The Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic is at Santa Anita this year on November 2 and we have a terrific field of 11 horses to handicap for this 1 1/4-mile race in California. Many of these names are going to be very familiar, given that just about all of these horses have run in some of the sport’s premier events.
Unlike the Triple Crown races, the Breeders’ Cup Classic moves around. We know that the Kentucky Derby is at Churchill Downs, the Preakness Stakes is at Pimlico, and the Belmont Stakes is at Belmont Park. Even the Race to the Kentucky Derby circuit remains the same year in and year out. The Breeders’ Cup Classic was at Churchill last year and at Del Mar the year before. Santa Anita is a popular place for this enormous race weekend, having last year the Breeders’ Cup festivities in 2016. It was also the site from 2012-14.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic field is comprised of eight “win and you’re in” races and then some wild card berths. Those races are the February Stakes in Tokyo, the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill, the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, the International Stakes at York in England, the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.
Great opportunities are available throughout the weekend, including juvenile races and turf events, but our focus will be solely on the Classic here. Keep in mind that the Classic is 1 1/4 miles. In a lot of ways, this is the premier event of the horse racing season among purists. The Triple Crown races get all of the buzz and fanfare, probably because of the timing over the summer months, but this is the fourth leg of the Grand Slam and usually one of the best races of the season.
Here are the horses, trainers, jockeys, and odds for the 36th running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic:
|1||Math Wizard||S. Joseph Jr.||R. Santana Jr.||30/1|
|2||Seeking The Soul||D. Stewart||B. Hernandez Jr.||20/1|
|3||Owendale||B. Cox||J. Castellano||15/1|
|4||War of Will||M. Casse||T. Gaffalione||20/1|
|5||Yoshida||B. Mott||M. Smith||8/1|
|6||Elate||B. Mott||J. Ortiz||6/1|
|7||Higher Power||J. Sadler||F. Prat||6/1|
|8||McKinzie||B. Baffert||J. Rosario||3/1|
|9||Mongolian Groom||E. Ganbat||A. Cedillo||12/1|
|10||Vino Rosso||T. Pletcher||I. Ortiz Jr.||4/1|
|11||Code of Honor||C. McGaughey||J. Velazquez||4/1|
What a terrific field of horses. This is the main event of the Breeders’ Cup weekend with a 5:44 p.m. PT local post time. That makes it a late race for the East Coast crowd, but it could be a really good way to finish out Saturday.
McKinzie, the offspring of Street Sense, was installed as the morning line favorite. McKinzie was 12th in this race last season, as Accelerate, Gunnevera, and Thunder Snow came in win-place-show. McKniznie did not run in any of the Triple Crown races as a three-year old. Now as a four-year-old, McKinzie comes in off a second in the Awesome Again Stakes and a win in the Whitney Stakes, holding off Yoshida and Vino Rosso.
For the most part, McKinzie has been a West Coast horse running at Santa Anita, including a second in the San Felipe Stakes in 2018 to Bolt d’Oro and the same in the Santa Anita Handicap to Gift Box. The horse has traveled well this year with a win at Churchill in the Alysheba and a second in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont.
Still, there seems to be a growing sentiment in going against McKinzie, who is winless in two races at 1 1/4 miles.
If that is the case, which horses stand out? Many like the Pletcher/Ortiz combo with Vino Rosso at 4/1. How could you not? The son of Curlin won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita and had a strong second-place run behind Code of Honor back in September at the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Everybody remembers Vino Rosso for disappointing finishes in the 2018 Triple Crown races, with a ninth in the Kentucky Derby and a fourth in the Belmont, but two wins this year and a couple other finishes on the board have given this horse some helium.
For all of Pletcher’s huge wins over the course of his career, this race has evaded him. He has never won it. Neither has Ortiz, who is one of the top jockeys in the sport. This could be the one, but Vino Rosso only has that one appearance at Santa Anita in that Gold Cup race. That did come back in May, but most of his racing has been at Tampa Bay Downs or in New York State. Arrogate, the 2016 winner, had limited experience at Santa Anita, but was a California horse based at Del Mar. Vino Rosso did win at 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita earlier this year.
