Our resident tipster dissects the four Friday races that get the Breeders' Cup under way.
Keeneland plays host to the Breeders’ Cup for the first time and Friday’s four races, whilst lacking many of the equine stars that will grace Saturday’s card, serves as a tasty appetizer for the main event.
There is strong European interest in the opening race of the meeting, the Juvenile Turf (due off 7.30pm), and hopes will be high that Europe can land a sixth win from just nine renewals. Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden have won two apiece and they are responsible for three of the 15 runners, with Hit A Bomb and Shogun giving O’Brien two bites at the cherry. The former looks the stable’s number one hope on jockey bookings, with Ryan Moore booked, and he arrives here unbeaten after victories at the Curragh and on the all-weather surface at Dundalk. Having showed plenty of pace over 7f, he does have his stamina to prove over the mile, but he promises to stay and at the same time he’s pacey enough to cope with the demands of the US-style racing. He’d be the selection but for a far from favourable draw in stall 14, which is just one wider than that handed to Gosden’s Group 1 winner Cymric.
For that reason, I’m leaning towards the home-trained AIRFORCE, who is also unbeaten after two starts and was particularly impressive when running out a clear-cut winner of the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes here last time. The second Camelot Kitten, who was beaten two and a half lengths, has it all to do to overturn the form, and Mark Casse’s winner surely has further improvement in him. Blessed with good positional speed, a decent draw in eight and strong at the finish, he looks the one to be on at the current 7/1 with Hills – he is almost certain to be shorter on the American PMU.
The Dirt Mile (8.10pm) has been a preserve of the home team and they field a very strong candidate this year in LIAM’S MAP, who was under consideration for the Classic. Todd Pletcher’s four-year-old wouldn’t have looked out of place there and he’s odds-on across the board for what is a far softer opening. His one defeat in six runs came at Saratoga two starts back when jockey Mike Smith was guilty of going too hard too early, and Javier Castellano (who is back on board here) was far more sensible when making all at sensible fractions in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes last time. After the defection of fellow front runner of Appealing Tale due to injury, he should enjoy an uncontested lead and it looks a case of finding the second, with the strong finishing Red Vine suggested for exacta bets.
Europe is well represented in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and, with no real standout home performers, it could well go the way of Aidan O’Brien’s ALICE SPRINGS, who is nicely berthed in stall three. She’s the most experience filly in the field having had six runs and appears to be peaking at just the right time, judging by her impressive four-length success in a Newmarket sales race last time. She finished behind Richard Hannon’s Illuminate in the 6f Cheveley Park previously, but she’s the stronger stayer of the pair and is confidently expected to reverse the form with that horse. The Yanks have a couple of strong contenders in Catch A Glimpse, who is likely to set a strong gallop, and course and distance winner Harmonise, but Ryan Moore can ride a waiting race on the selection and pounce late. She’s a best-priced 4/1 with bet365 currently, but she could be one to back on the American PMU.
Godolphin’s Wedding Toast is favourite at around the 3/1 mark for the Distaff (9.35pm) and there’s no denying her strong credentials. The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained mare is chasing a Grade 1 hat-trick – and a four-timer in all – and will attempt to do so from what is a perfect draw in stall seven. However, she’s never raced around two turns – a slight negative – and with three of the last four renewals going to three-year-olds I’m going to put one up from that age group as a value alternative. Step forward John Sadler’s STELLAR WIND has won four of her last five starts and the last twice with her head in her chest, albeit against inferior opposition. I’m not at all worried by her two-month layoff as she goes well fresh and stall nine (of 15) is okay.