Every horseplayer relishes the challenge of the Breeders' Cup pick six, with its guaranteed pool of $5 million. But bettors who study this year's races may regretfully conclude that the wager is a little too challenging.
To make picking six as difficult as possible, the most predictable Breeders' Cup events--the Distaff and the Juvenile Fillies--have been omitted from the wager. Each of the pick six's components has a 14-horse field, not one of them with an outstanding favorite. Making the card even more difficult is a wild-card factor involved in the three grass races.
A rainy month has left the Gulfstream Park turf course very soft--conditions that would force the transfer of ordinary grass races to the main track. Running on soft turf is very different from running on firm ground, yet many of the leading contenders (such as Soaring Softly, the favorite in the Filly and Mare Turf), have never competed under such conditions.
After poring over these races for hours, I concluded that I can't play the pick six because it's too tough. I'd be willing to offer anybody this proposition: Make out an imaginary $25,000 ticket for the pick six, and I'll wager that you don't hit it.
Instead, I will approach the 16th Breeders' Cup by abandoning dreams of a $5 million windfall, try to pick a few spots and, wherever possible, try to look for good odds in these wide-open scrambles. The races that befuddle me the least are the last four on the card, and so they offer possibilities for playing the pick threes.
Filly and Mare Turf: Borgia has spent most of her career competing against the best male turf runners in Europe--horses such as Daylami, Royal Anthem and Dream Well, who are all prime contenders in the Turf. By her usual standards, the Filly and Mare Turf is a soft spot. Borgia also has ample experience on soft turf and a great trainer, Andre Fabre, with past success in the Breeders' Cup.
So why is she 12 to 1 in the morning line? She hasn't won a race since mid-1997. And the 0-for-28 record of European horses in the two previous Breeders' Cups run at Gulfstream Park (in 1989 and 1992) is dampening enthusiasm for all of the invaders this year.
However, the presumption that European horses can't win in the heat and humidity of Florida is based on dubious evidence. The foreign horses who ran here in 1989 and 1992 didn't necessary figure to win under any conditions, but French runners nevertheless finished 2-3-4 in the '89 Turf. The weather might have been a convenient alibi for the losing European horsemen, and this much-publicized factor won't stop me from taking a flyer on Borgia.
Juvenile: The colts from California, Forest Camp and Dixie Union, are the class of the field. When Forest Camp unleashed an eye-catching burst of speed to win the Del Mar Futurity in September, he looked as good as any 2-year-old of the 1990s. But after he opened a clear lead in the Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita, Dixie Union grittily wore him down in the stretch. Both of them earned speed figures clearly superior to their dozen rivals in the Juvenile.
I'll box them in the exacta and use them both in pick threes. For bettors playing the pick six, the two of them ought to lock up this race.
Turf: The relative strength of European and American turf horses is often hard to judge, but handicappers got a line on them in last month's Turf Classic at Belmont Park. Dream Well had been overmatched by Europe's best horses, Daylami and Royal Anthem, but he lost by only a length--after a tough trip--to Val's Prince, the top U.S. grass runner.
Daylami and Royal Anthem both delivered superstar performances in England this year, and the best form of either would be good enough to win this race. But Daylami's most recent performance was dismal, and many observers here suspect that he is not ready to fire his best shot. Royal Anthem, however, was send to the United States a month ago, and put in the care of Bill Mott to prepare for this race. Mott has a superb record training horses for Breeders' Cup grass races (and just about every other type of race, for that matter), and his skill may give Royal Anthem the edge.
Classic: Behrens is the favorite to win this $4 million race and clinch the horse-of-the-year title, but if he is a short price in the wide-open field I am willing to take a stand against him. His best Beyer Speed Figure of the year, 117, is no better than those of many of his rivals.
He was an odds-on favorite to win his last start, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, because he figured to like the sloppy track and because trainer James Bond excels in bringing horses into races off a layoff. But after he lost to River Keen, his apologists said he had trouble handling the slop and, after all, he was coming into the race off a two-month layoff. I am unconvinced by these excuses.
River Keen and General Challenge, both trained by Bob Baffert, have delivered performances at 1 1/4 miles good enough to win the Classic. (General Challenge may be the better of the two, but he can be erratic and he doesn't handle himself well in heavy traffic.) There also is a lightly regarded horse in the Classic lineup who also figures to be a contender: Ecton Park. He accelerated impressively to win the 1 1/4-mile Super Derby over his more illustrious stablemate, Menifee, and he has the look of an up-and-coming 3-year-old who might peak in the Breeders' Cup.
I'll take an exacta box of Ecton Park, General Challenge and River Keen and use them all in the final leg of a pick three. Picking three in a row is the great feat I could dream of in this Breeders' Cup.