One week from today we’ll be enjoying the first day of Breeders’ Cup 2011. Churchill Downs’ Friday, Nov. 4 card has six Breeders’ Cup races beginning with the new $500,000 Sentient Jet Juvenile Sprint (gr. 1) and concluding with the $2 million Ladies Classic (gr. 1). Nine Breeders’ Cup races follow on the card Saturday, Nov. 5 highlighted by the $5 million Breeder Cup Classic (gr. 1).
Perusing through the Breeders’ Cup pre-entries and their accompanying past performances, the horses begin to define themselves in my mind. Where are the key horses? Who is the most likely winner regardless of odds? Who’s the best bet?
All signs have Havre de Grace headed to the Classic on Saturday where a victory would make her only the second female to win the Classic and a favorite to become the third consecutive female Horse of the Year. Rachel Alexandra was Horse of the Year in 2009 and Zenyatta received the honor last year. By 2005 Classic winner St. Liam, Havre de Grace would also be only the second Classic winner with a Classic winner as a sire and the third to by another Breeders’ Cup winner. In 2004, Ghostzapper won the Classic as the son of Awesome Again, the 1998 Classic winner. Alphabet Soup, the 1996 Classic winner, was by 1985 Mile (gr. 1) winner Cozzene.
Having said that, the “most likely to win” label moves from the last Breeders’ Cup race of the day to the first Breeders’ Cup race on Friday, the $500,000 Sentien Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. The Juvenile Sprint makes its debut in 2011 and is the only ungraded race on the World Championship menu this year.
A former Quarter Horse trainer from the Arizona border town of Nogales, Baffert knows how to train very young horses to run very short distances very fast. The only trainer to have more Breeders’ Cup Juvenile titles is D. Wayne Lukas, another Quarter Horse alum, with five Breeders' Cup Juvenile titles.
It would be idiotic to infer that Baffert will win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint every year, but it looks like he will get a good start Friday as he saddles probable favorite Secret Circle.
Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Secret Circle will be making his third start in the 6 furlong Juvenile Sprint. Secret Circle debuted at Del Mar in July, winning a 5-1/2 furlong maiden race by seven and one-quarter lengths on Polytrack. He then duplicated that effort at Santa Anita Oct. 10, this time winning the $71,000 Jack Goodman Stakes at 6 furlongs by five and one-quarter lengths. Both races are the fastest at their distance among Juvenile Sprint competitors and in both races, the Daily Racing Form trackman described Secret Circle as being “under a long hold.” In other words, there may have been something left in the Secret Circle tank.
Also attractive about Secret’s Circle is that he looks as if he may rate based on his performance in the Goodman. In that race, Secret’s Circle broke well but Bejarano quickly settled him into third, eight lengths off of front runner Sweep Swap. He then swept three-wide in the turn and wore down his foes in upper stretch before easily drawing away.
Many times in Breeders’ Cup Sprint races, the concentration of so much speed creates frantic paces early. While horses have won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and the Filly and Mare Sprint from gate-to-wire (see Big Drama winning the Sprint last year), the flexibility of being able to come from behind a torrid pace can be quite an asset.
Secret Circle’s main competition in the Juvenile Sprint should come from Hansen, a fast gray son of Tapit who has won a maiden race at Turfway Park and the $95,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile by 12-1/4 and 13-1/4 lengths respectively. As impressive as it was however, Hansen’s maiden race was more than a second and a-half slower than Special Secret’s maiden race. Both races were run on Polytrack. Hansen’s Kentucky Cup victory was also at Turfway Park, so the Juvenile Sprint will be his first trip over natural dirt at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Steve Asmussen, also long known for success with 2-year-olds, brings Seeker to the Juvenile Sprint. After breaking his maiden in his second start over 5-1/2 furlongs at Saratoga, Asmussen tried the son of Hard Spun in the grade 2 Nashua on Oct. 2 at Belmont Park at six furlongs. There he was third behind fellow Juvenile Sprinters Vexor, the winner, and Trinniberg in second. Although the Nashua was graded, the final time of 1:10.71 for six furlongs was again slower than Secret Circle’s 1:08.27 in the Goodman.
Run as the fifth race on Friday, the Juvenile Sprint is part of the Pick 4, Pick 5 and Pick 6. There is also a Pick3, Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta and a Daily Double available, so there figures to be plenty opportunity to capitalize on Secret Circle’s projected low odds. He makes the perfect key horse in any of these exotic bets.
And Baffert should be off to a fast start in the yet to be written history of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.