Updated 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings – The Greatest Race of The 21st Century

Photo: Sophie Shore/Eclipse Sportswire

UPDATED 10/21/2015 – Only 10 horses (all of my most recent Top 10) were pre-entered into the Breeders’ Cup Classic today (Wednesday 10/21/15).

This year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic will without a doubt be “The Greatest Race of the 21st Century.”  Never before has the Super Bowl of Thoroughbred Racing had a Triple Crown Champion competing in it in an attempt to win the first Quadruple Crown (Triple Crown + Breeders’ Cup Classic). Or the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing as it has also been called.

Overall, my thoughts are—this race will have a talent-packed field and I expect the finish to resemble a shootout at the OK Corral. I expect the finish to be a chaotic mess much like the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic (shown below) when Zenyatta won.


With such a star-studded field for this year’s Classic, I am placing more emphasis on horses who are *hot* and ones that have demonstrated speed in the final 1/2 mile of a 1 1/4 mile race. This may surprise many but my new #1 and the horse that I think should be the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic is (long pause)….Tonalist. Yes, Tonalist.


Why? His performance in the Jockey Club Gold Cup race (shown above) was more impressive than the 109 Beyer Speed Figure he received. Let me explain:

At the 3/4 mile mark, Constitution led the way with a fraction time of 1:12.48 and Tonalist went on to win on a sloppy track with a final time of 2:02.16. That is just 0.04 seconds off his winning time in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (2:02.12) on a dry fast track. When you subtract the final winning time of 2:02.16 from the time at the 3/4th mile mark (1:12.48)–that equals 49.68 seconds. When you consider that Tonalist was three lengths behind Constitution and Wicked Strong at that point (roughly 0.48 seconds), this means that Tonalist ran the last half mile in roughly 49.2 seconds.

Show me a horse this year that has run that fast in the last 1/2 mile of a 1 1/4 mile race on a fast dry track let alone a sloppy wet track? You can’t. I have crunched the numbers already and this will be a subject in a future blog. Beholder ran the last 1/2 mile in roughly 49.45 seconds in the TVG Pacific Classic on a dry fast track. Yes, Beholder won that race by 8 1/4 lengths comfortably but jockey John Velazquez never even had to show Tonalist the whip in the Jockey Club Gold Cup race either. In the Travers Stakes, American Pharoah ran the last 1/2 mile in 50.09 seconds. And I estimated the Keen Ice ran it in 49.35 seconds. This was on a dry, fast track with both runners hustling to the wire.

Bayern won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic running the last half mile in 49.66 seconds. And Bayern’s winning time of 1:59.88 was the 6th fastest in Breeders’ Cup Classic history.

In my opinion, if Tonalist runs as well as he did in this year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup race, he will win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I correctly predicted Bayern to win last year’s classic. Tonalist should be the race favorite and in all of your Exacta bets.


My updated Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings:

1) Tonalist*  – An impressive win on a sloppy track in the Jockey Club Gold Cup race moves him up to #1. Last year’s Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner. For 2015, he now has two wins, two 2nd places finishes and a 3rd place finish. His 3rd 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 performs better in races 1 1/4 mile or longer. He finished 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year. His next start will be the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Career: 14 Starts 6-4-2-1, Win Pct: 42.9%, Top 3 Pct: 85.7%, Top 4 Pct: 92.9%
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
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2015: 110 – 2015 Whitney Handicap
Last Two Beyers: 109, 110 Average: 109.5
Career Earnings: $3,097,000

2) American Pharoah*  –  I truly believe that American Pharoah thought he had the Travers 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. I think the added rest will do Pharoah well as he produced his best Beyer Speed Figure in the Haskell Invitational coming off a 2 month layoff. His next start of course will 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
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2015: 109 – 2015 Haskell Invitational
Last Two Beyers: 105, 109 Average: 107
Career Earnings: $5,900,300

3) Beholder*  – She dropped below American Pharoah as I was expecting a better performance in the Zenyatta Stakes in which she produced the worst time of her three Zenyatta Stakes career wins (1:42.83 vs 1:42.19 in 2014 and 1:42.11 in 2013). Her Beyer Speed Figure hasn’t been published yet but it had to have been under 106. Yes, it was warmer than usual at Santa Anita Park on Saturday. Yes, she won comfortably and by a bigger margin than the previous Zenyatta Stakes races. And yes, Gary Stevens never asked her to go so she had a little more left in the tank. However, she has legitimate concerns, acknowledged by her trainer Richard Mandella, on how well she will travel. She has never won outside of the state of California and her two most recent losses came at Belmont Park in the Ogden Phipps (4th) in June 2014 and the Kentucky Oaks (2nd) in May 2013. Nevertheless, she has reeled off six straight wins. And Beholder’s 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. 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 Breeders’ Cup Classic on October 31st even though she has also qualified for the Longines Distaff. She arrived at Keeneland October 19th so this bodes well for history of not traveling well.

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
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2015: 114 – 2015 TVG Pacific Classic
Last Two Beyers: 99, 114 Average: 106.5
Career Earnings: $4,436,600

4) Keen Ice – The only living horse that has beaten a Triple Crown Champion. He 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 beat 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 should be Breeders’ Cup Classic.

