Betting the Breeders' Cup Juvenile
T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Picks
Of all the Breeders' Cup races, one of my favorites is always the Juvenile. The horses are so young and are developing and changing so quickly that the race is a complete crapshoot. They are also usually racing longer than they have ever raced and some horses are going around two turns for the first time. That makes for an interesting race, and it usually makes for some very attractive prices at the betting window. On top of all that, it's also one of the first chances we get to see the horses that will be trying to travel the Triple Crown trail next spring. It's never too early to catch Derby Fever.
The Juvenile is usually fairly wide open, but it's completely up for grabs this year. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, it seems like this is a fairly weak class compared to those that have come before it. Few horses are standing out from the crowd, and many of those that have emerged have been soundly put in their place. Horse Greeley was a terrible seventh as favorite in the Norfolk, Circular Quay was upset in the Breeders Futurity, and 17-1 shot UD Ghetto won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile over high-level horse Shermanesque and the favorite, Izzie's Halo.
Not only are the top horses losing, but several aren't even making the trip to Kentucky for the race. Horse Greeley is out, and the much-ballyhooed but unfortunately named Nobiz Like Shobiz is taking a pass, despite finishing a solid second behind Scat Daddy in the Champagne as 7-5 favorite.
Despite the problems of the class coming into the race, there are still lots of interesting horses and stories to follow as the race nears:
Todd Pletcher: Pletcher is the best trainer in the U.S. right now, and he is set to own the Breeders' Cup this year. He has 18 horses entered on the day, including three in the Juvenile -- one of which will likely be the favorite. Scat Daddy's win in the Champagne was impressive. He was third coming into the stretch but took the lead in a powerful move. He's joined by stablemate Circular Quay, who beat Scat Daddy by four lengths in the Hopeful at the beginning of September before getting passed in the Breeders at Keeneland. It's unclear how important that last loss is because it was on the new Polytrack synthetic surface. The horse had never run on that surface before and didn't seem to like it very much. Churchill has a natural surface. The third entry from Pletcher is King of the Roxy. The colt won the Futurity last time out and has loads of talent. He'd be a great story, too - he was sold as a yearling for just $8,000. A win by any of Pletcher's horses wouldn't be a shock.
California: You have to keep an eye on the best of the West Coast, and with Horse Greeley gone that may be Stormello, who surprised in the Norfolk at 12/1 when Horse Greeley faltered. He only won that race by a neck, but he has improved dramatically in each start, and he shows stamina and craftiness beyond his years. Early in his career he looked like a pure speed horse, but he stalked the pace in the Norfolk. He didn't settle down until the backstretch, but still won, so he has great potential if he can be relaxed. Jockey Kent Desormeaux is very excited about the horse.
Another West Coast horse to watch is Great Hunter, who shipped into Keeneland to beat Circular Quay in the Breeders to earn his second win to add to three second place finishes in stakes races in California. It was an impressive effort by Great Hunter, but the surface and the horse's lack of wins open up many questions, even though he is the Californian likely to go off at the lowest odds. The third California contender is Principle Secret. He was a neck slower than Stormello in the Norfolk, but he was 6 ݠlengths clear of the third place finisher. He was coming off a layoff and should improve in his next race.
D. Wayne Lukas: Lukas was the best there was for much of the 1980s and 90s, but wins aren't coming nearly as often these days. Still, it's worth paying attention when he is excited about a horse, and he is very excited about Pegasus Wind. The son of Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus was third in the Champagne, but Lukas believes the horse is fit and ready to run a huge race. I don't know about that, but I saw the horse break his maiden in his second try in July at Saratoga, and he certainly caught my eye with his dominating performance then.
Follow the Grey: Woodbine isn't usually thought of as a launching pad for Breeders' Cup success, but the Grey Breeders' Cup Stakes have produced some quality in the past. Macho Uno won both the Grey and the Juvenile in 2000, and Regal Classic was second in the Juvenile after a 1987 Grey win - good results considering only five Grey winners have headed south for the Breeders' Cup. This year's winner, Skip Code, is likely headed to Churchill. He certainly won't be the best horse in the field, but with a fairly wide-open race it may be worth looking at him because he will certainly come in at a long price.
Another to keep an eye on: There is an intriguing wild card in the race. Got the Last Laugh is 2-for-2, including a bizarre dead heat win. He's trained by Bill Mott, the trainer of Cigar, who is not at all known for juveniles. It's hard to know how good he is, but it's interesting. Mott doesn't normally like younger horses, and he certainly doesn't need the money, so if he is working with this horse it must be a good one.