Suffice to say, a lot has happened since I published my first ranking of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) contenders back in June.
With the uncertainty surrounding the racing future of Triple Crown winner Justify, I have decided to at least temporarily remove him from my Top 10. He’ll rejoin my list when or if he resumes serious training.
In the meantime, here’s how I rank the top contenders with 3 ½ months remaining until the showdown at Churchill Downs….
He’s officially back in training at Los Alamitos, a bit of positive news for the Bob Baffert barn following Justify’s setback. With multiple Grade 1 wins under his belt plus a series of strong runs going 1 ¼ miles, West Coast remains one of the most accomplished and talented older horses in training, and if he picks up where he left off, he could take over the role as favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Despite gaining a reputation as a miler early in his career, Accelerate has blossomed going 1 ¼ miles this season and will return to action on Saturday in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar, a prep for the Pacific Classic (gr. I) later in the meet. Last year, he wasn’t in quite the same league as the best older horses in training, but he seems to have taken a significant step forward this season. If Justify doesn’t return to training, the Classic could be a wide-open event ripe for conquest by a proven 1 ¼-mile runner such as Accelerate.
Battle of Midway
I’ll admit that I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, but Battle of Midway seemed to be just getting good when he upset the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) last fall, and after proving to be sub-fertile at stud, he was put back into training earlier this year and should return to action later in 2018. Considering his strong pedigree and third-place finish in the 2017 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, I get the impression that Battle of Midway could be much more than a miler, and it’s possible his best days are still ahead of him.
He was given some time off following his impressive win in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), but is reportedly under consideration for a start in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) in September at Belmont Park, which could serve as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Bias-aided or not, his authoritative triumph over West Coast in the Dubai World Cup remains one of the best performances we’ve seen on dirt so far this year.
Perhaps he hasn’t quite been a match for the top runners in the division, but he’s also had some tough trips and showcased a clear affinity for Churchill Downs when romping to victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I). His proven ability at Churchill should not be underestimated—some horses simply don’t care for the racing surface at Churchill, so familiarity with the track could come in handy at the Breeders’ Cup.
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up went to the sidelines following a disappointing run in the Pegasus World Cup (gr. I), but he’s set to resume training very soon and could be another major player in the division if he can regain his top form from last year, which included an impressive victory over Arrogate in the Pacific Classic (gr. I).
He’s been training steadily at Belmont Park with an eye toward the July 29th Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park, a race in which he could start as the favorite thanks to the absence of Justify. Though he’s bred to handle 1 ¼ miles just fine, the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Haskell could be slightly more in his wheelhouse at the moment and provide him with a perfect opportunity to rebound from his Kentucky Derby and Preakness defeats.
True, he was no match for Pavel when finishing sixth in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), but that race was conducted on a very hot evening and Backyard Heaven never seemed to fire. He had previously won three straight races at Aqueduct and Churchill Downs, including a 4 ½-length win in the Alysheba Stakes (gr. II), for which he earned a 105 Beyer speed figure. If he rebounds in the August 4th Whitney Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, he’ll be right back in the picture for the Breeders’ Cup.
He fired off a 110 Beyer while winning the Suburban Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont earlier this month, stopping the clock in 1:59.84 for 1 ¼ miles while winning by 6 ½ lengths. It was a huge run, but it’s worth noting that Diversify has yet to win outside of New York and seems to be clearly best at Belmont, where he’s compiled an 8-6-2-0 record.
It’s sounding like the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile will ultimately be his goal, but then again, the Daily Racing Form has reported the Whitney Stakes (gr. I) as being a possible target for Bee Jersey. Should this Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) winner handle the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles—which certainly isn’t out of the question—perhaps plans will change with the Classic entering the picture.