Is Champagne winner Officer the hunch bet of the day?

Is Champagne winner Officer the hunch bet of the day?

Juvenile Preview: Just a Hunch

If ever there was a hunch bet going into a race, the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Oct. 27 in New York boasts one of the great ones of all time. With policemen and firefighters being hailed as heroes in the wake of the terrorist attack on the city's World Trade Center, what better play could there be than Officer?

For hunch players, however, there is little to be gained by wagering on the son of Bertrando, for everybody who has ever cashed a mutuel ticket knows that as of this instant, Officer is the best juvenile in the world by many lengths. He will be without a doubt the shortest-priced favorite on the program, and deserves every bit of the adulation showered upon him.

The Bob Baffert trainee, owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., has been to the track five afternoons and has yet to be challenged. He wins easily, and he does it the right way. He doesn't need the lead, he doesn't need to carry his track around with him, and he seems unfazed by various distances. In his most recent tour de force, the Champagne Stakes (gr. I), Officer stalked the pace of Heavyweight Champ and put him away effortlessly turning for home. He won at the Breeders' Cup distance of 1 1/16 miles, without being asked, by 3 3/4 lengths over Jump Start.

Jockey Victor Espinoza, who has partnered with Officer in each of his triumphs, would do just as well leaving his stick in the jockeys' room. He has not come close to uncocking it yet, nor has he so much as knuckled down on the horse, asking him for run. Officer is winning with consummate ease, and should he run as expected in the Juvenile, seems the biggest threat yet to break through the dreaded curse of Juvenile winners not coming back to win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) the following spring.

Jump Start, a graded stakes winner at Saratoga, offers some hope for longshot players. Although he never threatened Officer in the Champagne, he stayed in the same zip code while racing greenly down the Belmont stretch. A son of A.P. Indy, Jump Start has fine breeding in his corner, and perhaps possesses the most room for improvement. He turned his head nearly sideways several times late in the Champagne, and if he learns his lessons from trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Jump Start can conceivably close the formidable gap between Officer and everyone else.

Came Home came off his triumph in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga looking to be the real deal. Poised to prep for the Juvenile in Santa Anita's Norfolk Stakes (gr. II), Came Home was found to have some filling in one leg and was scratched. That leaves him the tall task of training up to the Juvenile. The son of Gone West, while talented, seemed a notch below Officer in the summer, and missing time will not help him at this key juncture. He comes from the solid barn of Paco Gonzalez and is owned by John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery, who have campaigned quality runners Free House, Bien Bien, and Bienamado. But Came Home seems up against it.

The lightly raced Siphonic came off just a Del Mar maiden score to take home honors in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. II) at Keeneland Oct. 6. A son of the talented Siphon, Siphonic looked ultra-impressive in Lexington, repelling the challenge of stakes winner Harlan's Holiday to draw off by six lengths. If he gets loose on the lead at Belmont, who knows? Trainer David Hofmans has won big grade Is before (Alphabet Soup in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Touch Gold in the Belmont Stakes) and might be the guy to spring the upset.

Others pointing for the race include Norfolk Stakes winner Essence of Dubai, Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) victor Repent, and the undefeated European Johannesburg, but the hunch here is that they're running for a small slice of the pie.