The Dirt Mile is one of the newest Breeders’ Cup races. It’s also one of the more mercurial BC races. A brief history:
It was initiated in 2007 and has been run under varying conditions. It has been run at a mile, and it has been run at a mile and 70 yards. It has been run on dirt, and it has been run on synthetic surfaces. It has been run around one turn and around two turns. This year it will be run at the standard one-mile distance and around two turns, due to the layout of the Santa Anita dirt course. The distance splits the difference between the other two dirt races for older males: the Classic at a mile and a quarter and the Sprint at six furlongs. This distance generally draws an interesting mix of routers turning back from longer distances and sprinters trying to go farther. In this regard. the 2016 edition fits the mold perfectly.
Dortmund is the deserving 6 to 5 morning line favorite. He has won eight of 13 career starts, with all of his losses coming against either California Chrome or American Pharoah. He enters the race with the best last-race TimeformUS Speed Figure: a 131 earned while futilely chasing California Chrome to the wire in the G1 Awesome Again. Dortmund has finished behind Chrome in each of his three 2016 starts, coming away with two places and a show. Trainer Bob Baffert has another top colt in Arrogate set for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. So while entering Dortmund in the Dirt Mile may strike some handicappers as unambitious, in truth it is more likely a concession that Dortmund simply isn’t as good as Chrome.
This prompts the following question: Is any other horse in the field capable of beating Dortmund? Here is a look at the entire field:
#1, Vyjack (10-1): He is a versatile runner who has won G2 races on both dirt and turf. He changed barns this summer, from Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott to Phil D’Amato, without missing a beat. In his first start for his new trainer, at 7f on the dirt in the G2 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar, he ran a very good second–closing into a slow pace. His 120 TimeformUS Speed Figure that day was a career best. The 6yo then stepped it up again, running a 124 while winning the one-mile G2 City of Hope Stakes on the grass. He is in career-best form and draws a good post.
#2, Tom’s Ready (12-1): This 3yo has won two of his past three races. He won the seven furlong G2 Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard, then later won the G3 Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs. He has won three of 13 career starts, with all three wins coming around one turn. He is winless in six career starts around two turns, and his last-race TimeformUS Speed Figure of 115 matches his career top. He is a closing sprinter who would appear to need a serious pace meltdown to get in the mix here.
#3, Dortmund (6-5): He is cutting back from longer races but has handled the mile distance both times he has tried it, including once on this Santa Anita course.
#4, Point Piper (20-1): This six-year-old has run 25 times, and the highlight of his career thus far was winning the G3 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs this year. His 118 TimeformUS Speed Figure matched his career best, the third time he has run the number. The average winning number for this race is 126. He appears in too deep here.
#5, Accelerate (20-1): Another three-year-old, he comes in on a three-race winning streak. He appears too slow, however, having won those races with speed figures of 110, 110, and 114.
#6, Texas Chrome (20-1): The third of four three-year-olds in the race, he won the G3 Oklahoma Derby in his last outing, with a 117 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Just two weeks earlier, he won the G3 Super Derby at Lousiana Downs with a 121. He is a very game horse, having won his last three races by a half-length each time.
#7, Runhappy (3-1): What to do with the reigning Eclipse Award winner as best Sprinter? Toss him! He has run only one time this year, in the aforementioned G3 Ack Ack Stakes. He looked a shell of his former self. Despite the longer distance, his pace figures were well below what he was running in 2015 and he still was unable to contend late. Despite being beaten only two and a half lengths, he never looked like a contender. His lone two-turn try, in his second career start, was a disaster. If this horse were trained by a top name in the game, maybe he could be expected to rebound in his second start off a long layoff. But that is hardly the case here, and the price figures to be too short for an optimistic view.
#8, Tamarkuz (8-1): This horse came to the United States in 2015 with a good record and a lofty reputation. His last start before shipping was a win a million dollar race. the G2 Godolphin Mile at Meydan. His first stateside start was the G1 Met Mile at Belmont, where he was sent off at only 10-1. He didn’t run well that day or in two subsequent starts last year. He has yet to win in three 2016 starts either, but his TimeformUS Speed Figures have improved each time: from 100 to 113 to 121. He is moving in the right direction but needs to find more to contend here.
#9, Gun Runner (9-2): The last three-year-old in the field is also the most talented. He has won three graded stakes races this year and finished third in the G1 Kentucky Derby. His most recent race was a runner-up performance in the G2 Pennsylvania Derby, a race that should be a G1 at this point in time. He earned a career-best 128 TimeformUS Speed Figure that day, a number that ranks him second in this field.
If Dortmund is going to lose, the numbers say that Gun Runner is the horse who is most likely to beat him.
Dortmund is the horse to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. There are no California Chromes or American Pharoahs in this field, horses able to run 135+ TimeformUS Speed Figures. He has tactical speed and is tough to go against. If there is to be any value found, it is in the exotics.