It would be harsh and simplistic to say the Breeders’ Cup Classic is a mess, but that pretty much describes it. Case in point, there is a fairly good possibility that the winners of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Awesome Again, Travers, Woodward, Dubai World Cup, and Suburban Handicap will not run. You had a 1-5 shot get beat by a 25-1 shot in the Awesome Again. You had the Pacific Classic winner stumble at the start of the Awesome Again, costing him a chance to win or at least a closer finish. You had the winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup disqualified. You had the top three betting choices finish out of the money in the Lukas Classic. And you had a 30-1 shot and former $15,000 claimer win the Pennylvania Derby, with the 6-5 favorite breaking poorly and finishing out of the money.
The big winner this past weekend might have been trainer Bill Mott, even though his Tacitus could finish no better than third in the JC Gold Cup. Mott was able to avoid all the chaos by deciding to train Yoshida up to the Classic, and he was given a huge incentive to run his mare Elate, who is undefeated at 1 1/4 miles, in the Classic and keep her away from her nemesis, Midnight Bisou, against whom she is 0-for-3.
So, here is a pathetic attempt to rank the Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders, taking into consideration the indefinite plans of several of them. Also, this is about who could or should run or not run as much as who will run. In other words, I am clueless and just throwing my two cents in.
BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC RANKINGS
||Look, if I was stupid enough to rank him my No. 1 Kentucky Derby horse over Justify last year I might as well risk being stupid again by making him my No. 1 Classic horse. He is a grade 1 winner at 1 1/4 miles and over the Santa Anita track. I have no problem with the stewards' decision to DQ him in the Gold Cup. I feel it was the correct decision considering how close the finish was. He did bump him twice. But let’s not forget what a great race he ran, showing his versatility by going to the lead for the first time in his life and digging in gamely when challenged by Code of Honor, who got his head in front. We saw how he out-gamed Gift Box in the Santa Anita Gold Cup at a time when Gift Box was the dominant horse in California, having just out-dueled McKinzie in the Big Cap. Throw out his three defeats at Saratoga, a track he apparently dislikes, and you have a 4-year-old who is just now reaching his peak form.
|2—Code of Honor
||He likely would be No. 1 if I knew he was running, but not only do I not know, I have a strong feeling he won’t, knowing his connections and their desire to freshen him and bring him back as a 4-year-old. It’s not easy for a 3-year-old to ship out to California, especially at the end of a fairly arduous campaign that saw him run three times at 1 1/4 miles, including a gut-wrencher against grade 1-winning older horses. Sure he can win the Classic. He may very well be the best distance horse in the country. In the Gold Cup he ran his last four quarters in :23 3/5, :23 4/5, :23 4/5, and :24 1/5. But his owner has already bypassed the Classic with Mineshaft when it was in California and his trainer is pretty conservative who I am sure wouldn’t relish traveling across the country at this time to run over a track that has been favoring speed so far. Also he is a lightly built colt, a very late foal, he matured late mentally and physically, and in my opinion would benefit from some time off, with the Classic a goal for next year. I could be wrong, so we’ll just have to wait to see what they decide. Until then, I will keep him here ready to jump into No. 1 or be removed from the list altogether.
||I’m still trying to figure out if his defeat in the Awesome Again at 1-5 at his favorite distance was simply a case of theft, and that this was a good prep for the Classic, or if this is as good as he is right now, and he’s not going to improve stretching out to a mile and a quarter. Yes, Mongolian Groom stole the race, but McKinzie still seemed to have every chance to catch him. On the other hand, the winner came home his final eighth in :12 1/5 and McKinzie was 5 1/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Higher Power. Then
again, we’re talking about a 1-5 shot having a 25-1 shot draw away from him in the stretch. But Mongolian Groom should not have been such long odds having placed in the Santa Anita Handicap, Pacific Classic, and San Diego Handicap. So, now you know why it is so
difficult getting a handle on this race and this horse in particular.
||He is another horse who is difficult to figure out. He has run well at a mile and a quarter, but nothing earth-shattering, and although he closes well at a mile and an eighth he never seems to get there, always falling short, other than his Woodward victory in his dirt debut over a year ago. Even in his past two starts at 1 1/8 miles, he was third in the Woodward, making up only one length in the final furlong, and second in the Whitney, losing three-quarters of a length in the final furlong. But visually he always looks as if he is closing fast. If the track is playing fair at Santa Anita, he does have the class and closing kick to get it done against this field. But you just can’t get too confident in the stretch until he actually catches the horses in front of him.
||I am putting her here until I see how she does in the Spinster Stakes against Dunbar Road and the others and how serious her connections are about running in the Classic. Right now everything is pure speculation and based mainly on her three victories by daylight at a mile and a quarter – the Alabama and back-to-back scores in the Delaware Handicap. Also, she has been unable to beat Midnight Bisou at the shorter distances. If she wins the Spinster and they do decide to try the Classic, she probably would be one of the favorites. If they decide to stick with the fillies and go after Midnight Bisou one more time, then you still have to respect her and give her a chance based on her nose defeat in the Personal Ensign, a race in which she couldn’t hold a clear lead over Midnight Bisou. Strategy would play a big role if she goes for the Distaff.
