Del Mar’s wait is over; Breeders’ Cup Weekend is here and four of the 13 World Championship races are set for Friday at the coastal course just outside San Diego.
The 13 races – headlined by Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic – offer tough tests for horsemen battling for $26 million in purses and challenging wagering opportunities for horseplayers.
The handicapping trio from This Is Horse Racing – Joe Clancy, Sean Clancy and Tom Law – are back to take more swings at the big races and they’ll be joined by The Saratoga Special’s leading handicappers John Shapazian and Charles Bedard and The Special staffer Ben Gowans making picks.
Two turf races for 2-year-olds and two two-turn races on the main track for 3-year-olds and up are on tap for Friday, the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf leading off with a post time of 5:25 p.m. ET. The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff, featuring a showdown between the best 3-year-old fillies and top older fillies and mares, caps the day at 7:35 p.m. ET.
The four races will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network on cable from 5-8 p.m. ET.
Here are the picks for Breeders’ Cup Friday:
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Post time 5:25 p.m. ET
A large cast of Europeans led by multiple Group 1 winner Happily and September take on Grade 3 Jessamine winner Rushing Fall and Significant Form, Best Performance and Orbolution, the first three finishers from Belmont Park’s Grade 3 Miss Grillo. Americans hold the edge of late in 1-mile turf test, winning the last three editions and seven of nine overall.
Sean: Happily, Madeline, Rushing Fall.
Joe: Happily, Best Performance, Rushing Fall.
Tom: Rushing Fall, Happily, Juliet Capulet.
John: Happily, Rushing Fall, September.
Ben: Significant Form, Juliet Capulet, Rushing Fall.
Charles: Moon Dash, Rushing Fall, Happily.
Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Post time 6:05 p.m. ET
Extremely short run to the first turn in two-turn test, seemingly favoring inside posts. That doesn’t bode well for Grade 1 winner Practical Joke from the extreme outside in post 10, along with San Diego winner Accelerate in post 8. Who drew a little more favorably inside? Sharp Azteca, Awesome Slew, Mor Spirit and Cupit. Mor Spirit could not have been more impressive winning the Grade 1 Met Mile but that was his last start and it’s all the way back to June 10. He still could start off big weekend for Bob Baffert and Mike Smith.
Sean: Mor Spirit, Practical Joke, Awesome Slew.
Joe: Practical Joke, Mor Spirit, Acclerate.
Tom: Battle Of Midway, Accelerate, Mor Spirit.
John: Mor Spirit, Accelerate, Sharp Azteca.
Ben: Sharp Azteca, Accelerate, Practical Joke.
Charles: Mor Spirit, Sharp Azteca, Accelerate.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Post time 6:50 p.m. ET
Six of the 10 editions of 1-mile turf test have gone to European runners, including a run of three straight from 2011 to 2013 and again in 2015. Oscar Performance prepped in the Pilgrim at Belmont last year and scored for the home team. The Pilgrim winner this year, Seabhac, is not in the field but runner-up Voting Control is and not without a chance. The European contingent is led by Godolphin’s Masar, Darley Dewhurst runner-up Mendelssohnm, Beckford and James Garfield. Our handicappers are all over the map.
Sean: Sands Of Mali, Catholic Boy, Masar.
Joe: James Garfield, Catholic Boy, Untamed Domain.
Tom: Encumbered, Masar, James Garfield.
John: Masar, James Garfield, Mendelssohn.
Ben: James Garfield, Sands Of Mali, Beckford.
Charles: Hemp Hemp Hooray, Snapper Sinclair, Voting Control.
Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Post time 7:35 p.m. ET
The headliner pits Stellar Wind and Forever Unbridled against 3-year-olds Abel Tasman, Elate, Paradise Woods. Stellar Wind is 3-for-3 at Del Mar, all graded stakes including this year’s Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch, while Forever Unbridled finished third in last year’s unforgettable edition behind Beholder and Songbird. The 3-year-old fillies are battling for the divisional championship. Abel Tasman might rate the edge going in, with three Grade 1 victories to two for Paradise Woods and one for Elate. A lot of weight on Elate from our handicappers, who are near consensus on the Alabama winner.
Sean: Elate, Stellar Wind, Paradise Woods.
Joe: Elate, Forever Unbridled, Stellar Wind.
Tom: Elate, Stellar Wind, Forever Unbridled.
John: Elate, Paradise Woods, Stellar Wind.
Ben: Elate, Abel Tasman, Forever Unbridled.
Charles: Abel Tasman, Stellar Wind, Forever Unbridled.