The two-day showcase for horse racing’s elite begins Friday at picturesque Keeneland Race Course in the heart of the Kentucky bluegrass. Not only do I love to watch the great equine athletes I’ve followed all year long slug it out on the grandest of stages, but as a bettor, the value in each Breeders’ Cup race just jumps off the page. Be right even once, and you and your loved ones could be having a merrier Christmas.
The story lines are endless, but there’s no doubt Triple Crown champion American Pharoah is the headliner, trying to win the Classic in his final race before beginning a second career as the nation’s most-sought-after stud. Even if betting isn’t your thing, tune in for what is sure to be a day full of jaw-dropping efforts from the most powerful athletes on the planet. Young horses, older horses, males, females, turf races, dirt races … the Breeders’ Cup has it all.
There’s no shortage of betting opportunities, with a total of 13 races (four Friday, nine Saturday) spanning the two days. The key to betting races like this – where multiple Grade 1 winners can be 20-1 or higher in a race because the fields are so deep – is to pick your spots. Have a plan and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to key horses you love, even if the price says it can’t win. There’s nothing more Breeders’ Cup than a $50 winner.
I’ll give three horses I like in each race (race numbers correspond to that day’s card at Keeneland), and hopefully you can use all, some or none in constructing a winning wager. Have an opinion, and stick to it!
Race 6: Juvenile Turf, 12:30 p.m. Friday
No. 7 Ray’s The Bar (20-1)
No. 14 Hit It a Bomb (9-2)
No. 8 Airoforce (4-1)
Quick thought: Most grass races at the Cup are dominated by European invaders, especially the 2-year-old races. Ray’s The Bar was bred in Great Britain but has been in the hands of one of America’s finest turf trainers. Has huge upside in third career start but no chance we get 20-1. I’ll take 8-1 and pound the win button.
Race 7: Dirt Mile, 1:10 p.m. Friday
No. 9 Tapiture (10-1)
No. 3 Liam’s Map (even)
No. 5 Lea (8-1)
Liam’s Map enters in career form and cuts back after two monster races at 9 furlongs and stands out on paper as the quickest horse. He likely will be one of the shortest favorites over the two days, and if he breaks well and gets a clear lead, it’s over. But the horse to his inside – No. 2 Bradester – could have a say early, and if so, Tapiture will be rolling late and could get there at a number for a barn that’s been on fire locally.
Race 8: Juvenile Fillies Turf, 1:50 p.m. Friday
No. 7 Sapphire Kitten (10-1)
No. 3 Alice Springs (6-1)
No. 14 Last Waltz (20-1)
I liked the fight Sapphire Kitten showed when headed by the likely favorite in this race – No. 8 Harmonize – in the local prep race, but she ultimately fell a neck short in her second career start. Should take a big step forward for connections that love winning at this venue. Alice Springs looks the most dangerous of the Euros, and Last Waltz has an abysmal post but is a must-use in exotics.
Race 9: Distaff, 2:35 p.m. Friday
No. 9 Stellar Wind (12-1)
No. 4 Stopchargingmaria (5-1)
No. 1 I’m a Chatterbox (8-1)
Stellar Wind, a 3-year-old who was the post-time favorite in the Kentucky Oaks but endured a rough trip from the 12 hole, has been lightly raced since. She won both of her races over the summer, but the last of those was in August. She enters fresh and her midpack/closing style should put her in a great position to mow ’em all down in a race that projects to have a swift pace. Many, many contenders in the signature race Friday that likely will crown the champion female horse of the year.
Race 3: Juvenile Fillies, 9:05 a.m. Saturday
No. 2 Tap to It (8-1)
No. 7 Nickname (4-1)
No. 10 Songbird (7-5)
Stacked with champion pedigree and potential superstars, Saturday’s kickoff race is one to enjoy over a cup of coffee. Songbird enters as a strong favorite with three eye-catching wins, but there are three East Coast fillies that have yet to stretch out to two-turn races. Tap to It, a big filly and daughter of Tapit, should relish the stretchout and drew favorably. Songbird is speedy but will have to be used early from the outside draw, and may get company up front from No. 5 Forever Darling and Nickname.
