Breeders' Cup Classic Top 5: Who's left?

October 1st, 2019

Every few weeks throughout the summer, I’ve ranked the top 10 contenders for the November 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita.

But this week I’ve elected to cut my list down to five. With injuries and defections weakening the division, I’m having trouble coming up with a full list.

Two-time Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Thunder Snow is done for the year, as is reigning champion 2-year-old Game Winner. Last year’s Classic runner-up, Gunnevera, hasn’t posted a timed workout since July, and the same goes for Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Gift Box. Top 3-year-old Maximum Security is doubtful to run after he missed the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) because of colic. Surprise Awesome Again Stakes (G1) winner Mongolian Groom isn’t nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, and Woodward Stakes (G1) winner Preservationist may have taken himself out of consideration with a dull effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Even the connections of Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Code of Honor are hesitant to commit to the Classic.

The horses who remain comprise one of the most wide-open and confusing Classic divisions in recent memory. Here's my best shot at ranking the top contenders.
  1. Vino Rosso

Vino Rosso was disqualified from his narrow victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the call has generated plenty of debate. Somewhat lost in the controversy is the huge performance Vino Rosso turned in. After he carved out fractions of :24.02, :47.73 and 1:11.63, Vino Rosso successfully put away challenges from Tacitus and Preservationist and gamely battled Code of Honor down the homestretch to cross the wire in 2:00.30, good for a 106 Beyer.

Racing on the front end is a new strategy for Vino Rosso, who showed improvement without blinkers for the first time since March of 2018. This was his second big effort over 1 1/4 miles this year, following his triumph in the May 27 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1). With his proven stamina and new frontrunning style, Vino Rosso could be a major danger in the Classic, especially over the tiring main track at Santa Anita.
  1. McKinzie

Although he was no match for Mongolian Groom in the Awesome Again Stakes (G1), McKinzie ran a big race in defeat. The son of Street Sense posted a 108 Beyer while finishing second by 2 1/4 lengths, and he raced wide over a track that appeared favorable to frontrunners on both Friday and Saturday. With the Classic looming as the ultimate goal, McKinzie probably wasn’t cranked for a peak effort five weeks out. He can bounce back, but he's no longer a clear division leader.
  1. Code of Honor

Code of Honor ran too good to lose in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and was awarded the victory via disqualification after his charge from fourth place to finish a nose behind Vino Rosso. Couple this performance with Code of Honor’s dominant triumph in the Travers Stakes (G1), and it’s clear this improving son of Noble Mission has no trouble negotiating 1 1/4 miles. Will he continue on to the Classic or rest up for 2020? His connections are pondering both options.
  1. Elate

With so many Classic on the sideline or suffering surprise defeats, the 5-year-old mare Elate is an increasingly appealing contender. She’s 3-for-3 running 1 1/4 miles, has some big speed figures to her credit and rounded nicely into form this summer. Elate will prep for the Breeders’ Cup in the October 6 Spinster Stakes (G1) at Keeneland, where a victory could propel her toward a rendezvous with males in the Classic. It might be an easier spot than tackling nemesis Midnight Bisou (3-for-3 against Elate this year) in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
  1. Higher Power

A bad stumble at the start of the Awesome Again took Higher Power out of his game and left the son of Medaglia d’Oro racing last early on, a major change in tactics for a colt who won the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic (G1) from just off the pace. Couple this challenge with the speed-favoring nature of the Santa Anita main track, and Higher Power had no chance to win the Awesome Again. Under the circumstances, the fact that he rallied mildly to finish third is encouraging, and a return to pace-tracking tactics in the Classic could trigger a big rebound.