Breeders’ Cup Classic: Older horses rule the roost

ARCADIA, Calif. – The dominance of older horses such as California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic division is so profound that there won’t be a single 3-year-old in the Awesome Again Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

In addition, there is the possibility that none of the winners of this year’s Triple Crown races will compete in this year’s Classic on Nov. 5 at Santa Anita, and if that happens, this year’s Classic might have the smallest representation of 3-year-olds ever.

The 3-year-olds are considered racing’s glamour division since the sport’s biggest events – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont – shine on them. But the combination of so many talented older horses – like California Chrome and Frosted – remaining in training this year, plus the chaos that has reigned over the 3-year-old males for most of the past four months, means that as of Wednesday, only Travers winner Arrogate is certain to represent the 3-year-olds in this year’s Classic.

If that pans out, it will mark the first time just one 3-year-old has been in the Classic. There were just two 3-year-olds in the 1986 Classic, and there have been nine Classics in which three 3-year-olds competed. There never has been an instance of no 3-year-olds running in the Classic in the Breeders’ Cup’s 32 prior editions.

Nyquist, the Kentucky Derby winner, has lost three straight races and was beaten Saturday in the Pennsylvania Derby into sixth place, the worst finish of his career. Nyquist was scheduled to be flown from Pennsylvania to his home at Santa Anita on Wednesday.

Nyquist’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, on Wednesday said “everything was on the table” regarding Nyquist, with more definitive plans to be made after O’Neill’s weekly meeting with owner Paul Reddam. Darley last year acquired the breeding rights to Nyquist, but Reddam has control while Nyquist is racing.

Exaggerator, the Preakness winner, has lost three of four since then, with a victory in the Haskell but 11th-place finishes in the Belmont and Travers and a seventh-place finish last Saturday in the Pennsylvania Derby, in which he was beaten 12 lengths, seven behind Nyquist.

Exaggerator is currently at Churchill Downs. “We’ll check him out in the next week or so and see what’s the proper course to take,” said Keith Desormeaux, who trains Exaggerator for a partnership that includes WinStar Farm, which will stand Exaggerator when his racing career ends.

WinStar is the majority owner of Creator, the Belmont winner, who subsequently finished sixth in the Jim Dandy and seventh in the Travers and is being given the rest of the year off.

Connect and Gun Runner, who finished one-two in the Pennsylvania Derby, are under consideration for the Classic, but it will be at least another week or two before any definitive plans are made.

Gun Runner also fits the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and if the Breeders’ Cup is ruled out, his success at Churchill Downs – third in the Kentucky Derby and an easy victory in the Matt Winn Stakes – makes something like the Clark Handicap on Nov. 25 quite attractive. He has options aplenty. Connect could simply remain at his New York base and aim for something like the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 26.

It’s full steam ahead to the Classic, though, with Arrogate, who breezed a half-mile Tuesday at Santa Anita in 48.20 seconds.

Arrogate had worked twice previously since the Travers, but a 46.60-second half-mile work at Santa Anita on Sept. 17 caused trainer Bob Baffert to postpone Tuesday’s work by a few days. He was concerned that Arrogate would get too revved up too far in front of the Classic.

“He was a little amped up,” Baffert said. “He’s a light horse. He doesn’t need hard works.”

Baffert said training up to the Classic, as he did last year with American Pharoah, is achievable “if you have a horse who likes to train.”

“I’ve found that if they’re great horses, it’s a lot easier,” Baffert deadpanned. “The great ones are so much easier to train.”

The most significant Classic prep this Saturday is the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again, in which California Chrome, Dortmund, and Hoppertunity were among those entered Wednesday. The race will be shown live on NBCSN during a 2 1/2-hour telecast beginning at 2:30 p.m. Pacific.

Bradester and Noble Bird were among nine entered in the $175,000 Lukas Classic on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.
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