On Track With Johnny D: Horse-by-Horse Classic and Complete Breeders’ Cup Analysis

Horse-by-Horse Classic & Complete BC Analysis

The depth of talent is in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic is impressive. We’ve got two of the best 3-year-olds--Derby and Belmont winners—matched against three of the top-ranked older horses in the nation. In short, everyone who’s anyone is in here. That rarely happens. Knock on wood that this Classic field stays intact until Saturday evening because, if so, it fittingly will cap what ought to be an outstanding 2020 Breeders’ Cup.

Below is one man’s horse-by-horse analysis of the BC Classic field, including selections and a suggested wagering strategy. Make sure to access a FREE copy of Xpressbet’s Breeders’ Cup Wager Guide. It’s chock-full of selections, workout information and enlightening stats and trends you won’t find elsewhere. The Guide’s FREE and worth twice the price!

1. Tacitus Mott/J. Ortiz 20-1
Winner of 3 of his first 4 starts, this 4-year-old son of Tapit finished fourth (placed third) behind #10 Maximum Security in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He skipped Preakness and then was second to Sir Winston in the Belmont Stakes. He’s won just 1 of his last 10 starts, but he’s been second 4 times and third 2 times. That adds up to 4 wins in 14 starts and nearly $3 million in earnings. That resume suggests that a Classic win is out of his range, but an in-the-money appearance is possible. Still, several of these would need to misfire for Tacitus to hit the board.

2. Tiz the Law Tagg/Franco 3-1
It could be said that Tiz the Law skipped Preakness in favor of a start in the BC Classic (BTW…that’s the first time any connections can claim that maneuver). The Belmont winner is one of few in the world that can crow about what a fantastic year 2020 has been. He won the Gr. 3 Holy Bull; Gr. 1 Florida Derby; Gr. 1 Belmont and Gr. 1 Travers and was second in the Gr. 1 Kentucky Derby to #9 Authentic! Of course, those races were all against fellow sophomores and now he faces a deep group of older runners. How well will he make the leap? Good question. Was his Kentucky Derby loss a reaction from his powerful Travers romp? If so, will the extra rest between Louisville and Lexington return him to former glory? And, if so, is that good enough to handle these foes? Like follow 3-year-old #9 Authentic, ‘Tiz enjoys a 4-pound weight break against elders.

Tiz the Law’s Kentucky Derby loss seemed to somewhat validate criticism that he hadn’t really defeated anyone of substance. A scan across the names of those that have chased Constitution’s son home in 8 starts doesn’t get the heart racing. Still, he’s won 6 of 8 lifetime and earned $2.6 million for a yellow school bus full of owners. That certainly counts for something. He’s usually within 3 lengths of the early pace and hasn’t thrown in the towel in any race yet. How one feels about Tiz the Law’s chances in here really comes down to an evaluation of how the 3-year-olds match up against elders.

3. By My Standards Calhoun/G. Saez 10-1
Winner of 6 of 12 starts and $1.7 million, this 4-year-old son of Goldencents comes off a solid triumph in the Gr. 2 Alysheba. Before that he was 2 lengths behind #8 Improbable and one-half length in front of a troubled #4 Tom’s d’Etat in the Gr. 1 Whitney. At 3 he won the Gr. 2 Louisiana Derby before finishing 12th (placed 11th) in #10 Maximum Security’s Kentucky Derby. This year he reeled off 4 consecutive wins, including the Gr. 2 Oaklawn Handicap, before runner-up efforts in the Gr. 2 Foster and Gr. 1 Whitney. That resume is light for consideration as the winner of this race. His running style usually find him stalking the early pace, but they’ll be moving quicker that he’s used to up front. That won’t help his chances.

