The Americans are clearly led by Lady Eli, whose heartening story of returning from a bout of laminitis to get back to her Grade 1-winning form makes her one of the easiest horses to root for at this Breeders’ Cup. She was to have been the favorite in this race a year ago before she was sent to the sidelines, and she’s done nothing in her two starts so far this year to suggest she’s lost a step.
The favorite will have to deal with a trio of Europeans, all three of which have plenty of experience with each other, having been in the starting gate together on a number of occasions previously. She also must again fend off the two horses that were nipping at her heels in the Flower Bowl, both of which are not without chances.
While there is no Pace Projector for this race (due to the plethora of European entrants), our Early Pace ratings indicate that Catch a Glimpse and Kitcat should be contesting the lead, with Avenge and Zipessa in close attendance. One would also imagine that Pretty Perfect, a confirmed frontrunner in Europe, will be right up on the pace.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, SEA CALISI (8/1):
She probably should have won her first three starts in this country, as she was ridden into traffic in the New York back in June, which probably handed the race to her stablemate. She followed up that performance with a visually impressive score in the Beverly D., in which she passed 10 horses in the stretch to get up for the victory. While the second and third place finishers in that race have both shown up here, it was one of the weakest Beverly Ds in recent memory. We got a better line on how she stacks up against a field of this quality in the Flower Bowl, and she proved to be no match for her stablemate, Lady Eli. In her defense, the pace of that race was on the moderate side, which may have compromised her chances ever so slightly. Given the aforementioned group of horses with early speed, the pace should be honest. I’m not sure that she’s good enough to break through with a win, but she’s definitely a horse I could throw into my trifectas.
#2, CATCH A GLIMPSE (12/1): Take nothing away from what this filly accomplished during the first half of the season. She followed up her stellar two-year-old campaign by winning five straight stakes races, culminating in a gutsy win over her archrival Time and Motion in the Belmont Oaks. However, things have started to unravel since then. A change in tactics allowed Time and Motion to get the better of her in the Lake Placid, and then Catch a Glimpse totally fell apart when beating only one horse home at Keeneland. She’s certainly earned her spot in this race, but a mile and a quarter has always been a stretch, and in her current form, it’s hard to imagine her sticking around until the end.
#3, SEVENTH HEAVEN (3/1):
Based on form, Seventh Heaven’s win in the Yorkshire Oaks makes her a standout. That day, not only did she soundly defeat both of the European rivals she’ll face today, but she also walloped the almighty Found by nearly three lengths. That followed a similarly impressive score in the Irish Oaks. Her most recent, dull effort in the British Champions Filly and Mare Stakes is a concern, but in fairness to her, she may not have gotten her preferred trip, as she was pinned down along the rail for too much of the running. Of greater worry is the distance of this race. She’s a filly with ample stamina who typically takes a while to wind up to top speed in her races over 12 furlongs. Her staying power gives the illusion of a powerful late kick, but I wonder if that perceived turn of foot will be somewhat muted over this shorter distance. Timeform correspondent Jamie Lynch points out: “On form Seventh Heaven is the best in this class. On time, this time, she has her work cut out.” She is certainly one that must be included in exotics, but I don’t think it’s wise to take that 124 Timeform figure in the Yorkshire Oaks at face value in this new scenario.
#4, AVENGE (15/1): She’s come to hand nicely for Richard Mandella in recent months, and was able to stretch her speed out to this 10 furlong distance under a masterful ride from Flavien Prat in the Rodeo Drive. That said, she’s always been more of a sprinter/miler type, and I need to see her do it against this level of competition before I’ll believe that she’s anything more than a pace factor in this race.
#5, AL’S GAL (15/1): Through some clever management, she’s had quite the season, finishing in the exacta in each of her last six starts. Her finest hour might have been her fast-closing second place finish to Sea Calisi in the Beverly D., but I’ve already cited the subpar quality of that field. She did finally early a Grade 1—albeit Canadian—in the E. P. Taylor, but the 113 race rating of that race suggests that she’s taking a significant step up in class today. If you think the pace is going to collapse, I suppose she has a chance to get into the superfecta.
