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Breeders’ Cup Saturday picks: Bet against Flightline at your peril

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hype or history?

The answer will be known in a matter of hours, when undefeated Flightline attempts to add to his short but scintillating resume by winning the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Keeneland Race Course.

The deck appears stacked in favor of the John Sadler-trained 4-year-old, who has won his first five starts by a cumulative 62¾ lengths at distances from 6 furlongs to 1¼ miles, all while appearing to be on cruise control.

The speedy Life Is Good, who will break from the No. 2 post, might be able to challenge him early, having been on the lead at the second call of all of his 11 races. But Flavien Prat, Flightline’s regular rider, will have options with the 3-5 morning line favorite from post 4. He can either stay glued to the outside flank of Life Is Good in the early going or simply decide to play “catch me if you can.”

Las Vegas businessman Ron Winchell, owner of top 3-year-old Epicenter, will be among those trying to upset the favorite. The runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and winner of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga is still maturing and should be well-positioned to pick up the pieces if the two speedsters tire.

Even so, it’s going to take a lot of improving to reach Flightline’s stellar orbit.

Brunker’s choices: Flightline (4); Epicenter (6); Happy Saver (3)

Saturday’s other Breeders’ Cup races:

$1 million Filly and Mare Sprint, 7 furlongs on dirt

Favored Goodbye Olive (3-1) has reeled off five straight for top East Coast trainer Chad Brown, but faces lots of other speed and could be softened up for the stretch run. That would be a perfect scenario for closer Chi Town Lady (20-1).

Brunker’s choices: Chi Town Lady (3); Obligatory (7); Goodbye Olive (8)

$1 million Turf Sprint, 5 1/5 furlongs on grass

Golden Pal, the defending champ and 2-1 morning line favorite, will attempt to add an exclamation point to his reign as the top turf sprinter in North America in what will be his final race before heading to the breeding shed.

Brunker’s choices: Golden Pal (8); Highland Princess (6); Arrest Me Red (7)

$1 million Dirt Mile, 1 mile on dirt

The three horses drawn on the rail all possess sharp speed, which could lead to a speed duel. The most likely beneficiary of such a scenario is 5-2 morning line favorite Cody’s Wish. His chances were further aided by the stewards’ scratch of the Bob Baffert-trained Laurel River.

Brunker’s choices: Cody’s Wish (7); Law Professor (4); Cyberknife (9)

$2 million Filly and Mare Turf, 1 3/16 miles on grass

Marathons on the turf tend to be the province of European runners, and five have crossed the Atlantic to give it a go, led by 5-2 morning line favorite Nashwa for legendary British trainer John Gosden. Rougir overcame trouble to win the E.P. Taylor at Woodbine last out and looks like a serious contender at good odds (12-1 morning line).

Brunker’s choices: Nashwa (3); Rougir (9); Above the Curve (4)

$2 million Sprint, 6 furlongs on dirt

Jackie’s Warrior is the 4-5 morning line favorite to conclude his career with his fifth victory at the distance in six starts, but recall that the Steve Asmussen-trained colt also was heavily bet in this race last year but faded to fourth after setting a contentious pace. The winner of that race, Aloha West, is my pick to again turn the tables.

Brunker’s choices: Aloha West (5); Elite Power (6); Jackie’s Warrior (9)

$2 million Mile, 1 mile on grass

Modern Games, impressive winner of last year’s Juvenile Turf at Del Mar, is back seeking more Breeders’ Cup glory and is the 7-2 morning line choice in the race. But he’s hardly the only talented European in the field, with recent Group 1 winner Dreamloper (6-1) and stretching sprinter Kinross (9-2) among the talented contingent.

Brunker’s choices: Modern Games (4); Dreamloper (3); Domestic Spending (14)

$2 million Distaff, 1⅛ miles on dirt

Trainer Todd Pletcher has a strong hand in this race for fillies and mares, with the 9-5 morning line favorite Nest and second choice Malathaat (3-1) both in his barn. If there’s an upsetter in the eight-horse field, it will most likely be Clariere (4-1), who has already bested Malathaat twice this year.

Brunker’s choices: Clariere (4); Malathaat (1); Nest (6)

$4 million Turf, 1½ miles on grass

The five-horse European contingent has depth in addition to numbers, with Rebel’s Romance the 7-2 favorite, but it’s not hard to make a case for the others either. The long-winded mare War Like Goddess (9-2) will try to keep the trophy on this side of the pond.

Brunker’s choices: Nation’s Pride (7); Rebel’s Romance (5); War Like Goddess (2)

Mike Brunker is a former Review-Journal horse racing columnist who is attending the Breeders’ Cup and filing stories for the RJ.

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