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Pardon me. I was just clearing out the chalk dust.
It's been that kind of year. Top horses don't battle each other as often, which makes it easier for favorites. However, there are a few dazzling runners taking each other on here and losses by some of them would cost them Eclipse Awards and, translationally, future breeding dollars.
While most of us will plug into the ol' Telstar, it's California here we come for the 37th Breeders' Cup World Championships from the beautiful Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, where The Turf Meets the Surf.
Appropriately, the BC Classic will be the race of the weekend, barring a chalk tornado, but we'll get to that.
And let's muck this right away. Stained trainer Bob Baffert, who has horses in six races Friday and Saturday, will have officials breathing down his neck via extensive pre- and post-race testing of all of his horses. They've been under surveillance and testing for weeks, and the Breeders' Cup is doing everything it can to maintain wagering integrity, at least for Baffert. Also good news, he'll be required to pay the freight on all those tests.
I'll watch Friday, but I won't be betting. It's the showcase day for all the 2-year-olds and they're too unpredictable. My goal will be to see how the track is playing, and whether we should look at frontrunners or closers. Which could change anyway Saturday. There are also horses that just don't or won't like the Del Mar surface, but who are they?
As always, consider the Europeans in the turf races. It's why they even come here.
In the Filly and Mare Sprint (Grade I, 7 furlongs dirt, $1,000,000), Baffert's Gamine is the 3-5 morning line favorite. She's undefeated in 10 races, but was DQ'd from purse money in last year's Kentucky Oaks, being one of Baffert's drug runners. She figures to get into a pace battle with Bella Sofia. If they torch each other, look for Ce Ce(4-1) to close.
Life Is Good (4-5) will avoid Jackie's Warrior in the Dirt Mile (Grade I, one mile, dirt, $1,000), but Silver State (7-2) and Ginobili (4-1), both coming in with fistfuls of triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures between them, will give LG everything he can handle. If it means anything to you, Life Is Good has never won a Grade I. This is totally irrelevant, but I bought an LG refrigerator earlier this year. When one of its selling points is the beautiful LG logo on the front, that's a red flag. It was so poorly engineered, 1/2-star review, and I exchanged it. And at what figures to be a ridiculous price, I'm not going to bet on this horse.
Jackie's Warrior (6-5) will be running in the BC Sprint. He comes in off three straight graded wins. You should get a price on Aloha West (8-1).
Letruska (8-5) is your superstar mare in The Distaff and she'll be very tough to beat. She's a fantastic 22-17-1-1 and comes in with five straight wins in prestigious stakes races. If she gets a bad trip, Malathaat (4-1), Clairiere (12-1) or Shedaresthedevil (4-1) would be capable with great trips.
The Classic (Grade I, 10 furlongs, 1-1/4 miles dirt, $6,000,000) will pit the dirt stars - three of the top four Derby finishers, but you know what I think of the Kentucky Derby - against each other. I believe low-priced horses will sweep the top three spots. In post-position order:
1. Tripoli (15-1 morning line odds, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., trainer John Sadler)
The 4-year-old by Kitten's Joy was beaten by three of these in the Awesome Again last out. He won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar the race before and has three triple-digit Beyers in his saddle bag, all in stakes company. He looks possible to round out the superfecta.
2. Express Train (20-1, Victor Espinoza, John Shirreffs)
He bounces around Southern California. Even if he runs to his San Diego Handicap here three back, it would take a pace Chernobyl for him to beat this company.
3. Hot Rod Charlie (4-1, Flavien Prat, Doug O'Neill)
I don't know what it is with this horse. He gets all kinds of attention, just watch the tote board, and I can think of a lot not to love. He beat a tiring Midnight Bourbon last out in the Pennsylvania Derby, but against who? His 111 Beyer was his career top. In the Haskell two back, this loosey goosey, all-over-the-track horse was DQ'd from the win because he couldn't run straight. In the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont, he couldn't get the distance. With Indian Charlie in the family, I don't think he's got more than nine furlongs in him. He's 11-3-2-3 lifetime, which doesn't exactly pop. His first three races were here at Del Mar, all losses, and he went up the road to Santa Anita to break his maiden. Medina Spirit and Essential Quality have already beaten him. Top three? Anything can happen, but for what? A low price to ruin the exotics? Thanks a bunch.