4. Tom’s d’Etat Stall/Rosario 6-1
This 7-year-old horse has won 11 of 19 and $1.7 million. Always respected, ‘Tom didn’t really step forward until about this time last year when he won the Gr. 2 Fayette at Keeneland over a ‘sloppy’ track. He then reeled off four consecutive wins, including the Gr. 1 Clark at Churchill, before stumbling badly at the start of the Gr. 1 Whitney at Saratoga and finishing third to BC Classic foe Improbable. Despite the terrible beginning, this son of Smart Strike showed determination and courage to rally for third against a slow pace. How fitting would it be for the run of his career to culminate in a BC Classic victory at Keeneland where that crescendo began? He and #10 Maximum Security are the only 2 runners in this field that have finished in front of #8 Improbable. ‘Tom has a versatile running style and can be expected to be closing into what should be an honest pace.

5. Title Ready Stewart/Lanerie 30-1
With just 4 wins in 22 starts and $500k in earnings, Title Ready would need to step up his game to surprise in here. Trainer Dallas Stewart has a history of pulling off the impossible…or nearly impossible in big races. An upset here would be an all-time shocker, even by Stewart standards. He comes from well off the pace and ought to pick off a tuckered-out foe or two late, especially if things get frisky up front. The 5-year-old does have 2 wins in 4 Keeneland main track starts and has never been off the board in Lexington.

6. Higher Power Sadler/Prat 20-1
He hasn’t won a race this year in 4 starts. That’s OK, the 5-year-old horse doesn’t owe anyone anything. He’s won 5 of 19 overall and banked $1.5 million. His claim to fame is the 2019 Pacific Classic at Del Mar, which he won by over 5 lengths. Since then he’s been third or better in 4 of 6 races—all but one at the Gr. 1 level. He’s been second, third and fourth in his last three races to winners named #8 Improbable and #10 Maximum Security, twice. It should be noted that he’s been beaten at least three and one-quarter lengths in those races, so he’s got some work to do in order to turn the tables on those foes. He usually attacks from around the middle of the pack, but his finish is more of an ‘even’ affair rather than a ‘closing charge.’ If they go too fast early, he’ll pick up some bottom rung exotic pieces.

7. Global Campaign Hough/Castellano 20-1
This 4-year-old colt comes into the Classic on a 2-race win streak. He went wire-to-wire to win the Gr. 1 Woodward last out and the Gr. 3 Monmouth Cup in similar style before that. He has won from a bit off the pace before and connections will need to consider that attack in this race. At 2, he won the Gr. 3 Peter Pan, an allowance and a maiden race. He’s earned $781k from 6 wins in 9 starts. He’s battled hoof troubles throughout his career and trainer Stanley Hough finally has those issues under control. While Global Campaign certainly feels like a colt that’s coming into his own, he seems to be a bit below several of the heavy heads in here.

8. Improbable Baffert/I. Ortiz 5/2
They say it’s better to be lucky than good. How about if you’re both lucky and good? That combination has made Improbable the slight favorite in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic. A somewhat troublesome gate horse, Improbable has been on his best behavior during a powerful 3-race, Gr. 1 winning streak that includes scores on both coasts--the Hollywood Gold Cup and Awesome Again at Santa Anita sandwiched around a Whitney score at the Spa.

So far, he’s the best dirt horse in North America with a 2020 resume that’s nearly impeccable. A three-quarter length loss to BC Classic foe Tom’s d’Etat in April (off a layoff since November) is the only blemish. He’s won his last three races—all in Grade 1 company—by at least 2 lengths and has looked powerful in each. Triple-digit DRF Beyer Speed Figures have improved with each of the last 2 starts. It’s been his year, for sure. In fact, some would say he’s been the recipient of a few good breaks this year—or perhaps, in the case of Saratoga’s Whitney, it was more of a ‘bad’ break. Just after Improbable briefly delayed the start by shifting about in the gate, race favorite Tom’s d’Etat--the only horse to defeat Improbable this year—stumbled badly as the gates opened. Improbable broke well and then comfortably stalked a pacesetter, took control and stayed clear. In his next start, the Awesome Again at Santa Anita, the son of City Zip fortuitously sat behind a 4-horse cat and mouse tangle for the lead. He then laughingly circled careless foes and romped home as much the best.

