By Richard Rosenblatt
Who do you like in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic next month at Santa Anita Park?
At this point, you can’t toss out too many of the dozen likely to enter the starting gate on Nov. 2 in a race that usually has Horse of the Year implications.
Of course, there are a slew of automatic qualifiers for the Classic, some deserving, some maybe not so but Grade 1 winners nonetheless. And there’s always a few in the field with the potential for one amazing run into history (Arcangues in 1993, winning at 133-1 odds).
This field, though, lacks star power. Last year, after Justify was retired following his Triple Crown campaign, there was no doubt about Horse of the Year. Accelerate, who won the Classic for a fifth Grade 1 victory in 2018, was a distant second in Horse of the Year voting.
This time around, none of the three horses who officially won Triple Crown races are scheduled to run in the Classic – Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Country House (via DQ of first-place finisher Maximum Security), Preakness (G1) winner War of Will or Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Sir Winston. War of Will remains possible for the Classic or the BC Dirt Mile (G1).
The brightest stars of the racing season won’t even be running in the Classic. Bricks and Mortar (5-for-5), top-ranked in the most recent NTRA poll, is bound for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), second-ranked Midnight Bisou (7-for-7) is headed to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and No. 3 Mitole (5-for-6) is likely going in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), with the BC Mile (G1) a possibility.
What we’re saying, in case you haven’t figured it out, is no matter who wins a wide-open Classic, there is virtually no shot at earning Horse of the Year honors. Not for McKinzie, not for Code of Honor, not for Vino Rosso – right now the only horses in the NTRA top 10 scheduled for the Classic.
With that, let’s look at the Classic contenders and make a case for any of them winning what should be one of the best betting races on the two-day, 14-race Breeders’ Cup extravaganza:
McKinzie: So what if he finished second behind 25-1 long shot Mongolian Groom in the Awesome Again (G1) over the same surface he’ll be running over on Nov. 2. The 4-year-old son of Street Sense won the Alysheba (G1) and the Whitney (G1) to go with four runner-up finishes this year, and you can never count out the big money duo of Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Mike Smith. Plus, it’s not certain Mongolian Groom will even run in the Classic (his connections would need to come up with a $200,000 supplemental entry fee).
Vino Rosso: The 4-year-old son of Curlin nosed out Code of Honor for first in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), but was DQ’d for interfering with his rival in an exciting stretch duel to the wire. Vino Rosso also won the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita in May.
Code of Honor: Winner of the Travers (G1) and the winner by DQ in the JCGC, trainer Shug McGaughey may just have the best 3-year-old running right now. A win could give the son of Noble Mission a fifth victory in eight starts and perhaps a 3-year-old championship.
Higher Power: Third in the Awesome Again and fifth behind Vino Rosso in the Gold Cup, the 4-year-old colt did win the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar for trainer John Sadler, with Santa Anita’s leading rider Flavien Prat aboard. Plus, Sadler had his breakthrough BC win last year with Accelerate.
Preservationist: The 6-year-old did not really fire in the JCGC, finishing fourth, but he did win the Woodward (G1) at Saratoga in August.
Tacitus: The runner-up in the Belmont Stakes, the Jim Dandy (G2) and the Travers was third in the JCGC, but the gray son of Tapit simply looks spectacular. Even with his only wins coming early on in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and the Wood Memorial (G2), would you be surprised to see him in the Classic winner’s circle?
Math Wizard: Winner of the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at 31-1 odds, this $16,000 maiden claimer is possible for the Classic. Could he pull another upset? In a season full of them, why toss him out?
Maximum Security: The way his health has been, who knows what version of this 3-year-old colt will show up – that is, if he shows up. Of course, he finished first in the Derby only be DQ’d to 17th for interference in the stretch. He returned to the races, and finished second in the Pegasus at Monmouth Park before reasserting himself by winning the Haskell Invitational (G1). But days before the Pennsylvania Derby, he had a bout with colic and did not run. He may run like a champion in the Classic.
Seeking the Soul: The 6-year-old clinched his spot in the Classic with a win in the Stephen Foster (G2) at Churchill Downs — his only victory in six starts this year. He ran seventh in the Pacific Classic and fourth in the Awesome Again.
Draft Pick: Fifth of six in the Awesome Again, the 4-year-old son of Candy Ride did run second in the Pacific Classic and has top 3 finishes in nine of 13 career races.
Yoshida: Granted, it’d be tough to make a case for this 5-year-old horse bred in Japan, but he has been competitive against top-notch competition, finishing second in the Whitney and third in the Woodward. He could end up in a Breeders’ Cup turf race, though.
Owendale, Gunnevera: Late-comers to the scene, but let’s not forget these two. Owendale, has won Grade 3 derbies in Ohio and Oklahoma, ran third in the Preakness and fifth in the Travers, and the 5-year-old Gunnevera was fifth in the 2017 Classic and second in the 2018 Classic so why not consider this big-race veteran next month?
Pre-entries for the Breeders’ Cup will be announced Oct. 23 at 11:30 a.m. ET. The Classic field is limited to 14.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.