The Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
1 1/16 miles, dirt, 2-year-olds | Churchill Downs, Race 9 | Friday, Nov. 2, 6:05 p.m. ET
Most likely winner: Complexity (#6)
This Breeders’ Cup Juvenile shapes up as a classic East vs. West matchup, as two superior 2-year-old colts from opposite coasts meet on neutral ground to decide a championship. Complexity and Game Winner are both undefeated and essentially untested, having established themselves as exceptional division leaders on their respective circuits. Despite that storyline, few have been scared off. Fourteen juveniles will line up in the starting gate for this race, making it more than a mere match race. While additional rivals are shipping from all over the country, the fact that the 3rd and 4th choices on the morning line each finished behind Complexity or Game Winner in his final prep is a testament to the dominance of the two favorites.
Game Winner has been given a slight edge on the morning line and that may have something to do with the notion that he stands to benefit from race dynamics. The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, and that could be an issue for the speedy Complexity, who has yet to be headed at any call in his two career starts. It’s no surprise that Complexity is anticipated to play out as the speed of the speeds, but it remains to be seen if he can lay down fast fractions and hold off such a formidable foe.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, DUELING (20-1): Despite having only just broken his maiden last time out, this horse has better credentials than some of his more accomplished rivals. He was somewhat unfortunate in his two sprint starts at Del Mar, as he ran into a pair of talented debut winners in Game Winner and Rowayton. However, the key to his success last time was clearly the added ground. Mike Smith rode him with plenty of confidence, unafraid to go 4 wide around both turns, and it’s conceivable that he could have won by more had he saved any ground. The 97 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned for that win won’t make the cut in this ambitious spot, but he is heading in the right direction and he’s one of only a few viable closers in a race loaded with speed. Use him underneath.
#2, MR. MONEY (30-1): I actually liked this colt’s maiden victory. He was the only horse that contested the early pace to be around at the finish and he won very comfortably as the race fell apart behind him. However, there’s a real question as to what was behind him that day, especially considering that the 1-5 favorite failed to show up. An outsider.
#3, DERBY DATE (30-1): He really didn’t run that badly within the context of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. Gabriel Saez sent for home fairly early, causing this colt to make a premature wide move before fading. The problem is that the Breeders’ Futurity was one of the weaker preps, and his prior efforts don’t suggest he’s at this level. Pass.
#4, TIGHT TEN (30-1): The son of Tapit possesses plenty of speed, so he could be a thorn in Complexity’s side through the early stages of this Juvenile. While he didn’t disgrace himself in the Iroquois, he was supposed to win that race given the moderate early fractions. I just don’t get the sense that he’s a true two-turn horse. Pass.
#5, WELL DEFINED (20-1): There were some pretty fast 2-year-olds in Florida this season, and this gelding stamped himself as the best of that bunch with a decisive victory in the In Reality. He was greatly aided by a slow pace (note the blue color-coded TimeformUS pace figures), but he nevertheless put plenty of distance between himself and heavy favorite Garter and Tie. The major issue for him is that he’s highly unlikely to make the lead and he’s never successfully passed a horse in any of his races. Pass.
#6, COMPLEXITY (5-2): This dazzling Saratoga debut winner did not disappoint in his first start against winners in the Grade 1 Champagne. The fact that he was only a lukewarm 5-2 favorite that day off such a dominant victory speaks to the overall quality of that Champagne field. In terms of sheer breadth of talent, I believe it was easily the strongest 2-year-old stakes race of the season thus far. Complexity dictated terms from the start, having established a clear lead within a matter of strides. He easily maintained his advantage through the first 5 furlongs while flicking his ears back and forth. Most 2-year-olds would be at least somewhat stressed to maintain a clear advantage through such taxing fractions, but he was traveling as if he was merely out for a morning breeze. He appeared to have plenty in reserve around the far turn, and he left no doubt when Jose Ortiz pulled the trigger at the quarter pole. Code of Honor did cut into his gap in the final furlong, but Complexity never looked to be in any danger.
Stamina is obviously a question for this son of Maclean’s Music. That sire was all about speed in his only career start and we’re still learning about his propensity for getting route winners. Yet on the female side of Complexity’s pedigree, there is real evidence to suggest today’s distance will be no issue. Damsire Yes It’s True is actually a stronger stamina influence than most realize, and his dam’s only other foal is Valadorna, who requires every bit of two turns to perform at her best. Looking even deeper into this family, his dam is a half-sister to a winner of the 9-furlong Demoiselle for 2-year-olds.
Chad Brown has not enjoyed the same success shipping to Churchill Downs that he has at other venues outside of New York. However, it’s been a while since this track has hosted a Breeders’ Cup and this barn has never come to battle with an army this strong. I’m a fan of Complexity and I believe he can run them off their feet. The narrow selection.
#7, MIND CONTROL (20-1): Things have not gone according to plan for the Grade 1 Hopeful winner. He came down with a temperature and was forced to miss a scheduled start in the Breeders’ Futurity, thus missing out on the chance to get some valuable experience around two turns. This colt clearly has talent, but Sep. 3 was the day that you wanted to have him, when he was a ridiculous 10-1 overlay in the Hopeful. Given his preparation, it’s difficult to fathom that he could be ready to overtake Complexity and hold off Game Winner. Siding against this one.
