The Breeders' Cup races are traditionally contentious and difficult to decipher. But on tomorrow's card at Belmont Park, almost every event has a clear-cut favorite. In wagering at European and offshore venues, as many as six of the eight favorites are listed at odds of 2 to 1 or less.
Deciding what to do with these favorites is a crucial task for handicappers -- particularly for those playing the Pick Six, or various Pick Fours and Pick Threes. If you think Lost in the Fog is vulnerable in the Sprint, and you use half a dozen contenders on your ticket, you might make a big score by beating the favorite. But if you're wrong, you've squandered most of your stake.
I don't have any long-priced mortal locks on this card. But if I am right about which favorites are vulnerable and which are not, I can make tomorrow a very profitable day.
In a rare race without a clear favorite, Adieu and Folklore are considered the leading contenders. Adieu has accomplished all of her victories in slow time, while Folklore's 14-length romp in the Matron Stakes at Belmont was a blockbuster. Sensation, 8 to 1 in the morning line, is the only other filly with good speed figures, and she could complete the exacta with Folklore.
First Samurai has looked brilliant winning all four of his starts, but I don't fully trust him. The colt has scored his major victories after pressing a hot pace and decelerating sharply in the stretch; he crawled the last furlong of the Hopeful Stakes in 14 seconds. If he runs the same way in the Juvenile, the race could set up for a come-from-behind runner. Stevie Wonderboy was visually impressive rallying to win in California, but he beat weak competition in slow time. Sorcerer's Stone appears to have class, a finishing kick and a future in next year's classics. He won a stakes at Arlington Park by pressing the pace and accelerating the final furlong in 12 seconds flat.
Filly and Mare Turf
Ouija Board, who won this race as the odds-on choice last year, is again the favorite in the event that starts the Pick Six. But this time she is an absurd favorite. Beset by problems, she has made only two starts in 2005. In one, she was virtually eased; in the other, last month, she beat a field devoid of stakes horses. There is no evidence that she is close to her 2004 form. My tepid preference in this race is Wend, but she is an uncertain proposition on soft turf -- a crucial factor in all of the grass races. Three veteran New York campaigners -- Film Maker, WonderAgain and Riskaverse -- possess solid form and the ability to handle the going. This is a spot to use several contenders in exotic wagers while taking a stand against Ouija Board. If she wins, my day is ruined.
Every wise guy has been waiting to bet against Lost in the Fog, who has been overhyped after compiling a 10-for-10 record against patsies. But this field is one of the weakest ever assembled for the Sprint; it doesn't appear to contain any ultra-fast speedsters capable of applying early pressure to Lost in the Fog. Iconoclasts who still hope to beat Lost in the Fog might look to Wildcat Heir, who beat a strong field in the De Francis Dash at Laurel last fall and won his only start this year impressively. But it would be folly to take a bold stand against the favorite.
Leroidesanimaux has won eight grass races in a row, impressively. Not only is he the most accomplished horse in the field, but his speed gives him a tactical advantage in a field with few front-runners. There is only one reason for uncertainty about him: He is untested on soft turf.
Ashado won this race last year, earning an Eclipse Award, and has gone on to be America's second-leading female money-earner of all time. She also is one of the luckiest of all time. In race after race, she has benefited from easy trips to win without running fast. After narrowly winning the Beldame Stakes by controlling a slow early pace, she is about to run out of luck.
The Distaff is filled with other speedsters who will compromise her chances. I am looking for Ashado to finish out of the trifecta, and I am going to concentrate my play on horses who can come from off the pace -- Society Selection, Sweet Symphony and Happy Ticket.
Historically, European horses have fared well at Belmont, where the climate and the sweeping contour of the track are usually to their liking. This year's invaders -- Azamour, Bago and Shirocco -- have records that deserve respect. But well-regarded Europeans have disappointed in the major North American races this fall, and the home team can prevail in the Turf. Trainer Bill Mott's Shakespeare comes into the race undefeated, but I am taking a shot with his 20-to-1 stablemate, Gun Salute, who won impressively on soft turf at Arlington Park this summer.
The three leading contenders all have flaws. Saint Liam is the favorite and the most talented horse in the field, but he failed in his only previous attempt at the Classic's 11/4-mile distance. Rock Hard Ten is an overrated colt, with speed figures no better than some of the longshots in this field. Borrego has been a disappointing plodder for most of his career. But Borrego's win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont four weeks ago was eye-catching; he has found a racetrack that is kind to his come-from-far-behind style. He's the one to beat, but if I'm alive this far in the Pick Six, I hope to have a lot of other horses on my ticket.