#6, ZIPESSA (20/1): She was beaten by Sea Calisi and Al’s Gal in the Beverly D., and by Avenge in the Rodeo Drive. I’ve already laid out my critiques of those runners, so it should come as no surprise that I don’t have anything particularly positive to say about this filly. She seems like a Grade 2 or Grade 3 type of runner that took advantage of circumstances in her last two starts.
#7, SENTIERO ITALIA (12/1):
This filly feels as if she could be the forgotten American horse in this race. I realize she doesn’t have a Grade 1 victory on her resume, but she’s done nothing wrong in any of her starts at that level. She was a strong fourth in this race last year behind Stephanie’s Kitten and the highly-regarded Legatissimo—a strong showing for a three-year-old filly. Her 2016 campaign has been abbreviated, but she’s returned in great form. She just barely lost to Lady Eli after making the first move into that quick pace (color-coded in red) of the Ballston Spa. Her Flower Bowl loss seems to give a better indication of the margin between them, but, in fairness to Sentiero Italia, she may be more comfortable racing from a stalking position. While she probably can’t turn the tables on that rival, I see no reason why she shouldn’t be used strongly in exactas and trifectas.
#8, LADY ELI (5/2):
It’s not typically my style to extoll the virtues of a short-priced favorite, but I find myself unable to find a major fault with this filly. She handles the distance, is versatile enough to adapt to a variety of pace scenarios, and possesses a push-button turn of foot that is especially lethal over a fast turf course such as Santa Anita’s. As long as Irad Ortiz keeps her out of trouble, she should have a great shot to win this race and complete her heartwarming story.
#9, RYANS CHARM (30/1): She’s a multiple Group 1 winner in Peru and a specialist at this distance, but I don’t see any indication that she’s ready to make this gigantic leap up in class off a layoff.
#10, KITCAT (20/1): This Chilean Group 1 winner actually put in a decent showing in her stateside debut, which was obviously just a prep for this. While it’s possible that she’ll appreciate this stretch-out to a mile and a quarter, her Chilean form would indicate that she’s actually more comfortable at or around a flat mile.
#11, QUEEN’S TRUST (6/1):
Timeform’s Jamie Lynch is quite bullish on the chances of this filly, asserting, “In short, for me, Queen’s Trust is the best fit of the Euros for the race, and the best bet of the Euros at the meeting.” The reasoning behind that line of thinking goes like this: Queen’s Trust is better-suited to the mile and a quarter distance of this race, and her handiness over 12 furlongs will allow her to attain better early position than the plodding Seventh Heaven. Furthermore, she’s been somewhat flat in the final furlongs of her races at a mile and a half, and one could argue that her best performance of the year came at 10 furlongs when a game second to the top three-year-old filly in Europe: Minding. Michael Stoute and Frankie Dettori are always dangerous at the Breeders’ Cup, and she is an integral part of my play.
#12, PRETTY PERFECT (15/1): This frontrunning stayer should find the early fractions of this race to be quicker than what she’s used to encountering. While she has progressed steadily this year and enters this race in the best form of her life, it still seems as if the flow of this race will not bring out the best in her.
#13, NUOVO RECORD (12/1):
This is the wild card in the race. At times, she’s been brilliant. She had a strong three-year-old season, which saw her land the prestigious Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) over Harp Star, who would go on to be a minor player in that year’s Arc de Triomphe. She was perhaps even better as a four-year-old, ending her season with three straight flattering second place finishes: She lost by just over a length to that year’s Japan Cup winner, Shonan Pandora, in September, and then lost by only a neck to 2016 Takarazuka Kinen winner Marialite in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup before finishing second to this year’s 10-length Prix d’Ispahan winner A Shin Hikari in Hong Kong. Based on that form, she would have to be considered one of the favorites in this race (by me, at least). However, the 2016 version of Nuovo Record leaves something to be desired. She disappointed over yielding ground in Hong Kong, which may not be her favorite kind of going, and then got the summer off. Her prep for this race, in August, was slightly more encouraging, as she lost to Maurice by just under two lengths, and he’s considered to be among the best horses in Japan after his win in the Tenno Sho. Now, if you’re doubting whether top Japanese horses can compete in the United States, just take a look at Cesario in the 2005 American Oaks, or Trailblazer finishing a good fourth in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf. If Nuovo Record can overcome this post position and work out a trip, I believe this mare might still be able to produce the kind of effort that could make her a factor here. The price figures to be high enough for us to take a shot.