By Ed McNamara
It’s the marquee event on racing’s biggest day, the grand finale of an unprecedented year of craziness. Will the $6 million, 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic have a logical winner, or will a long shot score to fit 2020’s bizarre script?
Oddly, its most accomplished horse is “under the radar,” as TVG analyst Simon Bray said. He meant Maximum Security, who in 13 starts never has finished worse than second. He’s 7-2 in the morning line, behind stablemate Improbable (5-2) and 3-year-old star Tiz the Law (3-1). His outside post in the field of 10 will make some bettors shy away from “Max,” as trainer Bob Baffert calls him. I think that would be a mistake.
He crossed the wire first in both attempts at 1 1/4 miles. (For handicapping purposes, I’m counting his controversial Kentucky Derby disqualification from first to 17th as a win.) If not for that DQ, a stumbling start in his next race and a bad trip in his last one, he’d be 13-for-13 lifetime. So he’s pretty good.
Adding to Maximum Security’s pari-mutuel appeal is he’s coming off his worst race, in which he endured the worst trip of his career in the Awesome Again. He got caught up chasing a hot pace under Luis Saez but still held for second, 4 1/2 lengths behind Improbable, who got a perfect setup. I don’t think Saez will make the same mistake twice.
Maximum Security likes the lead but won both times he sat just off the pace, in the Haskell and the San Diego Handicap. Derby hero Authentic, in post 9, has to be in front from the start, so he’ll come blasting out of the gate. Maximum Security will have plenty of time to get position entering the clubhouse turn, and I’m seeing him in second, sitting a nice trip.
All of Baffert’s trio have been training well, but Maximum Security‘s two excellent 5-furlong works were out of character, because he’s never been flashy in the mornings. He drew away powerfully from his workmate both times, an excellent sign. XBTV.com analyst Michelle Yu called his Oct. 31 move “sensational,” so Baffert has him peaking.
“I think he’s going to bounce back,” Baffert said. “His last race, he was coming off a big race at Del Mar, there was a lot of speed, and he was sort of chasing. It didn’t set up for him and he got tired. I think the six weeks off will really help him, and he looks terrific right now.”
The picks: I see Maximum Security passing Authentic in upper stretch and getting first run on the stalkers and closers. Tiz the Law starts surging too late but gets up for second, with Authentic holding on for third.
He’s earned nearly $3 million for Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah, who doesn’t need it, and may have cost bettors a lot more. Meet the champion money burner of his generation, a regally bred colt who’s lost nine of his last 10 races, starting with the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He’s failed five straight times as the favorite, a role he won’t be saddled with in the loaded Classic.
Tacitus, your name should be Teaser, because it always looks as if your next race will be the breakthrough, but it never is. Last October, Juddmonte Farms racing manager Garrett O’Rourke agreed with me that calling Tacitus a disappointment “was the understatement of the year,” but that it was unfair to criticize him because “he runs his eyeballs out every time.”
Five straight losses later, tell that to the bettors.
Not many, including me, think he can win the Classic. He’s 1-for-6 at 1 1/4 miles, 0-for-6 in Grade 1’s, and never has faced this tough a field. I’ve blown hundreds on him, but I won’t get fooled again. Neither should you.
Post position: 1
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Trainer: Bill Mott
Owner: Juddmonte Farms
Career record: 14-4-4-3
Career earnings: $2,947,500
Top Equibase speed figure: 110
Pedigree: Tapit-Close Hatches, by First Defence
Running style: Stalker
Notes: Mott on Tacitus, who’s healthy and sound: “There’s no reason not to take him to the Classic. If the setup works in his favor, he’s going to get a piece of it. He’s always subject to jump up and win one if things work out.” Hope springs eternal … Tacitus’ only victory in five starts this year came in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap on July 4 at Belmont Park, where he dominated a weak field as the even-money favorite. … He worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 under exercise rider Felipe Castro at Keeneland on Sunday, running in company with Channel Maker.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, because a Classic victory would make Tiz the Law the 3-year-old champion and probably the Horse of the Year. To do it, the Belmont and Travers winner must get past Authentic, Maximum Security and Improbable, all trained by Bob Baffert.
“He calls them his Dream Team,” said Jack Knowlton, Tiz the Law’s lead owner. “I call them the Baffert Brigade. But the fourth horse who’s mentioned the most along with them is Tiz the Law. I think everybody recognizes there isn’t much to separate the top horses.”
Tiz the Law came up short against Authentic in the Kentucky Derby, and trainer Barclay Tagg and jockey Manny Franco said he had trouble handling Churchill Downs’ quirky surface. Makes sense, because the New York-bred star is 0-for-2 in Louisville and 6-for-6 elsewhere.