You sure can’t hold his well-beaten third in the Awesome Again against him after he stumbled pretty badly at the start, losing valuable position and having to come from last over a speed-favoring track and with a theft up front. Also, he did beat Mongolian Groom by 5 1/2 lengths in the Pacific Classic and earned a 112 Equibase speed figure. Earlier this year he was strictly an allowance horse at Fair Grounds, but has really come into his own since moving to John Sadler’s barn, especially stretching out to a mile and a quarter. Sadler and owner Hronis Racing will be trying for back-to-back victories in the BC Classic. With the right stalking trip he would be dangerous.
||Disappointing effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and not certain to run in Classic. Knowing Jimmy Jerkens, decent chance he won’t, but putting him here anyway because there is no one else. I doubt Aidan O’Brien will pass up this year’s race, especially having tried so many times to win it. But have no idea who he would have in mind. As for Preservationist, he did not appear to have an excuse, but had no punch in the stretch, yet still was beaten only five lengths. I might be inclined to try, hoping the horse who won the Suburban and Woodward will show up. Small fields like that can be very tricky and sometimes horses don’t show their best. Lately he’s been alternating good and not so good races, so he’s due for a good one next time. Centennial Farms looking to land that big one. But his status is dubious at best at this time.
||A solid, hard-knocking horse who pretty much stole the Awesome Again, actually turning back McKinzie and pulling away from him in the stretch with a quick final eighth. Only problem with him is he was never nominated to the Breeders’ Cup and his owners don’t seem like they have any desire to shell out $200,000 to run. Don’t be surprised to see an owner step in and put up the money for a piece of the action. I doubt he could pull off another theft in the Classic, but at his home track he could certainly pick up a substantial check.
|9—Seeking the Soul
||I’m sure trainer Dallas Stewart is not going to give up on him after a well-beaten fourth in the Awesome Again. We know he’s better than that, but hasn’t shown in California. Toss the Pacific Classic as he was suffering from an electrolytes imbalance known as the thumps. Perhaps he still wasn’t 100 percent, despite all the positive signs. He’s already out there and deserves another chance, so expect Stewart to keep him there. He is a grade 1 winner even if it was two years ago, but he did win the grade 2 Stephen Foster this year.
||I know this sounds like a bold statement, but I would run him in the Classic and take the blinkers off. He has been too keen with them on and has twice now been on the lead or close to it, and he showed earlier in his career that he is a come from behind horse. In both races with blinkers, he lacked his usual closing punch. Yes, he has had bad luck in many of his big races and trained with more focus with blinkers, but in the heat of battle he was getting too headstrong. He could react to the removal of the blinkers and show his old toughness and closing kick. Maybe he will even get a perfect trip this time, something he hasn’t gotten even in his Wood Memorial victory. I just think he deserves one more shot with the blinkers off, assuming he came out of the Gold Cup in great shape and trains well over the next couple of weeks. After all, he was still third, beaten four lengths.
||Saffie A. Joseph Jr.
||The Pennsylvania Derby winner is the Cinderella story of the Classic. Yes, he was 31-1 at Parx when he mowed down Mr. Money and War of Will, but he is a rapidly improving horse who had some good stakes form and proved to be a huge overlay. He certainly is not a throw-out in this year’s Classic, but his connections have to hope the track is playing fair. A number of horses ranked ahead of him will likely not run, so he would move up a couple of spots. Give him credit for closing into a snail-like pace with a :12 2/5 final eighth. That makes him legitimate, and he should move forward off it.
||He is another I’m just throwing in here without knowing what the plans for him are. He has had excellent form all year, finishing a fast-closing third in the Preakness and winning the Lexington Stakes and Ohio Derby, and last weekend’s Oklahoma Derby. His fifth-place finish in the Travers, beaten five lengths, was not a bad effort considering he was stuck down on the rail every inch of the way, which was not where you wanted to be. He made one move to pull within two lengths of the lead nearing the half-mile pole, and then made another move to pull right up with the leaders in midstretch, but could not sustain it and was just nipped for fourth right at the wire. He’s a big strapping colt, and if he runs in the Classic he could surprise a lot of people.
Another 3-year-old who might fit in the Classic is War of Will, who ran a game third in the Pennsylvania Derby, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths, in what could be the beginning of a return to the form that won him the Preakness. But once again I don’t know what his plans are.
I’m not sure who else to even consider for the Classic. I thought Draft Pick would run big in the Awesome Again, but he was a big disappointment. If you’re willing to throw that race out for whatever reason and look at his previous form, I imagine he would improve stretching back out to a mile and a quarter.
I have no idea what to make of the Lukas Classic. The winner, Mocito Rojo, has now won five in a row, all stakes, but four of them were at small tracks. Sent off at 8-1, he defeated 7-1 shot Silver Dust, a winner at Mountaineer Park last out, by a neck. The 2-1 favorite Quip tracked the pace but tired early.
Two big-name horses who would add glamour to the Classic are Maximum Security and Catholic Boy, but Maximum Security likely has run out of of time and Catholic Boy could switch back to the turf or even try the Dirt Mile, but he also has not had a prep, having last run on July 6, and it would be tough to make the Classic off a four-month layoff, although he really fits there on his best form. If they did decide to go in cold he would have to at least make the Top 10.