Breeders’ Cup is the annual time to take your best shot at some deep fields of talented horses. Horseplayers don’t get chances like this very often, so we’d love to take advantage of a limited opportunity. For certain, there’s nothing easy about handicapping BC races. Horses arriving from around the world make sorting out Cup contenders a bit like trying to find matching socks in the dark. There’s lots of touch and feel, some guessing, but little clarity and no certainty.
Best advice? Fine one or two runners that you really like. Hang your hat on them and spread in races where you feel unsure about outcomes. One thing’s for sure, there will be surprise winners. Always are. If you can be skilled and lucky enough to create tickets that lean on your best opinions and also include aggressive winners at big prices, riches can be yours.
A life changing score? Well, guess that depends on your life, doesn’t it? From this corner of the room we’ll be happy cashing a ticket or two Friday and Saturday. We’ve spent past BC Sunday’s licking wounds. We’ve also spent some celebrating in another country after a big hit. Know what? We don’t remember any of the wound-licking specifics, but we sure do recall how sweet the margaritas tasted by that private pool.
Below is one man’s humble opinion of Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Late Pick 4 and suggested tickets.
Mile -- $2 Million
Three-Year-Olds & Upward
One Mile (Turf)
Overview: Last year, for only the second time in history, Euro-based runners finished 1-2-3 in this race. Don’t think that will happen again in this talent-rich, deep renewal. A couple of locals must be considered, especially since there doesn’t seem to be an abundance of early speed. North American-based runners, as reported in Xpressbet’s Free Breeders’ Cup Wager Guide, hold a 22-15 edge over invaders and there have been 10 filly or mare winners.
#1 Master of the Seas is a 3-year-old colt that hails from the recently torrid Charlie Appleby outfit. He was seventh in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October at 11-1. He’s only started twice since May—also third in the Gr. 2 Unibet Joel Stakes in September. We know enough not to lightly dismiss anything trained by Appleby. The rail should guarantee a ground saving trip for this guy and if he should get through on the inside…? In a wide-open race he should be considered.
#2 Smooth Like Straight is a Cal-based 4-year-old who’s finished second to #6 Mo Forza in his last two races. Like ‘Mo, this guy is a tough competitor with 7 wins in 18 starts, 6 seconds and 2 thirds. He’s been first or second in 5 out of 5 Del Mar starts and 8 of 9 first or second at the distance! You may beat him, but you’ll know you’ve been in a fight. This colt also has some early speed in a race without much of that and with this post position should be in a great spot throughout.
#3 Space Blues is a Charlie Appleby runner (also #1 Master of the Seas) that won his last start—Group 1 Quatar Prix de la Foret at Longchamp by 2 lengths. That was over a ‘heavy’ course and Del Mar’s layout will be the opposite of that. No matter, this 5-year-old horse is in great form—he won the race before that, too—so he has to be considered in the Mile. He races from off the pace, so he’ll need a trip and he could get overplayed based on his recent success in Europe. A winner of 10 of 18 with 3 seconds and 1 third, he can’t be dismissed but may not be a great bargain is he takes too much money.
#4 Raging Bull is a 6-year-old trained by Chad Brown. Normally, that’s enough for anyone to include this horse on their tickets. The complete horse has 1 win this year and 1 last year against top stateside competition. He comes from off the pace and will need to get lucky with a clear trip. Rolling the dice with this 1 for 1 at Del Mar runner isn’t the worst idea but he’ll need things to break well for him.
#5 Vin De Garde arrives from Japan to find a deep field of foes. This 5-year-old horse was second in the Gr. 1 Dubai Turf at Meydan in March going one mile and one-eighth. He’s more familiar with the one-mile trip and has 4 wins in 10 starts there. He would be surprise winner…and we know BC has had those.
#6 Mo Forza is a pro with 8 wins in 14 starts, 3 seconds and 1 third. He’s had physical issues and only started twice this year—both wins. He loves Del Mar – 3 for 6 with 2 seconds and the distance 6 for 8 with 1 second. He’s got a 4-race winning streak that stretches to August of ’20. A defeat in the one mile and three-sixteenths Gr. 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (too far) is the only blemish on what could be an impressive 8-race winning streak! There are so many things to like about this guy that we’ve got him as our top pick and a ‘must use’ in here.
