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Breeders' Cup: Challenge Races Picks

There are just 34 days until the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 30-31 and there are seven key prep races on Saturday, with five “Win and You’re In” races at Santa Anita and two at Belmont Park this afternoon.

Some of the biggest names will be competing including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) champion Bayern, who is the 5-2 morning line favorite in the $300,000 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita.

The brilliant mare Beholder will be in action as the heavy favorite in the $300,000 Zenyatta (G1), a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Her connections have loftier goals, with the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic against the boys the multiple target.

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah is the early betting favorite for the Classic at BetOnline at odds of +250. The Bob Baffert trainee ran second in the Travers (G1) at Saratoga in his last outing and is training up to the Classic.

Here are selections and odds for the seven Breeders’ Cup Challenge Races:

Belmont Park Race 9 The Vosburgh G1 (5:26 ET)

Palace (8-1) appears to have the best shot of beating the chalk here. The Linda Rice trainee makes his third start of the year, a fifth in the Carter 'Cap (G1) two back, and then he was off poorly when stumbling out of the gate in the state bred Morrissey and had to settle for third in the slop. He won the Vanderbilt (G1) and Forego (G1) last summer in back to back races and then was a decent third in this race as the beaten favorite. He looks as if he will move forward and has worked sharply since his last start.

Belmont Park Race 10 The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic G1 (6:01 ET)

Twilight Eclipse (5-1) finished evenly last out in a third place finish in the Sword Dancer (G1), beaten 3 1/4 lengths for the runner up spot by Red Rifle. The gelding should get a good tracking trip behind the speed and may be a bit closer early here. Four back he won the Man O' War (G1) over the turf here at 1 3/8 miles. He has won twice in 11 tries at today's distance and among the top three contenders appears most likely to offer the best value for the top spot.

Santa Anita Race 5 The Frontrunner G1 (2:30 PT)

Hollywood Dan (4-1) tries dirt for the first timer here for the Miller barn. The colt won the Del Mar Juvenile Turf last out in his first start against winners. The $245,000 Ocala purchase put in a near bullet work at Los Al on dirt. He is by Tapit out of the stakes winner Ocean Drive ($803,986) who has dropped three other winners including West Ocean ($355,840) and Unbridled Ocean ($332,005).

Santa Anita Race 7 The Zenyatta G1 (3:30 PT)

Beholder (2-5) trounced the boys last out winning the Pacific Classic (G1) by 8 1/4 lengths off a three week break and earned a career top speed fig, eight points higher than her previous best. She figures to regress off that number but even if she runs a Beyer of 100, she probably beats this group, as only one in the field owns a triple digit Beyer. She has won 10 of her 11 career starts at Santa Anita and can't find a viable foe that can beat her here. Hoping all goes well and she comes out of the race in good shape, as a date against American Pharoah and Honor Code in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

SA Race 8 The Chandelier G1 (4:00 PT)

Songbird (3-5) is going to be really tough to beat here, especially if Baffert scratches Pretty N Cool as he said he might. Our top pick is perfect in two starts, last out winning the Del mar Debutante (G1) at seven furlongs for fun. She is out of the stakes winner Ivanavinalot ($647,300) and gives every indication the stretch out to two turns will not be an issue. The Hollendorfer barn is 21% winners moving runners from sprint to route.

Santa Anita Race 9 The Rodeo Drive G1 (4:30 PT)

Photo Call (8-1) is coming off her first stakes win since coming to the U.S., taking the Violet (G3) last out at Monmouth Park. She steps into much deeper waters here but is bred to handle the extra ground and we should catch a decent price.

Santa Anita Race 10 The Awesome Again G1 (5:00 PT)

Bayern (5-2) has lost four in a row since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) and except for his third in the San Diego 'Cap (G2) his other three starts were downright ugly. Baffert is not giving up on this guy and he does have the tactical advantage here as there is not much early pace to stick with him early. He is perfect in three starts over the main track here and he may prove tough to catch if able to shake loose early.

For full card betting reports for both Belmont Park and Santa Anita for today, Michael Dempsey of turfnsport.com will be providing selections and analysis for all of the races.