Tiz the Law skipped the Preakness on Oct. 3 because Tagg preferred giving him an eight-week rest instead of running him back in a month.
“You have to listen to your horse,” Knowlton said. “We didn’t feel we would have him 100 percent ready for the Preakness, so we decided to train up to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Before the Derby, Tiz the Law was 4-for-4 this year off layoffs of nine, eight, 12 and seven weeks. He’s been training well, so expect a peak performance at Keeneland.
On Saturday (Oct. 31), Tiz the Law put in his final workout at Keeneland before the race, working 5 furlongs in :59.20 seconds, and galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:12.20 under exercise rider Heather Smullen over a fast track.
“I saw just what I wanted. He went perfectly,” Tagg said. “We wanted him to go in :59 and he went in :59.20 so it was just right.”
Post position: 2
Jockey: Manny Franco
Trainer: Barclay Tagg
Owner: Sackatoga Stable
Career record: 8-6-1-1
Career earnings: $2,615,300
Top Equibase speed figure: 117
Pedigree: Constitution-Tizfiz, by Tiznow
Running style: Stalker
Notes: Tagg, who’s 82 and has been training for 49 years, never has been a big fan of the Breeders’ Cup. He’s winless there with only 10 starters. He skipped last year’s Juvenile with Tiz the Law to run in Churchill’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, in which he ran third after a troubled trip … Tiz the Law completed a personal Triple Crown for Tagg and Knowlton, who swept the Derby and Preakness with the New York-bred Funny Cide in 2003.
He’s 0-for-2 in Grade 1’s and was second twice this year against Classic rivals Improbable and Tom’s D’Etat, beaten a combined 6 1/4 lengths, so By My Standards doesn’t appear to class up. He’s done his best work (three wins) at 1 1/8 miles at the Grade 2 level. He did manage to beat even-money Tom’s D’Etat for second by a half-length in the Whitney, but a serious stumble at the start gave Tom’s D’Etat no chance to win.
The 4-year-old colt’s bullet workout (58 3/5 for 5 furlongs Oct. 24 at Churchill Downs) impressed trainer Brad Cox.
“I thought it was a super work,” Cox said. “He’s been good for so long, and his race record reflects that. We’re still chasing that Grade 1, but I like my position for the Classic.”
By My Standards may be peaking at the right time, but can he make a quantum leap against stars Authentic, Maximum Security, Improbable and Tiz the Law?
“It’ll be the best of the best,” Cox said, “and it will be a very tough race. I think he’s pretty seasoned against the top horses, and it will be a very tough race.”
By My Standards is a talented, hard-trying horse, with only one off-the-board finish in 12 starts, but he’s never proved he could excel in top company. The $6 million grand finale is too much of a reach.
Post position: 3
Jockey: Gabriel Saez
Trainer: Brad Cox
Owner: Allied Racing Stable
Career record: 12-6-4-1
Career earnings: $1,764,430
Top Equibase speed figure: 118
Pedigree: Goldencents-A Jealous Woman, by Muqtarib
Running style: Stalker
Notes: Cox, a 40-year-old native of Louisville, is a rising star who has trained three Breeders’ Cup winners — Monomoy Girl (2018 Distaff), Covfefe (2019 Filly & Mare Sprint) and British Idiom (2019 Juvenile Fillies). This year he won his second Kentucky Oaks in the past three years when Shedaresthedevil upset subsequent Preakness heroine Swiss Skydiver. Monomoy Girl won the Oaks in 2018.
Rarely does a thoroughbred peak at ages 6 and 7, but a combination of injuries, patience and Al Stall’s talent let Tom’s d’Etat reach his potential late.
“He’s had three ankle surgeries, so there were a lot of stops and starts,” Stall said. “That’s very frustrating. It tests your patience when you know you’ve got the real deal, but that’s horse training. There’s an expense associated with all that, but the owners were great.”
Tom’s d’Etat was sidelined from July 2017 until November 2018, and made only seven starts through his 4-year-old season. He’s stayed sound the past two years, winning seven of 12 starts, including four in a row. That streak ended Aug. 1 in the Whitney, where the even-money favorite stumbled badly at the start and did well to finish third. He was surging late, covering his final furlong in less than 12 seconds.
The son of Smart Strike ran second in his only try at 1 1/4 miles, and he has only one Grade 1 victory, so his resume looks weak compared to those of Maximum Security, Tiz the Law, Authentic and Improbable.
“This is rarefied air,” Stall said. “This should be a dynamite horse race, a bunch of top animals in good form.”
