Identifying a vulnerable favorite should always be a handicapper’s goal. On Breeders’ Cup Saturday, the stakes get raised, so successfully identifying one when so much money is poured into the pools can reap rich rewards.
Once the vulnerable favorite is identified, bettors must construct their tickets so as to leverage that opinion efficiently in order to make a solid return on investment.
In Part 1 of this series, I dove into the Breeders’ Cup Classic and discussed the susceptibilities of McKinzie, the likely top choice. I then identified a likely winner and discussed an approach to play said likely winner on top of other strong choices in a trifecta ticket that will be fully vetted in the upcoming Racing Dudes’ Inside Track to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Wagering Guide.
There are logical strong favorites on the Saturday card – like Midnight Bisou in the Distaff, Sistercharlie in the Filly & Mare Turf, or Mitole in the Sprint – to build bets around. Even if you don’t want to single them in multi-race plays, they should at least give you confidence that you only need to include a couple others.
When building out the Saturday card, it’s important to assess each favorite and look for opportunities to take a stand. For example, the Filly & Mare Sprint has recently been a great chance to play against favorites: the winner has been favored in only three of the race’s 12 editions (2012-14), and in the past four years, the $2 win payouts ranged from $19.40 to $135.40.
In this Part 2 of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Skinny “Vulnerable Favorites” series, we’ll focus on the Filly & Mare Sprint and see who can show up big at a big price.
Covfefe vs. the World
The 7-furlong Filly & Mare Sprint has been ripe for the picking when it comes to longshots in recent years. Last year, Shamrock Rose came from last to upset at 26/1, and in 2017, the New York-bred Bar of Gold streaked from far back to shock the world at 67/1. An interesting note: both had jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., aboard, so whoever gets him this year should get an extra look or two.
Not only have longshots won in the past four years, but the favorites haven’t even hit the board:
- The 2018 even-money favorite Marley’s Freedom finished fourth
- The 2017 even-money favorite Unique Bella finished seventh
- The 2016 top choice Carina Mia finished ninth at 3/1
- In 2015, Cavorting finished fourth as the 3/1 favorite
In three of the past four years, a 3-year-old filly went off as the favorite, yet none hit the board. Additionally, in the last three years, horses that were in 11th or worse at the beginning wound up charging late to win.
A strong pace may ensue again this year, setting it up for a closer and making it tough for the likely favorite Covfefe (who happens to be 3 years old) to hold on.
Are you seeing a trend yet?
Covfefe was magnificent in her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup, dominating the Dogwood Stakes by 8 lengths under a hand-ride while going this same 7-furlong distance at Churchill Downs. That field was light on talent and restricted to 3-year-old fillies, though; she will face her elders and a much tougher field here.
The key to Covfefe’s race will be her post position draw. The only time that she did face elders, she drew an inside post for the Roxelana Stakes at Churchill Downs. Covfefe was under pressure early and often along the rail, taking heat from early cheap speed before folding in the stretch. Nabbed late, the Brad Cox trainee finished third behind Mia Mischief (a previous Grade 1 winner over the track).
In her last two races – the Test Stakes (G1) and the Dogwood (both impressive wins at 7 furlongs) – Covfefe was able to relax and rate to the outside of one early-speed target. The Filly & Mare Sprint will have plenty of speed in the gate, including Minit to Stardom and Selcourt, so Covfefe may not get such an easy trip.
There’s no question that Covfefe is ultra-talented; she broke the 6-furlong track record at Pimlico in the Miss Preakness Stakes (G3). Still, she’s a vulnerable favorite in what is expected to be a large field of 12-14.
In the 12-year history of this race, a 3-year-old filly hadn’t won until Shamrock Rose last year. Trying to take down a field of grizzled vets may be a tough task for the young Covfefe, who got her name from a President Drumpf tweet.
Filly & Mare Sprint Pace Analyis
Covfefe will likely receive early heat from Minit to Stardom and Selcourt on the front end. The multiple Grade 1 winner Bellafina is a 3-year-old filly showed an unwillingness to settle in the Cotillion Stakes (G1) before fading to fourth, beaten 9 1/4 lengths while wearing blinkers. Bellafina loves her home track at Santa Anita Park, but all of her prior stakes wins came against much less talented, age-restricted foes.
Another filly whose speed can heat up the race (if she makes the gate) is Heavenhasmynikki. Owner Ron Paolucci was not allowed to enter her in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies as an unraced maiden, but he’s been hyping his graded stakes winner on Twitter:
Im willing to take heads up action on any filly highlighted in blue against my filly including the favorite ! I have the teller hat 🎩 on and my window is open for wagering pic.twitter.com/EfoVOX3YN5— Ron Paolucci Racing (@LooochRacing) October 11, 2019
Heavenhasmynikki is on a three-race win streak that includes this year’s Vagrancy Handicap (G3) at Belmont Park.
