Updated 2015 Breeders’ Cup Contender Rankings – American Pharoah and Honor Code 1-2

My updated Breeders’ Cup Classic Contender Rankings. Dropping out of my top 14 are Palace Malice and Lea. Palace Malice finished 4th in the Alydar Stakes. He didn’t seem to be much of a factor and really had labor to grind out a spot in the money against a mediocre field. Lea, who many experts picked to win the Whitney Handicap, had a disappointing 6th place finish and faded a bit towards the end. Nobody expected to see either of these horses backslide like they did. Same goes for Noble Bird who finished dead last in the Whitney but remains 14th in my rankings by virtue of already having secured a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic field.

1) American Pharoah*  – He confirmed his #1 ranking with his performance in the Haskell Invitational with a sizzling 109 Beyer Speed Figure. He now has reeled off eight straight wins. He currently is ranked #2 in Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings and ranked #1 in the most recent NTRA’s Top Thoroughbred poll. His next start after the Haskell has not been confirmed but expected to be the Travers Stakes August 29th.

Career: 9 Starts 8-0-0-0, Win Pct: 88.9%, Top 3 Pct: 88.9%, Top 4 Pct: 88.9%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:47.95 – 8/2/15 (2015 Haskell Invitational)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:03.02 – 5/2/15 (2015 Kentucky Derby)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 1st – 2015 Kentucky Derby

2) Honor Code* – The Met-Mile winner with a blazing 112 Beyer Speed Figure. He produced another sizzling 113 Beyer Speed Figure in the Whitney Handicap. This makes his 5th place finish in the Alysheba Stakes puzzling. He has a nice pedigree, the son of A.P. Indy and the grandson of Seattle Slew. He ranks 2nd in NTRA’s Top Thoroughbred behind American Pharoah. He has yet to race longer than 1 1/8th mile and that is why I can’t rank him ahead of American Pharoah despite his impressive speed figures. But I am not concerned as I think he will fare even better in a 1 1/4 mile race–he is bred for distance. His next start could be the Jockey Gold Cup race October 3rd at Belmont Park.

Career: 9 Starts 6-2-0-0, Win Pct: 66.7%, Top 3 Pct: 88.9%, Top 4 Pct: 88.9%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:47.82 – 8/8/15 (2015 Whitney Handicap)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A

3) Tonalist  – Last year’s Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner. For 2015, he has one win in the Westchester Stakes, two 2nd places finishes (Met Mile and Suburban Handicap) and a 3rd place finish (Whitney Handicap). His third place finish in the Whitney Handicap produced a 110 Beyer Speed Figure. He produced a 108 Beyer in the Suburban Handicap and a 111 Beyer in the Met Mile. And he is better at races 1 1/4 mile or longer. He finished 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year. His next start will be the Jockey Club Gold Cup on October 3rd.

Career: 13 Starts 5-4-2-1, Win Pct: 38.5%, Top 3 Pct: 84.6%, Top 4 Pct: 92.3%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.1 (calculated) – 8/8/15 (2015 Whitney Handicap)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:00.69 (calculated) – 11/1/14 (2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 1st – 2014 Jockey Club Gold Cup

4) Catch A Flight  – The Argentinian horse has never finished below 3rd in his North American career thus far. He has won 10 of 17 career starts, 4 out of 7 in North America. He is ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens and appears to be an upcoming horse who is getting better as his San Diego Handicap performance indicates. He finished 3rd in the Santa Anita Handicap in March behind Shared Belief and Moreno, but beat Moreno in the Californian Stakes on May 30th (106 Beyer Speed Figure). He finished third behind Hard Aces and Hoppertunity in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita June 27th, but beat Hoppertunity in the San Diego Handicap. His next start is confirmed as the TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 22nd.

Career (North America) : 7 Starts 4-0-3-0, Win Pct: 57.1%, Top 3 Pct: 100%, Top 4 Pct: 100%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:47.73 – 5/30/14 (2015 Californian Stakes)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.37 (calculated) – 3/7/15 (2015 Santa Anita Handicap)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 3rd – 2015 Santa Anita Handicap

5) Liam’s Map – Although it appeared that he faded a bit down the stretch in the Whitney Handicap, it was more like Honor Code dug in to beat him by a neck. You had to be impressed with this horse’s first graded stakes race against a highly talented field. Like Honor Code, he received a 113 Beyer Speed Figure in the Whitney. He has never finished below 2nd in 6 career starts. My only concern is how well will he be able to stretch out to a 1 1/4 mile? However, he looks like a horse on the rise under the guise of one the top trainers in Todd Pletcher.