Race 4: Turf Sprint, 9:45 a.m. Saturday
No. 12 Ready for Rye (10-1)
No. 11 Marchman (15-1)
No. 9 No Silent (15-1)
One of the most competitive races is ripe for a winner at a price. Likely favorite No. 5 Lady Shipman is lightning fast but faces the boys for the first time. Would be a great story if she wins, but a better story for the wallet if we get one of the three off-the-pace runners home first from good outside posts. Ready for Rye needs to step forward but has shown she likes the sod and enters with three straight strong wins. No. 3 Undrafted oozes class and should be used in any exotics.
Race 5: Filly and Mare Sprint, 10:25 a.m. Saturday
No. 3 Taris (12-1)
No. 11 Judy the Beauty (6-1)
No. 7 Wavell Avenue (12-1)
Taris is loaded with talent and should rebound from the clunker last out if she finds a way to rate behind the expected torrid pace. Judy, the defending champ, exits a tough trip and offers nice value at anything near her morning line.
Race 6: Filly and Mare Turf, 11:10 a.m. Saturday
No. 3 Legatissimo (8-5)
No. 6 Queen’s Jewel (12-1)
No. 5 Photo Call (12-1)
The Europeans hold a strong hand. Legatissimo has raced in five straight Group 1’s at five venues and has three wins and two seconds by a nose. Looks huge, but Queen’s Jewel offers value for serious connections. A few talented American horses are in the field, but look a cut below.
Race 7: Sprint, 11:50 a.m. Saturday
No. 5 Runhappy (3-1)
No. 13 Private Zone (5-2)
No. 4 Limousine Liberal (15-1)
This race tugs at my heart strings, as arguably my two favorite horses still in training go head to head. Runhappy is blazing fast and as long as he survives the break, doesn’t get trapped and has the lead after 2 furlongs, he wins as the fastest horse. Private Zone, who loves to be on the lead, will be forced to stalk from the outside. That isn’t ideal, but this warrior won’t spit the bit.
Race 8: Mile, 12:30 p.m. Saturday
No. 1 Grand Arch (15-1)
No. 4 Mondialiste (15-1)
No. 9 Esoterique (7-2)
A slew of Europeans are entered here and any of them have the credentials to win, but I’m siding with the horse-for-course in career form. Grand Arch boasts three wins and three seconds in six races at Keeneland and a softer turf course is not an issue. Love the rail draw for this tactical runner who will have the best chance to hold off the powerful late runners.
Race 9: Juvenile, 1:10 p.m. Saturday
No. 5 Cocked and Loaded (12-1)
No. 9 Exaggerator (6-1)
No. 3 Greenpointcrusader (4-1)
If you’re a fan of the Kentucky Derby, tune in for this one as the winner of this 2-year-old showcase likely will head into 2016 as the early Derby favorite. Cocked and Loaded made a huge middle move behind a swift pace at Churchill Downs in winning his first two-turn race. Had a blazing workout here two weeks ago and his high-percentage trainer couldn’t be more confident.
Race 10: Turf, 1:50 p.m. Saturday
No. 10 The Pizza Man (15-1)
No. 1 Golden Horn (4-5)
No. 6 Twilight Eclipse (20-1)
The huge favorite here is as classy as they come – 7 for 8 lifetime with the lone loss by a neck – but is trying to buck a huge slice of history. No Arc winner has come back to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf following the short turnaround from the early October race. Golden Horn is the one to beat, but The Pizza Man is all heart and will be screaming down the lane hoping to give his backers some extra pepperoni on their victory pie.
Race 11: Classic, 2:35 p.m. Saturday
No. 4 American Pharoah (4-5)
No. 9 Honor Code (5-1)
No. 3 Frosted (12-1)
What was shaping up to be an all-time Classic took a huge blow when classy mare Beholder was scratched Thursday. Now it could simply be the coronation for the Triple Crown champion, who should be alone on an easy lead and coast wire-to-wire. If a pace duel develops – which looks unlikely – Honor Code will benefit as the deep closer appears to be sitting on a huge effort.
▪ Vitals: Thirteen races (four Friday, nine Saturday) at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.
▪ TV: Noon-3 p.m. Friday (NBCSN); 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN), 1-3 p.m. Saturday (KSEE-24.1)
▪ Wagering options: Club One Casino and The Big Fresno Fairgrounds will host bettors Friday and Saturday. At Club One on Friday, entry is $10 and betting will be available in the Polo Lounge. On Saturday, entry is $15 and includes a buffet and seating in the banquet hall. At The Big Fresno Fairgrounds, entry is $5 each day.