#7 In Love was razor sharp in winning the Gr. Keeneland Turf Mile last out at 12-1. This 5-year-old gelding has now won 3 in a row for low-profile trainer Paulo Lobo and comes from well off the pace. He will need to get lucky turning for home to find room for his late kick. Along with others, he may find the short-ish Del Mar stretch a challenge.
#8 Hit the Road has won 6 of 12 overall, 2 of 4 at Del Mar and 6 of 11 at the distance. He’s got a nice style, too, that should find him just off the early pace. He’s been trouble prone and a clear trip would enhance his chances. Mile foes #6 Mo Forza and #2 Smooth Like Straight have gotten the best of him in the last 2 but by slim margins. If one likes either ‘Mo or ‘Smooth, and we do, we’ve got to give this fellow some consideration.
#9 Mother Earth is a 3-year-old filly making her ninth start of ’21. That’s quite a bit of racing for a young Euro-based lady. Facing older foes is nothing new for her—her last five races have been in open competition and her most recent—fifth in the Gr. 1 Queen Elizabeth II came against older males. Overall, she’s just 3 for 16 and at the end of a long season.
#10 Blowout is a front-running Chad Brown-trained 5-year-old mare who took the Gr. 1 First Lady at Keeneland in wire-to-wire fashion. She’s won 5 of 14—2 of those wins this year after 3 second-place finishes in as many tries last year. There’s not a lot of speed in here and that gives her a bit of a puncher’s chance to hang around.
#11 Got Stormy is a 6-year-old mare who’s won 2 of 5 this year. She has some tactical pace in a race without much of that. She defeated males most recently in the Gr. 1 Four Star Dave at Saratoga. She’s 1 for 1 at Del Mar and 10 for 20 at the distance. At six, we’re not in love with her chances but contention runs deep in this race and she’s a pro.
#12 Pearls Galore stretches out from a runner-up finish in the Gr. 1 Prix de la Foret against males last out to this one mile journey at Del Mar. That’s nice progression for this 4-year-old filly with 4 wins in 11 starts. That race was over ‘heavy’ ground and the firm Del Mar course could be more suitable to the multiple Gr. 3 winner. She just missed in the one-mile Gr. 1 Justify Matron Stakes in Ireland. She’s under the radar in here but we like that prep. The post does her no favors, however.
#13 Casa Creed has no speed and last won the six-furlong, Gr. 1 Jaipur in June at Belmont. He was also pre-entered in the Turf Sprint and often falls between route and sprint cracks. Just 2-12 at the distance.
#14 Ivar is one of two Lobo-trained runners in here. This 5-year-old horse hasn’t won since taking the Gr. 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last year, just before finishing fourth in the BC Mile. He was just two lengths behind upset winner Order of Australia. He’s made just two starts this year, so one wonders if he’s as good as he was last season.
#15 Real Appeal needs a defection to draw into the race and this post will be a ‘killer’ going one mile on turf at Del Mar.
#16 Queen Supreme is a 5-yearold mare that was well beaten last out in Great Britain. She is a Group 1 winner in South Africa and would have her hooves filled in the Mile while breaking from this outside post position.
Must Use: #6
Chances: #1, #2, #3, #7, #8
Distaff - $2 Million
Fillies & Mares, Three-Years-Old & Upward
One Mile & One-Eighth
Overview: The Distaff could be the crowning of Letruska as the top filly or mare in North America…or, the race could produce a stunning upset of the top ranked mare. #1 Private Mission will have oodles to say about how this one turns out. 24 of 37 winners of this race have been 3-1 odds or less, including in 9 of 14 events in California. Kentucky-based trainers have won the last 4 Distaffs and 3-year-olds have win the race 11 times.
#1 Private Mission is a 3-year-old filly from the Bob Baffert stable with early speed and the rail. That’s a dangerous combination. Add to the mix that this filly has won her last 3 starts—most recently a pair in graded races—and you have the makings of an upset possibility. This filly needs to improve to defeat #6 Letruska, for sure, but she’s young, sharp, CA-based and in the hands of a Hall of Fame trainer. If she doesn’t win, she at least will make #6 Letruska work early.
