Liam’s Map Prevails in Woodward Stakes – Updated Breeders’ Cup Classic Contender Rankings

Yesterday’s win by Liam’s Map in the Woodward Stakes has convinced me that this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic is going to be–THE RACE OF THE 21st CENTURY. It will get the highest TV ratings in Breeders’ Cup history.

Initially dejected when I learned that California Chrome and Shared Belief wouldn’t be competing in the Classic due to injuries, well in two short months time the sport has generated a few new major stars. American Pharoah, Beholder, Honor Code and Liam’s Map are all better horses than California Chrome and Shared Belief–their times and Beyer Speed Figures back it up. Liam’s Map ran the fastest Woodward Stakes (shown below) since it was moved to Saratoga, besting Curlin’s and Rachel’s Alexandra’s time.


So below is my updated Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings. Note that a new horse from Ireland named Gleneagles has shown up on a few of these contender ranking lists. My thoughts–he is a 3-year-old turf horse who has never raced on dirt or at a distance longer than 1 mile. So, I don’t consider him to be a serious contender for the Classic at this point:

1) Beholder*  – She confirmed that she likes distance and can race with the boys–the first female to win the Pacific Classic. She has reeled off five straight wins. Although a few will question why I have Beholder ranked ahead of American Pharoah, her times are all faster than Pharoah’s at the 1 1/16 mile (1:41.67 vs 1:41.95), 1 1/8 mile (1:47.77 vs 1:47.95) and 1 1/4 mile (1:59.77 vs 2:01.69) distances. Just like Pharoah against her competition, she hasn’t been pressed. And the 114 Beyer Speed Figure she received for her TVG Pacific Classic win is the top Beyer Speed Figure recorded in 2015 for races longer than 1 1/8 mile (source). Her next start will be the 1 1/16 mile Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita on September 26th.

Career: 20 Starts 15-3-0-2, Win Pct: 75%, Top 3 Pct: 90%, Top 4 Pct: 100%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:47.77 – 11/1/13 (2013 Breeders Cup Distaff)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 1:59.77 – 8/22/15 (2015 TVG Pacific Classic)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 1st – 2015 TVG Pacific Classic

2) American Pharoah*   –  He dropped to #2 due to his performance in the Travers that was good but not “Pharoah” good. I take this as a blip on the radar at Saratoga–known as the Graveyard of Champions. One thing that is concerning though–his two toughest races have been the Kentucky Derby and the Travers Stakes (both 1 1/4 mile distance races as the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be). And to make matters worse, he will face tougher competition in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But I truly believe after rewatching the Travers, that American Pharoah thought he had the race won when he shook off Frosted. He has never experienced battling and separating from a horse only for another to come from the outside like gangbusters that late in the race. His next start will likely be the Breeders’ Cup Classic on October 31st.

Career: 10 Starts 8-1-0-0, Win Pct: 80%, Top 3 Pct: 90%, Top 4 Pct: 90%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:47.95 – 8/2/15 (2015 Haskell Invitational)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.69 (calculated) – 8/29/15 (2015 Travers Stakes)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 1st – 2015 Kentucky Derby

3) 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 has yet to race longer than 1 1/8th mile but I think he will fare even better in a 1 1/4 mile race–he is bred for distance. His next start will likely be the Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park on October 3rd..

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

4) Liam’s Map – His performance in the Woodward Stakes proved to me that this Todd Pletcher-trained horse is a rising star and a serious Breeders’ Cup Classic Contender. He received a 114 Beyer Speed Figure for his performance which ties Beholder’s 114 in the Pacific Classic as the top Beyer Speed Figure for 2015. Although it has been bandied about that he should be entered into the Breeders’ Cup Mile instead of the Classic, he’s got to be entered into the Classic in my opinion. He got faster at Saratoga in one month at the same 1 1/8th mile distance– 1:47.44–beating Honor Code’s time of 1:47.82 in the Whitney (whom he lost to by a neck).  Like Honor Code, he received a 113 Beyer Speed Figure in the Whitney. He has never finished below 2nd in 7 career starts and is a neck away from having 6 straight wins. His next start is uncertain.