Tom’s d’Etat was favored in his last five races, a streak that will end Saturday. He has enough tactical speed to track what shapes up as a hot pace, and he did beat Improbable in April at Oaklawn Park.
Backhanded compliment: He’s the best of all the horses who will be double-digit odds. I won’t play him to win, but I think he’ll beat at least half the field.
Post position: 4
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Trainer: Al Stall, Jr.
Owner: G M B Racing
Career record: 19-11-2-2
Career earnings: $1,702,272
Top Equibase speed figure: 118
Pedigree: Smart Strike-Julia Tuttle, by Giant’s Causeway
Running style: Stalker
Notes: Stall won the 2010 Classic with Blame, who handed the mare Zenyatta her only loss in a 20-race career … G M B Racing was founded by Gayle Marie and Tom Benson, who owned the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans. Gayle has run the stable since Tom’s death in 2018 … Many of its horses were named for Tom. Tom’s d’Etat refers to Le Krewe d’Etat, a satirical group in the Mardi Gras parade.
If, like me, you eliminate no-hopers before trying to identify contenders, here’s No. 1 on your throw out list for the Classic. The only titles Title Ready will own is for longest odds and least chance to win.
Owner Charles Fipke, a Canadian prospector and geologist, became a multimillionaire by discovering diamonds in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories. He and trainer Dallas Stewart struck it rich with Forever Unbridled (2017 Distaff) and her dam, Lemons Forever (47-1 winner of the 2006 Kentucky Oaks). No way that happens with this horse, who’s 0-for-14 in stakes and a loser of 15 of his last 17 races.
Strange but true: Title Ready is the only one in the field with two wins at Keeneland. Then again, eight of his opponents never ran there. Handicapping insight: He won’t get his third on Saturday.
Worked at Churchill Downs on Oct. 31, going 4 furlongs in 48.40, 28th fastest of 162 at the distance.
Post position: 5
Jockey: Corey Lanerie
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Owner: Charles Fipke
Career record: 22-4-6-4
Career earnings: $514,180
Top Equibase speed figure: 114
Pedigree: More Than Ready-Title Seeker, by Monarchos
Color: Dark bay
Running style: Closer
Notes: Stewart, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, is a 61-year-old native of Mississippi who’s personable, articulate and funny . . . Stewart enriched exacta players with long-priced runners-up four times in the Triple Crown — Macho Again (40-1, 2008 Preakness); Golden Soul (34-1, 2013 Kentucky Derby); Commanding Curve (37-1, 2014 Derby) and Tale of Verve (28-1, 2015 Preakness). That’s a historic pari-mutuel grand slam . . . Fipke owned Golden Soul and Tale of Verve.
The year started wrong and didn’t get much better for the third-place horse in the 2019 Classic. Higher Power ran 10th as the 5-2 favorite in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Jan. 25 at Gulfstream, and he’s 0-for-3 since.
His best race was a second, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, to Improbable in the Santa Anita Gold Cup, and overall he’s 0-for-4, beaten 34 1/2 lengths. He’s 0-for-6 since August 2019 and 1-for-11 in stakes. Not good.
John Sadler, 64, has been a terrific trainer in his native Southern California since the Eighties, with 39 Grade 1 wins, but the Breeders’ Cup never has been his happy place — 1-for-50 with four seconds and seven thirds. He was 0-for-44 until Accelerate won the 2018 Classic for Hronis Racing.
Don’t expect Higher Power to give the partnership a second one. His ceiling would be picking up the pieces for third or fourth if there’s a pace meltdown. Unfortunately, he’s backed up in the stretch in five of his last six races. If you’re feeling adventurous, maybe use him underneath in trifectas and superfectas. I won’t be playing him.
Post position: 6
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Trainer: John Sadler
Owner: Hronis Racing
Career record: 19-5-2-7
Career earnings: $1,534,648
Top Equibase speed figure: 115
Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro-Alternate, by Seattle Slew
Running style: Closer
Notes: Sadler was a show jumper who tried out for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team. He worked as a groom and hot walker before serving as a veterinarian’s assistant and an assistant trainer. He took out his trainer’s license at 22 in 1978 and saddled his first winner the next year … Hronis Racing also owned Stellar Wind, whom Sadler trained. She ran second in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff and was named champion 3-year-old filly.
This son of Curlin and grandson of A.P. Indy, both Classic winners, has the best distance DNA in the field, and he comes in off a career Beyer top. So why will he be double-digit odds? (He’s 20-1 on the morning-line.) Because Global Campaign never has faced a field this good, and his three best races came on or near the pace.
