Updated on 09/16/2011 9:33AM

For once, Europeans not such mystery guests


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Any horseplayer with a pulse relishes the thought of playing the Breeders' Cup pick six and trying to win a stratospheric payoff, like the $3 million bonanza in 1999. But prudent bettors often look at the lineup of Cup races and conclude that they are simply too tough.

The main source of the difficulty - aside from the large, evenly matched fields - is the presence of so many foreign horses. They are the wild cards of the wager. Handicappers may study European form in depth, but no amount of analysis could have ferreted out past European winners such as 26-1 Sheikh Albadou, 42-1 Miss Alleged, and 133-1 Arcangues. Bettors are afraid to throw out the Europeans, but using too many makes the cost of a ticket grow exponentially.

But this year, for once, the Europeans seem understandable. There are clearly superior European horses in at least two of the three grass races on Saturday's card at Arlington Park, and it may be possible to lock up these components of the pick six without a dauntingly large investment. I have fashioned a $512 play. Here is my analysis of the card:


Azeri is the strong 6-5 favorite in the race for fillies and mares, but why? Her speed figures are no better than those of her rivals, and she is a one-dimensional speedster who will have to cope with another tough front-runner, Imperial Gesture. After Imperial Gesture outduels Azeri, Take Charge Lady will stalk the leaders and rally to win. I'll play a Take Charge Lady-Imperial Gesture exacta.

Juvenile Fillies

Undefeated Storm Flag Flying looks like a short-priced standout.


In the race that starts the pick six, the European star Rock of Gibraltar will justifiably be a heavy favorite. It makes sense to stand alone with him in the pick six; using one or two other contenders would double or triple the cost of a ticket, and it might be foolish to spend so much on the hope that Rock of Gibraltar's seven-race winning streak will end Saturday.

The Mile may offer a good exacta possibility. The strongest North American prep for this event was the Atto Mile at Woodbine. (Noverre, one of Europe's top milers, finished sixth in that field. The fifth-place finisher came out of the Atto and lost a photo in a $600,000 stakes at Keeneland.) Good Journey won the race - his fourth in a row - with an easy trip, but third-place Nuclear Debate was blocked on the turn and was at least as good as the winner. I was ready to bet Nuclear Debate to win until he drew the disastrous post position 14, so now I will hook up Rock of Gibraltar with Nuclear Debate and Good Journey in the exacta.


The field is loaded with brilliant, fast front-runners, including the favorite, Orientate, and the fleet fillies Xtra Heat and Carson Hollow. Traditionally, such a lineup favors a horse who can lay off a fast pace and rally in the stretch, but the two late-runners in this field are suspect: Swept Overboard's most recent effort was dismal; Kona Gold is 8 years old, and he was a disappointment in this race at 7.

Kona Gold, laid off since July, has been training so well that I make him my hesitant pick, but for pick-six purposes this is a race in which to go at least four deep: Orientate, Kona Gold, Swept Overboard, and Bonapaw.

Filly and Mare Turf

Banks Hill was overpowering when she won this race last year, and her form in Europe this year was good. In the Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita she was blocked badly on the turf, but didn't have much kick when she was clear and finished four lengths behind Golden Apples.

The loss was excusable; the final quarter mile of that race was run in a spectacular 22.60 seconds and nobody could make up much ground under such conditions. Banks Hill has the edge, though Golden Apples deserves respect. So, too, do the European invader Islington and the 50-1 Chopinina, who finished second against males in the aforementioned Atto Mile. These are the four for the pick six.


Although this is seen as a race in which the competition runs deep, many of the supposed contenders (including the Bob Baffert trio of Bull Market, Kafwain, and Vindication) have never run good speed figures. Of the American colts, two are clearly superior: Whywhywhy and Sky Mesa. Whywhywhy should benefit from a good trip, breaking from the inside post in a 14-horse field.


Uncharacteristically, this is an easy race for the pick six. The two Europeans, Golan and High Chaparral, are clearly superior to their six rivals.


Not a single horse in America's richest race has faultless credentials. Medaglia d'Oro has beaten only 3-year-olds of questionable merit. War Emblem can't win without the early lead - and he won't have it in this field. Came Home's ability at 1 1/4 miles remains suspect. The 4-year-old Evening Attire is in good form, but his speed figures are unexceptional. If the European invader Hawk Wing can handle the transition from turf to dirt, he may prove to be the best horse. I won't waste any money on War Emblem, but I want to have Hawk Wing, Medaglia d'Oro, Came Home, and Evening Attire on my ticket if I get this far in the pick six.

(c) 2002 The Washington Post



MILERock of Gibraltar 10

SPRINTBonapaw 8

Kona Gold9


Swept Overboard 12

F&M TURFIslington 2

Banks Hill5

Golden Apples6

Chopinina 9


Sky Mesa9

TURF Golan4

High Chaparral5

CLASSICMedaglia d'Oro7

Evening Attire8

Hawk Wing10

Came Home11