Pass will take to the track. But I guess we can say the same thing about Curlin, who has trained well on the track but never raced on a synthetic strip. Curlin may be the best horse we've seen in the last 10 years, in terms of his accomplishments if not his brilliance. But based on his last two victories over relatively weak competition, I think he's beatable here. But who will beat him? Go Between, a synthetic track specialist who's logged thousands of miles this year going from coast to coast? Casino Drive, the unbeaten but lightly raced, Japanese-trained sibling to two previous Belmont Stakes winners? Colonel John, the best 3-year-old in training following the retirement of Big Brown? The Aidan O'Brien duo of Duke of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator, who have combined for nine Group 1 victories on European turf this year? All have a realistic chance, but I'm taking the John Gosden-trained Raven's Pass for the upset under Frankie Dettori. The Elusive Quality 3-year-old colt hasn't gone beyond a mile, but Gosden knows from his previous experience in California that most top-class Europeans can stretch their ability out in the U.S. Raven's Pass  has had a month off since defeating Henrythenavigator in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and is in absolute top form. Curlin will run hard as always, but he's had a long year for trainer Steve Asmussen. Go Between is a steady performer for Mott, who's handled him intelligently all year. Colonel John may be the best 3-year-old, but the jury is still out on how good this year's sophomore crop really is.

Selections: 1-Raven's Pass 2-Curlin 3-Go Between 4-Colonel John

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