Updated Breeders' Cup Classic Rankings

In light of impressive victories by Game on Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and Mucho Macho Man in the Suburban Handicap (G1), I've updated my Breeders' Cup Classic rankings.

With a second-place finish in last year's Classic and two powerhouse efforts since returning from Dubai, Game On Dude would be my morning line favorite if I were setting the Classic line today.

The other big move this week comes from Mucho Macho Man, who was ultra-impressive winning the Suburban at Belmont Park. Kudos to those handicappers who got 5-1 by forgiving his distant third-place finish in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs, where he was beaten seven lengths by Successful Dan. This result was another reminder that one of the keys to getting good prices is knowing when to forgive an off effort.

Mucho Macho Man was a big but lightly framed three-year-old. When I saw him Derby week last year, he was extremely narrow chested. From what I saw on TV Saturday, he has filled out beautifuly. He pressed a solid pace and drew away in the Suburban. Another eighth of a mile should be no problem. He got the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles just fine when finishing 3rd in the Kentucky Derby last year.

I took some flack for including Richard's Kid in my initial Classic rankings last month, but I thought he showed he belonged with the runner-up finish behind Game On Dude, who got things fairly soft up front in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Richard's Kid could be an interesting price play to at least hit the board in a hot-paced Breeders' Cup Classic.

Speaking of closers, Ron the Greek has a win going 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita and right now I really like his chances to be an overlay in the Breeders' Cup. The longer the time in motion, the stronger he gets. I envision getting a square price on Ron the Greek in the Classic, especially if he preps in 1 1/8 mile races, which could be a little short for him.

I still love Royal Delta's last race, but there is the question of whether her connections will want to face open company or remain in female-restricted races.

Previous ranking in parethesis:

1 Game on Dude (2)  Back-to-back big runs. 2nd in last year's BC

2 Royal Delta (1)  Ran full second faster than G1 older males at CD. Loves 10f

3 Ron the Greek (3)  The more distance, the better. Rock solid stayer.

4 Mucho Macho Man (10) 4yo  lived up to his name in Suburban

5 Shackleford (new) Will try to stretch out in Whitney

6 Richard's Kid (11) Good run for 2nd in Hollywood Gold Cup. Loves 10f

7 Successful Dan (4) Spotted Fort Larned soft pace, 5 pounds at PrM

8 Wise Dan (5) Not surprised he came back to earth in Foster.

9 Bodemeister (6) Huge potential & could be tough on SA's speedy strip

10 Hymn Book (new) Got plenty of pace to run at in Suburban

11 Fort Larned (new) Great run at PrM, but won't get that soft trip in BC

12 Union Rags (7)  Classy 3yo a major threat if he has a forward move in him

13 Paynter (9)  Showed ability when asked to set all the fractions in Belmont S.

14 Acclamation (new) Interesting, but can he transfer his form to dirt?

Also eligible: Neck n Neck, Flat Out, Went the Day Well, Creative Cause, Rogue Romance, Teeth of the Dog, Take Control

22 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Mary Zinke

By now you may have corrected the Acclamation comment as he has run on dirt, second in a Fairplex stakes race and also ran in the horrid Charles Town slop that I can think of off hand, and just posted a good 6f work on the SA dirt training track, however turf is his best surface and he is being pointed towards the Turf Classic. Your list is overall okay; I'd move Hymn Book above Shack. Watch the Suburban again. He was most amazing, but he is vulnerable to bumps and bad starts, so I did not have him in my picks on Saturday. Very fast winning time by MMM, but I do believe Hymn Book could have won.  I don't have doubts about Royal Delta's ability. She should face males. Say she takes the Del Cap and a Saratoga open company or the JCGC, then the Classic is where I would expect her to run. Will this list be updated after the Read and PC? It should get more interesting then. Good to see Teeth of the Dog on the AE's. He's a fighter. Shout out to Rule, maybe not ever a 10f or gr.1 horse(yet), but a fighter. How'd you like Flat Out's charge in the Monmouth Cup? Good to see those two boys back.  

09 Jul 2012 9:49 PM
Ranagulzion

Pete, I like your comment "knowing when to forgive an off effort."

Mucho Macho Man certainly showed that his dull effort in the Alysheba was a throw out. For me he's the bonafide top dog right now. I'll keep faith with Successful Dan as #2, applying your comment to his Cornhusker performance. Ron The Greek, Wise Dan and Game On Dude occupy positions 3, 4 and 5 respectvely.

I don't see the connections of Shackleford heading to the BCC after his sparkling Met Mile performance. The 10 Furlongs of the BCC is a little beyond him and he would have plenty of other tenacious speed to contend with.

09 Jul 2012 10:18 PM
Pete Denk

Thanks Mary. At first I didn't notice the Fairplex run from Acclamation back in '09. He finished 2nd to Z Humor. That was a decent run.

