Classic Conundrum: Final Round Of Preps Serves Up More Questions Than Answers

by | 10.01.2018 | 6:11pm
Discreet Lover (Repent) and jockey Manuel Franco win the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Gr I) at Belmont Park 9/29/18.

With five weeks to go, the picture of this year's Breeders' Cup Classic is muddier than ever. There was a 45-1 upset in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in which the favored Diversify faded to finish fifth, and Accelerate ran his lowest Beyer figure of the year when he won the Awesome Again. Additionally, potential Classic runner Mind Your Biscuits proved he can be successful at two turns in the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, cruising to a comfortable 4 3/4-length win over Toast of New York.

Here are the current contenders for the 2018 Breeders' Cup Classic, in alphabetical order:

Accelerate – The 5-year-old son of Lookin at Lucky appeared to be the top choice for the Classic off a Grade I sweep of Southern California's three premier races for older horses, the Santa Anita Handicap in March, Gold Cup at Santa Anita in June and “Win and You're In” TVG Pacific Classic—by 12 ½ lengths—August 18. Unfortunately his performance in the Awesome Again was less than inspiring, and while it is possible that Accelerate will be able to bounce back to top form in time for the $6 million Classic, it seems equally as likely that he continues to regress.

Bravazo – A 3-year-old son of Awesome Again trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Bravazo could be a wildcard in the Classic. He was most recently seventh in the Pennsylvania Derby, but before that, he was third in the Travers and second in the Haskell. Lukas has touted the colt all year, and the Hall of Famer may yet have some tricks up his sleeve.

Catholic Boy – The Jonathan Thomas trainee may have inherited the mantle of leading 3-year-old after his Travers win, and while he also boasts a G1 win on the turf, connections have decided to aim for the Classic because the 1 1/4-mile distance is better suited to their colt's strengths. Catholic Boy is certainly talented, but concerns include the length of time between the Travers and the Classic, as well as the fact that he's never run at Churchill Downs.

Collected – Trainer Bob Baffert has not yet declared whether Collected will be sent after the Classic, and it seems unlikely after a fourth-place effort in the listed PA Derby Champion Stakes at Parx. Still, his Pacific Classic win last year and subsequent runner-up finish in the Classic prove he has the talent to be a threat when on the top of his game.

Discreet Lover – The 45-1 longshot winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Uriah St. Lewis trainee was placed on the vet's list after his victory. He will have to work in front of officials at his home base of Parx, and provided that he proves he is sound, St. Lewis is planning on shipping to Churchill Downs. The closer could take advantage of another perfect pace scenario, but that setup seems unlikely.

Diversify – Connections are not sure if they still want to send Diversify to Churchill for the Classic, following a fifth-place effort in the JCGC. Prior to that effort, Diversify had recorded three wins in a row in New York, including in the G1 Whitney. In the JCGC, he was pressured on the front end by Mendelssohn, who is also likely to point to the Classic, so it seems unlikely that Diversify would have the easy lead he prefers at Churchill Downs.

Gronkowski – A big second in the Belmont Stakes has not led to more success for the sophomore son of Lonhro, who was unable to finish better than sixth in the JCGC despite the suicidal early pace of the frontrunners.

Gunnevera – The Venezuelan connections have elected to train the son of Dialed In up to the Classic, following a runner-up finish in the G1 Whitney. He finished fifth in the 2017 edition of the Classic, then third in the Pegasus World Cup, and with the right pace setup he is certainly capable of picking up one of the minor placings.

Honorable Duty – The 6-year-old gelding has an impressive record at Churchill Downs, but was most recently a middling third in the G3 Lukas Classic behind Mind Your Biscuits and Toast of New York.

McKinzie – His Pennsylvania Derby victory was a big effort, and puts him in the running as a top contender for the Classic. Baffert has been keen on the colt all along, but the step from 3-year-old company to running against older horses is a big ask for the colt who will be making his second start off a six-month layoff.

Mendelssohn – Aidan O'Brien and the Ballydoyle team have been trying to win the Classic for years, and the quirky 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy may be their best chance yet. He was impressive in the JCGC in the sense that he managed to stay on and finish third, beaten just two lengths, after forcing the suicidal early pace of Diversify. Should he find himself alone on the lead at Churchill Downs, he could be very tough to run down. Still, there are a number of hurdles he needs to overcome, including handling the crowds and excitement of Breeders' Cup and the rigors of shipping overseas.

Mind Your Biscuits – Connections are planning to choose between three Breeders' Cup options: the Classic, Dirt Mile, or Sprint. He has proved the ability to be a threat in any of the three options, and his closing style could be an asset with a strong early pace.

Roaring Lion – The 3-year-old son of Kitten's Joy has won the G1 Coral Eclipse, Juddmonte International, and Irish Champions Stakes, and trainer John Gosden indicated that the colt may be considered for the Classic. His dirt form is unproven, but he certainly has some talent.

Thunder Snow – Thunder Snow won the Dubai World Cup this year over West Coast, and returned to turf unsuccessfully in August in the Juddmonte International. In the JCGC, the 4-year-old son of Helmet was beaten just a neck on the wire after putting away the very determined Mendelssohn. With a bit softer pace on the front end, Discreet Lover may not have been able to catch Thunder Snow, and he is a major threat coming into the Classic.

Toast Of New York – The 7-year-old recently gelded son of Thewayyouare ran 12th in the Pegasus World Cup in January, then returned this past weekend to finish second by 4 3/4 lengths to Mind Your Biscuits in the Lukas Classic. He did finish second in the Classic four years ago, and a return to that form could make him a threat, but it seems unlikely at his age.

West Coast – Second to Accelerate in the Awesome Again, the 4-year-old Baffert trainee was making his first start since running second in the Dubai World Cup in March. Another step forward could put him in the winner's circle for the Classic, giving Baffert his fourth Classic winner in the past five years. Still, the layoff is a concern, as is the fact that Accelerate was able to defeat him despite running what was far from his best race.

Yoshida – Winner of the G1 Whitney, Yoshida could run in the Classic next and may even be one of the favorites after this weekend's confusing results. A 4-year-old son of Heart's Cry bred in Japan, the Bill Mott trainee is a closer who will need pace to run into, but it seems likely he will have that in the Classic. He was certainly impressive in the Whitney, and Mott has two Classic winners to his name already with Drosselmeyer and Cigar.

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