Count ’em. There were at least 60 Grade 1 winners entered into this week’s Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in Kentucky. With only 14 trophies to go around Friday and Saturday, some will be left out.
Favorites do not always deliver, either. In the first 36 years of the championships, 69 percent have lost. Even odds-on choices have failed 57 percent of the time.
So value hunters rejoice. The trick is to first identify the overrated underlays. Five leap from the past performances.
Classic – Improbable
Bettors fade Bob Baffert at their own risk. He trained three consecutive winners of this race – Bayern (2014), American Pharoah (2015) and Arrogate (2016). He has also earned a record $30,065,000 in Breeders’ Cup purse money. But Baffert has struggled lately in the championships. Among 22 starters the last three years, his only victory was with Game Winner in the 2018 Juvenile.
Morning-line favorite Improbable (5-2) attracted most of the futures money by winning three in a row, all in Grade 1s. But he will face as many horses Saturday as he did in all those races combined. The same goes for his four-time Grade 1-winning stablemate Maximum Security (7-2). Authentic (6-1), the “other” Baffert, ground out a frontrunning victory in the Kentucky Derby, but his Preakness loss stoked new doubts about his ability to stay the 1¼ miles of the $6 million Classic.
Belmont and Travers winner Tiz The Law (3-1) looks more comfortable at Keeneland this week than he did losing the Derby at Churchill Downs. But he drew poorly into post 2, where he will have to deal with the sort of traffic that has been his kryptonite.
At age 7, Tom’s d’Etat (6-1) might have come into the Classic with five straight victories if not for his uncharacteristically dawdling start at Saratoga in a slowly run Whitney. He still managed to make up 2½ lengths in the stretch to finish third. Presuming he gets out of the gate cleanly Saturday, and figuring on an honest pace, he stands a strong chance to become the oldest horse ever to win America’s richest race.
Turf – Magical
Aidan O’Brien can empathize with Baffert. His 12 victories and $23,895,590 in the Breeders’ Cup are the most of any foreign trainer. But since Mendelssohn won the 2017 Juvenile Turf, Ireland’s greatest horseman has lost with his last 35 horses in the championships.
There was no shame in Magical’s defeat two years ago. She was second to the now-retired two-time European champion Enable in the 2018 Turf. Now 5, she is the 5-2 favorite for Saturday’s renewal of the $4 million race over 1½ miles, a distance that is not in her wheelhouse. Most of her starts and five of her Group 1 wins the past two years have been at 1¼ miles.
Her 3-year-old stablemate Mogul (4-1) may be more suited to both the distance and the firm turf Saturday at Keeneland. It was on good turf that he won a Group 1 race in France nearly two months ago. About to take on males for the first time, rival Irish filly Tarnawa (6-1) won back-to-back French Group 1s to convince her owner, the Aga Khan, to send a horse to the Breeders’ Cup for only the second time since 2013.
Mogul and Tarnawa are both poised to spoil one of the last races Magical will run before she begins her breeding career.
Complexity – Dirt Mile
The sample size is not big, maybe 50 races in the past five years. But it is compelling. Horses drawn to the inside have a huge advantage in one-mile dirt races at Keeneland. 1/ST Bet’s Jeremy Plonk, who studies statistical trends at the track, said posts 1, 2 and 3 have won 40 percent of those dirt miles.
That alone is bad news for Complexity (2-1), trainer Chad Brown’s 4-year-old that took advantage of a speed-favoring day at Belmont Park last month to win the Grade 2 Kelso. He drew post 10, which Plonk all but declared a kiss of death.
Art Collector (6-1), the Blue Grass winner that fizzled to fourth in last month’s Preakness, drew the rail. That will be a big boost in the short run to the first turn, where he is likely to hook up with pacesetter Knicks Go (7-2), a 4-year-old that drew post 5 and is winless in his last eight graded stakes.
If Plonk’s analytics hold any weight, Art Collector should redeem himself this weekend.
Jackie’s Warrior – Juvenile
Friday’s card featuring 2-year-olds includes three of the shortest-priced Breeders’ Cup favorites, including Jackie’s Warrior (7-5) in the Juvenile. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he is 4-for-4 with a pair of Grade 1 triumphs in New York. But those were all one-turn races. The Juvenile is 8½ furlongs around two turns.
Essential Quality (4-1) may be only 2-for-2, but he won over Friday’s course and distance in last month’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. He also demonstrated tenacity in getting through late traffic to win his September debut by four lengths. A bullet workout last week for trainer Brad Cox was a sign that this Tapit baby is ready to roll.
Ivar – Mile
There is no way that a Brazilian-bred 4-year-old that pulled off a fluky 14-1 win last month will be the favorite. Nevertheless, Ivar (4-1) has the morning-line honors.
Ivar’s signature victory came in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile over the Breeders’ Cup layout. One hour earlier Uni (5-1) won the Grade 1 First Lady over the same course and distance. Although that was against fillies and mares, this is the same horse that won last year’s Mile for turf-happy training champion Chad Brown. The question with her is whether she is back to her 2019 form after being a beaten favorite twice during the summer.
The 3-year-old Kitten’s Joy colt Kameko (6-1) was arguably more battle-tested this year in England, where he won the 2,000 Guineas over a mile in June and finished first in a better than average Group 2 race six weeks ago at Newmarket.
Since either Uni or Kameko is more likely than Ivar to be favored at post time, this may not fall into the category of an upset. But if either goes off at 4-1 or longer, a successful bettor should not quibble over semantics.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races, including Breeders’ Cup wrap-ups Friday and Saturday evenings. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week offers two episodes. The first, a pop-up posted Wednesday, includes analysis of all 14 Breeders’ Cup races with Las Vegas horseplayer/bookmakers Chris Andrews, Johnny Avello, Duane Colucci and Vinny Magliulo. The regular weekly episode posted Friday features NBC Sports and 1/ST BET handicapper Ed Olczyk and five-time Breeders’ Cup-winning trainer Peter Miller. The RFRP is available via free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.