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2008 Breeders' Cup: The Big Show, Part I

A couple days ago I looked at the races on Filly Friday, today let's take a look at five of the nine races slated for Saturday.

Dirt Marathon
1 1/2 miles
3 and up

This race looks to set-up perfectly for a European victory given the surface and distance. Muhannak (Ire) is a proved synthetic horse with victories at Dundalk and Kempton in his last two, but he's never ran in a group stake, suggesting some class deficiencies.

Sixties Icon (GB) looks like the standout in this race. He's never run over a synthetic surface but he's a proven winner at a mile and a half against Group competition (something very few horses in this field can claim). And when we are looking at a horse switching surfaces, I'd much rather see a turf-to-synthetic switch as opposed to a dirt-to-synthetic. This race sets up well for this colt.

I've only got a top 3 for this race since I see very little in terms of true contenders beyond these. I wouldn't be surprised to see an upset, but I think it's a crap shoot after you get by the true contenders.

Top 3:

1. Sixties Icon (GB)
2. Cedar Mountain (Ire)
3. Zappa

Turf Sprint
6 1/2 furlongs
3 and up

The inaugural turf sprint is a little bit of an oddity, not because turf sprints are rare, they aren't. But the majority of turf sprint stakes races in the United States and Europe are run at five or five and a half furlongs. The BC Turf Sprint will be run at six and a half furlongs on the Santa Anita downhill turf course. And extra furlong may not seem like much, but in a specialty race such as this I think it is extremely important. Many horses in this race have never attempted to win a six and a half on the grass. As a result, I'm looking first for horses proven at the distance.

Desert Code has run on the Santa Anita turf course six times in his career, notching three wins and a place. Overall at the six and half furlong distance, he's a solid 5-3-0-0. His last two efforts have been dull, and he was beaten by several horses that will run against him on Saturday, but you can't ignore his success over the track and the distance. He's a big 30/1 on the morning line and will offer a lot of value in the exotics.

At 6/1 on the morning line, Mr. Nightlinger is considered one of the top contenders in this race, but I absolutely hate him in this spot. This colt has won five straight turf sprints but all at five or five and a half furlongs. He's never run six and a half on the grass, and to make matters worse, he's going to have a ton of company pushing him early in the race. Mr. Nightlinger is a dead-on, need-to-lead horse that is a) going to have to work very hard to get the lead, and b) will have to then carry his speed a furlong longer than he's ever gone. At 6/1, I think he's a bad play.

Get Funky has really been on his game lately, with his last effort a strong second to California Flag in the Grade 3-Morvich on the Santa Anita surface last month. On that day, California Flag was able to grab the lead much easier than he will on Saturday. A contested pace might be all that Get Funky needs to turn the table and take the win.

I'm not a big believer in weight as a handicapping angle, but Fleeting Spirit (Ire) will be race at 13 pounds less than she died in the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp on Arc weekend.

Top 5:

1. Get Funky
2. Idiot Proof
3. Desert Code
4. Fleeting Spirit
5. One Union

Dirt Mile
1 mile
3 and up

The, synthetic, Mile is a mix of horses that weren't good enough for the Classic and/or are too slow for the sprint. As such, it becomes a very tricky race from a handicapping perspective. Last year Corinthian steam rolled the Dirt Mile field at Monmouth Park. This year we will probably see a much more competitive field.

The Wayne Catalano trained Lewis Michael may have finally found a Breeders' Cup spot that he can dominate. He tried the Dirt Mile last year but he's never done his best work over a conventional dirt surface. However, he's been a much better horse when running over a synthetic surface, whether it's at Del Mar, Arlington, Keeneland, or Santa Anita. That's an important fact to make note of: even though every synthetic surface plays differently, Lewis Michael has run well at multiple tracks.

As a stone cold closer, Pyro is in a tough spot in this race. The Santa Anita surface hasn't favored front runners as much as it has in the past, but it also hasn't been kind to horses coming from way off the pace. Pyro will probably need a complete pace meltdown to win, and that's disappointing because I would love to see jockey Shaun Bridgmohan get a win on Breeders' Cup weekend.

Well Armed isn't a miler, but his class stands tall over this field. He's picked up victories in a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 in his last three starts, and possess the early foot necessary to stalk and pounce.

There's lots of early speed in this race with Mast Track, Surf Cat, and Slew's Tizzy all wanting to get to the front quickly.

Top 3:

1. Well Armed
2. Lewis Michael
3. Mast Track

Turf Mile
1 mile
3 and up

On paper, it's tough to get past the morning line favorite, Goldikova (Ire). She's a proven miler on the grass, she's beaten the best horses in Europe, and she defeated males in her last start in the Prix du Moullin at Longchamp in early September. Throw in the fact that in her last two starts she beat last year's champion European filly, and you have a filly in top form. She's a steal if her odds stay at the morning line of 3/1, but that is unlikely to happen. She'll be bet down hard and will probably be in the 2-1 to 9-5 range come post time.

Defending champion, Kip Deville, ran poorly in his last start at Woodbine over a yielding surface. I would chalk that performance up to the going if it wasn't for the face that he won this race over Soft ground last year. If the going was the problem, then perhaps Kip Deville just isn't as good as he was last year coming into this race. At 5/1, he's a tough play.

I have to confess, I love Thorn Song in this spot. Sure, he's a speed ball that is going to have plenty of company upfront, but he has drawn outside of the speed and he comes into this race in excellent form. He reminds me a lot of Kip Deville from last year in that his only bad races coming into the Breeders' Cup are races that he was asked to go more than a mile. If he can relax early on he'll be tough to get by in the stretch.

Whatsthescript (Ire) might get the absolutely perfect trip in this race. With a possible three way duel for the lead, there is the very real possibility that the pace will be hot enough to cause the race to fall apart in the stretch. If that were to happen, this colt should be right there to pick up the pieces.

Top 5:

1. Goldikova
2. Thorn Song
3. Whatsthescript
4. Dayton
5. Bold Chieftain

1 1/16 miles
2 years old

Unlike many of the races on Breeders' Cup weekend, the Juvenile is almost completely devoid of need-to-lead early speed. This makes the race very difficult to handicap because we really don't know who is going to be in the lead going into the first turn. The Emerald horse, Gallant Son, is certainly and early pace contender, as is Silent Valor and Street Hero, but other horses would be a surprise as the early leader.

The top European two year-old, Bushranger (Ire), should be a tough out in this spot as he sports solid class and a nice stalking style. The distance is a little bit of question for him, but with an expected slow pace it might not be that much of a factor.

Square Eddie came over from Europe to dominate the Grade 1-Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on October 4th. Many Euros are at their best in their first race off the plane, so there's a concern of a bounce in this spot.

The morning line favorite, Munnings (7/2), ran second to top juvenile Vineyard Haven in the Champagne at Belmont, but this will be his first try on the synthetics. He's a solid colt, but I'd like a little more value given the surface questions.

Top 5:

1. Bushranger (Ire)
2. Street Hero
3. Square Eddie
4. Munnings
5. Midshipman