Arcadia, Calif. -- The $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile carries a sense of excitement, serving as an early preview of Kentucky Derby hopefuls, and a nice field of 14 youngsters will line up for the 1 1/16-mile test Saturday at Santa Anita.
Slated for 5:43 p.m. ET, the Juvenile is part of the NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the first eight Breeders’ Cup races from 3:30-8 p.m. NBC will televise the final Breeders’ Cup race of the afternoon, the $5 million Classic, from 8-9.
Havana heads the Juvenile field. Unbeaten from two career starts, the precocious colt exits a Grade 1 victory in the October 5 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park and is listed as the 5-2 favorite on the morning line.
Unfortunately for his connections, Havana has been marooned in post 13 with a short run to the first turn and that looks like a major drawback. Strong Mandate, a runaway winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes two starts back, drew even worse on the far outside (14). Both contenders do their best running on or close to the lead and barring suicidal early tactics, chances are they could lose significant ground while being forced wide into the bend.
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Horses making their second career start in the Juvenile are uncommon, with only four attempting the feat since 1997, and Tap It Rich will be spotting experience to more seasoned foes. But the gray colt touted himself as special with a sensational debut win and appears capable of capitalizing upon an expected hot pace Saturday.
I am tabbing Tap It Rich to win the Juvenile.
A son of top sire Tapit, Tap It Rich is out of a Mr. Prospector mare and possesses an ideal pedigree for the Kentucky Derby. He’s trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who excels with younger horses, and Tap It Rich overcame a tardy start to prove best when making his lone appearance going two turns at Santa Anita on October 12, utilizing a scintillating turn of foot to blow past his rivals in a handy victory.
He netted a 92 BRIS Speed rating last time that bodes well for an improving 2-year-old and Tap It Rich has the services of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the all-time leader in Breeders’ Cup history by wins. They will break from a perfect spot in post 6. Listed at 6-1 on the morning line, Tap It Rich figures to set up shop in mid-pack, biding his time as he stalks the front-runners, and we expect the promising runner to be finishing fastest of all. The Juvenile should set up perfectly for his closing kick.
Havana can’t be dismissed from win consideration – the talented colt has questions to answer at longer distances next year given his breeding but appears ahead of the game at this stage of his career and should be able to handle 1 1/16 miles. Trainer Todd Pletcher captured last year’s Juvenile with the speedy Shanghai Bobby, who also had distance limitations at age 3, and Havana could be cut from the same cloth. But Shanghai Bobby didn’t need to overcome a tough post like Havana.
Havana will look to break running with jockey John Velazquez and remains a serious threat to prevail if he can find a way to carve out a reasonable trip.
Bond Holder rounds out my top three in the Juvenile. The Doug O’Neill-trained colt dropped his first four starts on synthetic tracks at Del Mar and Hollywood Park, but broke his maiden in a resounding manner when stepping up to face stakes rivals on dirt at Santa Anita, winning the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes going away by 2 ¼ lengths on September 28.
His Speed numbers are a little light (earned a career best 87 last time), but there’s room for improvement on that front. And Bond Holder has displayed a fine finishing kick in his last three starts. The possibility exists for a hot pace that would play to his favor and Bond Holder appears capable of rallying for at least a share. He’s listed at 8-1 on the morning line and rates as an intriguing candidate for a minor upset.
Other runners of interest include Diamond Bachelor, a talented turf performer who will make his dirt debut in the Juvenile; impressive maiden winner New Year’s Day, who missed the FrontRunner due to a minor ailment but appears to be training forwardly in preparation for Baffert; unbeaten Cleburne, winner of the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs in his last start; and Strong Mandate, who would be more seriously considered for the top three if he didn’t receive the far outside post position.
The Juvenile typically decides the 2-year-old championship and attention will be immediately focused upon the Kentucky Derby prospects of its top performers.