I admit it is dangerous and almost counterproductive to form opinions on a race weeks or months in advance, but I make two exceptions to that rule -- the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup.
The leadup to the Derby is horse racing's greatest journey. The most exciting two minutes in sports is preceded by a minimum two months buildup. As soon as the two-year-old colts hit the finish line in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Derby talk is fair game in my book.
I remember sitting on the media bus, mired in traffic after last year's Derby, debating with clocker Bruno de Julio about the ground loss Union Rags had suffered in the Juvenile and who was the better horse - Union Rags or Hansen.
I rarely form Breeders' Cup opinions that far in advance, but when I saw Ron the Greek win the Santa Anita Handicap back on March 3, the wheels started turning. This year's Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) will be run at the same track and distance as the Big 'Cap. Knowing how powerful hometrack advantage can be -- especially in Southern California -- a win over the strip is huge for an East Coast shipper like Ron the Greek.
But even more importantly, Ron the Greek showed me he was a true 10-furlong horse. The more time he spends in motion, the stronger he gets. That is the kind of horse I want to bet going the American classic distance.
It looks to me that there is plenty of speed in this year's Classic. Fort Larned, Game On Dude, Mucho Macho Man, and To Honor and Serve all have forward energy profiles and should ensure an honest pace. And while those horses are hoping to run 10f as well as they run 9f, I don't see any of them improving going longer, as Ron the Greek will. If the public evaluates the Classic contenders largely on their 9f form, that should create some value.
Before his 6th-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Ron the Greek had four wins and four seconds in his last eight starts (since Bill Mott took over his training). I am going to forgive his 'off' race at Belmont and blame it on a very quirky surface that was flattering inside speed. He is my value play at 5-1 or more.