#8, STANDARD DEVIATION (12-1): If you’re using any of the runners exiting the Breeders’ Futurity, it’s likely this stablemate of Complexity. At first glance, I’ll admit that he appears to be one of the slowest horses in this race. The good news is that both of his performances are a little bit better than they might seem. On the day that he won his debut at Saratoga the main track was favoring horses that rode the rail, so he actually did well to win while racing wide throughout. Then last time, he was badly compromised by a poor post position draw and a wide trip. The short stretch run going that distance at Keeneland did him no favors either. He’s bred to run all day and the pace dynamics should work in his favor this time. Personally, I’m more interested in him as a potential Derby prospect next season, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him grab a piece of this race. Using underneath.
#9, GAME WINNER (8-5): Bob Baffert absolutely dominated the Del Mar maiden races this summer with his first-time starters. In the immediate aftermath of his Aug. 18 unveiling, Game Winner didn’t necessarily stand out from that pack despite having run a fast race. Yet what sets him apart from the other precocious 2-year-olds in California, as well as those in his own barn, is his ample stamina. That characteristic started to emerge in the Del Mar Futurity as he gradually wore down the speedy duo of Rowayton and Roadster, and it was on full display last time out in the Grade 1 American Pharoah.
Having attracted just 5 runners, one of which was still a maiden, this was not the strongest edition of the American Pharoah in terms of the quality of the competition. Certainly Complexity’s Champagne was a deeper race from top to bottom. However, Game Winner does deserve plenty of credit for his performance, because it was a fast race. The 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned is the second highest number in the race behind Complexity’s Champagne win, and it could have been higher had the pace been faster. I loved the way Game Winner ran away from his rivals in the final quarter-mile. Unlike Complexity, there is no doubt that he’s bred to run classic distances. Progeny of Candy Ride can do anything, and his female family is firmly stamina-oriented, tracing to his second dam Fleet Indian, a multiple graded stakes winner over 1 1/4 miles.
If I’m to be a contrarian, the one chink in this colt’s armor may be the sheer volume of speed signed on for this race. The Pace Projector indicates that he could be as far back as 6th or 7th in the early going, which would be uncharted territory. While he’s passed horses in prior starts, he’s never had to rate behind a rival or deal with kickback. Given his laidback nature, I get the sense that it won’t be a serious issue, but it’s still a minor concern given his status as the favorite. The horse to beat.
#10, KNICKS GO (30-1): He pulled off a 70-1 shocker in the Breeders’ Futurity, a race in which his task was made easier once Mind Control was withdrawn. He obviously relished the stretch-out in distance, but it’s hard to envision him duplicating that feat against a field of this quality with other speed signed on. Pass.
#11, CODE OF HONOR (5-1): He seems like the “wise guy horse” in this Breeders’ Cup Juvenile off his fast-closing second in the Champagne. It’s easy to draw parallels between this colt and the similarly named Honor Code, who was campaigned by these same connections several years ago. Both were rare debut winners for Shug McGaughey and returned to register deep-closing runner-up finishes in the Champagne. Honor Code skipped the Breeders’ Cup that year, but the difference is that he was still a work in progress at that time – still a long way from developing into the beast that we saw as a 4-year-old. Code of Honor, on the other hand, seems like a more precocious sort, with a great mind. Despite having won his debut in wire-to-wire fashion, he seamlessly transitioned into a one-run closer in the Champagne. That change of tactics was necessitated by a very poor break, as he stumbled badly a few strides after the start. Late runs from that bar back can be exhilarating, but this horse did have some things go right after that disastrous break. Eric Cancel gave him a beautiful ride, as he saved ground early, and angled out at just the right moment to launch his rally.
While his pedigree gives mixed signals, he finished up like a horse that should have no trouble handling at least 1 1/16 miles. He has a beautiful stride on him, a hallmark of the progeny of Noble Mission, and he feels like one that may still have room for improvement. He projects to benefit from the expected race dynamics, but I still think there’s a significant gap between him and the two favorites. He’s one of my main backups in multi-race wagers, but I’m not quite as enamored with him as some others seem to be. Leading the second tier of contenders.
#12, GUNMETAL GRAY (10-1): In some ways, he’s the West Coast version of Code of Honor. He was no match for the dominant 2-year-old on the circuit in his stakes debut, but he nevertheless ran well enough to suggest that he’s one of the top 4 contenders in this championship race. His Del Mar maiden win was a legitimately fast race over a tiring surface, and he managed to improve on that score when he stepped up in class to contest the American Pharoah. Unlike Code of Honor, he didn’t face any adversity whatsoever in achieving his runner-up finish and he did have to work pretty hard to reel in the distance-challenged Rowayton in the final furlong. Nevertheless, he earned one of the fastest speed figures in the field he possesses the right running style for this race. Top trifecta threat with a slim chance to upset.
#13, TOPPER T (30-1): This recent private purchase has never raced beyond 6 furlongs and has faced inferior competition in slow races. Pass.
#14, SIGNALMAN (20-1): He did encounter some minor trouble on the far turn in the Breeders’ Futurity as he got bumped approaching the quarter pole and may have even bounced off the rail. On the other hand, everything had gone right for him up until that point, as his rail draw allowed him work out a great ground-saving trip. Ultimately, despite having every chance to make a dent in Knicks Go’s winning margin in the lane, he was instead nearly caught by the unlucky Standard Deviation for second. This time, having drawn the far outside slot, the obstacles appear to be too great to overcome. Pass.