And as u pointed out he was 10th in the slop in the Charles Town Classic (G3) last fall.

On Hymn Book, I saw a bobble at the start of the Suburban but given that he is a deep closer, I didn't think it cost him that much. You like his effort a lot more than I do. I thought Mucho Macho Man was tons the best.

Hymn Book was the lone closer in the race and he got a fast pace up front. That's a pretty flattering scenario. He's a gutsy little horse and a stayer, but I'm not buying him as a serious win contender in the BC Classic.

BTW, did you notice the size difference between Hymn Book and MMM!?!

10 Jul 2012 12:25 AM
Pete Denk

Ranagulzion-

I don't disagree that Mucho Macho Man's run in the Suburban was one of the very best we've seen this year. Nothing wrong with taking him on top.

As for Shackleford, he won the Preakness and was 4th in the Derby on a dead rail/closer's track. I won't be surprised if they eventually reroute to the Dirt Mile, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt as the connections try to stretch him out. He's so fast and tenacious. I have a lot of respect for that horse.

10 Jul 2012 12:29 AM
Mary Zinke

I was even planning on a rebuttal as this is a preliminary what if type blog, BUT, about a non-big favorite of mine, just a possible like,really,Hymn Book,in his wins over his entire career, he has never been back further than 4 lengths at the 1/2, so I'm not sure if that means he's a deep closer. Yes, MMM is a huge tall thing compared to Hymn Book and many other horses. As I mentioned, I noticed Hymn Book is susceptible to bumping and has had a history of bad starts and I'm not sure if he prefers to run outside of horses as he's had some poor efforts when running between others, although in the Donn, I think Where's Sterling took the worst of their collision, maybe because Where's Sterling was my pick in that race. At this point I would pick others ahead of Hymn Book in the Classic. I do give him credit for his late run in the Suburban.

10 Jul 2012 12:59 AM
Pedigree Ann

Proven 10f form -

Game on Dude

Richard's Kid

Royal Delta

Ron the Greek

Mucho Macho Man

Bodemeister

9f winners who have yet to show good 10f form -

Wise Dan

Successful Dan

Hymn Book

Fort Larned

Shackleford (being trained as a sprinter/miler, not as a 10f horse)

The 3yos mentioned only have good form at 12f, not 10f, and in a slowly run race at that. Union Rags' 10f form is nothing to brag about.

The Great Divide in US dirt racing is between 9f and 10f; at 9f, good milers can still look like champions, while at 10f, their flaws show up.  From Olympia (1946) onward, this has been the pattern; great milers like Dr. Fager and Northern Dancer can manage it, but are any of the above in that category? And the 9f specialists' connections had best note - the only BC Classic winner to go into the race with no 10f experience was Ghostzapper.

P.S. Is Alternation retired or something? His Pimlico Special was a good win at 9.5f and he had several graded wins before that; the 9f Foster could be his 'forgive me' race.

10 Jul 2012 8:36 AM
Pete Denk

Ann-

Last I heard about Alternation was that he is at Arlington Park and is expected to make his next start in the Governor's Cup at Remington Park on August 11.

He's a nice horse, but he's going to have to run his way back onto my list.

10 Jul 2012 12:55 PM
Pete Denk

Dullahan to the Haskell, per Dale Romans.

Silver Max to the American Derby.

Finnegan's Wake (potential bet, loved his last) to the Va Derby.

10 Jul 2012 5:08 PM
JayJay

Unfortunate news about Union Rags, not sure what's going on but I will not be surprised if we hear another sale overseas.  This is just crazy.  I hope it's not a serious injury and that he'll be coming back next year.  I was looking forward to him trying to make a race for the championship but looks like it's down to top 2 now, IHA and Bode.  Bode's the only one that can try and take the championship away from IHA.

My Classic rankings :

1.  Ron The Greek :  With Bode going, there's a lot of speed already with Game On Dude also pointed to this race.  It'll set up for a deep closer.  RTG already won on this track albeit a very different and some would say weak field but the top horses are all speed so I'm looking for them to toast each other up front.

2.  Went The Day Well : I think this horse is a really a midpack closer so I'm liking him for a shot at winning the race.  Would love to find out his path to the Classic though.

3.  Bodemeister :  Homefield advantage and wicked speed.  No IHA in this race so he does look pretty solid.  I don't know how far Dude will let him go before he goes after him but I'm quite confident that Dude will not get past this horse.

4.  Mucho Macho Man : Nice win, a stalker that can pounce on the tiring speed horses on the stretch.  

5. Neck N'neck : I think this horse is just starting to get better.  I'm looking for him to run the same as his last one which looked really good.

