It’s safe to say the 33 runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) so far have been kind to 3-year-olds. A total of 11 sophomores — 33 percent — have defeated older horses in the main event on Racing’s Championship Day, including the last two years with Bayern and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Every year the race can be counted on to draw the best of the division, but will this year be the exception?
As the racing calendar moved into Triple Crown season and this year’s crop of 3-year-olds jockeyed for position in the starting gate, traveling around the country to earn the elusive points required to make the gate for the Kentucky Derby (GI), staying in competition until the end of the year was on the backburner. But here we are, under five weeks away from the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and the sophomore picture is muddier than ever.
The question is: Who can we expect to see make the gate from this division?
Last year’s juvenile champion had a brilliant spring en route to winning the Derby, but lost his first race in the Preakness Stakes (GI) and hasn’t won since. Analyzing what’s going on with him has been like reading Indian smoke signals. After his fourth in the Haskell Invitational (GI), his connections said he was being sent to San Luis Rey Downs to swim for a few weeks, but three weeks later he turned up on the worktab, logging a full mile. Three subsequent one-mile works and off he was to the Pennsylvania Derby (GII), where he was a dull sixth. It’s hard to second-guess a two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, but Nyquist’s people have many in the racing world wondering what is going on. And just when we thought we wouldn’t see Nyquist again this year, his connections indicated the Breeders’ Cup Classic was likely… so, who knows?
Has basically danced every dance all year long and, after winning a classic (Preakness) and another Grade I (Haskell), his connections sent him for a much-needed break to WinStar farm to figure out what’s next. Five weeks to make the big dance after a short break will be a bit of stretch, but it can be argued he’s the fittest in the race and wouldn’t need too much tightening. Sadly, though, he probably won’t make the race after competing all year.
The son of Unbridled’s Song was a late arrival to the scene, but arrive he did and blew away his Travers competition like they were amateurs. The lightly-raced Bob Baffert trainee set every record possible in his first Grade I win (and first Grade I appearance), emerging as the frontrunner of his crop. His late start, due to some nagging baby issues, may have served him well as he is fit at the right time. He’s been training like a beast at his home base of Santa Anita since the Travers, including his last work of a half-mile in :48 1/5, which earned him the coveted “breezing” designation. He’s training right into the Breeders’ Cup, which is fine because he’s clearly ok with racing 1 ¼ miles off a lengthy break. And the last two Breeders’ Cup Classic winners, as previously mentioned, were both Bob Baffert trainees.
Aside from a bumpy trip in the Travers and emerging with a lung infection, Connect might have made his statement a little earlier than he did with his half-length upset in the Pennsylvania Derby. The Paul Pompa Jr.-owned son of Curlin has the benefit of Chad Brown at the helm and is another late-developing type heading into the Breeders’ Cup while rounding into form.