Breeders' Cup Classic May Have Best Field Ever
T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Picks
No matter what happens on Nov. 4, the Breeders Cup Classic is going to be the most anticipated race on the card, and it almost certainly won't disappoint. It's always a good race, but we have probably never seen an edition that has the star power that this one does. This is a David and Goliath story, except Goliath will be fighting a whole bunch of strong, talented and potentially dangerous Davids at the same time.
Make no mistake about it, the hype for this race is all centered around Bernardini, with good reason. There are several very good horses in the Classic field, but Bernardini is unquestionably the best. He will be the massive favorite, and his price will be ridiculously low for a 14-horse field, but there isn't a price low enough to make me consider not backing him. I watch a lot of horse racing, and I have seen most of the great horses of the last 15 years run -- even in person on a few occasions -- but I have never seen a horse run with the power and the complete, and completely justified, disdain for his opponents that Bernardini did when I watched him in the Jim Dandy from the grandstand at Saratoga this summer. You can't overstate how good this horse has been - he has hardly felt his jockey's whip because the horse wins by a mile and he does it on his own and seemingly without effort. Bernardini may not win the Classic, but a horse will have to put up an incredible effort to beat him.
There is no shortage of viable candidates to try to upset Bernardini. The first name off most people's lips is Lava Man, the California monster sporting a seven-race winning streak, during which he became the first horse to ever sweep the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic. The horse has an incredible past - he once ran in a $12,500 claimer and was once claimed for $50,000, but he has now won almost $4 million. Despite the streak, critics cite the fact that Lava Man has failed badly the only three times he has left California - in Florida, New York and Japan.
Invasor, another serious contender, has a very different, but equally bizarre background, as Lava Man. He was the undefeated Horse of the Year last year - in Uruguay. He has three more wins in Grade 1 stakes in the U.S. in three tries this year. His only setback was at the UAE Derby in Dubai in March where he lost to Discreet Cat, Bernardini's stablemate and a ridiculous freak in his own right. (Incidentally, Discreet Cat was pre-entered in the Classic. He almost certainly won't run unless something happens to Bernardini, but it's fun to dream.) Invasor comes into this race as a question mark after he missed a showdown with Bernardini in the Jockey Club Gold Cup because of a fever. That means he comes into this race without having run since Aug. 5 at Saratoga. He's been working well since the setback, though.
The race would be an all-time classic if those were the only three horses of note, but it doesn't end there. George Washington would have been one of the favorites in the Mile since he won both the 2000 Guineas and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes in Britain over that distance on turf this year. Instead, his connections are pointing him at the Classic. He unquestionably has the class to belong, but he has never run on dirt before, so it is hard to know how he will handle it. You have to believe that there is a reason that a horse this good is being pointed to an odd spot, however.
David Junior is another Euro turf invader worth looking at. He's been proven over the Classic distance, and he has beaten top horses like Ouija Board, but he hasn't run since the beginning of July. Like George Washington, this horse has also never made a start on dirt. He's won off a five-month break in the past.
Behind those horses are entries with varying ratios of potential and flaws. Sun King has just one win in seven tries this year, but he has been close in the Metropolitan Handicap and the Woodward. He tried, and failed miserably, in the Classic last year. Brother Derek was well supported during the Triple Crown, but he has struggled to live up to his potential then and since. He was second to Lava Man in the Goodwood, but the winner was never threatened. Flower Alley was runner-up in the Classic last year, but he has had a dismal season and doesn't appear to belong in the field this year. Premium Tap was a 31/1 longshot winner in the Woodward.
If there's a horse that captures my imagination, and has to be considered somewhere in the exotics, it's Lawyer Ron. The horse came into the Derby with high expectations, but didn't come through. After a long layoff he won the St. Louis Derby, then was beat by Strong Contender as heavy favorite in the Super Derby. His owners may have skipped the Classic after that disappointing performance, but instead they ripped him from the stable of trainer Bob Holthus and sent him to Todd Pletcher. That was only at the end of September, but Pletcher may have found something that he could quickly fix, and everything Pletcher touches turns to gold these days, so Lawyer Ron is a legitimate possibility for a strong showing.
Bernardini's presence in the Classic has a positive impact on betting regardless of your opinion of him. If you believe in him, then you can save yourself some real money by keying the superstar at the top of your exotics. If you believe that the three-year old is due to be beat then you are almost certainly going to get a better price on whichever horse you like than you normally would because of the attention that will be focused on Bernardini.