#2 Royal Flag is a 5-year-old, Chad Brown-trained mare coming off a strong win in the Gr. 2 Beldame. She’s won 6 of 12 lifetime and been a victim of Letruska’s twice before, although she’s been close to the favorite. A sharp filly or mare always is a danger and if #1 Private Mission can make #6 Letruska hustle up front…maybe it sets up for this mare.
#3 Malathaat is a 3-year-old filly with 6 of 7 wins to her credit. She’s likely to be reasonably close to Letruska in the early going as jockey John Velazquez won’t want to let the favorite get too far away. Malathaat will need to continue to improve to topple the giant and probably need help up front to soften up #6 Letruska.
#4 Blue Stripe makes a first US start in here from native Argentina. She’s a mystery horse who’s been in the country for a long while, training in California and pointing for this race. If she can win the Distaff of an extended layoff…salute!
#5 Clairiere exploded with her best race ever when winning the Gr. 1 Cotillion at Parx last out. That effort either was a one-off performance or the start of something big. She comes from off the pace and would appreciate an up-front melt down. This field is much better than the one she faced outside of Philly but a sharp 3-year-old filly is not to be trifled with.
#6 Letruska is a deserving favorite and is expected to make it 6 wins in a row and 7 of the last 8. She’s a speedy mare who dares foes to either run with her early or catch her late. She’s had a long season—7 races this year with breaks in Feb., May, July and September. She’s clearly the one to beat and, while there are suitable challengers with upset-minded connections, she’s probably going to be a handful.
#7 Horologist is a 5-year-old mare with speed that will hound favored #6 Letruska early. That strategy may not help this runner, as she gets a bit late in races, but it may help some of the others in here.
#8 Shedaresthedevil is a 4-year-old filly with 9 wins in 16 starts, a Del Mar victory in 2 tries and a win at the distance in 2 attempts. She’s trained by Brad Cox, the man of this year and last. She’s got speed and will stalk #6 Letruska and #1 Private Mission early, waiting for one or both to crack. If they do…she’ll attempt to pounce like she did in winning the Gr. 1 Clement Hirsch here at Del Mar in August.
#9 As Time Goes By is trained by Bob Baffert and appears to be headed back toward her best. She finished second to stablemate #1 Private Mission last out. She’ll need to keep progressing to win this.
#10 Marche Lorraine invades from Japan and would surprise.
#11 Dunbar Road closed well to be second to #6 Letruska last out at Keeneland. She also was unable to run down the Distaff favorite in the Gr. 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga. To this 5-year-old mare’s credit she’s been close. She’s another that would appreciate a hot pace battle up front.
Pace Makes the Race: #1, #6
Late: #2, #5, #8, #11
Turf - $4 Million
Three-Year-Olds & Upward
One Mile & One-Half (Turf)
Overview: There’s not much speed in this race, but what’s there should keep things honest enough up front. 9-5 favorite and defending champ Tarnawa is drawn in the 13 hole and that could pose a problem for her. Euros have won 17 of the last 22 Turfs, 5 of the last 6 and 7 of 14 in California. Race favorites have been in the top 3 finishers the last 6 years. 5 fillies or mares have won the race, 3 of the last 6.
#1 Rockemperor probably will save ground from this rail position for trainer Chad Brown. He’s a 5-year-old with a sharp last out Gr. 1 Turf Classic win that fits pretty well in here. It was the best race of a 20-start career, so he’s either back on track or knocked out by the run. In Brown’s hands he could just be finding his best stride again. He’s 1 for 3 at the distance and a big price.
#2 United loves Del Mar – 3 wins, 2 seconds in 6 starts and has 1 win and 2 seconds at the distance. Most recently he earned a nose victory in the Gr. 2 John Henry Turf Cup. That was a good effort and at 6-years-old is still posting relative numbers in every other race. This is not one of the ‘other’ races. He was eighth in this event last year but nearly shocked the world when second at 50-1 in the Turf in ’19.
