MILE - This is an easy race to get excited about as a fan, but perhaps not quite as much as a bettor. The problem is that while the argument can be made that Goldikova has lost a step now at the age of six, she's still very much the horse to beat at a short price. To complicate things further, if you don't concede the race to her, you have to go very deep. I'll spread with a number of contenders to various degrees, and will also take a small shot with Byword to win. The Juddmonte homebred was just a half-length back of Goldikova in the G1 Prix d'Ispahan last May, and has had an abbreviated campaign in 2011, but may to be back in top form. He took the G2 Prix Dollar last time at Longchamp Oct. 1 despite traffic trouble, and runner-up Cirrus des Aigles flattered that effort big time by returning to annex the G1 Champion S. at Ascot over So You Think. Note that while most of Byword's major successes have come at longer distances, he does sport a 4-3-1-0 record at a mile.
JUVENILE - The notion that Union Rags overcame a bad trip in the Champagne couldn't be more misguided--he sat in the perfect spot behind a hot pace and had to wait only briefly for running room. The fact that he ran slower than filly My Miss Aurelia did in the Frizette one race earlier further tempers my enthusiasm. He can win and he has to be included protectively in pick 3s/4s, but he's going to be overbet. I think very highly of Dullahan, but if this race were on Polytrack or if he was in the turf race, I'd be much more confident in him. He's always been very green, but has shown flashes of serious ability, and he overcame an absurdly wide trip to finally break through in the GI Breeders' Futurity last time (his Trakus chart is amazing--he traveled 51 feet more than the runner-up, which equates to about six lengths). He's obviously got the pedigree to handle dirt, as he's a half-brother to Mine That Bird by a sire (Even The Score) who was versatile as a racehorse and has been versatile as a producer. It's hard to tell much from his early races on this track as they were sprints and he was extremely green, and his workout Saturday was uninspiring, but he doesn't strike me as a horse that would turn heads in the morning. There are plenty of reasons to believe he'll be fine on the main track, but he could also very easily be a trap horse, so I'll use him and make him my tentative top pick, but won't lean too heavily on him. The others I'll try to beat Union Rags with are Take Charge Indy, who feels like the type who could wake up in a big way on dirt and might get my win money depending on his price; visually impressive (albeit with an easy trip) G2 Royal Lodge winner Daddy Long Legs, who tries dirt for the first time and has an American pedigree; and untested speedster Hansen.
TURF - He's not exactly a secret, but I had a hard time getting past Sea Moon here. The Europeans clearly have this race locked up, and Sea Moon offers by far the most upside with just five starts under his belt. His eight-length romp in the G2 Great Voltigeur S. at York in August over a weak field earned a field's best 126 Racing Post rating, and came at this distance. He was clearly best in the G1 St. Leger last time, as he was trapped down inside of horses for almost the entire stretch run. That he finished third with the trip he had was a testament to his very serious ability, and note that Sir Michael Stoute used the St. Leger as a springboard to Conduit's first of two BC Turf wins. St Nicholas Abbey is the under-the-radar Euro, and is probably the race's second most likely winner.
DIRT MILE - The obvious players in here (The Factor, Wilburn, Caleb's Posse and Trappe Shot--think Shackleford's over the top) are no secret and will all be on my tickets somewhere, but how about Tres Borrachos to spice things up a bit? In a race where two of the favorites are stretch-outs, the 6-year-old veteran turns back off a fifth-place finish in the GI Goodwood in which battled through an opening half that was 13 points above par on the Moss Pace Figure scale. He was third in June going seven panels with a 98 Beyer, and took a weak renewal of the 1 1/16-mile GII San Diego H. with a 97--those figures probably aren't quite good enough to win this, but he did run consecutive 106s in 2009. His dam was a sprinter/miler, and he has always given the impression that he too would be best at 7-8 furlongs, but shockingly, he's only gone a flat mile once in his career. Tres Borrachos probably isn't as talented as some of these at their respective bests, but he could show up with something close to a career top, which would put him in the mix.
TURF SPRINT - Havelock is the most reliable runner in this race--he's won the last four turf sprints he's contested, and has the versatility to travel in mid-pack or towards the back. It seemed like he was left with way too much to do last time in the GIII Woodford, but he flew home late to get up and clear (the early pace was hot, however). He should get just enough pace to set up his late rally again, and even though his style isn't optimal for five furlongs, he sports a 6-4-0-1 record at the distance. A crazy longshot to include might be Grand Adventure, who has run races in the past that would win this for fun. He's been a disappointment in 2011, but he's had just enough of an excuse in most of his races this year that perhaps he can turn it around--especially on firm turf and at a shorter distance--at astronomical odds.
SPRINT - I'd love to lock this morning line in place, as Big Drama is a very significant underlay at 5-2, while Jackson Bend is a huge overlay at 7-2. The former has simply had too much go wrong this year to back with any confidence, and he's very unlikely to be at his best, which is something he'll have to be to hold off this group and defend his title. Jackson Bend has enjoyed a sharp form reversal since cutting back to one-turn races, and while trainer Nick Zito seemed a bit apprehensive to shorten his charge up to six furlongs rather than keep him at a mile, the chestnut is two-for-two at the trip. The 112 Beyer he earned in the GII Kelso H. when second to Uncle Mo came when dead last early behind a very slow pace, and he probably made his visually impressive bid to challenge last year's 2-year-old champ a bit prematurely. Force Freeze might be the longshot play. I made a case for him in an earlier post before the Vosburgh, and he almost ran down Giant Ryan to get it done in the mud. He appeared to slow down when tipped out into the center of the track, and may have been traveling in a deeper part of the lane than the winner. His stalking style could allow him to work out a nice trip.
JUVENILE TURF - Like the filly version of this event, this is clearly a spread race. With so many places to go, it seems like a good idea to start with the Euros. I want no part of exposed sprinter Caspar Netscher and, while he's got a shot and is certainly one to use, Farraaj seems to be a wise guy horse from what I've read and heard. Wrote is very interesting--or at least as interesting as a horse can be in an inscrutable race that anyone can win. I loved his performance to be third last time in the G2 Royal Lodge over Newmarket's Rowley Mile behind stablemate and Juvenile contender Daddy Long Legs. He was last early behind what seemed to be a slow pace set by his Ballydoyle buddy and, when producing his run, was inexplicably guided towards a blocked rail before being taken back outside by Jamie Spencer. He loomed ominously before tailing off a bit late, but the final furlong of that course is uphill (granted, the previous furlong is downhill), so going from a mile there to a mile at Churchill Downs could almost be considered a turn back. He gives the impression of a horse that will love a firm American turf course, and trainer Aidan O'Brien is having a huge year Stateside after suffering from an extended rough patch previously. I'm expecting a breakout performance from Wrote, and doubt any American horse can hang with him if he runs that sort of race.
MARATHON - I find it hard to get excited about this race, but Cease would pique my interest if he stayed at his 6-1 morning line price or somehow drifted up. The lightly raced 4-year-old from the connections that campaigned Blame turned in two serious efforts in the slop at Saratoga going nine furlongs, but showed he could handle a dry track and more distance when a close-up third in the GIII Hawthorne Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles. It's possible that the outside was the place to be in Chicago that day, and Cease got a poor ride, hung out wide in no-man's land around the first turn and striking the front a bit too soon while switching inside to the dead rail. To be beaten only a half-length with a 98 Beyer was an accomplishment considering his trip, and he still has plenty of upside--the only question that remains is how much he'll be bet. . . he's sort of obvious.