Take a shot against these favorites

BY foxsports • October 29, 2013

With so many top horses in so many championship-quality races, I think it makes sense to start handicapping the Breeders' Cup by identifying two different types of horses:

-Betting favorites who seem worth their acclaim and will be difficult to defeat.

-Betting favorites who seem quite vulnerable and will be worth betting against.

In the first instance, Wise Dan probably best fits the bill of a strong pre-race favorite who deserves his standing. While it will be hard to make money betting on Wise Dan at short odds, there might be ways to use him as a key horse in trifectas, superfectas or where good prices can be had in multi-race exotic sequences.

Yes, Wise Dan looks formidable, but all players should be careful not to think he is a lead-pipe cinch. No horse in any BC race deserves to be placed in the winner’s circle before the race is run. Any horseplayer worth his torn-up mutuel tickets knows that there is no percentage playing short-priced horses to win, no matter who they are.

In the second circumstance, vulnerable betting favorites tend to be among those attracting heavy wagering support based on performances a long way removed from their best. Or, perhaps they are facing tougher situations than they have seen while racking up a series of wins. Some overbet favorites also might be trying a new course, or distance, in a deep field of contenders.

Without going through every race, I see several terrific BC horses who will be worth wagering against, as well as some good horses who may be seriously underrated in their respective events. By my reckoning, here are three such vulnerable favorites and three longshots worth a close look.

Sweet Reason, an obviously talented 2-year-old filly, is listed as the 3-1 favorite in Mike Watchmaker’s early DRF line for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but looks to me to be a vulnerable betting favorite.

First of all, her two runaway wins were in wet-track sprints during the summer at Saratoga and her only loss was at 75 cents on the dollar in the one-mile Frizette Stakes at Belmont when she was soundly defeated by Artemis Agrotera, who also will be in the BC Juvenile Fillies.

The Frizette also was run around one turn, while the BC Juvenile Fillies is to be run at 1 1/16 miles around two turns on a one-mile oval that is considerably smaller than either Saratoga or Belmont.

Sweet Reason also will be shipping across the country for this race, and her recent workouts have not been up to the high standard of her training during the summer.

She also will be meeting a field loaded with competitive fillies. These include Secret Compass and She’s a Tiger, the one-two finishers in the Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes over the track on Sept. 28; Untapable, winner of the Pocahontas at Churchill Downs at the 1 1/16-mile BC Juvenile Fillies distance; and Scandalous Act, winner of three straight at Calder, including a 1 1/16-mile stakes.

Bottom line: Sweet Reason needs a substantially improved try to defeat a deep group of contenders at a different track and distance at which she has done her best work, and I am not inclined to back such a horse at a shorter-than-fair price.

My next vulnerable favorite is a crowd favorite, the mare Groupie Doll, who may not actually get the biggest vote at the parimutuel windows. Groupie Doll was such an impressive winner of the BC Filly and Mare Sprint last year, but she has not reproduced that form this year.

Trainer Buff Bradley has done his best to keep this filly in good health, but she was a most disappointing third at 1-5 odds in the one-mile Gardenia at Ellis Park, and in her most recent outing Groupie Doll could only manage a lackluster third-place finish in a Grade 2 stakes at six furlongs on the Polytrack at Keeneland. In fact, she was beaten by Judy the Beauty, a filly that Groupie Doll handled easily in their prior meeting.

While Groupie Doll’s recent workouts seem encouraging, this year’s BC Filly and Mare Sprint is stronger than last year, with Santa Anita horse for the course Teddy’s Promise in the lineup, along with the hard-hitting middle-distance fillies Summer Applause and Great Hot, as well as Dance for Bristol, a seven-time winner this year; Book Review, a Grade 1 winner on this track at this seven-furlong distance last December; and the ever present Judy the Beauty.

My third vulnerable favorite will be attempting to close out the two-day BC festivities with a resounding win. While I can see that happening, I won’t be betting that Game On Dude actually will make the third time a charm in the $5 million BC Classic.

This has nothing to do with his poor performance in the 2012 BC Classic. a race that can be tossed with conviction given the way Game On Dude was taken out of his game from the start. That said, I believe he is vulnerable this time around because of the way an above-average pace could negatively impact his performance.

Fort Larned, headed in the right direction for the race he won wire to wire last year, is a key pace threat, as is the front-running 3-year-old Moreno. Beyond those two, Mucho Macho Man is coming up to the 2013 Classic as he did last year, when he stalked the pace quite effectively for a close second-place finish.

With the expected fast pace, the chances of several stone-cold stretch runners must be taken seriously. Ron the Greek, the 2012 Santa Anita Handicap winner who looked good winning the recent Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, is in the field, as are the steadily improving 3-year-olds Will Take Charge and Palace Malice.

Flat Out, winner of $3.1 million, and the multiple Group 1-winning European import Declaration of War also cannot be taken too lightly.

If Game On Dude does beat this group, I will throw away my tickets on other horses while tipping my cap to him and his Hall of Fame connections, trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith.

As for a trio of longshots that I expect to include in my exotics, I suggest a close look at: Bahamian Squall in the six-furlong BC Sprint; Unbridled’s Note in the 6 1/2-furlong BC Turf Sprint; and New Year’s Day in the BC Juvenile. All three are listed at 12-1 on Mike Watchmaker’s early DRF price line.

Bahamian Squall turned in a clunker when fifth in the Vosburgh at Belmont, but won the Smile Stakes at Calder over a dead-fit Trinniberg in July. He is trained by David Fawkes, who won the 2010 Sprint with Big Drama. All of Bahamian Squall’s most recent workouts have been razor sharp.

Unbridled’s Note is in a competitive field, but was a good third in the BC Turf Sprint last year after winning the Eddie D in his turf racing debut. This year, he won an overnight stakes on the downhill course and was a solid third in the Eddie D on this unique turf course Sept. 28. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Unbridled’s Note will be ridden by Corey Nakatani, who has been aboard for all four of this 4-year-old’s solid turf races.

New Year’s Day lacks the Beyer Speed Figure power of New York invader Havana, who won the one-turn Champagne Stakes at Belmont Oct 5. Nor has New Year’s Day run as fast as his Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Tap It Rich, who won a one-mile maiden race at Santa Anita on Oct. 12 in his only start. New Year’s Day is, in fact, a non-stakes winner with moderate Beyer Figs. But, New Year’s Day, a son of Street Cry, would seem destined to improve with age and the switch to dirt, especially considering three excellent training drills over the Santa Anita track surface. Moreover, New Year’s Day defeated Bond Holder in his maiden win at Del Mar Aug. 31, and Bond Holder came out of that event to win the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita, Sept. 28.