4. Essential Quality (3-1, Luis Saez, Brad Cox)
This son of Tapit is perfectly situated to win this race. Distance is no problem as he won the 12-furlong Belmont, the 9-furlong Jim Dandy, and the 10-furlong Travers! Toss his Derby fourth, and he's 9-8-0-0 and runs for one of 2021's hottest trainers: 27 percent! His Dandy and Travers wins were by a half-length and neck, respectively. He's already beaten Hot Rod Charlie three times. Include, but don't expect a price.
5. Knicks Go (5-2, Joel Rosario, Brad Cox)
Cox is loaded. This horse first caught my eye in last year's wire job in the BC Dirt Mile. Since then, he's lost only the Saudi Cup and the Met Mile after the long trip home. He's got top Beyers in his last three, triple digits in seven of his last eight. Knicks' has never raced anyone in this field. He knows one thing: Take OFF and don't let 'em catch you. If he likes this track, what do you do? Stay with him and burn out? Hope he burns out? Both are risky. You will notice he's never run more than 9 furlongs. Hmmm. We can hope one of the lesser horses pushes him around the track.
6. Art Collector (8-1, Mike Smith, William Mott)
Since Mott's gotten control of this horse, he's won three straight, all with triple Beyers. Last out was a nicely tactical win in the prestigious Woodward by almost two lengths. Those victories saw him right on the lead, yikes. This son of Bernardini (A.P. Indy) should get the distance. I smell a decent price, so I'll include.
7. Stilleto Boy (30-1, Kent Desormeaux, Ed More Jr.)
Man, I haven't seen Desormeaux's name in a long time. Of all the horseplayers I've met, KD is one of the most hated jocks I've ever seen. He's the guy who pulled up Big Brown on the last turn of his Triple Crown-bid Belmont and to this day has never explained. Do you think the steel hoof sutures, acrylic patch - basically he was running on a mini-spare tire - had anything to do with it? He never should have been in the race. And Desormeaux developed a huge reputation for shying away from the battle and stopping riding in the shadow of the wire. I believe I saw it more than once. Oh, Stilleto Boy? Um, no. His claim to fame was a win in the Run for the Corn Tassels, the $250,000 Iowa Derby in July.
8. Medina Spirit (4-1, John Velazquez, Bob Baffert)
I think this horse is just a cut below. The tainted Kentucky Derby winner does come in with two straight wins, including the Awesome Again and the $100,000 Shared Belief here at Del Mar. He looks a tad shy in Grade I races. He's also a need-the-lead type and the front seat in this race looks awfully full. I just can't see it.
9. Max Player ( 8-1, Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen)
This horse has been getting some buzz lately. He comes in off two wins, including a daylight job in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in September at Saratoga. Both were at this same distance. Perhaps his trip to Saudi Arabia was ill-advised, but he seems to have recovered. Santana had him near the lead in both races. It shouldn't mean much, but since a wonderful meet at Saratoga, Santana is 0-91 since then. He's a good jockey, but . . . If I see a price, and I think I will, I'll gamble on the upset.
This isn't a particularly large field, so some of these jockeys should be able to fashion good trips. I'll be hesitant with the Exactas and Trifectas in this race because I think it's a lock that a low-priced horse will either win or kill the exotics. My beliefs will be tested as I contemplate tossing Hot Rod Charlie, Medina Spirit and, gulp, Knicks Go. Therefore, I'm going to try to beat the big shots with a price horse. I will take 2-1 or better on Essential Quality.
Before we close this curtain, I just want to say I hope everybody had a chance to watch the Chicago Sky win the WNBA Championship. I know it's late.
I got on the bandwagon when they "upset" number one seed Connecticut.
The Phoenix Mercury beat Las Vegas on what looked like muscle memory. And the Sky did what it took to get the all-important first game, and on the road! That was BIG! Then they broke the spirit of the boorish Mercury with a nitro-glycerin blowout, 86-50 and not that close, back in Chicago.
I'm not going to go down the roster because it was a complete team effort. You had to be there.
What I really liked is that they always took the extra pass or two to get the open shot and, oh my God, their defense, which they adjusted exquisitely after the Mercury's lone win in the series. I know I've got a jones for this, but they also hit their free throws. What a revelation!
I watched some Bulls last week, and all the NBA does is chuck up that ball like Chucky Chuckington.
Horse racing can be very nerve wracking when you've got a bet down.
Watching the Sky win that title was the most fun I've had watching sports in a long, long time. As far as I'm concerned, they own this town now.
I'll be looking to snare some ducats next year, and my favorite pizzeria has an outpost right across the street!
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
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