Last Updated: 2018-11-02
Halloween is behind us and the football playoff chase is in front of us, but there is another chance that you should have on your radar. That is the chase for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which goes off at 5:44 p.m. ET on Saturday November 3 at Churchill Downs. This the first time that Churchill Downs has hosted the Breeders Cup races since 2011, when Drosselmeyer took down the title.
This 1¼-mile race isn’t held in the same kind of esteem as the Triple Crown races, but it probably should be because this is an sizable purse of $6 million and features the sport’s top three-year-olds and up. American Pharoah put a stamp on being quite possibly the most dominant horse ever by winning this race by 6.5 lengths in 2015. That was tied for the largest margin of victory ever.
From 2012-14, this event was held at Santa Anita and was won by Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man, and Bayern. American Pharoah dominated at Keeneland. The 2016 version was back at Santa Anita and was the third straight win for trainer Bob Baffert thanks to Arrogate. Gun Runner won last year and is in the field again this year, which is one of the things that separates this event from the Triple Crown races that are only open to three-year-olds.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic field is limited to 14 horses. There are seven automatic berths handed out over the course of the year for horses that win prior to this event. Those events this year were the February Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse, the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill, the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
Post positions have been drawn for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic and here’s how the field shakes out:
||S. bin Suroor
||I. Ortiz Jr.
||Mind Your Biscuits
||U. St. Lewis
||Toast of New York (alt)
Accelerated is the favorite, despite being well on the outside to start the race. The five-year-old is one of the elder statesman of this field, but it has been a dominant year for the colt. He won the Awesome Again Stakes and the Pacific Classic to snag two of the auto-bid races. For good measure, Accelerate also won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita in May as well as the Santa Anita Handicap. This is a horse that hasn’t finished worse than second in its last seven races.
Joel Rosario was in the irons for the wins at the Awesome Again and the Pacific Classic. It was Victor Espinoza at the Gold Cup and could very well have been Espinoza in those other two races had he not been injured in a terrifying fall at Del Mar in July. Rosario has taken up the reins and has led Accelerate to two extremely impressive wins. Accelerate was clearly the best horse in all of those wins and is a deserving favorite here. Coming from the outside shouldn’t be that big of an issue for a horse with this kind of burst.
Outside of Accelerated, things look pretty good for Bob Baffert, which isn’t a very big surprise. As mentioned, Baffert was the winning trainer in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Steve Asmussen was the trainer for Gun Runner last year, but he doesn’t have a horse in the field this year.
Amateur horse players should always take notice of jockey decisions. Justify, who won the Triple Crown earlier this year, was a Baffert horse and jockey Mike Smith was in the saddle. The Baffert/Smith team is back together again here, but Smith opted to ride on McKinzie instead of West Coast.
West Coast, however, will be ridden by another stellar jockey in John Velazquez. Perhaps that is the change that West Coast needed after finishing runner-up in the Awesome Again to Accelerate, the Dubai World Cup to Thunder Snow, and the Pegasus World Cup to Gun Runner.
What makes Smith’s decision that much more interesting is that McKinzie is largely untested. The three-year-old by way of Street Sense only has a couple of Grade 1 races under his belt. A win in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby was a nice win and the other was in the Los Alamitos Futurity last December. Instilled Regard, who finished second in that race, was fourth in the Kentucky Derby. That was only a five-horse race and Solomini, another Baffert horse, had the best rating and finished third.
But, you have to assume that Mike Smith knows what he’s doing and it should draw your attention that he had his pick and took McKinzie.
Catholic Boy has seen some stock increases of late. Wins in the Pennine Ridge Grade III stakes, the Belmont Derby G1, and the Travers Stakes opened some eyes. That Travers Stakes win was the big one, as Catholic Boy held off Mendelssohn and Bravazo. Mendelssohn got some love for the Kentucky Derby before tripping out of the gate and finishing 20th. Bravazo finished second in the muck at the Preakness.
Catholic Boy won by a large margin in the Travers after running virtually side-by-side with Mendelssohn until the final stretch. The problem here is that Catholic Boy started outside and never had to navigate traffic. If Javier Castellano can get the rail and drive from the front on the inside, that will be the winning formula. If not and Catholic Boy gets bunched in the middle, it will likely fall back. This is a horse that did not have to run with dirt or mud kicking into its face and the two previous wins were on turf.
The potential is there for Catholic Boy, but there is really only one likely path to winning or hitting the board and that is getting out front and staying there. It’s hard to back a horse like that in a field like this.
One horse we haven’t touched on yet is Mind Your Biscuits. The Chad Summers and Tyler Gaffalione team comes in at 6/1 with the five-year-old, but this is a horse that has excelled in shorter races. The win in the Lukas Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs has spawned some love, but that was just the second 1 1/8-mile race for this horse. The first was the auto berth for winning the Whitney Stakes. Now this one is even longer. It seems like it would be tough to see it hit the board, but the morning line odds seem to give it more of a chance than I do.
If you’re looking for something with a little more gamble, Yoshida at 12/1 makes sense. This four-year-old did win at Churchill earlier this year, albeit on the turf track, but the win in the dirt in the Woodward G1 race at Saratoga was a big deal. Yoshida won’t have Joel Rosario in the irons this time, but Bill Mott is a strong trainer and won here with Drosselmeyer in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Gunnevera and Tapwrit graded out better than Yoshida at Saratoga, but that was the horse’s first race on dirt and it passed that test with flying colors. Throwing Yoshida into some exactas or a box tri could provide a nice, little boost with that double-digit price tag.
Is this where we see that potential of Mendelssohn? Last year’s Breeders’ Cup was good to Mendelssohn and trainer Aidan O’Brien with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. After the Patton Stakes, Mendelssohn went exclusively to dirt. The win in the UAE Derby got him into the Kentucky Derby with ease, but since then, Mendelsson is 0-for-4 with a place and two shows. Discreet Lover and Thunder Snow were both better than Mendelssohn at the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont and Catholic Boy was one spot ahead at the Travers.
Mendelssohn certainly has a chance to hit the board, but was consistently the second or third-best horse in the last three races in New York. It’s hard to see that level of performance suddenly increase, especially in a stronger field. Maybe Mendelssohn shows, but that’s as far as I would go.
Gunnevera has always been a horse to punch above its weight, but there really haven’t been a ton of impressive finishes. In weaker races, like the Tangelo Stakes in August 2017, Gunnevera was able to get there. In races like the Pegasus World Cup, Dubai World Cup, Woodward, Travers, and even last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, it wasn’t enough. Mixing the 20/1 shot in some exotics could enhance the payout potential, but don’t expect Gunnevera to pull off a stunner or hit the board for an exacta box.
The track should have time to dry out on Friday night and on into Saturday, so we should have pretty good racing conditions. Overall, this does look like something of a chalky race. Accelerated clearly has the most horsepower in the field. The two Baffert horses should come 2/3 in some way. Yoshida as a long shot to win or as a player in some Daily Doubles or Pick 3s isn’t a bad gamble, nor is it a bad idea to throw Yoshida in with Accelerated, West Coast, and McKinzie for some exactas or trifectas.
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