Breeders’ Cup Countdown Presented By DRF Bets: Friday Longshots, Euro Talk?

One of the reasons bettors love the Breeders’ Cup so much is the deep fields and the quality of competition. There aren’t that many days of the year you see so many longshots on the board with extremely good chances to win. But you have to choose between them, right? If you can only bet one longshot to win, which one would it be? Here, I give you one horse per race on the Friday card.

Juv Fillies Turf
This one is a brain scrambler and at least half the field appears to have a legit shot to win. Based on the history of the race, the venue, and the post positions, if I’m only plunking money on one longshot, it has to be the #8 Significant Form (8-1). Trained by Chad Brown, she has two starts coming in, both victories, the last in the G3 Miss Grillo, a relevant prep for this race.

Last year’s winner, New Money Honey, also won that prep, also trained by Brown. Plus, Significant Form has shown tactical speed in her starts, both of them routes where she’s stalked and closed into fairly pedestrian paces. Irad Ortiz, Jr. has the mount. What’s not to like at that price?

Her stablemate Rushing Fall at 7-2 has won her two starts in more spectacular fashion, showing a devastating turn of foot, but she draws the 11 post and could be compromised at the start here at Del Mar.

Dirt Mile
Steve Asmussen has won this race before and Iron Fist (12-1), while a “quirky” horse according to his trainer, is extremely talented, drew an excellent post considering the short run into the first turn at Del Mar, has tactical speed and is cutting back from the 1 1/8-mile distance, a winning trait in the past. Deserves a long look at that price. Asmussen’s previous Dirt Mile winner was also by Tapit, like this 5-year-old, and Iron Fist has won three of his last four, coming in sharp. I’m planning to bet this one with both fists.

Juv Turf
Another difficult and deep race, but I believe the play here is #1 Mendelssohn (8-1). Having finshed 2nd in his last start at Newmarket, he perfectly fits the profile of a BC Juv Turf winer. Trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore have teamed up to win three runnings of this race, and that is the combo in play with this colt. Sired by Scat Daddy, Mendelssohn has a stalking style that should suit from his rail draw. Not sure what to make of his 33-length loss two back at Doncaster but perhaps that’ll help boost the price on him.

Distaff
There isn’t a true longshot in this race I can point to, but if I had to put my money on one filly or mare, it would be… I can’t decide. My money is split between Elate (3-1) and Forever Unbridled (4-1). I’m planning to watch the board and see which one offers the best value. In Elate’s corner, she has trainer Bill Mott, who’s won this race five times and Elate’s last two races have been off the charts. I’m concerned, though, about a bounce and the ship to Cali. Forever Unbridled shows up every time. Strange that owner Charles Fipke chose to go with John Velazquez instead of Joel Rosario, who’s ridden her in the last six races, but hey it’s Johnny V. Concern with her would be if the Del Mar surface is too speed favoring. I said one pick, so I’ll make it Forever Unbridled, even though I picked Elate on The Friday Show. See, I can’t decide.

European Strategies?Natalie Voss
The wild cards in any Breeders’ Cup are often the European shippers. Most often, they arrive in a group early in the week of the race and spend their entire time stateside in quarantine – to fulfill requirements for entry to the United States, as well as re-entry into their home country. By the time they arrive, most European-based horses have finished their preparation for the race, giving little time for American fans and clockers to get a sense of them.

It’s also no secret that European training methods are considerably different from American, in accordance with the differences in racing styles. We wondered – how do trainers prepare horses for the transition from one training regime to a different type of racing?

Trainer Mark Johnston, who is based in North Yorkshire, England, has had one Breeders’ Cup runner, Fruits of Love, who finished eleventh in the 2000 Turf at Churchill Downs. He considered sending multiple graded stakes winner Nyaleti to this year’s Juvenile Fillies Turf but instead sent her to the Group 1 Fillies Mile.

In early October, when he had not yet made a decision regarding her Breeders’ Cup status, Johnston said his experience with shipping a horse from England to California was light; he sent a horse over for the San Luis Rey in the mid-1990s with the hope of entering in the San Juan Capistrano, but the horse bowed a tendon in the San Luis Rey.

“I don’t think we would treat it any differently. Apart from before her first race, she hasn’t been up next to another horse [in workouts], so no serious fast work at home. It’s just been a case of routine cantering, and I don’t think there’d be any serious fast work between here and her next work, regardless of whether that’s in the Fillies’ Mile or the Breeders’ Cup,” said Johnston.

Johnston is one of England’s top trainers, and the first flat trainer to reach 200 winners in one season, in addition to training winners of multiple classic and Group 1 races.

Mark Johnston

“I don’t underestimate the difficulties of taking a horse over the California to run, but I’ve got no magic answer to it, so I’m going to treat her as if it was down the road,” he said.

“As far as I’m aware, there’s nobody that’s found some key to it that nobody else has got.”

Last year, we asked around to see whether horsemen thought the time change (eight hours’ difference) from England to California impacted horses (they didn’t think so).  But Jeremy Brummit, a bloodstock agent based in England, wonders whether horses experience some degree of hangover associated with a change in the weather.

