Breeders' Cup

Breeders’ Cup Classic Preview: Final Showdown to Determine Horse of the Year

Adam Mooshian/Coglianese Photos

It all comes down to this! Horse of the Year will be on the line when the gates spring open in Saturday’s running of the Grade 1, $6,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The event goes off as race 12 on a star-studded card that features nine Breeders’ Cup races. For the first time ever, the event will be held at Del Mar – “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” – and the surrounding area could not be more excited. There’s been a buzz in the air since the summer, and it all comes to an exciting conclusion with this race.

Bob Baffert has a record four horses entered into this year’s edition. The red-hot trainer has won the race three years in a row and brings back defending champion Arrogate for the final race of his career. After Arrogate’s romp in the Dubai World Cup last March, he was being talked about as one of the all-time great horses, but his summer didn’t go as planned. After a terrible off-the-board performance in the Grade 2 San Diego, he was better in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, but he still could only manage a second-place finish. However, his workouts leading up to this event have been lights out!

2017 Breeders' Cup Wagering Guide

The Baffert-trained Collected was the horse upsetting Arrogate in the Pacific Classic and is also a horse that has an affinity for the Del Mar track. The 4-year-old colt has rapidly developed into a superstar after having up-and-down moments during his 3-year-old season. He breaks from post 11 in the Classic, which could be his biggest downside.

As stated before, Baffert has won this race three years in a row, and each year, he did it with a 3-year-old. This year, West Coast fits that bill and enters on a four-race winning streak, including Grade 1 victories in the Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby. The 1 1/4-mile distance is right in his wheelhouse.

Don’t forget the race’s morning-line favorite, Gun Runner. Finally, we get to a horse not trained by Bob Baffert. His trainer, Hall-of-Famer Steve Asmussen, is no slouch. Gun Runner was second in the Dubai World Cup to Arrogate, then returned to the United States and absolutely destroyed his competition three straight times. Over the summer at Saratoga, he flourished in a way that we’ve never seen before and could be ready for another huge effort.

Top Choice

#1 Arrogate – If the “real” Arrogate shows up, he will be nearly unbeatable, but the question of how he will like the Del Mar surface still looms large. I’m of the belief that talent wins out above all else, and this horse has so much talent. If Baffert didn’t have him in tip-top shape, I don’t believe that he be entered in this race. He could be ready to roll, and if he is… get your popcorn ready!

Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers

#5 Gun Runner – Winner of three straight Grade 1 races leading up to this Classic, he took the older male division by storm over the summer with absolute blowouts in the Whitney and the Woodward at Saratoga. He’s had a solid workout pattern at Santa Anita leading up to this race, which is another positive for a horse that’s blossoming at the perfect time. I will not deny that I am a huge “fanboy” of Arrogate, but Gun Runner scares me to death – he is SO good right now. Over the summer, you couldn’t help but become a huge fan of his as well, and if we’re lucky, these two starts will put on a show for us down the stretch in the Classic.

#8 West Coast – A late-bloomer in the 3-year-old division similar to Arrogate last year, he’s won four straight races, including Grade 1 scores in the Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby. Trainer Baffert has won three Breeders’ Cup Classics in a row with 3-year-old colts which is a fact you just can’t ignore. West Coast’s draw was perfect and he is a major player at this 1 1/4-mile distance. 

#11 Collected –  The opposite of his stablemate, he loves the Del Mar surface, having won the Pacific Classic in his last start. Lightly raced and ready to roll, he’s blossomed into a strong horse as a 4-year-old under Baffert. The outside post position could be a little tricky for him, but with his early speed, maybe he can kick clear of the rest of the field before getting hung out wide going into the first turn. He’s turned into a serious runner and would not surprise anyone if he went wire-to-wire for the victory.

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Exotic Plays

#6 Mubtaahij – He made his first start for new trainer Baffert a victorious one in the Grade 1 Awesome Again. He always seems to be a threat to hit the board in these major races, having done so time and time again. Consider keying him on the bottom of your trifectas, as his grind-it-out style will pass a lot of horses late in the race. Baffert is completely loaded for this race.

#9 Gunnevera – Even though Keen Ice may not be running in this race, Gunnevera can be called Keen Ice, Jr. He comes into the race off of a layoff, as his last race was a second-place effort in the Travers. Much like Keen Ice, I expect him to drop back early and make one run at the end. If the pace falls apart, he’ll be one of the horses with a solid chance to pick up the pieces.

Party Crashers

#7 Churchill – A very surprising late entry into the race, he was expected to compete in the Turf. He’s a wild card, having never tried the dirt before, but he does have solid back class. The main problem with this experiment is that his pedigree looks to be all turf. This could be Aidan O’Brien just chasing an American Classic victory on dirt, but it’s hard to completely toss perhaps the best trainer in the world. Play him lightly on some backup tickets only.

Throw Outs

#10 Pavel – This lightly-raced colt is an interesting longshot candidate, but will his lack of experience be too much for him to overcome? He ran third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last out. This is a much tougher task for him.

#2 War Decree – This European shipper won on synthetic last time out, but this will be his first on the dirt. He looks to be one that’s just taking a shot and hoping that he takes to the dirt surface.

#3 Win the Space – He’s rounding back into form after a third-place effort in the Awesome Again. I liked him a little better in the Dirt Mile than in this tough spot, though, as he looks to be a little overmatched here.

#4 War Story – Loooch is not afraid to enter a longshot, and there’s no doubt that this is his best horse. However, he looks to be outclassed here after being beaten by over 13 lengths two straight times.

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