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COMMENTARY

OCTOBER 28, 2010

California Breeders' Cup Analysis

by John Mucciolo

In this piece we will take a look at some of the California-based runners that will contest the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs.

Classic (G1)

The Golden State could boast the top two betting choices for this lucrative race.

All eyes, and much of the money, will be on the unbeaten ZENYATTA (Street Cry [Ire]), winner of 19 straight heading into this for trainer John Shirreffs. The living-legend has raced on dirt just twice, but looked the part on each occasion and enters this race as the defending champ. She's losing her home court edge and preferred surface, and we think she faces a much taller task this year than she did in 2009. With that said, she'll be formidable if she fires.

Champion LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) will make a strong case for Horse of the Year with a win in here for Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert. The multiple Grade 1 star has been handled lightly this fall and should be very fresh for this engagement. While we prefer several others in this demanding test, he wouldn't be a surprise to many.

Turf (G1)

Surging star CHAMP PEGASUS (Fusaichi Pegasus) has bagged the Clement Hirsch S. (G1) and Del Mar H. (G2) in his last pair and has been visually impressive in doing so for trainer Richard Mandella, who is no stranger to the Breeders' Cup. We can't completely toss the four-year-old, but he'll be facing infinitely better at Churchill than he has come across in California this season. A top-four finish would be respectable.

Ladies' Classic (G1)

The sensational BLIND LUCK (Pollard's Vision) is among the ones to beat in here and could make a small case for Horse of the Year with an authoritative tally in this affair for conditioner Jerry Hollendorfer. The ever-consistent sophomore has bagged a trio of Grade 1 tilts this season, including the Kentucky Oaks (G1) over this same strip. The tireless chestnut has raced upon seven ovals this year and has logged more airline miles this year than most humans do in a lifetime, but I, personally, would never dismiss her chances in any race. We can almost promise that she will be rolling into contention late.

Mile (G1)

The lone California-based runner to have a chance in here is multiple Grade 1 victor THE USUAL Q. T. (Unusual Heat). The James Cassidy trainee is not a pure miler, but he's very classy and proved that he can ship when a more-than-respectable fourth in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-G1) in March. He had a great prep for this, but the problem lies in the competition that the four-year-old is likely to face in here. We'll tab the California-bred for a top-four finish with his best and it's possible he sneaks into the exacta if one or more of the big guns don't fire.

Dirt Mile (G1)

We've been in love with CROWN OF THORNS (Repent) since his maiden win and consider the talented five-year-old a major player in here for Mandella. The lightly-raced Florida-bred was second in the Sprint (G1) last year and has put in a pair of fine Grade 1 tries in 2010 in advance of this. Having never raced on dirt is an obvious concern for the Grade 2 hero, as it is for most of the Golden State contingent, but we're under the assumption that he will thrive on the natural oval. He's our play of the weekend.

Sprint (G1)

Two-time Grade 1 winner SMILING TIGER (Hold That Tiger) has never been off the board in nine tries and looks like the top hope for the Golden State in this dash. California runners have historically done well in this race and this is not the deepest Sprint field ever assembled, so we wouldn't dismiss the chances of the high-quality three-year-old. If the colt takes to dirt and draws well, we consider him among the ones to beat for conditioner Jeff Bonde.

Filly and Mare Sprint (G1)

A trio of accomplished ladies should have a huge impact in this event, led by the James Cassidy-trained EVENING JEWEL (Northern Afleet). The dual Grade 1 queen has been a model of consistency against the best of her generation, is proven on dirt and had a nice prep for this which should have her fully fit. While the sophomore hasnít run at a trip less than 1 1/16 miles since December, she's too good not to use.

SWITCH (Quiet American) came two jumps from upending Zenyatta last out and will now cut back in trip for John Sadler. We've long liked the filly, but her lone dirt race to date leaves something to be desired and we're not sure what to make of her in here. We'll use her some at a square number.

Dual Grade 1 heroine GABBY'S GOLDEN GAL (Medaglia d'Oro) has not raced since January but is pointing to this race, nonetheless, for trainer Bob Baffert. We never take Baffert lightly, and this miss won the Acorn S. (G1) on dirt, so if she can be ready off solely workouts, she could be in the mix. And the price should be huge!

Turf Sprint (G2)

Defending champ CALIFORNIA FLAG (Avenue of Flags) didn't have an ideal prep when last in the Woodford S. (G3) at Keeneland most recently for conditioner Brian Koriner. The ultra-quick six-year-old would likely be hampered by a good-to-yielding turf oval, but we would not dismiss his speed regardless.

This is a very deep field but we feel that UNZIP ME (City Zip) fits well in here for Marty Jones. The standout four-year-old has won six of seven in 2010 and proved that she can take she show on the road with a facile score over the long stretch at Woodbine. She's yet to beat the boys, but she has only tried them on one occasion and needs only to look at Gotta Have Her (Royal Academy) who ran second in this race last campaign. We'd back her at a good price.

Marathon (G3)

TEMPLE CITY (Dynaformer) will travel east for this race, and while we like the Carla Gaines trainee, his recent debacle in his dirt debut at Hawthorne shies us away from backing him with any confidence.

Juvenile

A successful transition to dirt racing might be all the California youngsters need in order to leave their mark in this race.

The Mike Mitchell-trained JAYCITO (Victory Gallop) is the top invader expected for this race, and the improving colt is likely to run into a top field. The Norfolk S. (G1) winner has a big late kick, is bred to handle dirt and is improving on the fly for a high-percentage barn. The Zayat colorbearer has got to be considered for the win.

Del Mar Futurity (G1) victor J P'S GUSTO (Successful Appeal) should not be dismissed in here after running second in the Norfolk in his last try for trainer David Hofmans. A three-time graded stakes winner, J P's Gusto is as accomplished as any juvenile in the United States and figures to go off at a healthy price -- a nice combination in our view. Note that the colt has earned BRIS Late Pace numbers of 92 or higher in each start.

Juvenile Fillies

The John Sadler-conditioned TELL A KELLY (Tapit) dominated the Del Mar Debutante (G1) two prior before finishing a stubborn second in the Oak Leaf S. (G1) in advance of this endeavor. The chestnut lass was flattered when the filly she crushed in the Debutante came back to roll home in the recent Alcibiades S. (G1) at Keeneland. As the case with so many of the runners on this list, her ability to switch surfaces successfully is the key.


 

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