Career: 7 Starts 5-2-0-0, Win Pct: 71.4%, Top 3 Pct: 100%, Top 4 Pct: 100%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:47.44 – 9/5/15 (2015 Woodward Stakes)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A

5) 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

6) Keen Ice  – A horse that finished 7th in the Kentucky Derby, 3rd in the Belmont Stakes and 2nd behind American Pharoah in the Haskell Invitational (105 Beyer Speed Figure). Then finally beating the Triple Crown winner in the Travers Stakes. His Beyer Speed Figure for the Travers Stakes was 106. He is an improving horse. His owner, Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing, recently said: “We believe that (Keen Ice) is the fastest, best-bred 3-year-old in the world today.” Note that Keen Ice’s sire Curlin, won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic. His next start is rumored to be the Jockey Club Gold Cup on October 3rd.

Career: 10 Starts 2-1-3-2, Win Pct: 20%, Top 3 Pct: 60%, Top 4 Pct: 80%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.31 (calculated) – 8/2/15 (2015 Haskell Invitational)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.57 – 8/29/15 (2015 Travers Stakes)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 1st – 2015 Travers Stakes

7) Catch A Flight – The Argentinian horse has never finished below 3rd in his North American career thus far. He is ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, though will change if Beholder is entered in the Classic. 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. Then he finished 2nd behind Beholder in the TVG Pacific Classic. No word on when and where his next start will be.

Career (North America) : 8 Starts 4-1-3-0, Win Pct: 50%, 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: 2:01.09 (calculated) – 8/22/15 (2015 TVG Pacific Classic)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 2nd –2015 TVG Pacific Classic

8) Frosted – He has a 4th place finish in the Kentucky Derby, a 2nd place finish in the Belmont Stakes and a 3rd place finish in the Travers Stakes.  He is a quality horse who has never finished below 4th place in 11 career starts. His next start is rumored to be the Jockey Club Gold Cup on October 3rd.

Career: 11 Starts 2-6-1-2, Win Pct: 18.2%, Top 3 Pct: 81.8%, 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: 2:02.05 (calculated) – 8/29/2015 (2015 Travers Stakes)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 3rd – 2015 Travers Stakes

9) Hoppertunity  – Not likely a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner but a horse who is consistent enough to finish in the money. In 10 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 fourth place finishes in the San Diego Handicap and TVG Pacific Classic. No word on where his start will be.

Career: 13 Starts 4-3-2-3, Win Pct: 30.7%, Top 3 Pct: 69.2%, Top 4 Pct: 92.3%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.36 (calculated) – 4/5/14 (2014 Santa Anita Derby)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.33 (calculated) – 8/22/15 (2015 TVG Pacific Classic)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 2nd – 2015 Gold Cup

10) Effinex  – A temperamental horse with talent at the 1 1/4 mile distance. He acted up in the starting gate in the Woodward Stakes and finished 4th. Previous to this he had the weird run in the Brooklyn Handicap where he veered away from the rest of the pack coming around a turn and DNF’d. But the 2015 Suburban Handicap winner still has 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. His next start will probably be the Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont on October 3rd.

Career: 17 Starts 6-1-2-3, Win Pct: 35.2%, Top 3 Pct: 52.9%, Top 4%: 70.5%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.44 (calculated) – 9/5/15 (2015 Woodward Stakes)
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

11) 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 in his most recent race–The TVG Pacific Classic. 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. His next start is uncertain.

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: 2:02.01 (calculated) – 8/22/15 (2015 TVG Pacific Classic)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 1st – 2015 Gold Cup

12) 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 feel that we haven’t seen the best from him yet. However, he suffered bruised ribs in a gate mishap in early August. But he did work out at Del Mar on August 24th, August 31st and September 6th. His next start is uncertain but don’t be surprised if he is entered into the Pennsylvania Derby on September 19th.