Another female looking to sit near the early leaders will be the Ballerina Stakes (G1) winner Come Dancing. The Carlos Martin trainee should be a strong second choice in the betting, having done little wrong in 2019. She’s won four of her five starts this year, with her one defeat coming as the runner-up behind the likely Older Female Champion Midnight Bisou in the Ogden Phipps (G1). After stumbling at the start, Come Dancing rushed up to the lead but was eventually collared in the stretch while going 1 1/16 miles.
Turning back to 7 furlongs in the Ballerina, the 5-year-old mare once again got off the an awkward start that spotted the field a few lengths. It didn’t matter, as she handled that field easily, but her margin for error in the Breeders’ Cup will be slim. She will need to break cleanly if she wants to beat this field.
Martin recently said that he’d like to see Come Dancing relax early and stalk, as she did in both her Ballerina and her last-out Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2) wins.
The 3-year-old with the most upside in this race may actually be the multiple Grade 1 winner Guarana, who should also sit in a very good spot early. Guarana was a close fourth behind Bellafina’s fast early pace in the Cotillion, and she was the only one of the top four pacesetters to hold on late. Only a charging Street Band, who will run in the Breeders’ Cup Longines Distaff, was able to chase down Guarana.
Still the leading candidate to win the season’s 3-year-old filly championship, Guarana can cement that title with a victory here for multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown.
Another Grade 1 winner with upside in the Filly & Mate Sprint is Spiced Perfection, who had a jaw-dropping performance last time out in the 6-furlong Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. After stumbling out of the gate and almost losing jockey Javier Castellano, Spiced Perfection made a bold move to get in position and take over in the stretch before withstanding a late charge from Dawn the Destroyer.
That effort came off of a five-month layoff, so Spiced Perfection may be able to step it up in her second start back while stretching out an extra furlong. Trainer Peter Miller won both the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and the Turf Sprint in each of the past two years, so perhaps he can add another sprint championship here. Spiced Perfection won last year’s 7-furlong La Brea Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park and will be looking for a mid-pack trip. It should be noted that Castellano rode both Come Dancing and Spiced Perfection in their last races, and he will likely stay with Come Dancing.
The major threat from the back of the pack, especially if the pace heats up, is trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s Dawn the Destroyer. Before closing like a freight train at the end of the TCA to run second by a head, she ran a respectable second behind Come Dancing in the Ballerina, losing by 3 1/2 lengths. She’s been right there with the best in this group and will be a value play at a square price.
Lady Ninja, winner of the local L.A. Woman Stakes (G3), is expected to run and has home field advantage. Last year’s Filly & Mare Sprint runner-up Chalon will not run this year, according to a recent Daily Racing Form report.
Verdict: Play Against Covfefe
Covfefe’s odds as the favorite will likely range from 2/1 to 5/2. In a very deep and balanced field, this is the chance to take a stand against her, especially if she draws toward the inside.
The scenario that I’ll be playing is that Covfefe catches too much heat early and gets passed by some combination of Come Dancing, Spiced Perfection, Guarana, and Dawn the Destroyer. Those four will make up my exacta and trifecta plays; I’m throwing Covfefe completely out. I’ll likely press Come Dancing in the win slot on top of Spiced Perfection, Guarana, and Dawn the Destroyer in exactas and trifectas for a larger base wager, since Come Dancing will likely be the second choice. I may also key Dawn the Destroyer in all slots with Come Dancing, Spiced Perfection, and Guarana.
Yes, Santa Anita Park’s new surface is playing to early speed at this meet, and it may be tough to rely on a closer, but if the race’s history has shown us anything, it’s that it can set up for a closer. Even the one time in the past four years when a deep closer didn’t win the race, Wavell Avenue closed from 11th to get second in 2016.
Before I put a bow on this week’s Skinny, let me just say, I like Covfefe. Her owner, Jaime Roth of LNJ Foxwoods, has been very cool with me on Twitter. Maybe Covfefe will prove me wrong. Maybe she is a really super horse, as she showed with her Pimlico track record in May.
The fact remains that I see this race as an opportunity to take a stand against a vulnerable favorite, especially if she draws an inside post. If she draws outside, I may include her in some backup tickets in case she can relax early and stalk (as she’s done in her last two races).
All of my wagering strategies and ticket construction will be in the Racing Dudes’ Inside Track to the 2019 Wagering Guide, available for pre-order now. The first edition will be released after pre-entries are drawn on October 23, so get on board with the Dudes for this year’s Breeders’ Cup!
In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for updates on when my next Breeders’ Cup Skinny articles will come out. I’ll argue that Bast is a vulnerable favorite in the Juvenile Fillies next, so stay tuned!