#3 Domestic Spending is a 4-year-old from the Chad Brown stable with 6 wins in 8 starts. This guy’s always right there and can’t be dismissed, even at a new distance. He has a win in his only Del Mar turf start. He’s earned the right to be on your Turf ticket.
#4 Astronaut has advanced steadily for trainer John Shirreffs and won the Gr. 2 Del Mar Handicap last out. He comes from off the pace and will need to improve more to have a big say in here. He’s one of those you could use in exotics in case he makes another forward step.
#5 Tribhuvan is a 5-year-old Chad Brown-trained performer with 5 wins in 20 starts. He’s got some pace in a race without much of that other than from #6 Acclimate. Expect these two to lead the field as far as they can go. Left alone on the lead this gelding is dangerous, but he should have company early.
#6 Acclimate will set the pace for the Turf but it’s doubful he can last at this distance where he’s 0-3. The 7-year-old is just 1 for 6 over the Del Mar turf.
#7 Walton Street scored a huge win for hot trainer Charlie Appleby last out in the Gr. 1 Canadian International. That was the 7-year-old’s first race in North America, and he was a short-priced favorite. Recent Timeform Ratings suggest he fits on his best day, and he’s clearly feeling well. This season he’s had the best form in a long time. He’s 5 of 13 at the distance and a victory would strike a blow for greybeards everywhere.
#8 Broome exits a poor finish in the Gr. 1 Arc and has had a long season with 9 starts. Obviously, the 5-year-old horse is hickory, but it’s asking a lot to cross the pond for the Turf after such a long campaign. Still, it’s Aidan O’Brien and he knows what’s what.
#9 Sisfahan is an interesting option based on a runner-up effort in the Gr. 1 Preis von Baden behind eventual Arc winner Torquator. This 3-year-old French-bred and mostly German-raced colt has 2 wins in 6 tries and has never been worse than third. He comes from well off the pace, so he’ll need some luck but his form is interesting.
#10 Yibir scored a powerful romp in the Jockey Club Derby Invitational at Belmont last out for trainer Charlie Appleby. His figs are a bit light for this, so he’d need to do better, but the 3-year-old gelding has won 5 of 11 and 2 of 3 at the distance. The post is a concern.
#11 Gufo disappointed as favorite last out in the Gr. 1 Turf Classic at Belmont. Before that he won two races, including the Gr. 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga. He’s won 2 of 3 at the distance and was third in his only Del Mar appearance. He’s a fit on his best day, but that last effort isn’t inspiring for the 4-year-old.
#12 Teona is a 3-year-old filly with a pair of wins over her elders in the ungraded August Stakes at Windsor and in the Gr. 1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp. Her figs are slow (although the last was a Timeform Rating of 110. Favored Tarnawa hits in the 125 range.) She’s young, lightly raced and sharp so she’s worth a look at a price. That 12-hole is no bargain.
#13 Tarnawa won this race at nearly 5-1 odds last year. The 5-year-old mare has raced just 3 times since, with a Gr. 3 win and a pair of Gr. 1 near misses, including last out in the Arc. She’s tough and so is the #13 post going around 3 turns at Del Mar. That’s a challenge she didn’t have last year when drawn inside. At a short price, she’s worth trying to beat.
#14 Japan is from Great Britain and starts for Aidan O’Brien. He was second to #11 Gufo in the Gr. 1 Sword Dancer and then didn’t fire in the Turf Classic behind #1 Rockemporer. Tough post for him going around 3 turns.
#15 Bolshoi Ballet will need help to draw into the race and will be up against it from this post going three turns. He won the Gr. 1 Belmont Derby in July but hasn’t scored in two US tries since.
#16 Channel Maker is a 7-year-old who’s been off his best for a while.
#17 Mogul will need several defections to find himself up against it from an outside post.
#18 Friar’s Road needs help to make the starting lineup.
