Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Breeders Cup Preview: Turf

We're going to take a look at all 11 races here before they go to post on Friday and Saturday, though I can't say we're guaranteeing a real in-depth look on Friday races, mostly because I can't really compel myself to give a crap about Maryfield. Let's start with one of the least interesting races on Saturday's card, the Turf.

Conditions: This is 1 1/2 miles on the turf, which at Monmouth is 3 laps. It's a long enough race that post position shouldn't matter a lick. Race is open to 3 year olds and up, and it's got a nice hefty purse of $3 million.

What works: A key to this race is having success in a Grade 1 stakes during the year and having success at 1 1/2 miles during the year. It seems pretty stupid to say this, but you'd be amazed as to how many times you get hosses at short prices here that don't fit those descriptions. If you're taking a horse that doesn't hit those two bars, demand a good price.

What doesn't work: Long layoffs used to be a hex, but Better Talk Now and Red Rocks dispelled that the last 3 years (and coincidentally, they're both here). Front runners are epic disasters here, with only Bucks Boy and Great Communicator (at a gazillion to one) being the only "wire" horses that have won. And American 3yos are sucky bets as well. Fortunately we don't have any of those this year. Lastly, horses that have won the Prix d'le Arc de Triomphe, the premier grass race in France, are 0-for-4 in this race. That's more relevant, if a small sample size.

Given that background info, let's take these horses in reverse order of usefulness. For this and other races, we'll be distinguishing between horses that have a shot to win and those that have a shot to hit the board, for the benefit of horizontal and vertical bettors.

Absolute Shockers

8. Transduction Gold. Owner/trainer John Glenney's got his first Breeders Cup starter here off his upset win in the Sycamore, which marks this horse's first graded stakes victory. He's made progress this year, but that progress would make him a longshot in a conventional Grade 1 race, let alone one against the Arc winner.

7. Fri Guy. This front-runner alternates useful efforts with crapfests. He's due for a crapfest. Even if he isn't, his useful efforts aren't any good either.

Bad Ideas

6. Shamdinan. This second-tier Euro won the Grade 1 Secretariat in August, a race that shouldn't be a Grade 1, over a bunch of American stiffs. He backed this up by failing to do anything against elders in the Man O'War, and then flopped miserably in the Jamaica against 2nd-tier 3yos. The fluke is the Secretariat, not the last two. Bet against.

5. Better Talk Now. Last year's runner up and 2004's winner (at 27-1) actually started off the year well, and clearly likes the distance. The problem is this 8-year old eunuch hasn't run since Independence Day weekend, due to a myriad of injuries. Trainer Graham Motion tried to get him into the Sword Dancer, Arlington Million, Man O'War, Turf Classic and about 43 other turf races, but he wasn't healthy. Why on earth should we think he'll be healthy here?

4. English Channel. I remain thoroughly unimpressed by this horse, which is probably good, because he's going to be 5-2 in this race. The competition this year is better than last year, he's a step or two slower...and we're to expect he'll improve off a 3rd place finish last year? Please. This is Pletcher hype gone awry. This colt has one thing going for him: he likes Monmouth. Beyond that, he's no faster than the others in the field, he'll probably be just off the lead too early, and 12 furlongs isn't his ideal distance. Play against him.

Price Plays

3. Red Rocks. The defending champ's a price play? Well, when you've done absolutely nothing right the entire year, that will ensure at least 6-1. Hell, I think he'll be the 4th choice actually. He's coming into this race in remarkably similar form to last year, and his trainer has been pointing for this race all year. The big difference is that he isn't facing a bunch of over-the-hillers and Twinkies, there's a legitimate giant in the field. And a nice American sleeper...

2. Grand Couturier. This horse has shades of Better Talk Now Version 2004 written all over him--upset in the Sword Dancer at a price, then an nice if underrated effort in the Man O'War, and some rest. Now comes the big dance, and he's probably going to be last early, but flying late. He's already shown he's okay with American courses and tighter turns than he was used to in Europe, and the distance is NOT a problem. And he'll be at least 10-1, and possibly closer to 20-1. What's not to like, outside of the fact he's facing...

The Pick

1. Dylan Thomas. There's time to go against chalk, and this isn't it. Here's how this horse can lose: (a) He gets injured; (b) he gets a bad ride; (c) he doesn't like the softer turf after rain pelts Monmouth all week. You can't predict the first 2, and the last one may not matter. He's simply one of the better turf horses to come stateside the last few years, and he should win going away here. I am not trying to beat this favorite.


1st--Dylan Thomas
2nd--Grand Couturier
3rd--Red Rocks
4th--Better Talk Now

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