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You have to hand it to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. No other race in North America is as sadistically efficient at the art of taking solid, workmanlike Grade 1 credentials and suddenly making them look woefully inadequate to the task at hand.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, like so many before it, is a fascinating puzzle that lends itself to many plausible answers. Alas, only one of them will be proven right, which will leave a lot of great horses as “losers” at the end of this 10-furlong battle.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader in the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be Bayern. Moreno will be a tight, stalking second. Then there’s a gap back to Cigar Street, who is projected to be racing on the rail. Shared Belief is in fourth place, just to his outside. California Chrome is in fifth, just outside Shared Belief. The others should be looked at as either mid-packers or closers.
The Pace Projector designates the pace of the race as favoring neither frontrunners nor closers. However, our Chief Figure Maker, Craig Milkowski, has dissected the probable pace and concluded that it will be very fast, with Moreno and Bayern compromising each other’s chances greatly.
Now let’s look at the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Prayer for Relief (30-1): Consistent six-year-old finds himself in the same position as a lot of other horses in this race: He is not quite fast enough to win it. So he needs a jump. But there is little reason to expect a jump. That leaves him hoping that a perfect trip allows him to run over his head today. In Prayer for Relief’s case, a perfect trip would mean his saving all the ground behind a fast pace and finding running room late.
Cigar Street (12-1): His speed figures make him a player in here. He is fresh off a 113, earned in a minor stake at Churchill Downs. That constitutes a pair-up of his previous top in his second start back from a layoff. This is a strong pattern. It would be a lot stronger if he were a couple years younger, but he is relatively lightly raced, and he figures for a ground-saving stalking trip in here. The knock on Cigar Street is class. He has one graded stakes victory to his credit, a Grade 3 at Gulfstream last year. But Mott gets a rating of 89 third off the layoff and 96 when attempting a repeat victory. Cigar Street is a fat price on the morning line, and we consider him a very tempting play.
Imperative (30-1): If this gelding hits the board, we are going to be tearing up an awful lot of tickets.
Moreno (20-1): A tough call because the talent is plainly here. He has speed figures that fit beautifully and Grade 1 credentials. But the presence of Bayern does him no favors, and anyway, he has the look of a horse who could very well be over the top. It’s also worth noting that his trainer gets an abysmal rating of 12 at Santa Anita. Still, at a big price, Moreno is usable in exotics.
V. E. Day (20-1): Would need to bounce back to the level of his Travers victory to compete here. The problem is that his Travers figure, a 108, was a rather isolated, “ugly” number, meaning it is not the ideal target to get back to. And he got a great pace set-up in the Travers. (Note pace figures and adjusted fractions color-coded in red, signifying fast pace.) We are mildly negative on V. E. Day
Shared Belief (9-5): So this is what a Jerry Hollendorfer horse looks like when it has foot problems? We have long admired Hollendorfer, who was buried for decades in beautiful Northern California, quietly and modestly training racehorses as well as racehorses can be trained.And now he has this gelding, who has seven wins in seven starts, three of them Grade 1s, the last one earned despite losing a tremendous amount of ground due to race riding from a competitor. The 114 speed figure that Shared Belief ran in the Awesome Again feels more like a 120 to us after the trip is accounted for, and a repeat of that effort is very likely going to give Hollendorfer the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But the odds will be short. The target on this gelding’s back will be big. And, plainly and simply, horses who run as well as Shared Belief did last time are prone to regress in their next start. So let’s call Shared Belief the most likely winner even as we steel ourselves to try to beat him.
Bayern (6-1): We do not yet see any evidence to support the popular theory that this colt is distance-challenged. What he is, in our view, is consistency-challenged. His two worst performances just happened to occur in his two longest races. But those performances were clunkers, plain and simple. They would have been clunkers even if the races were run at six furlongs. Bayern is as talented as any horse in this race. And if he does not come under excessive duress on the lead, he has a legitimate puncher’s chance to win this race at a pretty good price. He also has a legitimate chance to finish last. But with speed figures of 115 117 and 119 in his arsenal, he is a colt who will get at least some of our money if his morning line odds hold up.
Zivo (15-1): Enters off a troubled second-place finish in the JCGC. Is in a tie for fastest Late Pace rating in the field (a 114), which is a good thing because Pace Projector has him coming from last-place today. Trainer Chad Brown gets a 95 rating with older stakes horses. Has a strong pattern of speed figures: 109 103 106 108 109. A trifle slow vs. the best in here, but in the ballpark and headed in the right direction. Has a Grade 2 victory to his credit, and if he gets a strong pace set-up today, one cannot rule out his winning his first Grade 1.
Toast of New York (12-1): Has run competitive speed figures on synthetic, but makes his dirt debut today off a Breeding Rating of 44 for dirt routes. That does not inspire a lot of confidence.
Footbridge (30-1): Would need the race of his life to hit the bottom of the board.
Tonalist (5-1): Has a beautiful pattern of speed figures coming into this race–as nice a pattern of development as one will ever see. He is not yet quite as fast as his fastest rivals, but he is slowly working on that. Has a masterful trainer who gets a strong rating of 93 off comparable rest between starts. Has two Grade 1 victories to his credit. Figures to lose some ground racing in mid-pack in this big field. Could find himself in the best spot of all should the pace prove hot. A strong, strong contender who figures to be a decent price. A must-use in every hole.
Candy Boy (20-1): Sadler colt keeps on banging out efforts that are solid but not quite up to the level of winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Probably deserved to finish second in the Pensylvania Derby dominated by Bayern. In a tie for best Late Pace rating in the field. Needs a pace meltdown.
California Chrome (4-1): The last Kentucky Derby winner to run well in that same year’s BC Classic was Unbridled in 1990. Is that a strong handicapping point to make about this year’s Classic? No. But we think it is a valid political point about the Breeders’ Cup, and something to contemplate on Sunday. At any rate, California Chrome has already proven that he has more than enough talent to win this race on his best day. The TimeformUS Speed Figure of 118 that he ran in the Preakness says that loud and clear–he’ll be tough in here if he runs back to that race. The handicapping question on the table with this splendidly talented colt is whether his disappointing-but-not-awful Pennsylvania Derby performance qualifies as a springboard back to his best form or a sign that his gruelling, heroic Triple Crown campaign stripped him to an extent that leaves him incapable of firing his best shot five months later. Our feeling on this is that California Chrome is not ready to rebound just yet. And that, coupled with the likelihood that he will get an intentionally wide trip in this race, leaves us inclined to play against him today at what figure to be relatively short odds.
Majestic Harbor (20-1):
Six-year-old always fires his shot. Threat to sit back and make a run that gets him on the board if there’s a pace meltdown. We see little reason to expect any more than that.
(A/E) Big Cazanova (30-1):
We see no reason to expect anything good to come out of this horse today.
Use Tonalist and Bayern in multi-race exotics–to be clear here, that’s what we’re most interested in at this point. Let’s see the Double payoffs going into the Classic with these two.
Also: Exactas and trifectas using Tonalist and Bayern, while also mixing in Shared Belief.