Career: 6 Starts 4-2-0-0, Win Pct: 66.7%, Top 3 Pct: 100%, Top 4 Pct: 100%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:47.86 (calculated) – 8/8/15 (2015 Whitney Handicap)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A

6) Effinex  – The Suburban Handicap winner, he has now produced two of the top four Beyer Speed Figures this year for races 1 1/4th mile or longer: 107 Beyer at Aqueduct on April 25th and his 107 Beyer on July 4th at Belmont. Sandwiched in between was a DNF in the Brooklyn Handicap where he oddly veered away from the rest of the pack coming around a turn. He worked out at Saratoga July 29th and August 2nd. His next start will be the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on September 5th.

Career: 16 Starts 6-1-2-2, Win Pct: 37.5%, Top 3 Pct: 56.25%, Top 4%: 68.8%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.51 – 4/11/15 (2014 Empire Classic)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.55 – 7/4/15 (2015 Suburban Handicap)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: N/A

7) Hoppertunity  – Not likely a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner but a horse who is consistent enough to finish in the money. In 9 career graded stakes race starts, he has never finished below 4th. In 2015, he has a win in the San Pasqual Stakes, two third place finishes in the San Antonio and Stephen Foster Handicap, lost to Hard Aces in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita by a nose and a fourth place finish in the San Diego Handicap. He did 5 furlongs in one minute flat at Saratoga on August 7th. His next start will be the TVG Pacific Classic on August 22nd.

Career: 12 Starts 4-3-2-2, Win Pct: 33.3%, Top 3 Pct: 83.3%, Top 4 Pct: 91.7%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.36 (calculated) – 4/5/14 (2014 Santa Anita Derby)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:02.47 (calculated) – 6/27/14 (2015 Gold Cup)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 2nd – 2015 Gold Cup

8) Hard Aces*  –  He has qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with his win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. For 2015, he has two wins, a 3rd, a 4th and a 6th place finish. One wonders if his big win in the Gold Cup was more a byproduct of Victor Espinoza’s jockeying. His recent workouts at Del Mar have been good, most notably a 1:26.60 in 7 furlongs. His next start appears to be at Del Mar in the TVG Pacific Classic on August 22nd.

Career: 23 starts 6-3-7-2, Win Pct: 26.1%, Top 3 Pct: 69.6%, Top 4 Pct: 78.2%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.37 (calculated) – 5/30/15 (2015 Californian Stakes)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:02.46 – 6/27/14 (2015 Gold Cup)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 1st – 2015 Gold Cup

9) 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 as I don’t think we have seen the best from him yet. However, he suffered bruised ribs in a gate mishap last week and his next start that was pegged to be the TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 22nd, may be questionable.

Career: 8 Starts 6-0-1-1, Win Pct: 75%, Top 3 Pct: 87.5%, Top 4 Pct: 100%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.73 – 4/4/15 (2015 Santa Anita Derby)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:03.50 (calculated) – 5/2/15 (2015 Kentucky Derby)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 3rd – 2015 Kentucky Derby

10) Frosted – He finished 2nd behind Texas Red in the Jim Dandy Stakes but he likes distance (his sire was Tapit). He finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby and 2nd in the Belmont Stakes–a quality horse who has never finished below 4th place in 10 career starts. His next start will be the Travers Stakes on August 29th.

Career: 10 Starts 2-6-0-2, Win Pct: 20%, Top 3 Pct: 80%, Top 4 Pct: 100%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.85 (calculated) – 8/1/15 (2015 Jim Dandy Stakes)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:03.54 (calculated) – 5/2/2015 (2015 Kentucky Derby)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 4th – 2015 Kentucky Derby

11) Bayern – He stays in my top 14 due to past performance. He was last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. In 2015, he had two consecutive last place finishes (6th, 10th) in two starts before his 3rd place finish in the San Diego Handicap last month. It is blatantly obvious that he is not the horse he was in 2014 but he did improve in his last start. He worked out at Del Mar on August 5th and turned 6 furlongs in 1:11.60. That was an improvement over his last workout (1:13.20) at the same 6 furlong distance at Del Mar. His next start will be the TVG Pacific Classic on August 22nd, which will be very telling about his future.

Career: 13 Starts 6-1-2-0, Win Pct: 46.2%, Top 3 Pct: 69.2%, Top 4 Pct: 69.2%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:46.96 – 9/20/14 (2014 Pennsylvania Derby)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.88 – 11/1/14 (2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 1st – 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic

12) Keen Ice – An improving horse who finished 7th in the Kentucky Derby, 3rd in the Belmont Stakes and 2nd behind American Pharoah in the Haskell Invitational with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure. His next start after the Haskell is not confirmed but expected to be the Travers Stakes August 29th.

