A reminder that horses are flesh and blood, just like humans, was the scratch of Beholder from the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 5-year-old mare was to be Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s main foe.
But she bled after a Thursday morning gallop at Keeneland and was scratched by trainer Richard Mandella. Mandella hinted that Beholder might race again in 2016. That would be great news. A simple reason for racing a top class mare additional years is that they can produce only one foal a year. A colt, such as American Pharoah, can sire scores, thus the Classic will be his final race before starting a career at stud.
Despite the disappointment, the Breeders’ Cup show must go on. The task for American Pharoah got a lot easier in the Classic. His path was simplified first in the pre-entries when the fast-paced handicap star, Liam’s Map, was entered in the Dirt Mile instead. And now with the scratch of Beholder, American Pharoah is the true definition of lone early speed, which is the best bet in horse racing. If trainer Bob Baffert has him in “beast mode,” as he calls it, American Pharoah should have one classic coronation at Keeneland. There are 13 Breeders’ Cup races, four today and nine Saturday. I will isolate some likely winners and a few long-shot plays. I’ll start with the Dirt Mile today and the aforementioned Liam’s Map (1-1). He has such a high cruising speed that for another horse to fight him for the early lead would be suicidal. On Saturday, Songbird (7-5) in the Juvenile Fillies is so far advanced that she could beat the boys in the Juvenile. She has two Grade 1 wins and is a total standout. Finally, I favor the European horses in all of the grass events. The American horses are just a cut below when compared to their international brethrens. The most likely turf winner is Golden Horn (4-5) in the Turf. He has won five Group 1 races in Europe, including the Arc de Triomphe in his last start. As for some price plays, let’s start with Stellar Wind (12-1) in the Distaff today. The pace scenario should be a fast one, and she has the ability to sit off it and rally under jockey Victor Espinoza. In the Filly and Mare Sprint, I like Super Majesty (10-1) to peak at just the right time. She runs well on the lead, but jockey Alex Solis excels at taking horses back, too. My last offering is Wild Dude (10-1) in the Sprint. I predict an absolute pace meltdown and a cavalry charge to the wire. Rafael Bejarano will have this horse perfectly placed.
* TWIN QUINELLA — The Station Casinos Twin Quinella will be $10,000 today and $20,000 on Saturday. If you’ve done your Breeders’ Cup homework, these two jackpots are well worth going after.
* MORE PICKS — I will be participating in a free handicapping seminar at 12:30 p.m. today at Sam’s Town with Ralph Siraco of Race Day Las Vegas. And I taped a podcast with Rob Kowalski, race operations manager for William Hill, that can be heard at www.williamhill.us/racing.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick