Analysis of the Breeders' Cup Classic

I must start off by admitting that this is one race where my opinion changes, not by the day, but by the hour. I must also admit that two of my favorite horses are in the field, both of whom I would love to see win. They are CATHOLIC BOY and MIND YOUR BISCUITS. I have been a huge fan of Catholic Boy from the moment I laid on him in the paddock before the Remsen Stakes, and Mind Your Biscuits has added an entirely new meaning to the word versatility, for he has accomplished things no horse has ever accomplished before in terms of breaking out of the mold of a pure sprinter. I also have been a huge fan of GUNNEVERA since last year's Derby Dozen, and you won't find a better story than his trainer Antonio Sano.

I believe that Catholic Boy has superstar potential, especially the way he has developed physically. He has really grown into a powerhouse of a racehorse, from the shoulders to the hind end and through the girth. He looks like a totally different horse from last year and even early this year.

Just a note, if Catholic Boy and MENDELSSOHN should finish 1,2, which certainly is not out of the realm of possibility, could anyone have imagined two horses running in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf going on to finish first and second in the Breeders' Cup Classic? Speaking of Mendelssohn, no one deserves to win this race more than Aidan O'Brien, who has supported it since 2000, sending horses almost every year. He's had some tough breaks and it would be a great story if he finally won with a horse like Mendelssohn, who has now made an amazing six trips to the United States, traveling a total of 45,000 miles. And he would be the first horse ever to win Breeders' Cup races on grass and dirt.

But this is about handicapping angles and finding the value horses and huge longshots. I believe Catholic Boy and Mind Your Biscuits are both going to be bet, although in this field they still would pay a pretty decent price. Needless to say I am rooting for both horses.

Let's start by saying that Catholic Boy is attempting to become only the second horse ever to win the Travers and Breeders' Cup Classic in the same year, the other being Arrogate. Also, WEST COAST is attempting to become the first horse ever to win the Travers and Breeders' Cup Classic in different years. Mind Your Biscuits is attempting to become the first Breeders' Cup Classic winner to have won a grade 1 race at six furlongs. And lastly, ACCELERATE is attempting to become the first horse to sweep the Santa Anita Handicap, Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic and go on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. 

Even the pace scenario of the Classic is difficult to figure out. It would seem that Mendelssohn is the likely pacesetter, but there are others who can take up that roll if their rider decides he wants the lead. So we really don't know where all these pace horses are going to wind up as they head into the first turn. From the rail out, Thunder Snow, Catholic Boy, McKinzie, West Coast, Mendelssohn, and Accelerate are all going to be vying for position close to the lead, although Catholic Boy used to be a come from behind horse, so he may return to those tactics if Javier Castellano feels the pace is too hot. With so many horses with tactical speed, it is important for Joel Rosario to make sure Accelerate, breaking from post 14, doesn't get hung too wide. He did in the Awesome Again and although he won, his Thoro-Graph number was significantly slower than anything he'd run in his previous four races, and they crawled home in that race over a track that was playing slow.

If you go by the morning line, Accelerate will be the clear-cut favorite, with West Coast, McKinzie, Mind Your Biscuits, and Catholic Boy all close for second choice. Strictly from a longshot player's point of view, all those horses will be too short to cash a big win ticket, although the fourth and fifth choices still could be considered overlays. WEST COAST looks like the horse most likely to improve after being uncharacteristically rank early in the Awesome Again and dragging Mike Smith to the front way too early. If he returns to the Pegasus World Cup, where he ran a huge negative 4 1/4 on Thoro-Graph chasing Gun Runner home he will very tough. Interesting that Smith went with McKinzie, but you have like John Velazquez getting the mount.

The lowest of the double-digit horses is YOSHIDA at 10-1, and for a long time I was seriously considering him as my best value horse. I just like his Woodward and the way he came home his final three-eighths. It is interesting to note, however, that runner-up GUNNEVERA actually got a faster Thoro-Graph number and Gunnevera is listed at double Yoshida's odds at 20-1. I couldn't help but think back a year to Good Samaritan, with the same connections as Yoshida, who looked like a world beater winning the Jim Dandy Stakes in his dirt debut. Good Samaritan then finished fifth, beaten nine lengths in the Travers Stakes in his next start as the 7-2 favorite. He went on to run some good races on the dirt and some bad ones, but never duplicated the brilliance he displayed in the Jim Dandy. Sometimes a grass horse's best effort on the dirt will be his first one. Now whether all that applies to Yoshida we have no idea. But it is something to consider. That all but assures that my original assessment will be correct and he will indeed be the best value horse.

