2017 Breeders' Cup Expert Handicapping and Advice: Horses to Watch
We've broken down the key Breeders' Cup races . So now is a good time to take a step back and look at the horses that stand out as interesting beyond the favorites and most obvious picks. We'll look at live long shots as well, but what I want to focus on here is the group of horses that exist between the favorites and the long shots. These are the mid-priced horses which, for one reason or another, have found their way into my imagination. There aren't any certain winners here, but each feels at least a little better than the odds suggest and each has a high ceiling:
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Takaful, Sprint, 5/1: I'm obsessed with the Triple Crown and the trail that leads to it. This son of Bernardini stood out early on for me because of his breeding and because he is visually impressive. Unfortunately, as a young horse he just wasn't ready to run routes. In fact, he was pretty lousy. They reinvented him this summer as a sprinter, though, and finally his potential is being scratched. He has two wins and a strong second in three sprint outings, and he claimed a G1 last time out. His 107 Beyer rating last time out was solid, and he's improving quickly. I'm concerned that he'll get locked in a crushing speed duel is what should be a fast first three furlongs. If he can avoid that, though, and if Drefong isn't ready for primetime, then he could certainly be a factor. At the very least, this race could be the prelude to a stellar four-year-old season.
Solomini, Juvenile, 6/1: I know better than to ignore a young Bob Baffert colt in a top stakes race in California. This lightly-raced colt was second behind the very impressive Bolt d'Oro in his stakes debut last time out, and he has worked very well since. The breeding is excellent - he's a son of Curlin out of a Storm Cat mare - and he has improved quickly. I think Bolt d'Oro is going to be very tough to beat, but the upside is here, and the price is right.
Roly Poly, Mile, 6/1: One thing that makes a horse stand out to me at the Breeders' Cup is when respected connections make surprising choices. Aidan O'Brien has set a world record this year for the most Grade 1 races in a year, so he is certainly respected - not to mention that he has won 11 prior Breeders' Cup races. This is a three-year-old filly that has won three G1 races in her last four starts, so the talent is immense. This is a very tough spot for a three-year-old filly, though, and with the Filly and Mare Turf a more logical spot it stands out that O'Brien had the faith to put her here.
U S Navy Flag, Juvenile, 8/1: I obviously have O'Brien on the brain, because this is the second straight horse from his stable on this list. Simply put, it is odd when a top European trainer decides to enter a juvenile in a dirt race against the top American horses when he has run only on turf. O'Brien won this race in 2001 with Johannesburg. That was a freak of a horse that had already won three G1 races. This colt has won G1 races in his last two starts. He also has 10 starts, which is ridiculously more than any North American horse would have these days, so he has plenty of experience to draw on. The dirt's a concern, but I have faith in O'Brien, and I put this horse right beside Solomini as horses that could pick up the slack if Bolt d'Oro doesn't fire.
Mubtaahij, Classic, 12/1: Bob Baffert has a truly ridiculous group of runners in the Classic - four horses entered and two more that could easily have been. In the group of four this is the one that is most easily forgotten. The 'other' Baffert horse is often a good angle for bettors. Well, this could be the 'other, other, other' Baffert horse. I can't shake the feeling that that could be a mistake. This world traveler has never quite been good enough in his many attempts against top competition. He joined the Baffert stable after finishing fourth in the Dubai World Cup, and it's like he is getting a new start since the approach to training is fundamentally different than what he experienced under Mike de Kock. The horse won his first race under Baffert - the Awesome Again. It wasn't a great field, but a G1 is a G1. And he has worked well since. He could be sitting on his best race yet, and that could be enough to make things interesting.
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