Not surprisingly, the recent history of the Breeders’ Cup Turf has been dominated by European invaders. Six of the last seven winners have been from Europe. The lone exception was at Monmouth Park in 2007, and that was over a track that was so wet and soft that races wouldn’t normally have been run on it if it weren’t the Breeders’ Cup. That wasn’t something the Euros were comfortable with and it showed.
That won’t be an issue this year as the sun is shining and Breeders’ Cup day should be hot and sunny with nice, hard turf. The Europeans will be happy, and they will again be tough to beat — though East Coast-based Point of Entry will be looking to have something to say about that. Here’s a look at the most interesting runners in the 12-horse field along with some betting predictions. What stands out from this field is how top-heavy it is — three or four strong contenders and a bunch of high-risk horses at big prices:
St. Nicholas Abbey (7/2) - Last year’s winner is back for another shot at the glory. We know that a double is possible because two European horses in the last 10 years — High Chaparral and Conduit — have done it. It’s probably more of a coincidence than something meaningful, but both those horses completed the feat at Santa Anita. It’s interesting and a little informative that he is not favored here despite winning last year — though he could be by post time. Since he won he has raced seven times and won just once, so he hasn’t been dominant by any means. Last time out he was a very underwhelming 11th in the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, last year he came into the Turf off of a fifth in the Arc, so that’s not necessarily a factor. The course suits him, and he can use Lasix here unlike in Europe, so he will be tough. He’s far from the most impressive horse we’ll see on Saturday, though.
Point of Entry (3/1) - In a race dominated by Europeans, the favorite on the morning line is an American. The Shug McGaughey runner has won five in a row, and he is clearly the top turf horse in North America right now. The question, of course, is whether that is enough. The challenge is that he is facing better horses than he has faced this year, and he will have to have the best race he has ever had to win here — especially because the Europeans will thrive on the hard turf. One reason to like him, though, is McGaughey. He’s a strong trainer, and he really hates to travel. The fact he brought his horse across the country is an indication he’s ready for a fight.
Shareta (7/2) - This Irish-bred, France-based runner is the other strong Euro, though his recent form hasn’t been much better than that of the defending champ — he was ninth in the Arc just ahead of St. Nicholas Abbey. This is a four-year-old filly running against the boys, and a female horse has not won this race since 1991. That’s a concern. You can essentially throw out the Arc for her and St. Nicholas Abbey because the turf was very wet and heavy and it suited neither of them. This filly was second in that race last year, and she has beaten this year’s winner Solemia, so she clearly has some game. I think she may even be the best European runner, but her gender makes it a challenge to bet her too heavily.
Trailblazer (6/1) - This guy gives me a headache. He is a Japanese horse that has only raced outside of Japan twice. Japanese racing is quite unique, so it’s really hard to judge horses that race there. One race was in Hong Kong, so is only somewhat helpful. The other, though, was at Santa Anita early in October, and he was a strong second running just a mile — much shorter than his ideal distance or the mile and a half he will run here — and posted a strong 104 Beyer. He’s probably going to be competitive, but backing him requires a leap of faith.
Optimizer (20/1) - This is a strange story. Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas had to know this was a strong turf pedigree, but he insisted on running him in all three Triple Crown races this year. He was crushed each time. It was ugly. He finally wised up and switched surfaces, and the horse rewarded him with three strong turf outings, including two wins in a row and a graded stakes win last time out. This is a huge jump in class, but he’s bred to run on grass forever and is improving rapidly. He could be a factor in exotics at a fat price.
Dullahan (12/1) - If we are going to talk about one three year old who was in the Triple Crown this year we may as well talk about both. Dullahan was third in the Derby and a disappointing seventh in the Belmont. He stayed on dirt for the Haskell, tried synthetics in the Pacific Classic, and then switched to turf in the Jamaica. He won the Pacific Classic over strong Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite Game On Dude, but he was a disappointment in the other two races. He was considered for this race and the Classic, but the truth is that neither spot was any good for him and he should have just stayed home — or looked for another spot to run on the synthetic surface that clearly suits him best. I am really not a believer in this horse in this spot — which probably means he’ll win by 10 lengths.
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