Triple Crown winner Justify was retired with an ankle issue before this year’s running of the Breeders' Cup but there will be plenty of star power on display during the world championships of horse racing on Friday and Saturday at Churchill Downs.
On “Future Stars Friday,” all five Grade I stakes events are exclusively for 2-year-olds, culminating in the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile. On Saturday, Accelerate (winner of four Grade I races this season and the probable favorite in the Classic), Enable (winner of the 2016 and 2017 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Europe’s most prestigious horse race) and Monomoy Girl (winner of eight out of 10 career starts) will all compete for a share of a record $30 million in purses. Accelerate, the 5-2 favorite in the final Breeders' Cup Classic future wagering pool, is coming off a big win as the 3-10 favorite in the Awesome Again Stakes at Saratoga and will be one of the most talked-about horses leading up to the big event.
And let’s not forget there will be five former or defending champions lining up at the gate, too: Oscar Performance (2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner), Mendelssohn (2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner), Roy H (2017 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner), Stormy Liberal (2017 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner) and Talismanic (2017 Breeders' Cup Turf winner).
Below you will find winners and contenders for each race on Saturday. These contenders are my win selections only, not place or show, making them more suitable for bets such as the Daily Double and the Pick 3-4-5-6 rather than exactas, trifectas and superfectas. Odds listed are morning line odds set by Churchill Downs.
All post times Eastern.
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint
3rd race, post time: noon. Seven-furlong race for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up.
Pick: Finley’sluckycharm (10-1)
Finley’sluckycharm, a five-time graded-stakes winner, has a sparkling 6-for-7 record at Churchill Downs with a career-high 107 Brisnet speed figure, tied for the second-fastest in the race.
Other contenders: Marley’s Freedom (8-5) and Mia Mischief (15-1)
Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint
4th race, post time: 12:38. Five-and-one-half-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up; to be run on the turf.
Pick: Havana Grey (20-1)
The gray colt won the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh in September to earn an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. His 13-6-2-0 record at the distance and 15-6-3-0 career record on grass increases the confidence he can put up a best effort for trainer Karl Burke, who will make his Breeders' Cup debut.
Other contenders: Richard’s Boy (12-1) and World of Trouble (6-1)
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
5th race, post time: 1:16. One-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.
Pick: Bravazo (20-1)
Bravazo, the runner-up in the Haskell Invitational and third-place finisher in the Travers, took a slight step back in the Pennsylvania Derby (seventh by 18 lengths) but set his highest pace figure (109 Brisnet figure) in that race, another signal of maturity. The Awesome Again son also worked five furlongs in a fleet 59 4/5 seconds, the best of the day on Thursday, pairing that with a flat one-minute time at five furlongs a week earlier.
Other contenders: Catalina Cruiser (8-5), City of Light (5-2), Firenze Fire (6-1) and Seven Trumpets (15-1)
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf
6th race, post time 2:04. 1⅜-mile race for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up; to be run on the turf.
Pick: Sistercharlie (3-1)
Since coming to the United States in July 2017, Sistercharlie has three wins — two straight in Grade 1 events — and two second-place finishes in five starts. Her closing style sets her up well for a big kick at the end of Saturday’s race.
Other contenders: Wild Illusion (7-2), A Raving Beauty (10-1), Mom’s on Strike (20-1), Athena (15-1) and Paved (20-1)
Breeders' Cup Sprint
7th race, post time 2:46. Six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up.
Pick: Promises Fulfilled (6-1)
Dale Romans, Churchill Downs’s winningest trainer, has this son of Shackleford gunning for his fourth straight win of 2018, the prior three all in graded-stakes company and all producing a Brisnet speed figure of 102 and above. Par for this type of event is 104, giving Promises Fulfilled more than enough speed to contend with a crowded field.
Other contenders: Limousine Liberal (6-1) and Imperial Hint (9-5)
Breeders' Cup Mile
8th race, post time 3:36. One-mile race for 3-year-olds and up; to be run on the turf.
Pick: Oscar Performance (6-1)
The four-time Grade I winner set a career-low pace figure (which measures the first six furlongs) and career-high late pace figure in the Grade I Woodbine Mile on Sept. 15, covering the final two furlongs in less than 23 seconds, an indication his best race on the grass is yet to come.
Other contenders: Catapult (6-1), Polydream (5-1) and Hunt (30-1)
Breeders' Cup Distaff
9th race, post time 4:16. 1⅛-mile race for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up.
Pick: Abel Tasman (7-2)
The knock on Monomoy Girl is a simple one: She has yet to race outside of her division. According to Kellie Reilly of TwinSpires.com, of the 10 3-year-olds who won the Distaff since 1984, nine had already competed outside 3-year-old filly company. The lone exception is Hall of Famer Ashado (2004).
Abel Tasman, on the other hand, won the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga, a key prep for three of the last six Distaff winners. She also has the highest back speed (112 Brisnet speed figure in November 2017) and her second-highest speed figure (107) is higher than anyone else’s top figure in the field.
Other contenders: Wow Cat (8-1), Midnight Bisou (6-1) and Blue Prize (6-1)
Breeders' Cup Turf
10th race, post time 4:56. 1½-mile race for 3-year-olds and up; to be run on the turf.
Pick: Robert Bruce (10-1)
Enable heads into this race as a two-time winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Europe’s most prestigious horse race. Unfortunately, no Arc winner has ever won at the Breeders’ Cup. That opens the door for Robert Bruce, winner of this year’s Arlington Million, his first Grade I win in the United States, to lead the field.
Other contenders: Enable (even) and Magical (10-1)
Breeders' Cup Classic
11th race, post time 5:44. 1¼-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.
Pick: Catholic Boy (8-1)
The morning line favorite, Accelerate, has an impressive résumé, yet his path to the Breeders' Cup is not ideal. Per Kellie Reilly of TwinSpires.com, no Grade I Pacific Classic winner has ever won both that race and the Classic in the same year. And you have to go back to 2005 to find the last time any eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner raced, let alone won, the Santa Anita Handicap. In addition, the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, another victory in Accelerate’s portfolio, hasn’t seen a winner of that race win the Classic since Cigar in 1995.
West Coast horses like Accelerate are simply at a disadvantage in the Classic — the last eight Classic winners competed at Saratoga — giving this year’s Classic everything you need for an upset.
Meanwhile, Catholic Boy and jockey Javier Castellano have won three straight graded stakes with the most recent, the Travers at Saratoga, giving Catholic Boy his highest Brisnet speed figure to date (108) at the classic distance of 1¼ miles.
Other contenders: Mendelssohn (12-1) and West Coast (5-1)