Still trying to figure out who the bottom 7 are, no longer a fan of both Dan's.   They need to do a lot lot more to be considered contenders.  They'll be running against some good horses and they'll be running at SA, not the east coast.

10 Jul 2012 10:37 PM
GunBow

Pedigree Ann:

Excellent comment about 10 furlong form.  And the difference between 9 furlongs and 10 is a true gulf.  It doesn't make sense to me why it should be.  It's just a few hundred yards more.  But those yards make all the difference.

Sorry, I'm not sure we can claim that Mucho Macho Man has proven 10 furlong form.  I defintitely don't think we can assume that with an eighth more to run in the Suburban he would have dominated.  Why?  Because had it been 10 furlongs the entire shape of the race would have been different.  

I remember after the 2010 Donn, one infamous blogger claiming that it would have been impossible for Quality Road not to have maintained his 12 length winning margin at 9 furlongs another eighth of a mile.  What he failed to understand is that for reasons not entirely clear, everything about a 10 furlong race is different from a 9 furlong race, and that the Donn wouldn't have unfolded as it had if it had been at 10.  In the end, Quality Road never did win at 10 furlongs, and tired terribly in the BC Classic later that year.

Back to Mucho Macho Man, the best evidence that he can get 10 furlongs is his 3rd in the Kentucky Derby.  But the Kentucky Derby can be a weirdly run race, and sometimes those late-running 3rd and 4th place finishers have a style that is flattered by the pace scenario(this year) or the track profile(last year).  

Musket Man ran 3rd in the 09' Derby and Preakness, like Mucho, and did anyone consider him a true classic horse?  Other recent 3rd place finishers from the Derby include Steppenwolfer, Imperialism, Peace Rules, and Indian Charlie.  

In the end, I don't know how much running 3rd or even 2nd in a 10 furlong race tells us about the horse's ability to WIN at 10 furlongs.  I'm not saying that Mucho Macho Man can't win a big race at 10 furlongs, just that the issue for me is unsettled.  

With Union Rags sadly sidelined, only 2 horses from Pete's list own a graded stakes score on dirt at 10 furlongs, Game on Dude and Ron the Greek.  Because Cushion Track plays more like dirt than Del Mar's Poly track(Acclamation), I have no problem giving Game on Dude credit for 2 wins at 10 furlongs.  Importantly, both Game on Dude and Ron the Greek have won 10 furlong grade 1s at Santa Anita.  

11 Jul 2012 2:19 AM
Pedigree Ann

GunBow -

Royal Delta won the 10f Alabama at Saratoga, a dirt track. She flunked the World Cup test on Tapeta, but then, so did the Dude.

As to Mucho Macho Man, last year he was the immature June foal trying to keep up with the older, more mature colts. They put him away for the summer to grow into his frame and he has done so in spades.

Pete - Alternation beat Hymn Book into 5th at level weights in the Pimlico Special at 9.5f; Hymn Book just nosed out Mission Impazible in his G1 win in Florida, and MI was right with him still in the Special, beaten into fourth. If Hymn Book is a contender, so is Alternation.

The Special was only a G3 this year because it had been suspended for so long that its G1 status had been erased. Pimlico had to lengthen and rename the only older horse race they had available, the William Donald Schaefer (G3), in order for the Special to have any grade at all. It had as good a field as the Suburban, in fact many of the same runners.

11 Jul 2012 8:44 AM
LAZMANICK

GunBow

I would also think that if the Suburban was 10F MMM’s jockey Mike Smith might have run the race a little differently too.  Even if we consider how he ran on Saturday with his final 8th in 12.76, all he needed was an additional 8th in 13.40 to be credited with 10F in 1.59 4/5, still a very good time on the Belmont dirt course.  Considering the Suburban has been at 9F only since 2010, and before that it was at 10F, from 1980 to 2008 only 4 horses ran a sub 2:00 Suburban; and from 1980 to 2011 only four horses have run a sub 2:00 JCGC.  As Ann said, given his late foaling date and also the fact that he has developed into a very mature horse, I think it would be fair to say that he is definitely a threat at 10F with the top horses currently running in N/A.

11 Jul 2012 1:26 PM
LAZMANICK

I am going to cut my list for the BCC to only those horses that I think are the leading contenders to get 10F at this time.  Others will improve as the year progresses, of course, and strange things often happen when horses are asked to carry scale weight (126 lbs. for the older horses), but if the race was run today, these are the horses that I would think have to be defeated and at this point I rate them evenly:

1) The best of the true western horses IMO is obviously Game On Dude and I believe it is safe to say that he is even better of dirt than he is on synthetics as proven by a pair of awesome triumphs at 9F, The San Antonio in 1.46.88 this spring, and the Goodwood in 1.47.36 last fall.  One of his greatest triumphs to date was the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap with a sub 2:00 10F.  He also has four lifetime victories on the Santa Anita dirt, which should give him home course advantage over many of the participants.

