If there are 1½ weeks until the Breeders’ Cup, then it must be time for the pre-entries, the signal for horseplayers to pre-handicap the pre-fields for pre-wagers.
The pre-entries are the framework for the 14 races, eliminating horses that might have been on the fence for their connections and serving as distractions in ante-post wagering. That means the futures market provides some real context for bettors who might wait until race day to pull the trigger on their wagers. While the early numbers are too often skewed by offshore misinformation or peppered with outdated gossip, by and large they are a useful window into potential overlays.
Some value exists already for those who are brave enough to jump in on futures that can be profitable on their own or even used as hedges against plays closer to post time. Here are 14 horses, one in each division, who might be worth playing now — or remembering late next week at Del Mar.
Art Collector — Classic (8-1). Knicks Go tries to go where he has never gone, namely a 10th furlong, and Essential Quality has Belmont and Travers trophies in his saddle bags. While those two stablemates from Brad Cox’s barn have absorbed so much of the spotlight, Art Collector has quietly gone 3-for-3 since he was transferred from Tommy Drury to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. His Woodward victory early this month produced a career-high 107 Beyer Speed Figure. If he is not sucked into an early speed duel with Knicks Go and Hot Rod Charlie, he and Essential Quality could be left to pick up the pieces. Or maybe just him. Since Art Collector’s regular jockey, Luis Saez, will be on Essential Quality, his Hall of Fame replacement Mike Smith may hold the key to some true value in the Classic.
Love — Turf (8-1). This Coolmore filly is like the Jimmy Garoppolo of European racing. Fitness issues, we were told, kept her out of the last two runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. That is just as well, since trainer Aidan O’Brien is 1-for-32 at ParisLongchamp with non-rabbits in the Arc. More importantly, he has won the Breeders’ Cup Turf a record six times with four seconds and five thirds in 27 tries. Love was a champion in her division last year. After a 10-month break, she faced males three times, winning the Prince of Wales at Royal Ascot before looking rank in two summertime starts. She looked like her old self against fillies and mares last time out in a close Group 2 loss in Ireland. Being fresher on firmer ground might be just what Love needs to produce a career-defining score.
Private Mission — Distaff (8-1). This race is that ultimate rarity for trainer Bob Baffert, because he has never won it in seven tries. While he has been under the microscope for Medina Spirit’s failed Kentucky Derby drug test, Baffert has been focused on what he does best — developing winners. Private Mission’s speed figures may not say so, but her front-running style has made-in-California success written all over it. The $750,000 Into Mischief 3-year-old is 3-for-3 in 2021, including a 6½-length triumph this summer in a Grade 3 mile at Del Mar. Added distance seems to become her, so the 1⅛ miles should be no problem. Letruska might be, though. Betting against that would-be horse of the year is probably not a wise idea, especially in multi-race wagers. But as a value play, it is hard not to sprinkle something on Private Mission, especially at 8-1.
Master Of The Seas — Mile (16-1). Trainer Charlie Appleby has had a hot year on both sides of the Atlantic for Godolphin. He is 3-for-7 lifetime in the Breeders’ Cup, so he picks his spots wisely. Master Of the Seas went nowhere, finishing seventh this month in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, but that was on soft turf. His best race was not a win but a close loss to would-be champion Poetic Flare in the English 2,000 Guineas. Appleby has had this race circled for months for Master Of The Seas. That alone should be a message.
Dr. Schivel — Sprint (5-1). After he won the Del Mar Futurity last year for former trainer Luis Mendez, new trainer Mark Glatt kept him on the bench until June. Then he dispelled the idea that Dr. Schivel was a flash in the pandemic pan. Three victories since in Southern California, including a Grade 1 score at Del Mar in the Bing Crosby, make him less of a fluke and more of a live chance to upset Jackie’s Warrior. The problem is Dr. Schivel may be enough of a wise-guy candidate to keep him from holding all that 5-1 value.
Filly & Mare Turf — Loves Only You (6-1). Since 1996 Japan has sent 13 starters to the Breeders’ Cup. None has finished better than fourth. Collectively hoping this year to do better than a participation ribbon, the country’s racing establishment is sending seven horses. Loves Only You stands head and shoulders ahead of the other six — and the 13 who preceded her. The 5-year-old Deep Impact mare has punched it out with some of the best around the world. Only a half-length separated her from beating Mishriff in the Dubai Sheema Classic. Then she won a Group 1 race in Hong Kong and finished a game second in Japan this summer after a four-month break. War Like Goddess, the 6-for-7 winner of the Flower Bowl, is herself an overlay as the 3-1 favorite, but she may be too deep a closer to pounce on the early speed in California. Loves Only You works from mid-pack, and that might be the key to finishing ahead of this field at the end of the 1⅜ miles at Del Mar.
Dirt Mile — Ginobili (16-1). Here is the course-horse angle coming into play. The 4-year-old Munnings gelding who is trained by Richard Baltas has won three of four starts on Del Mar’s main track, most recently Aug. 28 in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien. Form players also will take note that Ginobili is 2-for-2 with blinkers. He also has three consecutive bullet workouts, though they were at the San Luis Rey Training Center, so impressions and even clockings may differ. As long as likely favorite Life Is Good is not allowed to be on a loose lead in his California homecoming, a stalking Ginobili might have what it takes to overtake him and return to a familiar place — the winner’s circle at Del Mar.