That’s how he won last time in the 1 1/4-mile Woodward, in which he led throughout in soft fractions against underachiever Tacitus and three second-raters. No way he’ll be able to do that against Bob Baffert’s speedy pair of Authentic and Maximum Security.
“I think he’s a very talented horse,” trainer Stanley Hough said. “I think he’s coming to where he could really show it. I think he belongs in a race like this. He’s got the pedigree to do it.”
His best-case scenario would be to repeat his tactics in last year’s 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan, in which he sat second and beat subsequent Belmont Stakes hero Sir Winston. If he can’t, he’ll be in trouble, because even if somehow Global Campaign wins a pace duel, he’ll have to hold off the late kicks of Tiz the Law and Improbable. That’s hard to imagine.
“I think he’s got a pretty good pace to him, and it helps for him to go this far,” Hough said. “I think his best race is 1 1/4 and getting a good position. Now he’s just got to outrun these others.”
Not impossible, but an awful lot to ask. Stranger things have happened in the Classic, but I think Global Campaign would’ve fit much better in the Dirt Mile.
Post position: 7
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Trainer: Stanley Hough
Owner: Sagamore Farm, WinStar Farm
Career record: 9-6-0-1
Career earnings: $781,080
Top Equibase speed figure: 109
Pedigree: Curlin-Globe Trot, by A.P. Indy
Running style: Tactical speed
Notes: Chronic foot problems disrupted Global Campaign’s 3-year-old season, in which he was 3-for-4 before being laid off in August following a third-place finish in the Jim Dandy. “No hoof, no horse,” said Hough, who didn’t run him again until April 25 at Gulfstream … Global Campaign’s name is a play off his mother’s (Globe Trot) … The likeable, articulate Hough, 72, retired in 2012 and took six years off before returning to train for Maryland-based Sagamore Farm. The Woodward was his first Grade 1 victory since 2004. He has 2,212 wins in a career that began at age 21 in 1969.
He looked like Bob Baffert’s next star when he went 3-for-3 as a 2-year-old, but he did nothing in the Triple Crown. He failed as the Derby favorite (fourth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths) and as the chalk in the Preakness (sixth, 3 3/4 lengths behind). His only success in a 1-for-7 season came in a weak, ungraded stakes, and the year ended with a distant fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Bad gate manners and a knack for finding ways to lose kept bringing down Improbable. When he blew a two-length lead and lost his 4-year-old debut, it felt as if he’d always be a career underachiever. Then the light went on.
He dominated three consecutive Grade 1’s — the Santa Anita Gold Cup, Whitney and Awesome Again — to vault to No. 1 in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll. The Awesome Again, a 4 1/2-length win over stablemate Maximum Security, produced a third straight career-top Beyer Speed Figure and made him the morning-favorite for the Classic.
Improbable? Based on his first 11 races, shocking.
“He always showed a lot of talent as a 3-year-old, but he wasn’t physically or mentally mature,” Baffert said. “But what a difference a year makes. I’m just glad Elliott Walden and WinStar Farm decided to keep racing him at 4.”
Improbable’s Classic odds probably will be lower than they should be, because people will overvalue his perfect-trip romp in the Awesome Again. He got a perfect setup behind a fast pace in a five-horse field and surged past tired leaders.
“Improbable is getting really good, and [Maximum Security] didn’t bring his ‘A’ game,” Baffert said. “Drayden [Van Dyke] rode a great race, just sat back there early on. He saw what was happening up front and let them go.”
Maximum Security, the 1-2 favorite, “was in a full drive from the half-mile pole” but still held second thanks to his tremendous class. In the Classic he should get a better trip, and Improbable is unlikely to get the run of the race again. I’m not going to bet him to win. I suspect he’ll regress as an underlay against the best field he’ll ever face.
Odds: 5-2 (favorite)
Post position: 8
Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Owner: WinStar Farm, SF Racing
Career record: 14-7-3-0
Career earnings: $1,709,520
Top Equibase speed figure: 120
Pedigree: City Zip/Rare Event-A.P. Indy
Running style: Stalker
Notes: Baffert is tied for second with Chad Brown with 15 Breeders’ Cup wins, five behind D. Wayne Lukas. Baffert was shut out last year at his home base, Santa Anita, after taking the 2018 Juvenile with Game Winner at Churchill Downs. . . Baffert on Improbable’s sudden emergence: “He was a light-bodied horse, and he finally filled into his frame. He’s hitting on all cylinders, and I love the way he’s coming into this race.”
