Equibase Analysis: Will A 3-Year-Old Take The Classic Again?

by | 11.01.2018 | 9:00am
Catholic Boy wholly dominated the Grade 1 Travers, completing the Belmont Derby-Travers double on turf and dirt.

The 35th running of the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic drew a field of 14 horses plus two also-eligibles, 11 of which enter the race off a win or a runner-up effort in a grade one or group one stakes race.

In terms of success, Accelerate has been assigned starting favoritism at 5 to 2 odds on the strength of winning the Grade 1 Pacific Classic Stakes and the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes. However, the status of Mind Your Biscuits may be similar to the starting favorite as he is the richest New York-bred in history at $4.2 million and enters the race off an easy four and three-quarter length win in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic Stakes last month.

Among the 16 entered are six horses who are 3-year-olds, with three of the last four editions of the Classic having been won by horses taking on their elders. One of those is Roaring Lion, who is racing on dirt for the first time and who enters the Classic off a win in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in England two weeks ago. Another three year old is Catholic Boy, who is attempting to win the race in the same manner as both Bayern and American Pharoah did in 2014 and 2015, respectively, as both those horses won the Grade 1 Travers Stakes the summer before the Classic.

Another top 3-year-old is McKinzie, who was on the road to the Derby this year before being injured and who won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby in his most recent race. Other potential contenders are recent Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Discreet Lover and the horse he beat by a neck in that race, Thunder Snow  (IRE), who won the Group 1, $10 million Dubai World Cup in March. Another horse previously proven at the level is Yoshida (JPN), winner of the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes in his most recent race.

Most of the rest of the field finished relatively close behind some of the aforementioned horses, such as Axelrod (second to McKinzie in the Pennsylvania Derby), Gunnevera (second to Yoshida in the Woodward), Mendelssohn (third in the Woodward), Pavel (second in the Pacific Classic), Toast of New York (second in the Lukas Classic) and West Coast (second in the Awesome Again). Lone Sailor, winner of the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby, and Collected (fourth and seventh in his last two races) round out the field.

Top four win contenders
Catholic Boy has been handled incredibly well by an up-and-coming star trainer in Jonathan Thomas, who has won with 25 of 96 starters in 2018, many of them at the highest level. After a win last December in the Remsen Stakes, which was only his fourth career start and first on dirt, Catholic Boy returned on the Derby trail with a runner-up effort in the Sam F. Davis Stakes before a fourth place finish in the Florida Derby, after which it was decided to give him some time off. That decision paid off handsomely as Catholic Boy won both the Pennine Ridge Stakes and Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes on the grass before transitioning back to dirt to win the Travers Stakes in late August, earning a career best 109 Equibase Speed Figure in the process.

The tactic of pointing to the Breeders' Cup on workouts alone following a win in the Travers has worked out very well of late, as both the 2014 Classic winner (Bayern) and 2015 winner (American Pharoah) took the same route and improved their Equibase figures nicely off their previous efforts. Both were three year olds facing older horses for the first time, as was 2016 Classic winner Arrogate. Another thing Catholic Boy may have in his favor is he has become an “Alpha” type horse since returning to the races in June, giving up the lead in the stretch in the Pennine Ridge and Belmont Derby then getting up on the wire, then dominating in the Travers. All three of those efforts came since Javier Castellano took over the riding duties on Catholic Boy, proving more reasons he could be tough to beat in this year's Classic.

Roaring Lion could provide big profit if he wins the Classic as his starting odds are 20 to 1. No horse moving from turf has won the Classic since Raven's Pass in 2008. However, Roaring Lion has a few similarities with Raven's Pass, the first of which is he was bred in Kentucky and has a reasonable dirt pedigree. Particularly in his favor of running well on dirt, his dam's sire is Street Sense, winner of the 2007 Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes. Additionally, Roaring Lion is trained by Sir John Gosden, who also saddled Raven's Pass to victory. Roaring Lion has won four straight Group 1 races and has proven to be extremely determined to the wire in three of those four. In addition to having earned a career-best 124 figure in his most recent race, Roaring Lion has a perfect four-for-four record at distances of one mile and one-quarter and one mile and five-sixteenths, something none of the rest of the Classic field can claim. Champion horses can run on different surfaces, so if Roaring Lion can run as well on dirt as he has on turf this spring and summer, he can post the upset.

Mind Your Biscuits was known almost exclusively as a sprinter for most of his 24 race career until trainer Chad Summers decided to stretch him out to two-turns for the Whitney Stakes this summer. In that race, Mind Your Biscuits ran very respectably to a wire-to-wire winner who dominated on the front end. Nearly two months later, Mind Your Biscuits ran one of the best races of his career when drawing off to a four and three-quarter length win in the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, earning at 123 figure in the process. The familiarity with the surface may play to his advantage in this race and if so, Mind Your Biscuits may add to his career bankroll of $4.2 million which already makes him the richest New York bred horse in history.

Accelerate, like Roaring Lion, has won a number of graded stakes in a row. Starting with the Gold Cup in May with a 120 figure, Accelerate won the Pacific Classic in August with a 125 figure then tied that effort with a victory in the Awesome Again Stake at the end of September. The only knock I can find with this tremendous athlete is he draws the outside 14 post in the field. Although there is a fairly long run to the first turn at the mile and one-quarter distance of the Classic, it is still likely Accelerate may be wide going for the entire race and that could be just enough to take away any edge he may have over a few of the others who have proven as tough as he is in recent races.

For exotic wagers, I think we should also consider McKinzie and West Coast. McKinzie is a 3-year-old with improving to do who was sidelined from March until September. He returned victorious in the Pennsylvania Derby with a 114 effort and can improve. West Coast continues to run big races but usually against one horse better than he is. After reeling off five straight wins in the spring and summer of 2017 including the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, West Coast finished third then second behind horse of the year Gun Runner then second behind Thunder Snow (IRE) in the Dubai World Cup then second behind Accelerate in the Awesome Again Stakes.

Most of the rest in this fantastic race have a chance to gain a piece of the purse so don't hesitate to consider them for exacta or trifecta tickets. The rest of the Classic field, with their best representative figures, is Axelrod (111), Collected (127), Discreet Lover (115), Gunnevera (110), Lone Sailor (110), Mendelssohn (112), Pavel (117), Thunder Snow (114), Toast of New York (116) and Yoshida (113).

Win Contenders:
Catholic Boy
Roaring Lion
Mind Your Biscuits

You can get Ellis' detailed analysis for all the Friday and Saturday races at Churchill Downs, including all Breeders' Cup races, at Equibase and most online wagering sites.

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