Friday Breeders' Cup Preview – Can Close Hatches bounce back?

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Finding the Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner could come down to properly ascertaining the form of Close Hatches, the second-betting choice in the race.

On her best, Close Hatches would be playable at her morning line of 3-to-1. The four-year-old filly was second in the 2013 Distaff at Santa Anita, which hosts the Breeders’ Cup yet again this year. From April to August, Close Hatches won three Grade 1 races in a row, with the last a five-length win at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Distaff in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga. In victory, Close Hatches posted a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 103.

However, Close Hatches disappointed in final race before the Distaff, finishing fourth, beaten 7.5 lengths, as the 1-to-5 favorite in the Spinster at Keeneland. If her Spinster was just a blip on the radar screen and no indicator of declining form, Close Hatches can give potential Distaff favorite Untapable all she handle in Friday’s Distaff (Race 9, 7:35 p.m. ET, NBCSN), which will be contested on the main track. But if Close Hatches has lost her fastball, she's unlikely to win and might not even hit the board.

Untapable (5-to-2) isn't without a few question marks, too. A three-time Grade 1 winner, the three-year-old Untapable has yet to face older horses. Also, she hasn’t hit 100 on the Beyer scale since her Kentucky Oaks romp. However, Untapable’s spring form might have been as good as any three-year-old in the country, and if she runs back to her Oaks (107 Beyer), she could be very tough.

There are a handful of other viable contenders beyond the top two. Don’t Tell Sophia (5-to-1) upset Close Hatches in the Distaff, but she recorded a light Beyer of 94. However, she has not run a bad race all year, and she will be closing into a strong pace.

Iotapa and Belle Gallantey both hold some appeal at 6-to-1. Iotapa romped in the Grade 1 1 1/8-mile Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Santa Anita in May, posting a 109 Beyer, the best number any horse in the field has run at any distance. In her last race, Iotapa was a disappointing third in the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes in late September, but she did not break well. She will be laying close to the pace on Friday.

Belle Gallantey has risen from low-level claimer to two-time Grade 1 winner. She rolled to an 8 1/4-length win in the Beldame Invitational Stakes at Belmont in September, recording a career-top 103 Beyer.

Belle Gallantey figures to be sent for the early lead, as will Bob Baffert’s Tiz Midnight (10-to-1), an intriguing lower-priced competitor off her second-place finish to defending Distaff-champion Beholder in the Zenyatta. (Beholder – who would have been favored to repeat on Friday – is out because of a fever.)

Both Belle Gallantey and Tiz Midnight do their best running on the lead, which could set up a test of wills. Tiz Midnight is a little quicker and could get clear, but how much work will that take?

The guess here is that Tiz Midnight leads at the top of the stretch, with Iotapa and Untapable in close pursuit and Close Hatches launching her bid from a little farther back than usual. And in the lane, Untapable will overhaul the leader and have enough to hold on.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of Friday’s other Breeders’ Cup races. All races will air on NBCSN:

Race 6

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (two-year-old colts and geldings)

One mile

Post time: 5:25 p.m. ET

American colt Hootenanny (3-to-1) could go favored on the basis of his European form, including his second in the Group 1 Darley Prix Morny in France in August. The performance earned a Racing Post Rating of 116, best in the field. However, Imperia (6-to-1) is another American with a big chance off his win in the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont in September. 

As always, the Europeans must be respected. Commemorative (6-to-1) has won twice at a mile. War Envoy (9-to-2) has been knocking on the door in group-stakes company for legendary trainer Aidan O’Brien. The wild card, however, is Wet Sail (15-to-1), who was third in a 23-horse field last out after a nice-looking maiden score.

Race 7

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (horses three years old and up)

One mile

Post time: 6:05 p.m. ET

Defending champion Goldencents (6-to-5) will be heavily favored to defend his title in this race, and many expect him to lead from gate-to-wire. However, Goldencents is just 1-for-4 this season, and he comes off a nose defeat in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship in September.

From this vantage point, there’s three primary ways the Mile could go:

— Goldencents goes to the lead and airs like last year.

— Goldencents holds the lead well into the stretch, but a horse sitting right off the pace or in mid-pack catches him in the lane.

— Goldencents holds off those pressing him for the lead, but a contested pace ensues, dooming Goldencents and those close to him, and a late-runner from well back swoops up to win.

I'll take Door No. 2, and I'll side with Pants On Fire (6-to-1), who has the tactical speed to stay somewhat close and can launch a run at the leader on the turn. 

Race 8

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (two-year-old fillies)

One mile

Post time: 6:50 p.m. ET

What a compelling race. Favored Sunset Glow (7-to-2) is a Grade 1 winner with loads of talent. However, there are so many other intriguing alternatives. Osaila (5-to-1; best Racing Post Rating: 108) and Qualify (5-to-1; best Racing Post Rating: 105) are two Europeans to watch.

But don’t overlook these Americans: Isabella Sings (12-to-1), Quality Rocks (20-to-1) and Lady Eli (6-to-1). Isabella Sings and Quality Rocks have the speed and stamina to work out good trips on or near the lead. However, Lady Eli’s turn of foot is something else. If she has room to roll, she could prove best of all.

Breeders' Cup 2014: Head-to-head matchups

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