11/01/2017 1:10PM

Breeders' Cup contenders between a rock and a hard place

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There are horses in the Breeders’ Cup that are perfectly suited to the race conditions, with Lady Eli in the Filly and Mare Turf being perhaps the clearest example, having compiled a 3-for-3 record at that race’s distance of 1 1/8 miles on grass. And then there are the Breeders’ Cup “tweeners” – those that appear to be running between their preferred distances, or are simply competing under circumstances under which their form is not established.

Here is a look at a number of these tweeners in an effort to determine if they are contenders or pretenders.

◗ Practical Joke, Dirt Mile

Although 2 for 2 at a mile, he falls in the tweener camp because those wins came around one turn. He has not won or finished with the same effectiveness going two turns as he has at one turn. In his defense, several of those two-turn races came against elite company. With a hot pace expected for the Dirt Mile, he should get a favorable setup for his midpack closing style, and might pick up a minor award. But the view here is he is a pretender as a win candidate.

◗ Separationofpowers, Juvenile Fillies

She has not raced at 1 1/16 miles or around two turns, with her longest test having come in the Frizette, a one-turn mile race at Belmont she won going away. To these eyes the distance is a non-issue based on her pedigree and how she finished in the Frizette, with the bigger challenge for her being the outside post. She landed in post 13, putting her at risk for a wide trip. She is a contender but facing a significant post hurdle.

◗ Disco Partner, Turf Sprint

If this race were being run at six furlongs at his home base of Belmont Park, he would likely be vying for favoritism. But going five furlongs on the turf at Del Mar, he is widely anticipated to be the third wagering choice behind Lady Aurelia and Marsha. He is very much a contender, and is surprisingly fast for an off-the-pace runner. Running in longer sprints this year was a reflection of being based in New York, not so much that he needs all that distance. He usually breaks with the leaders and is eased back off the pace to save for his late run.

◗ Queen’s Trust, Filly and Mare Turf

When this race was at 1 1/4 miles last year at Santa Anita, she needed every inch of ground to beat Lady Eli by a nose, and she hasn’t competed in a race as short as 1 1/8 miles since 2015. So the cutback in distance will be viewed by many as a disadvantage for her, but not by me. She wants firm ground and pace, conditions she gets racing in California, and with the Filly and Mare Turf being run at its shortest distance in the race’s history, there seem to be a few more speed types than usual to set up her rally. Contender.

◗ Ribchester, Mile

The distance isn’t an issue for the European Ribchester, but running two turns is something new for him, and I’m concerned about how he will react. Europeans often break slower than their American counterparts, and in a congested field that figures to have a scramble for positioning into the first turn, I could seemhim getting shuffled back if he doesn’t take the first turn well. Must respect his résumé, but he is a pretender, or perhaps more accurately an underlay if he starts at close to his 7-2 morning line.

◗ U S Navy Flag, Juvenile

Though he has dominated his last three races, all in Europe, showing a high degree of speed and quality, he has not raced beyond seven furlongs, on dirt, or around two turns. The conservative move from the Coolmore connections would have been to run in the Juvenile Turf, but they opted to go for the Juvenile, presumably hoping that if he handles dirt racing and wins, he could secure a U.S. championship and become even more valuable as an eventual sire. They’re swinging for the fences but seem far more likely to strike out. Pretender.