Handicapping thoroughbreds is extremely hard, and handicapping them on the biggest days of the year, like the Breeders' Cup, is particularly tough. Every so often, though, there is something that makes itself pleasingly obvious. The great mare Tepin gives us one such situation. How do we know that she can win the Mile? We know simply because she won it last year and has performed at an exceptionally high level since that time. We don't know if she is going to win this race, but we do know that she is capable of winning the race. That is way more than half the battle, and figuring out if horses are capable of winning is almost never this easy.
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So, can Tepin win the Breeders' Cup Mile? Unequivocally. Will she? That's a tougher question. Let's look at eight factors to evaluate where the likely Mile favorite sits as the big day nears:
Big races: There is certainly no shortage of big-race experience here. She didn't just win the Breeders' Cup Mile - she commanded it. It was an impressive showing, but not her only one. That was one of 11 graded stakes she has won, so she has faced top horses time and time again and done just fine. Outside of the Mile, the most impressive victory was in June. She headed over to Ascot, faced some of Europe's very best, and won a very hard-fought contest. It was a tour de force and a statement that she is truly a world-class mare.
Last race: She has run twice since returning from Ascot, and we need to look at both races to try to get a sense of where she is at. Warning - this will make you a little nervous about her prospects. The Ascot race was June 14. Her next race was the Woodbine Mile on Sep. 17. There was a three-month break, so it was reasonable to assume she would be fresh. She won, and she oozed class as she did it, but it wasn't nearly as dominant a showing as it typically had been earlier in the eight-race win streak. Next, she headed to Keeneland for the First Lady. On that day she was just off the pace early on like she normally is, but when it came time for her to make her move she just didn't have it. Photo Call ran the race of her life that day, and Tepin couldn't chase her down. She finished second. Was it just a bad day? Or is she tired and falling off her form? Like I said, this should make us nervous.
Effort: It sure feels like that Ascot performance took a lot out of her. We don't necessarily need to panic, though. Last summer she finished second twice in a row and seemed a stride or two off her best. But then she won the First Lady and then the Mile - and six more races after it. In other words, that last effort was far from ideal but isn't in itself disqualifying.
Distance: We know she can win at a mile because she won the Mile. In nine career starts at this distance she has seven wins and two runner-up finishes. She was born to run this distance. She's never run at Santa Anita, and hasn't won in her only two appearances in California, but the distance won't be a factor.
Works: She fired a bullet at Saratoga on a busy work day a week before the First Lady. She had her first work since that race at Churchill Downs and looked good. She's always been a good worker, and that hasn't changed yet. It will be interesting to watch her mornings at Santa Anita to see how she takes to an unfamiliar track.
Jockey: Julien Leparoux has ridden this horse in 14 races. She has 11 wins and three seconds in that time. Before Leparoux took over she was far less impressive. The match between horse and rider is just ideal. Leparoux has ridden in Southern California in the past. He's not nearly as good there as he is out east, but he's still an obvious asset here.
Trainer: I'm a Canadian, so I'm biased towards Mark Casse. He wasn't born up here, but in Toronto he has become one of the best trainers the country has ever seen. He's becoming ever more successful south of the border, too. The guy can flat out train. He won two Breeders' Cup races last year, and those certainly won't be his last. He's among a very small handful of the best trainers in the game, and he's a big asset here.
Race shape: Chances are pretty good that Photo Call, who won the First Lady, will again set the pace in this one. She typically leads out and then fades - she just forgot the fade part last time out. Tepin will likely be right behind her, or right near her. Race Shape is typically less important both on grass and in shorter races, but Tepin will be able to run the race she wants to race here. It's just whether she is good enough to capitalize when the chance arises.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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