For more than nine months the handicap division in Thoroughbred racing was about as exciting as the NHL in October. None of the supposedly top horses could string together consecutive grade I wins, leaving the Breeders' Cup Classic looking decidedly uninteresting.
Within a span of a couple weeks, all that has changed. Suddenly, the Classic has our juices flowing. It is now a must-watch race.
Most of the new-found excitement is because of what happened at Belmont Park last weekend. Havre de Grace smashed Royal Delta in the Beldame and Uncle Mo looked like the Uncle Mo of his championship juvenile campaign in the Kelso. The Jockey Club Gold Cup was not exactly a strong field, but having Flat Out get his grade I while defeating an in-form Stay Thirsty only added to a game-changing day in New York.
Meanwhile, out in California, Game On Dude did what he had to do as the favorite in the Goodwood to punch his ticket to the Classic. He's never been my favorite, but hey, any horse with two grade I wins and who is trained by Bob Baffert deserves another look.
One week before all of this, we also watched as To Honor and Serve crushed a pretty good field of 3-year-olds, and did it with ease. After a disappointing and injury-plagued season, he is peaking at the right time.
Now, with all due respect to Flat Out, Game On Dude, and To Honor and Serve, who have as good as chance as any, let's be honest--the Classic regained its luster largely because of the presence of Havre de Grace and Uncle Mo. Having a superstar filly and last year's champion juvenile pointing toward the race is just the shot in the arm it needed. With Blind Luck now on the sidelines, these are the two most popular horses in training and now they will square off on racing's biggest stage. There is no way of overstating the importance of that.
There is no way we can forget about Tizway, who despite missing the JCGC is still the top-ranked handicap male, in my opinion, and has run well off layoffs before.
Added intrigue could also be given to the Classic with the presence of New Zealand-bred superstar So You Think. The eight-time group I winner recently finished fourth in the Arc, but trainer Aidan O'Brien said a run in the Breeders' Cup is not out of the question. Stay tuned there.
And what about Acclamation? There is still a possibility that he could go in the Classic instead of the Turf. He has won five straight graded races, which is something nobody else can claim.
Another contender that could jump back into the picture is Giant Oak, who is favored to win the Hawthorne Gold Cup this weekend. Don't forget, he won the Clark Handicap at Churchill last November and is a two-time grade I winner.
Here are the latest future book odds and a link to other Breeders' Cup race odds:
Flat Out: 8-1
Game On Dude: 9-1
Giant Oak: 25-1
Havre de Grace: 3-1
So You Think: 6-1
To Honor and Serve: 15-1
Stay Thirsty: 11-1
Uncle Mo: 6-1