The Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile was a bit of an ugly duckling when it was conceived, but it has evolved, quite usefully, into the race where very good horses go to duck dominating favorites in the Classic. The reasoning goes that it is better to try and get a Breeders' Cup win on the record of a horse than to get a piece of the purse in a race that you likely can't win - even if a piece of the Classic purse could easily be bigger than the winning share in the Dirt Mile. For fans it is a good thing - it makes the Classic a little easier to bet, and it creates another fun race on the Distaff undercard. This year's race is downright compelling. I can't wait for it, in fact. There is a very strong favorite, two top-level challengers, and a few intriguing longer shots:
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Dortmund (6/5 morning line): I love this horse. What is there not to love? He's huge, fast and full of heart. He's kind of freakish and is a very legitimate favorite here. He's just a victim of really bad timing. Most years he would have been all but unbeatable in the Triple Crown. Last year he just happened to be the stablemate of some horse named American Pharoah. A freak collided with a megafreak, and Dortmund fell short. Most years a horse like this would have absolutely dominated California handicap racing. But this year he happened to run into California Chrome in each of his last three races - and would have again in the Classic. Again, a freak met up with a megafreak and wasn't quite up to the task. Well in this field he is the megafreak. He gets Martin Garcia back on board after a four-race absence. Those two have won seven of nine together, so the chemistry is strong. I'm a sucker for nice works, and on Sunday Dortmund and Garcia combined for a breathtaking one. There would not be a bigger upset in my eyes on the entire two day Breeders' Cup card than if this horse did not win this race.
Runhappy (3/1): What a mess of horse management. This guy was a total beast last year and looked just great winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Before that weekend had even ended, though, the connections fired the trainer. It was ridiculous and unnecessary drama. He ran in December in the Malibu and won while looking good. That was at Santa Anita, so we know he likes the track. But since then he has dealt with injuries and odd training patterns. He ran for the first time this year in the Ack Ack at Churchill Downs on Oct. 1 and looked just horrible - he weakened badly down the stretch and was never a real factor. Now we have to have faith that he is ready for this one. He had a pretty sparkling workout at Santa Anita on Oct. 29, so we know he still likes the track. I remain skeptical that he can shine against Dortmund here, though. And I don't understand why he is being pointed here instead of the Sprint, which seems like a much better distance for him. He's the most likely horse to beat the favorite, though.
Gun Runner (9/2): This three year old is one of the few survivors of the Kentucky Derby trail this year. He was also pre-entered in the Classic, but his connections wisely picked this spot for him. He has been out of the money only twice in his entire career, and both came on off tracks. We should look for Dortmund and Runhappy to set the pace in this one, with this guy settled just off that pace. His consistency makes him a real factor - and a nice piece for exotics. I'm not convinced that he quite measures up to the two older horses he needs to beat, though - at least not at this stage in his development. This is his first time against older runners.
Tom's Ready (12/1): Here's another survivor of this year's Derby. He won the Ack Ack last time out, beating heavy favorite Runhappy, so we know he can win at a mile. He has the look of a horse, though, that really doesn't like running around a second turn - and he'll have to do just that here. I just don't think he's good enough, but he could get a piece.
Tamarkuz (8/1): This guy is a world traveler - the six year old spent his first two years racing in England, much of the next two in Dubai, and has been in New York since June of 2015. He hasn't won here yet, but has been a solid second in each of his last two starts. Again, though, he doesn't look like a horse that will thrive around two turns. The connections are very strong so I can't rule him out, and his speed figures are solid of late, but I am quite skeptical.
Vyjack (10/1): His first choice was the Mile, but he wound up here. Three of his four races this year have been on the turf, but he had a good outing last time on dirt in August, finishing second behind top Sprint contender Masochistic. That was his first race in the barn of Phil D'Amato - he had been trained by Bill Mott before then. It could be a good move for him - he needed to have things shaken up. I think I would have liked him better in the Mile, but he's of interest to get a piece here.
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