The Breeders’ Cup Classic is supposed to be the magical race in which the three year old heroes of the Triple Crown trail and the summer face off against the best of the older horses and the cream of the European dirt crop in a battle for supremacy. This year, though, it just hasn’t turned out that way. There are no Europeans. The best of the trio of three year olds in the field, Alpha, is coming off a total stinker of a race, was a no-show in the Kentucky Derby, and is hard to trust here. The older horse field is mostly overwhelming. In short, this Classic just isn’t the classic that we have seen in some years.
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The lack of real marquee power doesn’t mean that it is going to be a bad race or that it isn’t going to be competitive and attractive to bet on. It just means that you have to work harder to get excited about this one before the big day.
I don’t know how wide-open this field really is, but I don’t think that a lot of horses really have what it takes to pull off the win here. In fact, I think there are only five horses that can win the Breeders’ Cup Classic that will be entering the starting gate. Here’s a look at each:
Game On Dude (9/5)
The Dude is a very deserving favorite, and despite the low odds — that will almost certainly go lower by post time — he needs to be included in all exotic tickets. He was second in the Classic last year, and every move this season has been made with the intent of moving one step up the podium this year. His lone poor outing this year was in the Dubai World Cup where he was 12th, but the synthetic surface there makes that irrelevant. Since then he has faced strong fields and won three of four. After the one loss — a second-place finish in the Pacific Classic — a jockey change was made. Chantal Sutherland had done well on the horse, but Rafael Bejarano is an obvious upgrade, and the chemistry was clear in their first race together. Bob Baffert has this horse ready to go on his home track, and no one is any better than Baffert at getting horses ready on big days. Unquestionably the horse to beat.
Fort Larned (5/1)
The four year old was slow to emerge as a real force and was essentially irrelevant last year. He rounded into form over the winter, though, and his win in the Whitney at Saratoga this summer was one of the most impressive by any horse. He’s the clear class of the East Coast horses this year, and he seems tuned, tightened, and ready to go. If there is a concern it’s that jockey Brian Hernandez is far from an elite jockey, and he could be over his head on this bright stage. He has won three times on the horse, though, so he obviously knows his mount.
Flat Out (5/1)
This horse has experience in this race — he was fifth last year — but he has since had a massive upgrade in trainer as Bill Mott now calls the shots for him. Mott has eight Breeders’ Cup wins, including taking down the Classic last year and in 1995 with Cigar. The season this year has been challenged by foot issues, but he looked sound at the end of September winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup in his first race under new jockey Joel Rosario. He’s been very sharp training since, and he should be ready to go. My biggest concern is that he is six, and horses older than five have not done well in this race. Still, in a field like this he’s worth a look.
Ron The Greek (6/1)
Mott actually has three in this field, and this is the second best. He’s another East Coast runner, though he did win the Santa Anita Handicap over this same track in March so we know he likes the surface and can handle this same distance. I’d feel much better if his last performance hadn’t been so lousy — a non-menacing sixth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup — but he has fired bullets in his last two works and seems to have rounded into form.
Pool Play (30/1)
It wouldn’t be any fun to only bet the chalk, so thankfully we have a longshot that stands out as a possible contender. He’s a Canadian-bred horse based mostly at Woodbine, but he has traveled throughout the East Coast. He’s mostly run on synthetics or turf, but in just two career starts on dirt he has two wins — both in graded stakes. Most recently he won the Hawthorne Cup Gold Cup on dirt at this same distance. A win could be a lot to ask of this horse, but at the very least he needs to be factored into exotics as a value pick that could really pay off. He’s not getting as much respect as he deserves. I’d like him even more if he weren’t seven years old, but in this field every horse has an issue or two that you have to live with.
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