American Pharoah vs Beholder – Who should be the favorite in the Classic?

In the most recent NTRA poll, American Pharoah is ranked #1 and Beholder is ranked #2 (source). I agree American Pharoah is the best horse in North America and the world right now. He will undoubtedly will be the Morning Line favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, probably somewhere between 3/2 to 5/2 odds. Beholder will probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3/1 to 5/1 odds unless she falters in the Zenyatta Stakes in a few weeks.

So the question is, should American Pharoah–a 3 year-old Triple Crown Champion–really be the favorite in this 1 1/4 mile race against the best Classic Division horses who are more experienced and mature? Or should the 5 year-old mare Beholder–the first female to win the Pacific Classic–be the race favorite?

I will take a closer look.

Key Facts:

  • Beholder has won 9 out of her last 10 starts–a 90% win percentage. American Pharoah has won 8 out of his last 10 starts–an 80% win percentage.
  • Beholder was the Champion 2-year-old filly in 2012 and the Champion 3-year-old filly in 2013. American Pharoah was the Champion 2-year-old colt in 2014 and will undoubtedly be the Champion 3-year-old colt this year.
  • Neither horse has raced at Keeneland before where this year’s Breeders Cup World Championship will be held. In fact, the only horse of the Big Six (American Pharoah, Beholder, Honor Code, Liam’s Map, Tonalist and Keen Ice) to have raced at Keeneland was Keen Ice in the 2nd start of his career–he placed 5th–but that was on the Polytrack surface. Keeneland was converted back to dirt this year.
  • Beholder’s best Beyer Speed Figure this year is 114 (TVG Pacific Classic August 22nd) compared to American Pharoah’s 109 (Haskell Invitational August 2nd).
  • Beholder’s 114 Beyer Speed Figure is the best this year at the 1 1/4 mile distance, eclipsing Shared Belief’s 111 Beyer in the Santa Anita Handicap March 7th.
  • American Pharoah’s 109 Beyer came 57 days after his last race at Belmont June 6th. If American Pharoah doesn’t race until the Breeders Cup Classic, it will be 63 days between his last race on August 29th. So he may produce the best race of his career with the rest. It has been bandied about that no horse has won the Breeders’ Cup Classic with that long of a layoff. But Invasor won the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic with a 91 day layoff between races.
  • American Pharoah has raced twice at the 1 1/4 mile distance–this year’s Kentucky Derby and the Travers Stakes. His best time came at Saratoga in the Travers Stakes with a calculated time of 2:01.69 for his 2nd place finish. Beholder has raced only once at the 1 1/4 mile distance and that was a Del Mar in the TVG Pacific Classic where she won with a time of 1:59.77–that’s nearly 2 seconds faster than American Pharoah’s. Del Mar is considered a faster track than Saratoga. But note that Beholder won by over 8 lengths so she cruised home with the win and her time could have been better with some pressure.

Overall, my thoughts are–viewed in a vacuum–Beholder is my odds-on favorite right now to win this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Beholder has proven to be faster than American Pharoah at every distance over 1 mile–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.

Although American Pharoah is ranked #1 in the most recent Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings and Beholder ranks #18 (source), the rest of the world needs to wake up to this super fast mare who appears to be American Pharoah’s Cleopatra.