Turf Sprint — Lieutenant Dan (8-1). This 5-year-old gelding was not in the Breeders’ Cup picture or even the plans of Nick Alexander, who bred and owns him. If he ends up in the field for the 5-furlong, $1 million Turf Sprint, it will be thanks to a $100,000 check that made him eligible. A 3-for-3 year for trainer Steve Miyadi was highlighted by this month’s victory in the Grade 2 Eddie D Stakes at Santa Anita. He is also 2-for-2 on Del Mar grass. Golden Pal has not set a foot wrong in the U.S. for trainer Wesley Ward, but his 8-5 odds right now are not worth a look for futures bettors. Instead, Lieutenant Dan might give horseplayers new legs to consider next week at Del Mar.
Filly & Mare Sprint — Bella Sofia (3-1). Frankly, a bet against defending winner and 2020 champion Gamine does not look prudent, especially since this race has a bunch of welts from the 10-foot poles awkwardly trying to avoid it. If there is a play against Baffert’s filly, it is with this overachieving $20,000 3-year-old who would be 5-for-5 if not for a poor start that turned into a one-length loss in her second race. The Grade 1 Test might have been Bella Sofia’s most impressive score for trainer Rudy Rodriguez if not for the 102 Beyer she earned last month for her Grade 2 victory at Belmont Park. However, Gamine had a 104 this year and a 110 last year. She will suck in money like a public-works project. Taking a position with Bella Sofia might be best served by waiting until post time, when she ought to be every bit of 3-1 and then some.
Juvenile — Corniche (7-2). The hype surrounding Champagne Stakes winner Jack Christopher sounds a lot like the hype last year around Jackie’s Warrior. “But this one is different.” Yeah, sure. They all are. Last year a second turn proved a bridge too far for that Jack trained by Steve Asmussen, so that challenge might yet rear its ugly head against this one who is trained by Chad Brown. Like Essential Quality last year, Corniche has already proven himself taking a full lap. He won the American Pharoah this month for Baffert going the Juvenile’s 8½-furlong distance, and he broke his maiden with a 4¼-length victory this summer at Del Mar. Jack Christopher’s 102 Beyer will be a talking point, but there is always some kind of talking point with a 2-year-old saveur du jour. Smith said Corniche has yet to show his best form. That might be message enough.
Juvenile Fillies — Ain’t Easy (9-2). Here is another one of those big Beyers. This time it is the 92 that Echo Zulu hung in her debut victory. She actually has regressed from that, albeit slightly with a pair of 90s to run her record to 3-for-3. Her jaw-dropping 7¼-length triumph this month in the Frizette certainly cut her odds. But put aside that shiny object. If Joel Rosario maintains Ain’t Easy’s stalking style, then Echo Zulu will have company for a lot longer than she has seen before now. Rosario had Ain’t Easy in fifth place in her debut before she pounced late to win at Del Mar. Her encore in the Grade 2 Chandelier this month at Santa Anita seemed relatively easy by comparison. As with the boys, the two-turn factor for this 8½-furlong race cannot be ignored. It will be Echo Zulu’s first time doing that. Ain’t Easy, meanwhile, has been there and done that for trainer Phil D’Amato.
Juvenile Turf — Dubawi Legend (7-1). This maiden winner requires a leap of faith in English trainer Hugo Palmer. Dubawi Legend has had hiccups in his brief three-race career. Sired by Dubawi, he lived up to his high expectations when he won his debut in July. Then as a 7-4 favorite in a Group 3 race at York, he fizzled to third. That was excused when a post-race scope came back dirty, so Dubawi Legend went on the shelf for nearly two months. As a 12-1 long shot he finished a credible second in the Group 1 Dewhurst at Newmarket. That was when Palmer expressed his confidence that Dubawi Legend might put it all together at Del Mar.
Juvenile Fillies Turf — Hello You (10-1). She has never raced a mile, but Hello You might as well have last time out. She stalked the leaders and found a decisive turn of foot a month ago to win a 7-furlong Group 2 race at Newmarket. That was the Invincible Spirit filly’s second victory in her five races and her first in four tries on turf. Since the homestretch on that English course goes uphill, a truly flat mile at Del Mar ought to come easily. This promises to be a wide-open race, so there may not be the same urgency to grab an early price. Then again, it is 10-1.
Juvenile Turf Sprint — Averly Jane (9-4). With a record of 4-for-4, this filly sired by Midshipman and trained by Ward has every reason to be the favorite. Averly Jane was geared down and still won the Indian Summer Stakes at Keeneland in stakes-record time. That was her first turf race after going 3-for-3 on dirt/slop. This is a case where the favorite is an overlay. It is hard to believe she will be longer than 8-5 at post time.
Put most of these in pencil, since the actual draw for post positions is not until Monday. By then, horses who are cross-entered into multiple divisions will be locked in once and for all to their races. Then the real handicapping may begin — even for those who got a head start by looking into the futures.
In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s episode features a preview of the Breeders’ Cup with trainers Mark Casse and Wayne Catalano and XBTV handicapper Jeremy Plonk. DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello handicaps weekend races. The RFRP is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.