Over two and a half years in local television news, I learned one stone cold, incontrovertible truth.
Weather is the worst. Because to your bosses, weather is the best.
There are stories about which you’re passionate, and stories of great intrigue or importance, but when a storm rolls through, they’re washed and blown away by the water of salivating news directors and the winds left in the wake of sprinting reporters heading for the nearest broken branch.
When weather is a story, there are no other stories.
Even if they are important or intriguing, they’re merely filling time while the meteorologist gets a drink – which feels a bit like every race but Arrogate’s at this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
There are great horses on the Del Mar card, stacking some deep, competitive, fascinating races. But the story of 2017 is Arrogate, and whether or not he’ll show up as Arrogate.
I want to see if Practical Joke can progress as a miler and beat back the best of his division. I want to see Elate and Abel Tasman run against older competition. I want to see Lady Eli back in the Breeders’ Cup.
But in the end, after two disappointing starts ended a dominant streak that had cemented Arrogate as American Pharoah’s successor, the rest of the races are just taking up time while the weatherman sips from his branded mug.
And prepares to tell us whether the storm is over, or ramping back up.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t bet on the time fillers.
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF: The Breeders’ Cup kicks off this year with it’s traditional battle between American turf horses and European invaders – and in keeping with tradition, it’s hard not to like one of the fillies shipping in from overseas. Trainer Aiden O’Brien has 11 Breeders’ Cup wins and is pairing with his favorite jockey, Ryan Moore – who has nine wins in his own Breeders’ Cup career – to run Happily in Friday’s opener. With six career races, the filly is as experienced as anyone in the field, and should be sharpened by the tough turf competition in Britain. I like her on top of Chad Brown’s favorite, Rushing Fall.
- Pick: 2-11-7
- Horses To Consider Betting: 2
DIRT MILE: In the larger world of the metaphor I created at the top of this article, the Dirt Mile may just be a time filler, but it’s a time filler I desperately want to see – and a chance for personal gambling redemption. Nearly 6 months ago, in an article previewing the Kentucky Derby, I wrote that Practical Joke is a miler, and would be an up-and-coming middle-distance runner during the summer. But a few months later, I bet against him in one of the summer’s premier middle-distance races. Which he won. Impressively. Because of course he did. I’m not making that same mistake again. He’s obviously facing tougher competition this time around, but the 3-year-old colt is 4-for-4 at either seven or eight furlongs, and should be ideally positioned toward the back of the pack to close into a solid pace up front. Give me a leader on that pace, Mor Spirit, to stay up for second, but long shot Giant Expectations – with two straight bullet workouts and one win and one place in two career starts at Del Mar – to roll home in third.
- Pick: 10-6-2-3
- Horses To Consider Betting: 10, 6, 2, 5
JUVENILE TURF: Part of the reason you love betting on the Breeders’ Cup is because the horses are well known. This isn’t a Friday maiden at Belmont. These horses are the best horses from the best race, the horses you’ve seen before. Except here. The Juvenile Turf doesn’t feature a ton of famous firepower, leaving us, perhaps, a chance to find some value – which I think is waiting for us in the 9-hole. Encumbered has only started two turf races in his career, but he’s won both. And both were at Del Mar. It’s not much to go on, but with a bullet work his last time on the track, it’s enough to get my money at 15/1. Beneath him, I’ll take Hemp Hemp Hurray to sit close to a slow pace and finish second, Masar to do the same and take third, and Untamed Domain to rally up for fourth.
- Pick: 9-12-6-2
- Horses To Consider Betting: 9, 12, 2
DISTAFF: As anyone who has read anything I’ve ever written on horse racing can tell you, I’m a firm believer that pace makes the race. If the pace is slow, closers are at a disadvantage. And if the pace is fast, pace-setters will have a hard time winning. This race straddles the line between the two. There’s several legitimate speed horses that could link up and set a solid pace, but if only one or two take to the front, the set up could be a slow one, so I’m looking for a filly that can do both, and I’ve got one in Elate. The Alabama winner has won close to the pace – as she did last out in the Beldame – and from a few lengths off of it. She’s been a dominant winner in each of her last two starts, and I think she’s a filly on the rise. She’ll face great competition on Friday, but I think she’s up for it. For second, give me Stellar Wind, the monster mare with seven wins and two seconds in her last twelve starts – who’s also undefeated at Del Mar – and for third, I like the impressive winner of the Kentucky and Coaching Club American Oaks, Abel Tasman to close from the back of the field.
- Pick: 5-2-4
- Horses To Consider Betting: 5, 2, 1
JUVENILE FILLIES: Like with the Juvenile Turf, there isn’t a wealth of experience upon which to build a strong case in support of any one particular horse in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup opener. But there is enough, I think, to get a sense of the pace – which I expect to be hot. There are plenty of speed-favoring fillies in the field, and many of them will line up toward the outside of the field. Look for closers to be picking off horses around the far turn and into the stretch, and look for one of them to just edge out a big ‘West Coast’ speed favorite. I like Caledonia Road, who closed will into a tepid pace last time out – without Mike Smith, who she’ll have aboard on Saturday – to take advantage of the pace, and run down Moonshine Memories, who should be favored by more than she is.
