With the $5 Million Dollar Breeders’ Cup Classic four months away, it is time to start looking ahead at the potential contenders for the Super Bowl of thoroughbred racing. No surprise, with Shared Belief being injured and out for the rest of the year, that the Triple Crown winner American Pharoah tops the list. But a lot can happen in five months so keep an eye on the winners of the “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Classic races. Particularly, the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park August 2nd, the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga August 8th, the prestigious Travers Stakes at Saratoga August 29th and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park October 3rd.
And now for my top 7 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contender list:
1) American Pharoah – He currently is ranked #1 in Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings. And much deserved as he is the first Triple Crown Winner in 37 years. His return to racing appears to be the Haskell Invitational August 2nd. Followed by the Travers Stakes August 29th
2) California Chrome – The 2014 Horse of the Year, he has had a decent 2015 with two 2nd places in two starts–the San Antonio Handicap (behind Shared Belief) and Dubai World Cup. I really liked his performance in the Dubai World Cup even though he finished 2nd. His next start could be the Arlington Million on August 15th. But note that if he runs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he will have a different jockey as Victor Espinosz will ride American Pharoah.
3) Firing LIne – Although he bombed in the muddy Preakness Stakes, he never finished worst than 2nd before this race. And remember that he finished a length behind American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby– the same 1 & 1/4 mile distance as the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be. Some horses don’t race well in the slop, so I think he deserves a Mulligan for his Preakness performance.
4) Bayern– Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. He has had less than stellar performances (6th, 10th) in two races this year. But both were a mile or under. However, this was thought to be his strength last year and many questioned how he would fare in two-turn races. I expect this Bob Baffert-trained horse to bounce back. His next start appears to be the San Diego Handicap on July 25th.
5) Tonalist – This year, he won the Westchester Stakes and finished 2nd in the Met Mile. But with his pedigree (Sire Tapit). he is better suited for races longer than 1 mile. He won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Belmont Stakes last year and finished 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His next start will be the Suburban Handicap on July 4th.
6) Dortmund– He finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby and 4th in the Preakness Stakes. But remember that he has won 6 races out of 8 starts. Another Bob Baffert-trained horse that I expect to improve. He will be entered into the Los Alamitos Derby on July 4th.
7) Constitution– Winner of 4 out 6 career starts which includes the Donn Handicap earlier in the year. Currently tied with Shared Belief for the Top Beyer Speed Figure in 2015 for races longer than a mile with a speed figure of 111. He has never raced longer than a 1 1/8th mile. However, with his pedigree (Sire Tapit) I have no concerns that he will have distance issues. No word on when his next start will be.
Other horses to keep an eye on: Palace Malice, Lea, Hard Aces, Moreno, Frosted, Honor Code, Noble Bird, Texas Red and Toast of New York who finished 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year but has yet to race this year. Texas Red, if fully recovered, was my early Kentucky Derby favorite before his injury set-back. His closing style will be an asset in a 1 1/4 mile race.