Top-class front-runner narrowly missed giving trainer Bob Baffert his record eighth Preakness win, but it took a career effort by the filly Swiss Skydiver and a great ride by Robby Albarado to do it. Historic factoid: Authentic was the first of Baffert’s six Kentucky Derby winners not to score in Baltimore.
“The filly got the jump on him and he couldn’t catch her,” Baffert said.
Even after five wins and two seconds in seven starts, Authentic’s occasionally erratic behavior remains a concern.
“He’s a little quirky,” Baffert said. “He’s a late foal who’s still maturing, and he sees things and hears things. In the Haskell, he pulled himself up in the stretch; he wasn’t getting tired. But my 3-year-olds have won this race, and he’s doing really well. He just has to be ridden aggressively from the gate.”
Baffert was asked whether he was worried about Maximum Security and Authentic getting caught up in a pace duel, especially since the two horses start from the outside posts.
“My riders know their horses, and I’ll leave it up to them,” he said. “They’ll just have to play the break and take it from there.”
Post position: 9
Jockey: John Velazquez
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Owners: SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Frederick Hertrich III, My RaceHorse Stable
Career record: 7-5-2-0
Career earnings: $3,071,200
Top Equibase speed figure: 113
Pedigree: Into Mischief-Flawless, by Mr. Greeley
Running style: Front-runner
Notes: Baffert’s McKinzie ran second to Vino Rosso in last year’s Classic … His three Classic wins came back to back to back — Bayern (2014), American Pharoah (2015) and Arrogate (2016) … Many thought Bayern should have been disqualified because he veered left at the start and slammed into undefeated favorite Shared Belief, who finished fourth. After an inquiry into what became a chain reaction, Santa Anita’s stewards ruled that the incident occurred at a point in the race that didn’t affect the final order of finish. Mike Smith, Shared Belief’s rider, strongly disagreed, saying, “I think it cost me the race.” Conspiracy theorists argued that Baffert benefited from favoritism at his home track.
For all of his accomplishments — five Grade 1 victories, 11 first-place finishes (10 wins, due to that controversial Kentucky Derby DQ), a 3-year-old championship, taking the richest race of all time — Maximum Security doesn’t have much of a fan club. He’s been outrun by only two horses in 13 career starts. How much does he have to do to get some serious love?
This star-crossed colt had the misfortune of being the first Derby winner taken down for an on-track violation. His score in the $20 million Saudi Cup was sullied by trainer Jason Servis’ indictment on federal drug charges nine days later. The $10 million winner’s share would have made Maximum Security the all-time leader with more than $22.2 million, but it’s being withheld until more evidence is released.
Max will be a bigger price than he should be in the Classic because he comes off his worst race. He ran second, 4 1/2 lengths behind stablemate Improbable, after a brutal trip in the Awesome Again. If that’s your career low, you’ve done pretty well.
Maximum Security went 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 Saturday at Santa Anita in his final tune-up for the Classic. “He went nice,” Baffert said. “He’s a horse who never gets tired.”
Derby hero Authentic, the third of Baffert’s Classic runners, is a need-to-lead type. Maximum Security also likes to set the pace, but the feeling here is he could sit second, which Authentic can’t do. Baffert was asked whether he is concerned about a duel that burns out both.
“These riders are going to be on their own,” he said, meaning John Velazquez (Authentic) and Luis Saez. “It all depends on the break. The riders know their horses, and they’re just going to play the break.”
Maximum Security is a live horse who’s excelled in top company, never running a bad race. He’s a serious threat to win the Classic.
Post position: 10
Jockey: Luis Saez
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Owner: Gary and Mary West; Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith
Career record: 13-10-2-0
Career earnings: $12,251,900
Top Equibase speed figure: 123
Pedigree: New Year’s Day-Lil Indy, by Anasheed
Running style: Front-runner
Notes: Maximum’s next-to-last workout on Oct. 25 was excellent, a bullet 5 furlongs in 59 4/5 at Santa Anita. He drew away powerfully from his workmate … Talk about humble beginnings: He debuted as a 2-year-old in a $16,000 maiden claimer on Dec. 18, 2018. He crushed it by 9 3/4 lengths … He was 4-for-4 entering the Derby, when the historic disqualification for interference enraged bettors and co-owner Gary West.
|2||Tiz the Law||Manuel Franco||3-1|
|3||By My Standards||Gabriel Saez||10-1|
|4||Tom’s d’Etat||Joel Rosario||6-1|
|5||Title Ready||Corey Lanerie||30-1|
|6||Higher Power||Flavien Prat||20-1|
|7||Global Campaign||Javier Castellano||20-1|
|8||Improbable||Irad Ortiz Jr||5-2|
|10||Maximum Security||Luis Saez||7-2|
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.