- Pick: 12-7-13-1
- Horses To Consider Betting: 12, 7
TURF SPRINT: Unlike the last, there’s no pace scenario to worry about in this race. It should be an even test, which I’m not sure you can say about Lady Aurelia’s last race. She was beaten by a nose across the pond in late August, but I think the front-running filly expended a good amount of her energy in the early going in that race. She won’t do the same back on American soil, where she’s 2-for-2.
- Pick: 3-1-6
FILLY AND MARE SPRINT: There’s not just some speed in this sprint, there is, as the Internet might say, all the speed. As best as I can figure, at least 10 of the 14 horses expected in the starting gate either want the lead, or want to sit near it. As such, I’m looking or horses that can sit off the pace, and while Unique Bella can’t sit all that far off it, I think with her ability, she can rate just enough to still get a win – particularly when you consider her 5-for-6 lifetime record and seven straight bullet workouts.
- Pick: 11-2-14-9
- Horses To Consider Betting: 11 (in exotics only), 2, 14
FILLY AND MARE TURF: If not for Arrogate, Lady Eli would likely be the story of the Breeders’ Cup. She’s back in the big dance looking to continue her return from a near fatal illness, and get redemption for a loss at the wire in this race last year. She got nosed out in 2016, but I don’t expect anyone to be within a length of her time around. When she’s on, she’s flat out better than the rest, and after winning three straight coming into November, I’d say she’s on.
- Pick: 9-12-15 (AE)-6-1
- Horses To Consider Betting: 9, 12
SPRINT: In a race labeled so definitively, you might expect more pure speed, but this year’s Sprint starting gate isn’t stacked with many mane-on-fire, lead-at-all-cost colts. Still, there are a few serious sprinters in the field, and they’re three of the favorites. Drefong, Takaful and Imperial Hint should all be running when the gate opens, and while they won’t be pushed as hard as you might expect, I think the heavy hitting will eventually take its toll. So instead, I’m looking to a gelding I expect to sit just behind those three. Roy H got some terrible luck two races ago when he was swung 6-wide by a horse who’d lost his jockey. That was his only loss in 2017. I’ll take him on top, here.
- Pick: 8-2-7-10
- Horses To Consider Betting: 8, 2 (in exotics only), 7
MILE: Again it’s a turf race, and again it’s a battle between American and European, and again I’m looking for a horse that can do both. Suedois is well-raced overseas, but came to the States just a few weeks ago to close into a slow pace and win the Turf Mile at Keeneland. He’ll have far more pace to run at this time around, so I’ll take him on top again.
- Pick: 8-5-10
- Horses to Consider Betting: 8, 5, 10
JUVENILE: Sometimes, you agonize over a race and spend what feels like hours examining everything possible. And end up no where. But other times, one horse is just better than the rest. The Juvenile is an example of the latter. There are other horses that can win, but Bolt d’Oro is clearly running the best of the bunch, and I like him on top.
- Pick: 11-1-3
- Horses To Consider Betting: 11 (in exotics only)-1-3
TURF: Sometimes, you agonize over a race and spend what feels like hours examining everything possible. And end up no where. But other times, one horse is just better than the rest. The Turf is an example of the former. Of the entire weekend, this race is, in my opinion, the hardest to handicap. It’s hard to say anything with certainty, except this: I like what Ulysses and Highland Reel have shown overseas, and how tested Bigger Picture is here in the States. I’ll take the last of the three in between the first two.
- Pick: 5-3-1
- Horses To Consider Betting: 5, 8, 3
CLASSIC: And after all that filler, here we are, with one question left to answer. Will the real Arrogate show up to race? There’s two schools of thinking. The first considers the colt past his prime, never the same after his marvelous win in the Middle East. The second, on the other hand, has Arrogate working himself back into form – finding what he had lost in his second place finish last time out, a race in which he looked much better late than he did early on. It’s impossible to know which answer is correct, and as such, in my opinion, impossible to trust the one-time winner of 7-straight. Instead, I think you have to like Gun Runner, who has collected three straight wins by a combined 22.25 lengths. He’s been dominant as you could want him to be, stopped in 2017 only by Arrogate. The real Arrogate – who could spoil the party again if he shows up, or if he presses the pace enough to weaken the favorite. If he does, look for the Travers Winner, West Coast, to sit behind the leaders and collect the prize.
- Pick: 5-8-1
- Horses To Consider Betting: 5 (in exotics only), 8, 1 (in exotics only)
Author: Joseph White
Joe Bianchino is a writer, producer, and radio host located in upstate New York. He is a life-long New York sport fan, Chelsea supporter, and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBNTS. Email him at Joe@noticketsports.com.