2) My eastern pick is SUDDENLY Mucho Macho Man.  He stumbled a little in the Alysheba when he appeared lethargic and had nothing left for the stretch run.  However, he rebounded nicely in the Suburban and earlier this spring he won the Sunshine Millions at 9F defeating Ron The Greek by nearly two lengths while approaching the track record with a 1.47 4/5 score.  All he had to do in the Suburban was run his final 8th in 13.40 to be credited with a sub 2:00 minute 10F at Belmont, as mentioned in another post, something only 4 horses have done in the previous 20 runnings of the Suburban at that distance, and only 4 have done in the 10F JCGC since 1980.  He hasn’t raced at Santa Anita yet, but the quickness of the track should suit his close to the pace running style and I think he would do nicely.

3) My third pick is a combination east-west horse in Ron The Greek.  He is one of those types that has improved as he got older, having a relatively undistinguished career early on.  His SA Derby win at SA was the race, IMO, that put him at the top level with the handicap division this year.  His Foster win to me solidified that rating.  His times haven’t been all that fast, but don’t forget that he’s a come from behind type and they are at the mercy of the early pace.  True, his Foster was about a second slower than Royal Delta’s Fleur de Lis on the same card, but those races were run differently and the Foster was considerably deeper in talent than the filly race.  He also holds an important G1 win at 10F at SA, which also gives him a home court advantage.

There will be others, of course, as the year progresses, but IMO they still have some improving to do.  Of the three year olds, I think that Bodemeister’s and Paynter’s running styles offset each other and in the BCC neither will get a comfortable lead without an early challenge.  They are also trained by Bob Baffert, as is GOD, and with similar running styles he and his owners are going to have some tough decisions to make because instead of having a loaded gun with three definite contenders, these three could destroy each other’s chance s and set it up for one of their competitors.  My three year old choices at this time would be Creative Cause (maybe), Went the Day Well (because I think he is a true 10F type), and Dullahan (providing he does well in the Haskell).

11 Jul 2012 1:50 PM
Householder

I kept giving people Game On Dude in last year's Classic.  They just laughed.  A 159 and change run over the Santa Anita course in a Grade 1 event certainly gives him the home court advantage and the Breeder's Cup is giving him 10,000 to ship about 50 yards from his stall to the strip.  It certainly looks like he survived the dreaded Dubai bounce quite fine. The more interesting story is where does Baffert send Bodemeister?  

I would expect the Pacific Classic to be overloaded with 3 year olds this year and Bode worked the other day.

I still don't see Baffert running G.O.D. with Bodemeister.  I would look for the latter to show up in the dirt mile.

11 Jul 2012 3:33 PM
Householder

I also would not count Baffert's other, who loves Santa Anita (hence the dirt record), The Factor, quite yet. He looked short in his last but loves loves loves Santa Anita.  

11 Jul 2012 3:38 PM
LAZMANICK

I'm sure that if The Factor is sound Baffert will have him primed and raring to go in the BC Sprint.  I remember back in 2003 when Richard Mandella won a record 4 BC races.  If Baffert gets on one of his rolls, he has the kind of stable this year that could do extremely well when we consider the BCC (GOD), Mile (possibly Bodemeister), Sprint (The Factor) and we know he’ll have some two year old candidates for the Juvenile and the Juv. Fillies.  Another dark horse might possibly be Take Control.

11 Jul 2012 4:08 PM
Pete Denk

Laz-

I like Take Control. Hopefully he can stay sound and we can see him in stakes action soon.

11 Jul 2012 6:13 PM
LAZMANICK

Pete

So sad for Take Control.  Injury free I think he could have been one of the best horses since 2000.  

12 Jul 2012 12:46 AM
Weekend

I like Take Controls original name better, Vallenzeri. They jinxed this awesome horse when they changed his name. Hopefully he can have a nice season and retire to stud.

13 Jul 2012 8:43 AM
Footlick

Vallenzeri was a great name.  Too much fate involved in Take Control.

13 Jul 2012 11:07 AM
LAZMANICK

I agree Billy and Footlick.  In fact, I read somewhere recently that if you change a horse's name it's bad luck.

13 Jul 2012 12:37 PM
GunBow

Pedigree Ann:

Yes, Royal Delta has won a grade 1 at 10 furlongs.  And I do think she has no problem with the distance.  What I should have specified was unrestricted grade 1 at 10 furlongs.  Her grade 1 at 10 came against 3 year old fillies, a huge class difference.  As Laz and others have pointed out, winning a grade 1 at 10 furlongs on dirt against unrestricted males is about as tough a proposition for a female horse as there is.

13 Jul 2012 8:38 PM

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