So, where is the value, the overlay, or the longshot who can shock the world. The value and overlay could very well be THUNDER SNOW. I had originally lumped him with those mentioned above, but I do like his 12-1 odds, if he indeed will be that high. Call me old school, but, although some may not like it, I loved his half-mile blowout in a bullet :47 2/5 on Wednesday. Yes, many will say it's too fast a work so close to the race and only five days after working seven furlongs in 1:27, in which he was being ridden a long way out. What one has to realize is that Thunder Snow is a very lazy, playful type horse and needs encouragement in the morning. And he works alone. I also love the fact that he has had four works at Churchill Downs since his excellent second-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

He was given an easy five-eighths in 1:04 3/5, then an easy mile in 1:42, which is also old school and something you don't see much anymore. That was followed by his seven-furlong work, in which he failed to switch leads until right before the wire, then galloped out very strongly and didn't pull up until almost at the half-mile pole. The fact that his trainer and assistant trainer, who has been caring for him here, felt he needed to have a quick half-mile blowout three days before the race shows how the colt thrives on work, and in fact needs it.

He has been known for staying on his left lead, but he did switch leads beautifully and on cue in Wednesday's work and continued on strongly past the wire as if he wanted to do a lot more. This is a horse who is sharp and fit. And for a little statistical tidbit, the last two Breeders' Cup Classic winners at Churchill Downs - Drosselmeyer and Blame - both were coming off second-place finishes in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. What I loved about his neck defeat at Belmont Park was that he was coming off only one poor effort on the grass in the past six months, and in that poor effort, the Juddmonte International, he threw his right front shoe and his left hind shoe in the race and basically got nothing out of it. The Gold Cup really moved him forward and he should be ready for a peak effort.

In the Gold Cup he was farther off the pace than usual after Diversify self destructed setting blazing fractions, and despite being a short horse, he made up eighth lengths from the three-quarters to the mile, zipping that quarter in a sprightly :23 1/5. He got a bit tired late as was just nipped at the wire. His Thoro-Graph number of negative 2 1/4 was just slightly lower than his negative 2 3/4 in the Dubai World Cup, in which he trounced West Coast and Pavel by nearly six lengths, leading the entire way.

This is also a horse who can beat you in a dogfight, as he showed in the UAE Derby or he can win off by himself, as he did in the World Cup. He will break from the rail and should be forwardly placed, saving ground. He may need some luck being down on the inside, but I'm confident Christophe Soumillon, who is used to being covered up in Europe, will be able to work out a trip.

Going a step farther and looking for that monster hit, I am going to save time and space and refer readers to my recent column on why you should not ignore PAVEL.


This column goes through the colt's entire career and all the adversity he had to face and how much he was asked to do. Listed at 20-1, he is a horse who was meant for stardom, but given an introduction to racing that was unprecedented. However, he proved in his first four career starts that he was something special. Much like Volponi, the 43-1 upsetter of the Classic in 2002, he has meandered his way to the race in the most unconventional manner, but somehow got there ready for a peak performance. And of course we all know he won the grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs two races back when he finally came into a race in top form and away from California.

I love the way he looks physically and the way he's been moving over the track each morning. He has one of the strongest pedigrees in the field and his only inbreeding is to Caro, one of my favorite influences for class, speed, stamina, and toughness.

The big question mark is ROARING LION, and if his female family prevails and he takes to the dirt, he should be firing bullets in the stretch. Unlike many Euros he doesn't need to be covered up and is quite content to run outside of horses and then come charging on the far outside to wear down his opposition with a relentless stretch run. Although Churchill is a long stretch, he likely will need every foot of it. He is a total guess, but you get a tough horse with tons of class. And John Gosden just doesn't lose big races these days.

So, to summarize from a handicapping angle, I like THUNDER SNOW and PAVEL to win at big prices. I just have to figure out how to use them in the exotics; mostly like in a trifecta box with Catholic Boy and Mind Your Biscuits, and probably throw in Accelerate just to protect. I would also have to play them in exacta boxes with McKinzie, Gunnevera, West Coast, Yoshida, and Mendelssohn. For a real huge exacta or trifecta, I can see GUNNEVERA rallying to pick up a piece of it or even win it. He's been looking awfully good in the mornings and, as I said,he is another of whom I've always been a big fan. His race in the Woodward was huge, having to circle the field 10-wide and he got a higher Thoro-Graph number than the winner. And I'm still leaving out horses like Axelrod, Roaring Lion, and Discreet Lover. That's how tough a race this is.


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