The retirement of Triple Crown winner Justify has certainly had a significant impact on the landscape for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
Justify was a clear early choice to win the Classic, and in his absence, coming up with a Top 10 list of contenders for the 1 ¼-mile race is a more difficult task. In terms of speed figures, relatively few horses have run truly fast going long on dirt this year, further confusing the picture.
However, a couple of horses have been making impressive strides to fill the hole left by Justify, including my new #1-ranked contender. Here’s how I rate the Breeders’ Cup Classic candidates with just over two months until the race….
With three Grade 1 wins already this year going 1 ¼ miles, Accelerate has earned his status as the new favorite for the Classic. His stunning victory in the Pacific Classic (gr. I)
, for which he earned speed figures of 114 (BRIS) and 115 (Beyer), was especially impressive and signifies that he’s maintaining great form as the season progresses. Sure, he’s never won outside of California, but he’s only tried once. He could well be the horse to beat in November.
Battle of Midway
Talk about a major wildcard! Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I)
winner was retired to stud for 2018, but proved to be sub-fertile and was put back into training. Speaking of which, his work tab at Del Mar has been eye-catching, and we should see him back to the races before the end of the meet. Don’t forget, he finished third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, so we know 1 ¼ miles is within his reach. Ultimately, I think Battle of Midway could come back better than ever as a four-year-old, which would be a scary proposition for his Classic rivals.
Time is running out for the Pegasus World Cup (gr. I) and Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) runner-up, who still hasn’t posted a timed workout this summer. If he’s going to make the Classic, and get in a prep race beforehand, everything will have to proceed perfectly. But trainer Bob Baffert seems to excel under challenging circumstances, and if he can get West Coast ready in time, this colt could still reemerge as the favorite to win.
The retirement of Justify has already made a difference for Good Magic, who proved a decisive winner of the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) in the Triple Crown winner’s absence. We’ll get another chance to see Good Magic over 1 ¼ miles when he starts as the favorite in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) this Saturday.
With back-to-back blowout wins in the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) and Whitney Stakes (gr. I)
, Diversify has clearly emerged as the East Coast’s greatest threat for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But like Accelerate, he has yet to prove himself shipping out of state, and he was decidedly disappointing when finishing fourth in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs last November. Was it a fluke, or does he dislike Churchill Downs? That’s an important question to keep in mind since the Breeders’ Cup is heading to Churchill Downs.
He might not be as flashy as some of the other horses on this list, but Pavel has quietly compiled a pretty solid career record and was clearly best of the rest when finishing second behind Accelerate in the Pacific Classic (gr. I). The fact that he’s already a Grade 1 winner at Churchill Downs should not be overlooked, since the track can be tricky for some horses to handle and proof of an affinity for the surface is always a positive.
The Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner will return to action tomorrow in the Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng-I) on turf at York. That race is more of a starting point than a major goal in and of itself, so don’t be too disappointed if he fails to win or even finishes off the board. We’ll get a better gauge on where he’s at when he returns to dirt in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) next month.
The once-beaten McKinzie was among the favorites for the Kentucky Derby until a minor injury sent him to the sidelines. However, the Bob Baffert-trained colt resumed serious training earlier this month and has posted four workouts already at Del Mar, so there’s still time for him to deliver on his potential and join the fray for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
This durable colt might not be the most consistent horse in training, but when he brings his A-game, he can hang with some pretty tough company, as he showed when finishing second in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and the Haskell Invitational (gr. I). He’ll seek a breakthrough Grade 1 victory in the Travers Stakes on Saturday.
This son of Curlin has been rather green in some of his races—particularly the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II), which he won despite weaving around the track down the homestretch—but there’s no denying that he’s got some serious talent. If he can put everything together this fall, the Breeders’ Cup Classic could be a very viable goal.