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
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2015: 106 – 2015 Travers Stakes
Last Two Beyers: 106,105 Average: 105.5
Career Earnings: $1,490,395

5) Honor Code*  – I dropped him two spots due to a disappointing 3rd place finish in the Kelso Handicap. I don’t want to drop him more as a wet, sloppy track doesn’t favor his speed. However, he still should have had this field covered. He has produced some great Beyer Speed Figures: a 112 for his winning effort in The Met-Mile. He produced another sizzling 113 Beyer Speed Figure in the Whitney Handicap. 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 be in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Career: 10 Starts 6-2-1-0, Win Pct: 60%, Top 3 Pct: 90%, Top 4 Pct: 90%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:47.82 – 8/8/15 (2015 Whitney Handicap)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2015: 113 – 2015 Whitney Handicap
Last Two Beyers: 103,113 Average: 108
Career Earnings: $2,018,260

6) Frosted  – He has a 4th place finish in the Kentucky Derby, a 2nd place finish in the Belmont Stakes, a 3rd place finish in the Travers Stakes and a win in the Pennsylvania Derby.  With the Penn Derby win, he has now eclipsed over $2 Million in career earnings. He is a quality horse who has never finished below 4th place in 11 career starts. He shares the same sire (Tapit) as does Tonalist. I think he will have a great 4-year-old campaign. His next start will be the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Career: 12 Starts 3-6-1-2, Win Pct: 25%, Top 3 Pct: 83.3%, 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
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2015: 106 – 2015 Pennsylvania Derby
Last Two Beyers: 106,102 Average: 104
Career Earnings: $2,062,800

7) Smooth Roller*  – The surprise winner of the Awesome Again Stakes in just the 4th start of his career, it is hard to rank him much higher due to lack of experience. However, he did beat Bayern, Hoppertunity and Hard Aces and produced a eye-opening 111 Beyer Speed Figure in less than favorable weather conditions at Santa Anita. That speed figure is tied for the 5th best for races more than a mile. With the win, he has qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and likely will be a longshot. He will have to race 7 pounds heaver in the Classic than he did in the Awesome Again stakes.

Career: 4 Starts 3-0-0-1, Win Pct: 75%, Top 3 Pct: 75%, Top 4 Pct: 100%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: 1:48.08 – 9/26/15 (2015 Awesome Again Stakes)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2015: 111 – 2015 Awesome Again Stakes
Last Two Beyers: 111,93 Average: 102
Career Earnings: $261,810

8) Effinex – Finished 3rd in the Jockey Club Gold Cup race. 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 is uncertain but should be the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

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
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2015: 107 – 2015 Excelsior Stakes
Last Two Beyers: 95,103 Average: 99
Career Earnings: $812,250

9) Hard Aces* After two consecutive 6th places finishes, Hard Aces doesn’t appear to be a serious Classic contender but he hangs in my rankings due to having qualified for The Breeders’ Cup Classic with his win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. No word yet on whether he will be entered.

Career: 24 starts 6-3-7-2, Win Pct: 25%, Top 3 Pct: 66.7%, Top 4 Pct: 75%
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
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2015: 99 – 2015 Gold Cup
Last Two Beyers: 93,93 Average: 93
Career Earnings: $592,395

10) Gleneagles  – After a 6th place finish in his last start–The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes–he drops to last in my rankings. The 3 year-old colt from Ireland has only raced on turf and never further than 1 mile. I wouldn’t normally consider such a horse a threat in 1 1/4 mile dirt races in the US because you never know how a horse will respond on that surface and how they will react when they get dirt kicked up in their face. However, he is being pointed towards the Classic because his trainer feels that he has great tactical speed that will translate well on dirt. Remember that the British-trained turf horse Raven’s Pass won 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic with the third fastest time (1:59.27) in Breeders’ Cup Classic history. So a few make the transition very well. But I am not guessing Gleneagles will. I feel he should be entered into the Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile.

Career: 10 starts 7-0-1-1, Win Pct: 70%, Top 3 Pct: 80%, Top 4 Pct: 90%
Fastest 1 1/8 Mile Time: N/A
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: N/A
Top Two Beyers: N/A
Career Earnings: $1,404,108

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


Off the Breeders’ Cup Classic Trail

Wicked Strong  – Was entered into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Liam’s Map – Was be entered into Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and should be the favorite for that race.

Coach Inge – won’t be entered into the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Catch a Flight – sidelined due to body soreness that prevented him from entering the Awesome Again Stakes

Dortmund – He is entered in the Big Bear Stakes Saturday Oct. 24th at Santa Anita.

Noble Bird* – 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.

Texas Red  –  He is sidelined for the rest of 2015 with a cannon bone bruise. Another setback for an extremely talented and promising horse.


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) Effinex  2:01.55 – 7/4/15 at Belmont Park (1st in 2015 Suburban Handicap)
4) Keen Ice – 2:01.57 – 8/29/15 at Saratoga (1st in 2015 Travers Stakes)
5) American Pharoah* –  2:01.69 (calculated) – 8/29/15 at Saratoga (2nd in 2015 Travers Stakes)
6) Hard Aces*  –  2:02.01 (calculated) – 8/22/15 at Del Mar (6th in 2015 TVG Pacific Classic)
7) Frosted – 2:02.05 (calculated) – 8/29/15 at Saratoga (2nd in 2015 Travers Stakes)

Honor Code, Smooth Roller and Gleneagles 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) Tonalist BEL 03 Oct 1 1/4M 109
4) Effinex AQU 25 Aprl 1 1/4M 107
5) Effinex BEL 04 Jul 1 1/4M 107
6) Tonalist BEL 04 Jul 1 1/4M 107
7) Keen Ice SAR 29 Aug 1 1/4M 106

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