The Breeders' Cup Juvenile is a big race for one huge and obvious reason - the winner becomes the early Kentucky Derby favorite. Last year Nyquist became the second horse ever - and the second in the last decade - two win both this race and the Derby. So, will we see the birth of another superstar here? Or will we have forgotten about this winner by the time next May rolls around? We won't know either way for months and months, but for Triple Crown addicts like me just the chance that we are witnessing the dawn of true greatness is enough to make this a highlight of every year's Cup card.
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If a superstar is born here it will be emerging from a crowded field. As I have looked at this race early on there are seven horses that are virtually impossible to differentiate from each other, and a couple of others that will likely go off at longer odds that are worth a look. Tough race - just as it should be. It is also the second leg of the Pick Six, so it has particular significance this year. Here's how it sets up:
Classic Empire (4/1 morning line): I'm really bullish on trainer Mark Casse right now, so this horse has that going for him out of the gate. He also looked very good in his last race, which was the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. That race meant more last year when the Cup was at Keeneland, but it is still significant. He lost his rider two starts back, so the Breeders was his first full race effort since Early July. He's proven at the distance, though, and his breeding is strong - he's a son of Pioneerof the Nile, who also sired some colt named American Pharoah. There is a lot to like here.
Not This Time (7/2): He has won his last two by nearly 20 combined lengths, so he certainly knows how to win with authority. The first of those was in a maiden against no one, though, and the second was on a muddy track. He's also coming off a longer layoff - last race was Sept. 17. He has been working really well, though - he fired a bullet on a busy work day at Churchill Downs two works back. I like him - just not quite as much as Classic Empire at this point.
Gormley (5/1): The breeding is solid here - sire Malibu Moon's son Declan's Moon was the two-year-old champion in 2004, and Kentucky Derby winner Orb is a son as well. He's also a California horse, so he doesn't have to face the stress of a cross-country flight. Some feel that that is more important than I do. He comes in off a win in the FrontRunner Stakes in his stakes debut last time out. That's quite the honor - the last two Derby winners, Nyquist and American Pharoah, also won that race at two. I'm not crazy about how he has been working, but I like the horse a lot.
Practical Joke (6/1): He has two grade 1 stakes wins in New York to his credit, so he is obviously legit. The fact I am talking about him fourth is just an indication of how deep this field is. The last trip was pretty troubled, so the fact that he won is a sign of his heart. This is his first time around two turns, though, and he hasn't won by much. I like what we have seen, but I'm not convinced he has a ton more to give. A factor, but not my favorite.
Syndergaard (6/1): If this colt's name seems familiar you must be a baseball fan - he is named after the Mets starter Noah Syndergaard. The young stud hurler was at his last race. He wasn't a lucky charm, though - he finished second by a nose behind Practical Joke. Before that he crushed a field in a minor stakes at Saratoga, but that was on a muddy track so isn't likely too relevant. Nice horse, but I'm not yet convinced he is quite at the same level as the best.
Klimt (6/1): If we are looking at strong young horses we have to consider the Bob Baffert horse. He was a disappointing second in the FrontRunner, finishing three lengths behind Gormley. He has won three straight handily before that, though all were at shorter distances. I think there is room to grow here, and there is a good chance that he's an underlay.
Theory (12/1): This is the second Todd Pletcher horse - he also brings us Syndergaard. He won in July in his debut and then didn't run again until Oct. 15. There he looked rusty early on but still won handily. There is lots of talent here, and he will likely only get better. He has never run more than six furlongs, though, so the distance is a concern. If the price is right, though - especially if he gets ignored in favor of the star of the Pletcher stable - then he could be worth a close look.
Three Rules (8/1): The final horse we will look at is the true wild card in the field. He's unbeaten in five races. He has never won by less than 3.5 lengths, and he won his last one by 10. He posted the co-high Beyer three races back. There is real talent here. The issue, though, is that he has been racing in minor stakes at Gulfstream. In other words, he has beaten his opponents badly, but they are a collection of nobodies. Can he handle the huge jump in class, or is he diving in over his head?
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