ARCADIA, Calif. - The final exam is upon us. Thirteen races, mostly evenly matched fields, the best jockeys and trainers, the year-end championship that is the Breeders' Cup. Opinions, betting strategies, visions of a score. Here we go.
1. War Envoy. 2. Imperia. 3. Hootenanny.
War Envoy has only won once, but he is very experienced for a young horse and is trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, two of the world's best. Imperia was dazzling in his win in the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park.
1. Goldencents. 2. Tapiture. 3. Pants On Fire.
Goldencents is the most likely winner all weekend. He is the best horse with the most speed and has the rail. He really should dominate and win this race for the second consecutive year. Tapiture is improving race to race. Loved his effort when second in the Pennsylvania Derby and I love this exacta.
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
1. Lady Eli. 2. Qualify. 3. Osalia.
Lady Eli's win in the Miss Grillo was visually dazzling and suggests there are many big wins in her future. Qualify may be the best filly in the race, but drew terribly with the 14 post and such a short run to the first turn.
1. Don't Tell Sophia. 2. Untapable. 3. Tiz Midnight.
Don't Tell Sophia will be running against the speed-favoring nature of the track and will absolutely need a pace meltdown to win from behind, but the price will be right. Cotillion winner Untapable is really the most likely winner, but her odds will be too low for my taste.
1. Top Decile. 2. Angela Renee. 3. Conquest Eclipse.
Top Decile showed huge speed when sprinting in her debut and then came from way back in a Grade I stake to take the lead late before finishing second. That is talent. Angela Renee came out early from New York to get a race over the track and won a Grade I. She is the filly to beat.
FILLY AND MARE TURF
1. Secret Gesture. 2. Dayatthespa. 3. Dank.
Secret Gesture is one of the best-bred horses on the planet. She has been prepared all year for this race and I think she is going to run huge. Dayatthespa has a tactical edge as lone speed, but the 10-furlong distance is the question. Dank won this race last year but does not arrive in the same top form. If she was trained by somebody other than Michael Stoute, she could be dismissed. But he is one of the world's best, so you can't overlook her.
FILLY AND MARE SPRINT
1. Stonetastic. 2. Judy the Beauty. 3. Artemis Agrotera.
Stonetastic could not outrun an incredibly fast horse to the lead at Keeneland, but hung in gamely after a duel. She is getting a clear lead in this race and I don't think any of these horses will catch her. Judy the Beauty was second in this race last year and has been first or second in 15 of 17 races.
1. Home Run Kitten. 2. Reneesgotzip. 3. Tightend Touchdown.
The key to this race at Santa Anita has been positive experience on the unique downhill, twisting course. Home Run Kitten has won both his races on the course and is going to be a very appetizing price. Reneesgotzip is going to be in front and may not get caught. She was third in this race 2 years ago and second last year.
1. Carpe Diem. 2. Calculator. 3. Daredevil.
Carpe Diem cost $1.6 million in March and ran right to the price when dominating the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Calculator has been a solid second to American Pharoah (the certain favorite before getting scratched with an injury) in his last two starts. Daredevil's speed figures suggest he might be a superstar, but both races were on off tracks so let's see what he does on a fast track before we anoint him.
1. Telescope. 2. Flintshire. 3. Hardest Core.
Telescope was kept out of the major European fall races to prepare for this. He has been in against a succession of major Euro stars and has never run a poor race. Flintshire was second in the Arc de Triomphe (one of the world's most important races) to repeat winner Treve. Hardest Core, the horse owned and trained in Chester County, is the best of the Americans. He won't get tired, but can he sprint with the Euros in the stretch?
1. Work All Week. 2. Secret Circle. 3. Rich Tapestry.
Work All Week is less than 2 lengths from being unbeaten in 12 main-track sprints. Not sure if he is really this good, but the price will be right and he will be in the race from the start. Secret Circle can repeat, but the inside draw is tricky.
1. Anodin. 2. Obviously. 3. Toronado.
Anodin is trained by Freddie Head, who won this race twice as a jockey on the great Miesque and trained three-time winner Goldikova. This colt does not have the form of those fillies, but his trainer knows this race. Obviously is going to be in front by a lot and try to hang on. Toronado is the most likely winner, but he won't offer much betting value in the win pool.
1. California Chrome. 2. Tonalist. 3. Shared Belief.
I flew out here liking Shared Belief, but the more I watched his win in the Awesome Again, the more I thought how brutal it was. There is a often a price to pay for winning when a horse has to run so hard every step.
Shared Belief is the most talented horse in the race, but there is a chance he will not be at his absolute best. I put a line through California Chrome's Belmont Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby. The horse simply won't run when near the rail behind horses. That won't be an issue from the 13 post.
CC should just see sky and Moreno and Bayern just in front dueling for the lead. Those six straight wins from December to May were not flukes. They were real.
With his comfortable trip again, Chrome could run right back to that form. Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist is very dangerous.
He is brilliantly bred and just ran the race of his life in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Pennsylvania Derby winner Bayern is the wild card. If he gets a clear lead, he will be hard to catch.
If he sits comfortably in second, he may have matured enough to make one big move and blow the race open on the far turn.