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

13) Coach Inge – This Todd Pletcher-trained horse, I felt, was underrated entering the Woodward Stakes and mentioned this in my pre-race blog. He won the 1 1/2 mile Brooklyn Handicap back in June while demonstrating a fighting spirit and producing a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. He received a 106 Beyer Speed Figure for his 2nd place finish in the Woodward Stakes. For 2015, he has two wins, two 2nd place finishes and two 3rd place finishes. He seems to like distance and has finished in the mix with Liam’s Map, Tonalist and Effinex. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him spring an upset along the way similar to Keen Ice’s in the Whitney. His next start will be the Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont October 3rd.

Career: 12 Starts 4-3-2-1, Win Pct: 33.3%, Top 3 Pct: 75%, Top 4%: 83.3%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.2 (calculated) – 9/5/15 (2015 Woodward Stakes)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.77 (calculated) – 7/4/15 (2015 Suburban Handicap)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: N/A

14) Texas Red  – A fifth place finish in the Travers was disappointing but he is still recovering. 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. No word yet on when his next start will be.

Career: 9 Starts 3-3-1-1, Win Pct: 33.3%, Top 3 Pct: 77.8%, Top 4 Pct: 88.9%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.77 – 8/1/2015 (2015 Jim Dandy Stakes)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:02.45 (calculated) – 8/29/2015 (2015 Travers Stakes)
Best Finish in a 1 1/4 Mile Grade 1 Stakes Race: 5th – 2015 Travers Stakes

Noble Bird* UPDATE: Although he has qualified for the Classic, his trainer Mark Casse has decided to rest him for a couple of months with plans to bring him back next year. It appears that he is off the Breeders’ Cup Classic trail.

* Indicates a horse who has already qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Honorable Mention: Wicked Strong


Below is a ranking by Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Times for 2015 Breeders’ Cup Contenders. 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) Beholder1:59.77 – 8/22/15 at Del Mar (1st in 2015 TVG Pacific Classic)
2) Tonalist – 2:00.69 (calculated) – 11/1/14 at Santa Anita (5th in 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic)
3) Catch A Flight  – 2:01.09 (calculated) – 8/22/15 at Del Mar (2nd in 2015 TVG Pacific Classic)
4) Hoppertunity  – 2:01.33 (calculated) – 8/22/15 at Del Mar (4th in 2015 TVG Pacific Classic)
5) Effinex  2:01.55 – 7/4/15 at Belmont Park (1st in 2015 Suburban Handicap)
6) Keen Ice – 2:01.57 – 8/29/15 at Saratoga (1st in 2015 Travers Stakes)
7) American Pharoah*  –  2:01.69 (calculated) – 8/29/15 at Saratoga (2nd in 2015 Travers Stakes)
8) Coach Inge – 2:01.77 (calculated) – 7/5/2015 at Belmont Park (3rd in 2015 Suburban Handicap)
9) Hard Aces*  –  2:02.01 (calculated) – 8/22/15 at Del Mar (6th in 2015 TVG Pacific Classic)
10) Frosted – 2:02.05 (calculated) – 8/29/2015 at Saratoga (2nd in 2015 Travers Stakes)
11) Texas Red – 2:02.45 (calculated) – 8/29/2015 (2015 Travers Stakes)
12) Dortmund – 2:03.50 (calculated) – 5/2/2015 at Churchill Downs (3rd in 2015 Kentucky Derby)

Honor Code, Liam’s Map and Noble Bird have never raced at the 1 1/4 mile distance.


Top Beyer Speed Figures in 2015 for races 1 1/4 Mile

1) Beholder (f) DMR 22 Aug 1 1/4M 114
2) Shared Belief SA 07 Mar 1 1/4M 111
3) Effinex AQU 25 Apr 1 1/4M 107
4) Effinex BEL 04 Jul 1 1/4M 107
5) Tonalist BEL 04 Jul 1 1/4M 107
6) Keen Ice SAR 29 Aug 1 1/4M 106
7) Red Rifle AQU 25 Apr 1 1/4M 106

The remaining “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Classic Races:


Sept. 26th – The Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $300,000 – TVG
Oct. 3rd – Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational at Belmont – 1 1/4 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – NBC

Other notable races:

Sept 19th – The Pennsylvania Derby at PARX – 1 1/8 Mile – Purse: $1,000,000 – TVG

–Michael

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