We’re less than two weeks away from the 2018 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs, and pre-entries for the fourteen championship races are set to be revealed on Wednesday.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I)
is shaping up to be among the most competitive races with an oversubscribed field expected to be entered. Who will claim the winner’s share of the $6,000,000 purse? Here’s how I rank the top contenders….
I don’t normally relish the thought of playing a Kitten’s Joy runner on dirt, but Roaring Lion has turned into a beast in Europe this year, rattling off four straight Group 1 wins in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, Juddmonte International, QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes, and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. That’s four big wins at four different tracks, including two going the same 1 ¼-mile distance as the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and his recent hard-fought victory going a mile over unsuitably soft ground in the Queen Elizabeth II could serve as a perfect sharpener for the Classic. Roaring Lion is all class, and if he takes to the dirt at Churchill Downs (granted, a big question mark), I don’t think it’s a stretch to think he can win the Classic.
Call it a hunch, but I just really liked the visual impression he made sweeping past rivals to win the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) with a strong late rally, particularly since he raced inside early on and didn’t seem to have any issue handling the kickback, which can be a concern with turf horses racing on dirt. I think he’ll enjoy Churchill Downs and could be a very live longshot candidate in the Classic.
The Pennsylvania Derby (gr. I) winner has come back with two bullet workouts, going six furlongs in 1:12 on October 14th and the same distance in 1:11.20 on October 21st. Unlike some of his older rivals, he’s had a pretty light racing season this year and shouldn’t have to worry about regressing at Churchill Downs; in fact, the Classic will be his second start off a layoff and he might be ready for a career-best effort.
A slow start and a wide trip may have hampered his chances a bit in the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), but even though he rallied to win by 2 ¼ lengths, he had to work hard for it despite a favorable pace setup. His effort seemed rather dull compared to his brilliant victory in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) two starts back, and his Beyer speed figures reflect that, as he fell from a 115 in the Pacific Classic to a 100 in the Awesome Again. Did he just have a bad day? Maybe, but I wonder if perhaps he’s starting to regress as he nears the end of a very long and productive racing season.
He seemed clearly short of peak fitness for the Awesome Again while entering the race off of just six workouts, but despite that obstacle, he carved out a quick pace and battled on gamely in the homestretch to finish second behind Accelerate. That effort was well short of the best we’ve seen from West Coast in the past, but I think it’s something he can build on, and he came back to breeze five furlongs in a quick :59.40 on October 14th and six furlongs in 1:11.80 on October 21st, so from all appearances he’s bounced out of the race well.
He came down with a temperature and missed a workout in earlier this month, but he bounced back by breezing five furlongs in 1:01.26 on October 14th, so the slight setback shouldn’t seriously affect his training for the Classic. His decisive victory over Mendelssohn in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) looks even better given how well Mendelssohn came back to run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) against older rivals.
You can argue that Mendelsson ran the best race while finishing third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, considering that he pushed the heavy favorite Diversify through fast fractions (opening up ten lengths on everyone else in the process) before fighting on gamely to finish third, beaten just two lengths. That might prove to be a perfect sharpener for the Classic, where he’s unlikely to encounter such an extraordinary pace again.
He got a pretty much perfect trip in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, settling in third place behind the speed duel while racing completely clear of traffic, but after looming large to take the lead in the homestretch, he was nailed from behind by the longshot Discreet Lover. You can make a case that Thunder Snow may have made his move too soon, but the fact that he was beaten on the day despite a beautiful setup was a little disappointing.
Mind Your Biscuits
There’s no telling how Mind Your Biscuits will handle 1 ¼ miles while facing some of the best dirt horses in the world, but the former sprinter looked just fine winning the 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs by 4 ¾ lengths, finishing the final three furlongs in a quick :36.37 after tracking a slow pace. He’s got plenty of class, and having a victory at Churchill under his belt is a nice bonus.
He’s been stepping up steadily in distance for his recent workouts and most recently went six furlongs in 1:13.20 on October 19th. Those longer workouts are nice to see since Pavel will be entering the Classic off a lengthy layoff; he hasn’t run since finishing second behind Accelerate in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) on August 18th.