Evaluating the Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders
Evaluating the Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders: In years past, unexpected horses have been victorious in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Last year, Bayern was involved in a sticky situation with the gate fiasco, and many believed Bayern was not bred for ten furlongs, no matter the lead he would be able to get.
Other horses in the history of the Breeders’ Cup Classic that were questioned regarding their abilities to achieve the ten furlongs of the Classic were Ghostzapper, Cat Theif, and Wild Again. Ghostzapper was mainly a sprinter before the Breeders’ Cup while Cat Thief was usually unsuccessful in his races. Wild Again struggled in heavy competition most of the time, but he did prove to be something when he won the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1984, defeating Gate Dancer and Slew O’ Gold in the process.
This year, nearly all the competitors seem to be bred for the ten-furlong contest. Six of the thirteen contenders have secured a spot in the starting gate due to winning a “Win and You’re In” challenge race. The others have finished in the top three or four of those challenge events, providing reason as to why they are pointing for the race.
This year’s edition of the Breeders’ Cup is the most lucrative in the championship’s history, and American Pharoah is the lone reason for this. This is the first time the Breeders’ Cup has had a Triple Crown winner in the starting gate. American Pharoah has been an outright sensation since he began racing. He only has two losses in his entire career, and the colt has managed to earn $5,900,300. If he were to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he might very well become the top money earner, pushing Curlin, who surpassed Cigar in 2008, from the top spot. American Pharoah did not guarantee himself a spot in the Classic with his Triple Crown win, however. He went on to win the William Hill Haskell Invitational (GI) before finishing a tough second in the Travers (GI) at Saratoga. The son of Pioneerof the Nile is out of a Yankee Gentleman mare, which seems to have provided the colt with a rare mixture of speed and stamina. American Pharoah is also the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby as a descendant of the Storm Cat sire line. American Pharoah is training at Santa Anita and will ship to Keeneland later this month.
Many believe American Pharoah is tired and that the horse to beat him will not be a top-notch older male horse but a top-notch older female. Beholder faced males for the first time in the 2015 Pacific Classic (GI) at Del Mar in August. Beholder is the first offspring of Henny Hughes to win a Grade I event at ten furlongs. In her four seasons on the track, Beholder has only shipped out of California twice, and both of those times she lost. Trainer Richard Mandella has stated that the mare is a tough shipper, and if she at all shows signs of not handling her trip to Keeneland, he will instead run her in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. However, for now, all systems are go for this female star. While Beholder does not have a pedigree that screams ten furlongs, she has shown that she can contend with the best classic horses and easily go the distance.
Hard Aces was a surprise winner in the Gold Cup (GI) at Santa Anita in which he defeated Hoppertunity by the narrowest of margins. However, since his win, he has finished sixth in back-to-back Grade I races, those being the Pacific Classic (won by Beholder) and the Awesome Again (won by Smooth Roller). Hard Aces is a late maturing son of Hard Spun. While he at first appears to be bred for the ten-furlong event, his bottom pedigree includes a close inbreeding of the extremely fast Dr. Fager while other milers and sprinters appear, such as Fappiano, Quiet American, Housebuster, and Mt. Livermore. There is also a trace of Mr. Prospector on the distaff side. On the top, the entire line looks geared toward distance, however. With his bottom half being so geared towards speed, Hard Aces may have more trouble than the rest of the field with traveling ten furlongs.
Honor Code has been racing since 2013 when he was an early 2014 Kentucky Derby favorite. However, an injury in March put him on the sidelines until he made his return in November. In 2015, the ridgling by A.P. Indy has really blossomed. His only poor finish came in an uncharacteristic fifth in the Grade II Alysheba on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. Since then, he has won two Grade I events, the Metropolitan Handicap and the Whitney Stakes. Honor Code made his final pre-Breeders’ Cup start in the one-mile Kelso (GI) at Belmont Park. The horse had very little pace to run and seemed to have a hard time closing in the swamp of the Belmont track. He rallied for third but was unable to catch the fast Appealing Tale, a starter in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Honor Code is a closer and will likely get the pace he needs in the 2015 Classic.
