2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic Cheat Sheet
By J.J. Hysell, Hello Race Fan's Contributor
So you want to watch the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday but you have no idea who’s running. Not to worry! Here’s a thumbnail sketch of this year’s field by post position including the morning line odds.
1. Thunder Snow (12-1) – Show (3rd) – The Grade 1 Dubai World Cup winner returns to Churchill Downs for the first time since his memorable start in the 2017 Kentucky Derby in which he wildly bucked out of the gate and didn’t finish the race. He’s matured substantially since then and prepped for this test nicely with a runner-up finish to Discreet Lover in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Physically he looks stronger and in fine form heading into the race, but not sold the Godolphin charge can defeat the top tier.
2. Roaring Lion (20-1) – John Gosden’s European invader faces the daunting task of trying dirt for the first time against America’s top males. The handsome gray’s 3-year-old campaign on turf is outstanding with five wins, including four Grade 1 contests against top competition. Gosden told BloodHorse he’s not likely to change tactics with his charge and is hoping for clear skies. “We don’t want a sloppy track,” he said.
3. Catholic Boy (8-1) – The 3-year-old multi-surface talent flourished this summer, reeling off three straight graded stakes wins in a span of less than three months, including the Grade 1 Belmont Derby on turf and the Grade 1 Travers at the Classic distance. Not much chatter surrounding the bay ridgling as he’s facing older males for the first time, but is he that much far off? He looked strong in his 5-furlong work (1:01.02) Sunday at Churchill Downs. An overlooked upset candidate?
4. Gunnevera (20-1) – Place (2nd) – Fifth in last year’s Classic, he’s fared fairly well in his 4-year-old campaign, considering that he was sidelined with a hoof injury after a disappointing eighth in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup in March. He put in a scintillating closing rally for second to Classic rival Yoshida in the Grade 1 Woodward. Gunnevera’s chances are firmly planted in the pace scenario; this late closer will need a hot meltdown from the frontrunners to pick up the pieces. That makes him a solid play to fill out trifectas/superfectas.
5. Lone Sailor (30-1) – Connections chose the Classic over the Dirt Mile for this Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby winner who will be facing older males for the first time. Trainer Tom Amoss cited the Classic’s pace scenario for the decision. Although he’s been in the mix against some top 3-year-olds, including a third to Good Magic in the Grade 1 Haskell, he doesn’t boast the credentials of Catholic Boy or McKinzie and appears better suited for shorter distances.
6. McKinzie (6-1) – Although lightly raced as a 3-year-old due to injury, Bob Baffert’s speedy star is a legitimate threat to snatch the Classic trophy. The Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby winner, once thought of as Baffert’s top young colt before suffering a hind leg injury that took him out of Kentucky Derby contention, boasts the tactical speed to outmaneuver a field loaded with mid-pack runners and closers. He also gets legendary jockey Mike Smith aboard. The question: Can he carry his speed trying 10 furlongs for the first time? Snappy bullet works at Santa Anita show he’s fit and ready.
7. West Coast (5-1) – One of the most intriguing Classic contenders, the Bob Baffert trainee seems to be oh-so-close to that major victory for his 4-year-old campaign. Although his loss Accelerate in the Grade 1 Awesome Again was not encouraging, he appears to handle shipping better than that rival and could find Churchill Downs to his liking. Tough to argue against a colt who started the year a solid second to 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup. Baffert was elated with West Coast’s pre-Classic work at Santa Anita (4 furlongs, 47.20) on Oct. 27. “He went nice, didn’t he? Better than he ever has,” Baffert told DRF. Watch out.
8. Pavel (20-1) – Doug O’Neill’s gray colt showed an affinity for the Churchill Downs track with an eye-catching win in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster in June. After that, he was soundly beaten by Accelerate in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, and he will be making this start off a layoff of over two months. Obviously he likes the track, but the 4-year-old seems better suited for shorter distances. One thing to note: if Pavel gets hot and sweaty before the race, don’t be alarmed. O’Neill said that’s his nature.
9. Mendelssohn (12-1) – The 3-year-old Aidan O’Brien trainee returns to the scene of his unfortunate Kentucky Derby experience, in which he was squeezed and bumped at the start and finished last over the sloppy track. He’s since fared much better in his pre-Classic preps, including a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Although the bay will likely improve on his Derby performance here, he needs to make up a lot of ground to challenge for the win.
10. Yoshida (10-1) – The “dirt experiment” for trainer Bill Mott’s turf talent was a rousing success as the 4-year-old colt rallied with a flourish from the back of the pack to win the Grade 1 Woodward. While the bay with the distinguishable blaze made a name for himself with wins in prestigious turf races such as the Grade 3 Hill Prince and the Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic, his dirt prowess indicates he’s a multi-surface talent with the qualities necessary to compete with this group. Versatility is a plus – he’s won as a front-runner and from far back. Mott knows how to prep a charge for this monumental task as he’s won this race twice (Drosselmeyer, 2011; Cigar, 1995). “I think going into this year’s Classic, Yoshida has a better chance than Drosselmeyer did,” WinStar Farm president and racing manager Elliott Walden said. Top candidate for the win.
11. Mind Your Biscuits (6-1) – The heralded sprinter and richest New York-bred in history showed a new dimension by winning a two-turn race, the Grade 3 Lukas Classic (1 1/8-miles) at Churchill Downs on Sept. 29. His career as a sprinter is stellar, and that could work in his favor facing the likes of McKinzie, West Coast and Accelerate. Can the 5-year-old chestnut hang with them for 10 furlongs?
12. Axelrod (30-1) – The move from turf to dirt in June awakened this Michael McCarthy trainee, who has since posted two Grade 3 wins and and a runner-up finish in both the Grade 3 Affirmed and the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, the latter behind the talented McKinzie. This blossoming 3-year-old’s best trait is his versatility; he can overcome obstacles and be placed anywhere in the race and remain a factor. The class challenge is the question for this colt who sold for just $25,000 as a yearling and has earned $732,925.
13. Discreet Lover (20-1) – The 5-year-old rebounded from a 12th-place finish in the Grade 1 Woodward to shock bettors with a win at 45-1 in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Often outrunning his odds, the long shot was a solid third behind Diversify – who is not running in the Classic – in the Grade 1 Whitney and the Grade 2 Suburban, so the talent is there. However, it’s tough to see this closer tackling the likes of speedier Accelerate, West Coast and Yoshida.
14. Accelerate (5-2) – Winner – John Sadler’s 5-year-old chestnut has come a long way from his ninth-place finish in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He’s dominated the California scene with four Grade 1 wins this year, including beating Pavel in the Pacific Classic and rolling past West Coast in the Grade 1 Awesome Again. Although he’s a top-tier contender in the field, it’s important to note that when he shipped out of California in April, he failed as the favorite, beaten a neck by City of Light in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. Sadler’s charge did most of his major pre-Classic training at Santa Anita due to concern over the Kentucky weather, so it’s unclear if he’ll get acclimated to the Churchill Downs surface. The ship to a new track, along with more staunch competition, makes him a vulnerable favorite.
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