Use: #3, #9
Others to Consider: #4, #7, #10, #12
Classic - $6 Million
Three Year Olds & Upward
One Mile & One-Quarter
Overview: Who can run with #5 Knicks Go early? Answer that question and you’ll have a better idea of what might happen at the finish of this race. We think he’s the fastest early and late in here and something will need to go very wrong for him to lose. Cal-based runners have won 7 of the last 14 Classics on the west coast…but not the last 2. 8 consecutive winners have been 6-1 or less.
#1 Tripoli came to life when moved from turf to dirt. He’s another example of a horse who clearly appreciates one surface over the other. He was capable on the turf, but is a Gr. 1 Pacific Classic winner on dirt—over the surface and at the distance of the BC Classic! Runners he will face Saturday are much stronger than those he defeated here in August and he was over 8 lengths behind Medina Spirit in the Gr. 1 Awesome Again last out.
#2 Express Train likes Del Mar—3 wins in 5 tries—and often finds the top three in races—11-14 at least third. His best races are a smidge below what he’ll need to win this one and he was 7 lengths behind Medina Spirit last out.
#3 Hot Rod Charlie has developed wonderfully for trainer O’Neill and won the Gr. 1 Pa Derby last out. He’s one of the leaders of a strong 3-year-old division and would bolster his case for divisional honors with a win here. He’s usually close to the early pace and that’s probably where he’ll be again with local leading rider Prat. This colt has been beaten by two of these foes twice each, so he’ll need to turn the tables on them and defeat some strong older horses. That’s a lot to ask but this guy’s development and running style give him some chance to win and make him a probable in-the-money player.
#4 Essential Quality is the current top 3-year-old on the basis of 5 out of 6 wins this season. His only loss came when fourth, beaten one length, in the Kentucky Derby. He’ll again face 2 that finished in front of him—8 Medina Spirit and 3 Hot Rod Charlie. This colt has enough speed to sit just behind whatever early pace might develop. Jockey Luis Saez will ask the question turning for home and expect a response similar to the one he’s gotten in five races and not the one he experienced at Churchill Downs.
#5 Knicks Go has speed and, while others in the lineup have gas, no one has enough to really run with him. That’s where this race will be decided. How fast will Knick’s Go need to go to keep clear of the early competition? If he does what he’s done in 4 of 6 starts this year and get a clear early lead, he’s going to win. If he’s hooked, he’s shown to be vulnerable. While several in here are successful front runners, we don’t see another horse with his kind of speed. If we’re right about that, he’ll race home well in front to conclude BC festivities.
#6 Art Collector has won 3 consecutive races since moving to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s barn. He’s won those races on or near the lead and pretty much been a front-running type of horse. He’ll be facing more quality early speed in this race than he has in any of his 8 lifetime victories, so there’s a question how he’ll respond to the challenge.
#7 Stilleto Boy was second and third behind #8 Medina Spirit in his last two starts. This is a deeper field so he will be challenged like never before.
#8 Medina Spirit is the Kentucky Derby winner who’s been able to continue to win for Bob Baffert, defeating older in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita last out. He’s 1 for 1 at Del Mar and won the Shared Belief in his next-to-last start. He’s been most successful taking the early lead and grinding foes into submission. He’s not as fast early as Knicks Go, so he’ll probably sit second behind that one and they could go 1-2 around the oval. Of course, if Knicks Go stubs his toe, Medina Spirit will be in a perfect spot to pass him late.
#9 Max Player is an improving 4-year-old colt that won the Gr. 1 Jockey Club last out for trainer Asmussen. He’s much better this year than last when fifth in the postponed Derby and Preakness. Has he improved enough to challenge in here? Maybe. He’s run the kind of races recently that suggest he at least fits. He should stalk the early pacesetters and have his chance to close in the lane. Mostly, his improvement has us interested in him as an exacta chance.
Catch Him To Win: #5
Should Run Well: #3, #8, #9
($.50) Late Pick 4 ($30)
Race 9: #1, #2, #3, #6, #7, #8
Race 10: #1, #6
Race 11: #3, #4, #7, #9, #12
Race 12: #5
($.50) Late Pick 4 ($15)
Race 9: #6
Race 10: #1, #2, #5, #6, #8, #11
Race 11: #3, #4, #7, #9, #12
Race 12: #5