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.


Holy Effinex! Updated Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

Effinex beats Tonalist in the Belmont Handicap – Photo Credit: NYRA/Adam Coglianese

If American Pharoah is going to become the first horse to win the Quadruple Crown (Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic), he has his work cut out for him. Yesterday’s Suburban Handicap at Belmont (video below) produced an exciting finish that saw Effinex beat Tonalist on a head bob. Both horses received 108 Beyer Speed Figures, the 2nd highest all year for races 1 & 1/4th mile or longer. (Note: Share Belief produced a 111 Beyer Speed Figure back in March in the 1 1/4th mile Santa Anita Handicap but is out for the year due to injury).

Effinex’s winning time was 2:01.55 for this 1 1/4 mile race–same distance as the Breeders’ Cup Classic. What was American Pharoah’s time in the Belmont Stakes through 1 1/4 miles 4 weeks ago? 2:02.37. But note that Effinex DNF’d on the same day at Belmont in the Brooklyn Invitational Stakes.

So here is my updated Breeder’s Cup Contender list:

1) American Pharoah – He currently is ranked #1 in Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings and also ranked #1 in the most recent NTRA’s Top Thoroughbred poll. And much deserved as he is the first Triple Crown Winner in 37 years. His return to racing has been confirmed to be the Haskell Invitational August 2nd. Followed by the Travers Stakes August 29th

2) Effinex– 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 108 Beyer on July 4th at Belmont. I will need to see another solid performance before I would move him ahead of American Pharoah. His next start will be at Saratoga for the Whitney Handicap on August 8th.

3) Tonalist– For 2015, he has one win in the Westchester Stakes and now two 2nd places finishes (Met Mile and Suburban Handicap). He finished 5th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year. His 108 Beyer in the Suburban Handicap ranks as the third highest speed figure this year for races 1 1/4 mile. His next start will be the Whitney Handicap on August 8th.

4) 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 with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure) and Dubai World Cup. I really liked his performance in the Dubai World Cup even though he finished 2nd. He finished 3rd in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. His next start is rumored to 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 Espinoza will ride American Pharoah.

5) 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. He suffered a slight foot injury in June and is being pointed to return to racing for the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 22nd or the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on August 29th.

6) Bayern– Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. He has had two consecutive last place finishes (6th, 10th) in two starts this year. But both races 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. Many suspected that he might have an undetected ailment of some sort but he is in perfect health. I expect this Bob Baffert-trained horse to bounce back. His next start appears to be the San Diego Handicap on July 25th. Another dud performance here and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets put on the shelf.

7) 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. He was supposed to be entered into the Los Alamitos Derby on July 4th but his next start appears to be the Jim Dandy Stakes on August 1st.

8) 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: Lea, Noble Bird, Coach Inge, Palace Malice, Hard Aces, Moreno, Frosted, Honor Code, Hoppertunity, 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 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. He finished 2nd in his return to race yesterday in the 1 Mile Dwyer Stakes at Belmont.