Code of Honor just might be the colt to beat. After a runner-up finish at the Kentucky Derby, the decision was made to get the horse ready for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It turned out to be a good decision. Wins at the Dwyer, Travers Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup have the Claude McGaughey thoroughbred in tip-top shape. The concern with Code of Honor is how he will take to the surface at an unfamiliar track like Santa Anita, but he was a very popular bet on the day of the Kentucky Derby. He came up just a tad short with what was a challenging trip in the slop.
John Velazquez is one of many jockeys with a lot of signature wins, but this is one lacking from his trophy case. The 4/1 price here sure seems justified, but the Kentucky Derby price was a lot more attractive given the field and the situation. It would be a mistake to leave Code of Honor out of your exotics and boxes and it could very well be a mistake to not put in a win ticket given how well he’s been running. A bigger price would be nice, but the body of work speaks for itself. Two wins at 1 1/4 miles leaves us little doubt about Code of Honor’s ability to handle the distance.
Let’s see what kind of support shows up for Elate. It has been 10 years since a mare has beaten the boys and that was Zenyatta right here at Santa Anita. Elate comes from the bloodline of Medaglia d’Oro, who is one of the best fillies ever in the sport. Maybe Elate can do what her mother failed to do and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. Megdalia d’Oro finished second in 2003 at Santa Anita. She was also second at Arlington Park in the Classic in 2002. In her last race in 2004, she valiantly finished second in the Dubai World Cup.
Fillies are kind of a stay away in big races for most bettors, but Elate’s history sure is intriguing. The five-year-old filly is one of those wild cards in the field. She won two races this year, but they were both Grade 2 events. Can she run with the big boys in this extremely talented field? Will she be pressured too much drawing a post position in the middle of the pack? Can she avoid getting caught up by the bigger horses? There are a lot of questions here, but there could be a storybook ending at Santa Anita on Saturday if she can win.
Trainer Bill Mott has done a brilliant job with fillies in his career and she is 3-for-3 at 1 1/4 miles. That is a length that not many horses have won at in their careers.
Mott’s other horse is a Japanese import in Yoshida. It is extremely interesting that Mike Smith will be in the irons. That’s not to say that Jose Ortiz is a bad call on Elate, but Smith, who has three career wins in this race, including one with Mott on Drosselmeyer in 2011, is riding Yoshida. The five-year-old colt was fourth last year in the Classic at Churchill Downs. Yoshida did not win the automatic entry races, but makes the field as a wild card. He has five wins in his career, but none of them have come this year. Perhaps he is peaking at the right time, hitting the board in back-to-back races at Saratoga, but the short price and the steam on this horse is eye-catching.
The overall body of work lacks substance. It could just be Smith’s decision, when he probably had his pick of the litter with this field. After all, it was Joel Rosario in the Woodward and the Whitney on Yoshida. Rosario is riding McKinzie for Baffert, which opened Smith up for Yoshida, who was 8/1 early in the week.
War of Will is one of the youngest horses in this race, but the three-year-old Mark Casse colt had a brilliant showing in the Triple Crown. He was most affected by Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby and finished seventh. Even with the quick turnaround and the hair-raising experience at Churchill, War of Will went on to win the Preakness Stakes.
Since then, a ninth at Belmont, a fifth at the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, and a third at the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park have soured the opinions on this colt. It is worth mentioning that he did win the shortest of the Triple Crown races. Many will romanticize that Crown showing, but his long shot price makes sense here.
This race has a chalky feel to it, but it does seem extremely competitive with the short prices. There are reasons to fade McKinzie, even though the Baffert and Rosario team looks like a powerhouse. Baffert won this race three years in a row from 2014-16 with Bayern, American Pharoah, and Arrogate. The first and third of those races were at Santa Anita and American Pharoah simply may be the best racehorse ever. Rosario won last year for John Sadler on Accelerate.
The post draw for McKinzie isn’t bad at all, but many like Vino Rosso and Code of Honor because they can sit on the outside and bide their time. We have no worries about the distance with these two. They’ve both proven that they can win at this length.
I’ll be among the crowd fading McKinzie as well. My play here will be a box trifecta of Vino Rosso, Code of Honor, and Elate. Elate has run at this distance and was bred for this distance thanks to her mother. I’ll also be looking at win tickets for the three with some combinations of exactas.
The inside horses should just get bodied off throughout the race, as the outside is just so much stronger. It’s even possible that a horse like Mongolian Groom can ride the tail wind to the inside and block off the interior colts. That would provide even more help for the outside speedsters.
Box Trifecta: 6/10/11
Exacta combos of the three