We’re about seven weeks out from the Breeders’ Cup, Thoroughbred racing’s $31 million, 14-race, two-day celebration featuring many of the world’s best horses vying for year-end championships.
The $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), as usual, is the grand finale in the 40th year of the event, set for Nov. 3-4 at Santa Anita Park
There’s a maximum field of 14 for the 1 ¼-mile Classic, and there are 16 contenders, according to the Breeders’ Cup website. The list at this point is more like 12-14.
But what a lineup it’s shaping up to be:
Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage
Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers (G1) winner Arcangelo
Pacific Classic (G1) winner Arabian Knight
Jim Dandy (G2) winner and last year’s BC Juvenile (G1) winner Forte
Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Bright Future
Whitney (G1) winner White Abarrio
Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Ashba Tesoro (JPN)
Ashba Tesoro, a 6-year-old, comes into the Classic on a four-race winning streak after his 2 ¾-length win in the $12 million Dubai World Cup. He’ll likely be the only international runner in the field.
International contenders had included Ireland-bred Mostahdaf and Japan-based Lemon Pop, each earning fees-paid and automatic berths into the Classic by winning races in the “Win and You’re In’’ Breeders’ Cup challenge series. However, both are expected to skip the race. There are eight fees-paid automatic berths to the Classic. Four others who earned these spots are probable: Arabian Knight, Bright Future, White Abarrio, and Geaux Rocket Ride (Haskell). West Will Power (Stephen Foster winner) also earned a spot in the field but was recently retired.
The final “Win and You’re In’’ race for the Classic is Sept. 30, the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita.
There’s a bunch of other contenders, among them being Proxy, runner-up in the Jockey Club Gold Cup; Zandon, second in the Whitney; Charge It, Suburban (G2) winner and fourth in the JCGC; and Defunded, a Baffert-trainee who ran sixth in the Pacific Classic but has two Grade 1 wins on his resume.
A look at five top contenders:
Probably the hottest horse in training after producing historic victories in the Belmont and the Travers for trainer Jena Antonucci, both wins with rejuvenated Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano aboard. The 3-year-old gray ridgling and a son of 2016 winner Arrogate had just one race last year and comes into the Classic unbeaten in his last four starts.
Does Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert have himself a fifth Classic winner? After the Uncle Mo colt held on to beat Geaux Rocket Ride by a neck in the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic, you’ve got to consider him a top choice. He’ll likely be in front with hopes he’ll hang on at the finish.
This is getting a bit tougher to predict. While Forte was a champion at 2, he’s been a notch below the best runners in 2023. However, with a Jim Dandy win sandwiched between a runner-up finish in the Belmont and a fourth in the Travers, Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher’s star remains a prime contender.
With Javier Castellano aboard, Bright Future held off Proxy in a stretch duel to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup by a nose. The 4-year-old chestnut son of 2007 Classic winner Curlin has finished in the top 3 in six of seven career starts. Castellano most likely will be aboard Arcangelo in the Classic.
Geaux Rocket Ride
First off, wouldn’t it be nice if Hall of Famers Richard Mandella and jockey Mike Smith could win a Breeders’ Cup race together? Of Smith’s 27 BC wins, none have been for Mandella, who has nine BC wins – all of them at Santa Anita. As for the horse, the 3-year-old son of Candy Ride is not so far from unbeaten in five career starts … he won in his debut, ran second in the San Felipe (G2), 2 1/2 lengths behind Practical Move, then won the Affirmed Stakes, the Haskell, and was second by neck to Arabian Knight in the Pacific Classic. This is one tough colt and Smith has a knack for coming through in spots like this.
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.