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Breeders’ Cup Skinny: Start with the Classic

Breeders’ Cup Skinny: Start with the Classic

For handicappers and bettors, the Breeders’ Cup is the final exam of the year.

Whether your profits are up for the year or down, the Breeders’ Cup can sway that one way or the other. The pools are large and the best horses in the world are evenly-matched in large fields, providing great betting opportunities. This is the one time each year to bet on the best from the east, west, and Europe, all in one setting.

It’s less than seven weeks to Breeders’ Cup 2019, so now is the time to begin studying, or you’ll fall behind quickly in your preparations. If you ace the final, you can pass for the year. If you flunk it, though, then even an A+ bankroll will take a hit. It’s time to buckle down.

Each week, I’ll discuss how I’m preparing and provide my thoughts. This column will delve into the deepest parts of my brain, discuss my past experiences getting ready, and how to be successful on the biggest weekend of the year.

My best days at the track tend to come in the biggest events, so let’s make it happen again!

Singling Arrogate over California Chrome in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup (the last time that it was held at Santa Anita Park) remains one of my best plays (Photo: Chris Aplin)

The Classic Question

If you want to turn a profit, then you start with the “get out” race: the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Get this one right, and you should come out ahead on the day. This race will be the main topic of our week one preparation.

It all starts with what you think of multiple Grade 1 winner McKinzie’s ability to get 1 1/4 miles. Your whole approach should come down to your opinion if McKinzie can excel at the distance.

In two career starts at 1 1/4 miles, McKinzie was a no-show in last year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic at Churchill Downs and was beaten a nose by an in-form Gift Box in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) back in April. Even though he lost the Big Cap, McKinzie has always performed well at Santa Anita Park, collecting wins in the Malibu Stakes (G1) and the Sham Stakes (G3) along the way. Everyone else will have to come to his home track for the Breeders’ Cup, so he has the advantage.

Additionally, it didn’t look like the distance was an issue last August when he throttled the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Stakes (G1) field at Saratoga. If he gets a good trip in the Classic, then he may live up to his likely favoritism.

Of course, he also has mastermind trainer Bob Baffert preparing him. Baffert’s the best in the game at getting a horse to peak in a big dirt route race and will tighten the screws on McKinzie for his final Classic primer, the local 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again Stakes (G1) on September 28.

The final California prep for the Classic will also likely feature the Pacific Classic Stakes (G1) winner Higher Power and the Clark Handicap (G1) winner Seeking the Soul as McKinzie’s toughest rivals.

Higher Power won the Pacific Classic impressively and may be peaking at the right time for trainer John Sadler (Photo: © Ernie Belmonte)

East Coast Classic Watch

The best older dirt route males on the east coast will line up on the same day as the Awesome Again in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, led by the Woodward Stakes (G1) winner Preservationist.

Before bulling his way to victory there, Preservationist also won the Suburban Stakes (G2) here in July while going 1 1/4 miles over Big Sandy. It’s quirky where they start on the turn to run this distance.

Two young guns will tango with their elders for their first time in this spot: the Travers Stakes (G1) winner Code of Honor and the runner-up Tacitus. Can they step up against some of the best older males in the country? This isn’t the most stellar older dirt male crop in recent history, so Code of Honor and Tacitus will have an opportunity to strut their stuff.

The Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes (G1) winner Vino Rosso adds spice to a race that will likely fill a lot of the gates out west. That big win earlier this year means that a trip out west is likely for the Todd Pletcher charge, even if his prep doesn’t end well.

Preservationist, all guts to win the Woodward, has early speed that will be a weapon in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Photo: NYRA)

Training Toward the Classic

Forgotten among all of the races over the next two weeks, one horse is flying under the radar as he trains up to the Classic.

If you know me, then you know I have a crush on Yoshida. He’s come through big for me twice. First, on the 2018 Kentucky Derby card when he won the Turf Classic Stakes (G1), and then when he ran a big second behind McKinzie in last month’s Whitney.

Maybe the only dirt that he loves is the one at Saratoga. His 2018 Woodward Stakes (G1) win remains his best effort on the surface, but he was moving late in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs before finishing fourth, so maybe 1 1/4 miles on dirt is his preferred distance and surface after all.

Yoshida’s major flaw is that he has zero early speed and finds himself so far behind the leaders himself with too much ground to make up. It happened to him in this year’s Woodward, where all he could muster was a late-moving third after losing touch with the field almost immediately.

After winning last year’s Woodward, Yoshida trained up to the Classic and ran well, so his Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott is doing the same thing this year.

Yoshida (seen entering the 2018 Woodward winner’s circle) may be the underneath exotic key in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Photo: Michael Spector)

More Contenders

Last year’s Classic second- and third-place finishers, Gunnevera and Thunder Snow, are both up against it with recent setbacks that made them miss their last starts. If they even make the gate again this year, they may not be in the same top form like last year, but their progress in the coming weeks is worth monitoring. UPDATE: Thunder Snow will not run in the Breeders’ Cup, but may try for a Dubai World Cup three-peat next year.

Another one to watch prepare for the Classic is Omaha Beach, who hasn’t run since winning the Arkansas Derby (G1). He is currently slated to return in the 1-mile Ack Ack Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs on September 28.

Finally, a female may run in the Classic for the first time since 2011. Mott’s multiple Grade 1 winner Elate will likely be pre-entered in both the Classic and the Longines Distaff (G1). She’ll get her last Breeders’ Cup tune-up in the Spinster Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on October 6.

Both Maximum Security and Catholic Boy were supposed to make starts this weekend in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and Kelso (G2), respectively, but came up with issues. Maximum Security got colic and Catholic Boy came up with a suspensory issue, so both will be hard pressed to make the Classic gate. 

The next few weekends will set the stage for the Classic, so keep checking for picks and previews. Also, the Dudes will be putting together a Jockey Club Gold Cup wagering guide to get you ready for a big day with major Breeders’ Cup implications.

Follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for updates as we draw closer to the Breeders’ Cup!

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