“I think that it’s very hard to alter the climate radically without the horse needing to adjust,” said Brummit, who spent time as an assistant training on the East Coast in the early part of his career. “It’s not always immediately apparent, but it nearly always is under max stress. I wouldn’t confine that to Trans-Atlantic shipping.”

Brummit suspects horses shipping between climates that are significantly different in temperature or humidity may get by without respiratory irritation or disrupted hormone levels on quick trips of a few days. But give it a couple of weeks and he thinks the draggy feeling humans get with the change of seasons could impact training and performance. In his experience, younger horses (and especially fillies) experience a certain constitutional fragility in England as the seasons shift from winter to spring, and can fail to thrive without actually being lame or ill. The climate is both colder and damper in England by this part of the year than it ever is in California, which also raises questions about whether European shippers are more comfortable with the transition to Kentucky or New York in other Breeders’ Cup years.

“Where the Europeans used to make mistakes, looking back, is we used to think ‘Well, we’ll go for Breeders’ Cup and take them out 6 weeks early,’” said Brummit. “Actually, giving them a month to prepare was the worst possible thing, because all you really did was get them totally out of kilter and miss the window.”

Not having run many trainees on the West Coast, Johnston had no sense for whether the climate change would make a difference to a horse. He said Nyaleti and his other charges are under lights year-round in their stalls at home, and that might serve to keep their internal clocks synced within time and climate changes in England.

With regards to the lighting, Johnston pointed out that by the time a trainer knew which start was next on the radar, it would be too late to change things in time to have a significant impact on the body. The same principle, of course, holds true to some extent for a training program. And then there’s the tendency of trainers to avoid meddling with a routine that’s worked for them in the past.

Roger Varian, who brings Madeline (IRE) to the Juvenile Fillies Turf and Nezwaah (GB) to the Filly and Mare Turf, said he did not drastically alter either filly’s schedule in the weeks leading up to their trip west. From his perspective, the tendency to do serious work at home prior to shipping is neither a departure from the typical training pattern for a domestic start, nor any different of a challenge from shipping to an international contest anywhere else.

“When you go to Australia, you’re going to have a longer quarantine, you’re going to be there two or three weeks before you race,” Varian said. “You’ve got to leave a little bit on the horse to do some strong work going into the race. When you come out here and you’re shipping in the week before the race you can kind of do most of your work at home. I’d say nine out of ten take the trip over very well.”

And the notoriously tough Del Mar turf?

“It’s a little bit tight, I think it’s 7 furlongs around the turf. I think it rides well but it’s tighter than some of our tracks, for sure,” he said.

Del Mar History: Shoemaker breaks recordNatalie Voss
Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien will enter the Breeders’ Cup in hopes of breaking Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Grade/Group 1 victories in one year. If he does, it won’t be the first time the track has seen a victories record broken.

On Sept. 7, 1970, Bill Shoemaker piloted a filly named Dares J to win his 6,033th race, surpassing the previous record held by Johnny Longden. Shoemaker had been working toward the record throughout the week, and Dares J delivered the dramatic victory the audience was waiting for. The filly “fairly exploded out of the gate,” according to The Blood-Horse‘s Robert Hebert, taking an early lead and winning by 2 ½ lengths under urging from Shoemaker.

Longden, with whom Shoemaker had a friendly rapport, was on hand for the win. Although The Shoe had been on track to beat his friend’s record for some time (and indeed would go on to win more than 2,000 more races, including a fifth Belmont Stakes and a Breeders’ Cup Classic), he insisted Longden was the superior rider.

Bill Shoemaker won nearly 9,000 races by the time he retired from racing

“You are the most loved and respected man of our racing word. You may not be aware of it, because you are so humble, but you are the No. 1 man in our sport,” Del Mar executive vice president Donald Smith declared in a winner’s circle ceremony.

“I appreciate the cup and the acclaim,” Shoemaker said, according to Hebert, “but the greatest man in racing is my friend Longden.”

Shoemaker was asked about retirement in that 1970 ceremony, but little did anyone realize at the time he had another 20 years left in the saddle. His rides during that time included Forego, Ferdinand, John Henry, and Spectacular Bid. His history of success brought him both an Eclipse Award of Merit and an Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 1981.

The Shoe’s life after the accolades was less rosy. He became a trainer, working for Allen Paulson and Burt Bacharach immediately after hanging up his boots. In 1991, Shoemaker was involved in a single-car crash, allegedly the result of drunk driving, which left him a quadriplegic. Passing motorists saw Shoemaker’s car roll over a cliff on a California highway, and one extricated the bloodied rider from the vehicle, helping to restart his breathing.

Shoemaker became a source of controversy when, after his recovery, he sued Ford, the maker of the Bronco he drove that day, in addition to the California Department of Transportation and several of his doctors. Ford settled for $1 million, and Shoemaker trained trackside from a wheelchair.

“Some people think I can’t do it anymore,” he told writer Bill Nack for Sports Illustrated. “But I can train as well now as I ever did. I can still see, and training is a seeing game. You have to play the hand you’re dealt. And I was dealt this one.”

By his retirement from training in 1997, he had conditioned winners of 90 races with earnings of $3.7 million.

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