No matter how you slice it, the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) on November 2nd at Churchill Downs is more than just another horse race.
Even setting aside its massive purse, the 8.5-furlong race also serves as a season-defining test of the nation’s best two-year-old colts and geldings; whoever wins will, in all likelihood, be named the champion two-year-old male of 2018.
Just as importantly, the Juvenile is a major step on the 2018-19 Road to the Kentucky Derby and offers 20 qualification points to the winner; in other words, whoever crosses the wire first will be well on their way to securing a spot in the starting gate for the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
With so much on the line, a full field of 14 young runners have turned out to contest the Juvenile, and on paper they look like a promising group with lots of potential. But none have me quite as excited as #9 Game Winner, a well-bred son of Candy Ride who sits atop my early Top 10 list of Kentucky Derby contenders.
What’s not to like? He’s undefeated in three starts, having broken his maiden impressively at Del Mar before rattling off convincing victories in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) and American Pharoah Stakes (gr. I). In the latter race, he pressed a modest pace before pulling away in the homestretch to win by 4 ½ lengths, earning a 97 Beyer speed figure that stands out as the highest in the Juvenile field.
Even better, Game Winner is versatile. Like many of trainer Bob Baffert’s best horses, Game Winner has plenty of tactical speed, but he can be just as effective rating behind the leaders. Just look at the Del Mar Futurity, where he settled five lengths off the pace early on before rallying to victory.
There’s a lot of speed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile field, so Game Winner’s versatility should come in handy and allow him to avoid getting too involved if a hot pace unfolds. From there, I expect to see him produce his typical big finish and roll past the leaders in the homestretch to give Baffert a fourth victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
#6 Complexity looms as Game Winner’s main challenger after winning the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) with a remarkable display of speed and authority. Trained by Chad Brown, who won last year’s Juvenile with Good Magic, Complexity could be very dangerous if left alone on an easy lead, but that doesn’t seem likely given that at least four or five other talented colts figure to challenge Complexity for early supremacy.
If the pace does turn out to be intense, then #11 Code of Honor—who stumbled at the start of the Champagne and rallied from last to finish second—could potentially have a chance to turn the tables on Complexity, while #12 Gunmetal Gray—runner-up behind Game Winner in the American Pharoah Stakes—is another who could make his presence felt with late run from mid-pack.
Here’s how I would play the race: