Has the Breeders’ Cup Classic got you stumped? Are you clueless as to who is going to like the track, like the distance, not mind the traveling, draw a bad post? Do you know how good Shared Belief really is?
Well, you’re not alone, and this is not the first time the Classic has looked this perplexing, trying to separate a dominant group of 3-year-olds from an ordinary bunch of older horses as a whole.
This year, we have California Chrome, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who failed to finish in the money in the Belmont Stakes. In 2002, we had War Emblem, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who failed to finish in the money in the Belmont Stakes. This year, we have the Travers Stakes winner V.E. Day. In 2002, we had the Travers Stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro. This year, we have Shared Belief, a 3-year-old who beat older horses in the Pacific Classic. In 2002, we had Came Home, a 3-year-old who beat older horses in the Pacific Classic. This year, we have a European 3-year-old, Toast of New York. In 2002, we had a European 3-year-old, Hawk Wing.
So, who winds up winning the race in 2002? The 4-year-old Volponi, who not only was the longest shot in the field at 43-1, he won the race by an astounding 6 1/2 lengths.
Will history repeat itself, considering the near-identical scenario this year? One thing about Volponi, he ran some big races in top-class company and was equally adept on grass and dirt. This year we have a 4-year-old who is equally adept on grass as he is on dirt and even synthetic and has run some big races in top-class company. Volponi went into the Classic having won one of his last six starts. This year, we have an older horse who is going into the Classic having won one of his last six starts. Volponi was a horse who responded big-time whenever he had blinkers added or removed. This year, we have a horse whose career took off after blinkers were added.
Too many parallels to ignore? Say hello to Imperative, a horse who just may go off somewhere in the same price range as Volponi.
With Imperative, you can toss a lot of what you see on the past performances. The bottom line is that on his best day when he is ridden properly he can compete with anyone, as he proved by knocking off Game On Dude and Moreno in the Charles Town Classic. He also finished third in the grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita and Pacific Classic and was not able to show his best stuff on both occasions.
In the Gold Cup, trainer George Papaprodromou had given the colt more than two months off after his victory at Charles Town, traveling cross-country and back.
“I gave him a little layoff off after the Charles Town race and I hardly trained the horse,” he said. “I needed another work in him but I ran out of time. Because I gave him time off and took it easy with him, I was a little short coming into the Gold Cup and he still ran third (finishing far in front of Game On Dude again).”
Imperative’s last two races were all about the eye test and all you have to do is go to YouTube and watch the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again Stakes. In the Pacific Classic, Kent Desormeaux had him dead-last in a field of 10, about 15 lengths off the pace. He remained last until Desormeaux finally asked him at the three-eighths pole, and Imperative flew by horses, picking them off one by one. He continued to run strongly through the stretch, and while Shared Belief and Toast of New York were long gone, he was moving with powerful strides in the final furlong to nip Game On Dude for third, while coming home his final two quarters in :24 1/5 and :24 3/5.
In the Awesome Again, Desormeaux had him in seventh in the seven-horse field, but sitting comfortably only six lengths off a :46 2/5 and 1:10 2/5 pace. Then, for some reason that remains inexplicable to Papaprodromou, he gunned him up along the rail down the backstretch, going from last to challenging for the lead by the three-eighths pole. He had run his second and third quarters in :23 flat and :23 2/5, which left him with little in the final three-eighths. He still was right there turning for home and seemed to still have some run in him as he went after Fed Biz, but when Shared Belief came up on his outside and drifted in slightly, he got sawed off and Desormeaux had to stop riding and steer him to the outside. By then, Imperative was done and he wound up fifth, beaten just over six lengths.
Papaprodromou said he’s still trying to figure out what Desormeaux was doing, moving that early, going from last to the lead, which was just the opposite of the way he rode him in the Pacific Classic when he waited until the three-eighths pole to move after having him far back off the pace.
For the Classic, Papaprodromou has named Frankie Dettori to ride, and there is no finer judge of pace than Deottori, would love nothing more than to win the Classic that he essentially threw away in 1998 aboard Swain and was vilified for in the U.S. and Europe.
Remember, this is a son of Bernardini, who was a $325,000 yearling purchase by Darley and trained by Eoin Harty until Papaprodromou claimed him for $50,000 and made several equipment changes. He responded to the equipment changes finishing a close second in the grade II San Antonio Stakes at odds of 26-1.
Although he’s had a few off days since, he still has proven to be a dangerous foe on his good days, regardless of the competition, and has run a pair of 107 Beyer Speed Figures, and his 122 Brisnet Figure is third only to Bayern’s and Moreno’s 124 and is 12 points higher than Shared Belief’s best figure and nine points higher than California Chrome’s and Tonalist’s best figures.
So, if you’re baffled by this year’s Classic and are looking for a bomb to bet either to win or as part of your exotics, there is a strong case to be made for Imperative.