Five weeks out from the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, eight “Win and You’re In” prep races will be conducted September 27-29, including a quartet of prestigious events Saturday.
A pair of grade 1 races at Belmont Park will be followed by two more top-level prizes at Santa Anita. Some of the most heralded Breeders’ Cup contenders will take the spotlight in these Breeders’ Cup Challenge events, and while the fields are small, the classy competition could lead to some lucrative betting opportunities.
Let’s come up with some spot plays on a $75 budget.
Belmont Park, Race 4: Vosburgh Stakes (G1)
#4 Imperial Hint dominated this six-furlong sprint in 2018 and recently returned to form with a track-record victory in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) at Saratoga. Twice placed in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), Imperial Hint has a meaningful advantage over his Saturday rivals in terms of Beyer and Brisnet speed figures. He also figures to get a perfect trip stalking #5 Promises Fulfilled early on.
Imperial Hint looks like a logical single for multi-race wagers, but we’ll also play him in a straight exacta with #6 Firenze Fire, who has three wins from four starts at Belmont.
$10 exacta: 4 with 6
Belmont Park, Race 10: Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1)
North America’s male dirt horses have taken turns beating each other this year. So, rather than count on Travers Stakes (G1) winner #2 Code of Honor or Woodward Stakes (G1) victor #4 Preservationist to string together back-to-back grade 1 wins, I’ll take a shot with #3 Vino Rosso.
Vino Rosso was hardly disgraced when he finished third behind division leader McKinzie in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. Previously the son of Curlin edged Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Gift Box in the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), where his stamina to good use with a grinding victory.
Vino Rosso skipped the Woodward to aim for the Jockey Club Gold Cup, where he figures to relish the return to 10 furlongs. From a speed-figure perspective, he fits this race well, and he has been training up a storm in preparation for Saturday. I think he is sitting on a big effort.
$12 to win on #3 Vino Rosso
$4 exacta: 3 with 2,4 ($8)
$5 exacta: 2,4 with 3 ($10)
Santa Anita, Race 9: Rodeo Drive Stakes (G1)
Trainer Brad Cox has worked miracles with #2 Beau Recall this year. After she went 3-for-18 to start her career, the 5-year-old mare has gone 4-for-6 under Cox’s care and finished second in her two defeats. She has traveled the country to defeat grade 1 winners like Got Stormy and Vasilika with strong rallies from off the pace, and it is easy to envision her momentum building to a peak in the Rodeo Drive.
Beau Recall has been campaigned as a miler this year, though, and she is winless in three starts at the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Rodeo Drive. If the extended journey trips her up, #6 Paved can take advantage. The runner-up in the 2018 Rodeo Drive, Paved didn’t show much in two starts at Del Mar this summer, but she seems to have a disdain for California’s seaside oval. She has been much more effective at Santa Anita and could be sitting on a peak effort in her third start of the season.
$10 exacta box: 2,6 ($20)
Santa Anita, Race 10: Awesome Again Stakes (G1)
#4 McKinzie hasn’t run a bad race this year and dominated the Whitney eight weeks ago, when he defeated grade 1 winners Yoshida, Vino Rosso and Preservationist with authority. It is also worth noting that Bob Baffert has a great record in the Awesome Again. Over the last 10 years, nine of Baffert’s 16 starters have finished in the exacta. McKinzie continues to train sharply and should emerge victorious Saturday.
The logical candidate to round out the exacta is #1 Higher Power, who fired off huge speed figures when he crushed the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar by 5 1/4 lengths. But this was such a huge step forward off Higher Power’s previous form, I have to wonder if it was a fluke triggered by a special affinity for the tricky track at Del Mar.
Instead, I’ll use #3 Seeking the Soul underneath. He didn’t fire in the Pacific Classic, where he trudged home seventh, but two starts back he defeated a quality field in the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster Handicap (G2). Seeking the Soul is known as a Churchill Downs specialist, but he also finished second in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park during the winter, which showed he can deliver a big effort on the road. If you draw a line through his no-show in the Pacific Classic, he looms as a logical runner-up.
$10 exacta: 4 with 3
$5 trifecta: 4 with 3 with 1