Career: 10 Starts 1-1-3-2, Win Pct: 10%, Top 3 Pct: 50%, Top 4 Pct: 70%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.31 (calculated) – 8/2/15 (2015 Haskell Invitational)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:03.02 – 5/2/15 (2015 Kentucky Derby)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 7th – 2015 Kentucky Derby

13) Texas Red – He earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure with his win in the Jim Dandy Stakes. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a two year old and was my early Kentucky Derby favorite before his injury. He appears to be back on track heading down the stretch. His next start is expected to be the Travers Stakes August 29th.

Career: 8 Starts 3-3-1-1, Win Pct: 37.5%, Top 3 Pct: 75%, Top 4 Pct: 100%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.77 – 8/1/2015 (2015 Jim Dandy Stakes)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A

14) Noble Bird– I am not sure what happened to Noble Bird in the Whitney Handicap where he finished dead last. Injury? No word yet. He has qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic with his win in the Stephen Foster Handicap where he beat Lea while registering a 108 Beyer Speed Figure. His only downside is that he has never raced longer than 1 1/8 mile. His next start is uncertain.

Career: 11 Starts 4-3-0-1, Win Pct: 36.4%, Top 3 Pct:63.6%, Top 4 Pct: 73.7%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:47.94 – 6/13/15 (2015 Stephen Foster Handicap)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A

* – indicates horses who have already qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic


Below is a ranking by Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Times for 2015 Breeders’ Cup Contenders.  I used times at the 1 & 1/4 mile mark from the 2015 Belmont Stakes for American Pharoah and Frosted since these times were better than their times in the Kentucky Derby. For calculated times of non-winning horses, I used the official race time of the winner and the following to compute an estimated time [One length is equal to 0.16 seconds, three-quarters of a length is equal to 0.12, a half-length equals 0.08, a neck is equal to 0.04, a head is equal to 0.02 and a nose is 0.01].

1) Bayern –  1:59.88 – 11/1/14 (2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
2) Tonalist  – 2:00.69 (calculated) – 11/1/14 (2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
3) Palace Malice  – 2:00.78 (calculated) – 9/28/13 (2013 Jockey Club Gold Cup)
4) Catch A Flight   – 2:01.37 (calculated) – 3/7/15 (2015 Santa Anita Handicap)
5) Effinex  – 2:01.55 – 7/4/15 (2015 Suburban Handicap)
6) American Pharoah  –  2:02.37 – 6/5/15 (2015 Belmont Stakes)
7) Hard Aces  –  2:02.46 – 6/27/14 (2015 Gold Cup)
8) Hoppertunity  –  2:02.47 (calculated) – 6/27/14 (2015 Gold Cup)
9) Frosted  –   2:02.69 (calculated) – 6/5/2015 (2015 Belmont Stakes)
10) Dortmund –  2:03.50 (calculated) – 5/2/15 (2015 Kentucky Derby)

Below is a ranking by Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Times for 2015 Breeders’ Cup Contenders. American Pharoah coasted home in the Haskell Invitational. Had Victor Espinoza raced him hard to the wire, his final time probably would have eclipsed the Haskell race record of 1:47.00.

1) Bayern – 1:46.96 – 9/20/14 (2014 Pennsylvania Derby)
2) Catch A Flight  – 1:47.73 – 5/30/14 (2015 Californian Stakes)
3) Honor Code* – 1:47.82 – 8/8/15 (2015 Whitney Handicap)
4) Liam’s Map – 1:47.86 (calculated) – 8/8/15 (2015 Whitney Handicap)
5) Noble Bird– 1:47.94 – 6/13/15 (2015 Stephen Foster Handicap)
6) American Pharoah*  – 1:47.95 – 8/2/15 (2015 Haskell Invitational)
7) Tonalist  – 1:48.1 (calculated) – 8/8/15 (2015 Whitney Handicap)
8) Keen Ice – 1:48.31 (calculated) – 8/2/15 (2015 Haskell Invitational)
9) Hoppertunity  – 1:48.36 (calculated) – 4/5/14 (2014 Santa Anita Derby)
10) Hard Aces*  –  1:48.37 (calculated) – 5/30/15 (2015 Californian Stakes)
11) Effinex  – 1:48.51 – 4/11/15 (2014 Empire Classic)
12) Dortmund – 1:48.73 – 4/4/15 (2015 Santa Anita Derby)
13) Texas Red – 1:48.77 – 8/1/2015 (2015 Jim Dandy Stakes)
14) Frosted – 1:48.85 (calculated) – 8/1/15 (2015 Jim Dandy Stakes)


The remaining “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Races (Classic Division):

Aug. 22nd – The TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – TVG
Sept. 26th – The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $250,000 – TVG
Oct. 3rd – Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational at Belmont – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – NBC

Other Notable Classic Division Races:

Aug. 29th – The Travers Stakes at Saratoga – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – NBC
Sept. 5th – The Woodward Stakes at Saratoga – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $600,000 –  NBCSN

–Michael

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