Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile: or, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

The Dirt Mile is simple, right?  Take 1/1 morning line favourite Liam’s Map as a free square, and move on?

Not so fast, particularly with a certain zippy, sometimes zig-zagging gadfly in the field.

Friday, October 30

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI), three-year-olds and up, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:10pm EDT

Selections:  Red Vine (1), Lea (5), Liam’s Map (3)

Longshot:  Street Strategy (6)

We so often complain about that no-hoper in the field.  You know the rant: “my horse would have wired the field if not for that pesky 50-1 shot dogging him just long enough to tire out!”

Hello, Mr. Z.

Mr. Z is a fast horse, and he does his best work on the front end.  So does Bradester, who is honest, but probably not fast enough to go with them.  So does Valid, but that 10 post will hurt him badly given the track configuration.  He will not strike the front early, and though he may hit the board on honesty alone, this sharply diminishes his chances to win.

Mr. Z drew the 4-hole, directly outside of Liam’s Map, and both drew inside enough to have their attempts to get the lead not be badly compromised.

Am I saying Liam’s Map has no shot with Mr. Z in the field?  Absolutely not; he should be at the very least covered defensively.  He showed in some of his earlier races (his maiden win and the Harlan’s Holiday) that he can sit just off and make a run.  As such, Liam’s Map is not quite in zugzwang if Mr. Z puts the pedal to the metal.  However, if Liam’s Map does go ahead and send from that inside post, Mr. Z will dog him for as long as he can.  He has nothing to lose, with his only conceivable shot in this field coming on the front end.  That could set up for either of two perfectly capable off-pace types to spoil the party.

Red Vine is the more attractive of the two.  The rail draw means he will save all the ground.  His second-place finish in the Kelso last out was a good thing — he did not start well, was a bit farther off the pace than he prefers to be, and was a closing second behind a sharp lone speed in Appealing Tale.  With a better start, Red Vine could be closer in with dead aim.  There was also no recent indication that Red Vine was pointing anywhere but the Dirt Mile for his end-of-year campaign.  The same cannot be said of Lea, the other one likely to be in that next flight.  Trainer Bill Mott was wavering between the Dirt Mile and the Mile for Lea, and even working Lea on turf leading up to this race.  However, with the rain in the forecast (and possibly, though unsaid, the tougher European company shipping for the turf mile), Mott opted for the Dirt Mile.  Still, Lea is an untarnished three-for-three going a mile on the main, and his speed on his best day rivals anyone here.  The 5-hole should not be so far outside as to hurt Lea’s chances, and he is the other with a strong shot to have first run on Liam’s Map if he weakens.

If Mr. Z were to scratch, then Liam’s Map would move right up the pecking order to where so many people do have him: as a single to win.  However, as long as Mr. Z stays in the field, those first-run stalking types present some value here.

Street Strategy seems quite unlikely to win this race, as he would have to muster the race of his life to be fast enough to beat this crowd.  However, for undersides of intra-race exotics, he has upside as a bomb to include.  Pacewise, he is as versatile as they come.  He has run well on the front, rallying from the clouds, and everywhere in between.  Street Strategy comes in second off the layoff for trainer Randy Morse, who comes to Keeneland loaded and ready to fire.  In fact, Street Strategy has something none of these others have: a dirt mile win at Keeneland.  He won the “local prep”, a top-class allowance-optional which was used as a test for the track configuration in the dirt mile.  That was a sharp race by Street Strategy’s standards.  As this consistent four-year-old colt is still lightly raced (9-5-1-1) lifetime, he may have a little room to step forward yet.  Though asking him to come out on top may prove too tough a task, his pace versatility and known affinity for the course could be enough for him to fill out an exotic as the longest shot on the board.

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