Smooth Roller is the newest older male on the Breeders’ Cup Classic scene. He won the Grade I Awesome Again in his graded stakes debut. While the Awesome Again was a weak field, Smooth Roller has been talked about as being the “dark horse” in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. After an easy race in the Awesome Again, Smooth Roller looks to be improving nicely. As a lightly raced son of Hard Spun and an Unbridled mare, the gelding is better bred for the ten-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic than the other son of Hard Spun in here. (Note: Hard Spun is also represented in the Breeders’ Cup Mile by contender Wicked Strong). Smooth Roller is trained by Victor Garcia, who hasn’t had a graded stakes winner since 1989, and ridden by Tyler Baze, whose best Breeders’ Cup finish was a second in the 2009 Turf Sprint with Gotta Have Her. He also rode Cost of Freedom in the 2009 Sprint and Blind Luck in the 2009 Juvenile Fillies.
The last Breeders’ Cup Challenge winner is Tonalist, who captured a repeat victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI). His best races have come over the Belmont oval. He has run well elsewhere, but his only win outside of Belmont came in an allowance down at Gulfstream early in his three-year-old year. Tonalist is the first classic winner for his sire Tapit, who is currently the most expensive stallion in North America, standing for $300,000 per live foal at Gainesway Farm. Tonalist is out of a Pleasant Colony mare, the likely source of most of the colt’s stamina. The son of Tapit finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup last year after a disastrous start. Christophe Clement, who is known for his turf horses, trains Tonalist. However, Clement has done well with this colt and will train him at Belmont leading up to the Breeders’ Cup.
The most interesting horse to make a possible start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic has to be the European invader, Gleneagles (IRE). The son of Galileo has only been defeated once in his entire career and is a five-time Group I winner. His most recent win came in the Group I St. James Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. Galileo, an international sire of turf horses, is the sire the colt. However, Gleneagles has a considerable amount of dirt influence in his pedigree, sprinkled all over. First of all, the colt is out of You’resothrilling (Storm Cat – Mariah’s Storm, by Rahy). This mare is a full sister to champion stallion Giant’s Causeway, who was successful on turf, second in his dirt debut in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic won by Tiznow, and a sire of successful dirt horses. There is inbreeding to Northern Dancer (3S x 4D), who has successfully proven to be a strong dirt influence and a breed-shaping stallion. Storm Cat is out of the Secretariat mare, Terlingua. Secretariat is regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, racehorses in history. He was successful on both dirt and turf. Gleneagles also has Mr. Prospector, the second of two breed-shaping stallions in his pedigree. There is also Buckpasser, one of the greatest thoroughbreds of the 20th century. The big question surrounding Gleneagles is whether or not he can transfer his form from turf to dirt. He will likely handle the dirt at Keeneland nicely and may be a big price on Breeders’ Cup Classic day.
Other contenders for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic include Keen Ice (Curlin – Sugar Britches, by Awesome Again), Effinex (Mineshaft – What a Pear, by E Dubai), Frosted (Tapit – Fast Cookie, by Deputy Minister), Coach Inge (Big Brown – Touch too Much, by Holy Bull), and Hoppertunity (Any Given Saturday – Refugee, by Unaccounted For).
The Breeders’ Cup is a two-day event that has been run annually since 1984. This year, the Breeders’ Cup is being hosted by the historic Lexington, Kentucky, track, Keeneland Race Course. The two days of racing take place on October 30 and 31, concluding with the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Breeders’ Cup Classic offers a purse of $5,000,000, the largest purse of the weekend. The Breeders’ Cup Classic promises to be one of the most exciting races of the year, especially since the field contains the twelfth Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah.
Keep up with all of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders at BreedersCup.com/contenders.