Would Improbable have won the Withers and/or the Awesome Again without a break or two along the way? Maybe. He has a right to be a good horse. He won the first three starts of his career, including the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity and was second in a division of the Rebel Stakes and in a ‘sloppy’ Arkansas Derby. He was favored in both the ’19 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, finishing fifth-placed-fourth, in the former and sixth in the latter. He has trained well for this race, too. One negative could be that he’s coming back slightly quicker than he has for any other race this year but that seems a minor detail. It will be difficult constructing a wager that doesn’t include this guy in a prominent position.

9. Authentic Baffert/Velazquez 6-1
He could be the best 3-year-old of 2020, although supporters of Preakness winner and filly Swiss Skydiver or Belmont hero Tiz the Law might dissent. Despite falling a neck short of Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness, Authentic ran an outstanding race. In fact, according to Thoro-Graph speed figures (based on time, track variant, weight, ground loss and other factors), it was the colt’s best race ever by a significant margin. That’s both the good and bad news. Such an effort, coming on top of a Kentucky Derby triumph just a month earlier and a BC Classic just over a month later, likely will challenge the son of Into Mischief to repeat it. He will be a pace factor from the next-to-furthest outside post. He’s never really taken a backward step but meeting deep older competition ought to stress him like never before. He does enjoy a 4-pound break in weight versus elders.

10. Maximum Security Baffert/L. Saez 7/2
In order to win the BC Classic Maximum Security has to at the minimum reverse a four and one-half length losing margin to stablemate Improbable in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita last out. Truthfully, that afternoon the Maximum Security we’ve come to know and love didn’t show up. He seemed to be spinning his wheels over a deep surface and didn’t have the same fiery spirit. Was that effort an ominous sign that the end is near or was it just an ‘off’ afternoon? We believe the latter and here’s why: He’s come back to work like the old Maximum Security, full of vim and vigor. Now, I don’t exactly know what ‘vim’ is but, as far as I’m concerned, you never can have enough ‘vigor!’ Especially if ‘racehorse’ is your occupation.

The ‘most interesting man in the world’ has nothing on Maximum Security. The son of New Year’s Day has had the most intriguing career of any top horse in recent memory. As the late Rod Serling used to say introducing The Twilight Zone episodes…“For your consideration…” Maximum Security began his career attached to a $16k maiden price. Why not? He hadn’t trained well and both his sire and dam, basically, were culled from owner/breeders Gary and Mary West’s holdings. He won two $50k Optional Claimer/Starter Allowance races before taking the Florida Derby. Unbeaten, he finished first in the Kentucky Derby and became the first horse in the storied history of the race to be disqualified from the win position for an on-track infraction. His owners futilely tried a commission appeal and court cases in attempts to have the disqualification reversed. In his final start at 3, he won Aqueduct’s Gr. 1 Cigar Mile in a breathtaking performance.

For his first 4-year-old start ‘Max travelled to Saudi Arabia to win the inaugural running of the $20 million Gr. 1 Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race, in a desperate, gut-wrenching stretch drive. Less than a week later, ‘Max’s former trainer Jason Servis was included in a federal indictment and accused of covertly obtaining and administering adulterated and misbranded performance enhancing drugs. Servis has plead not guilty. The $10 million Saudi Cup winner’s share still is being withheld pending investigation. Despite ominous, guilt-by-association rumors, Maximum Security never has tested positive for a banned substance. For 3 starts preceding the Classic, ‘Max has been trained by Bob Baffert, arguably the top dirt trainer in the world.

Whew. What a career! All that’s missing is a BC Classic triumph. And he just might get it. If a horseplayer can forgive and forget Maximum Security’s Awesome Again dud—he did this once before when he lost the $150k Pegasus at Monmouth to King for a Day and then rebounded next out to win the Gr. 1 Haskell—a return to top form over a more glib racetrack puts him right there with barn mate Improbable.

Can history repeat? Yes. Expect Maximum Security to use his speed to either make the lead or to stalk barn mate #9 Authentic. This time, when the real running starts, he’ll have enough to trade blows with stablemate #8 Improbable and 7-year-old #4 Tom’s d’Etat to the wire.

Bottom Line:
Improbable is the correct favorite and the one to beat. No 2020 BC Classic starter has raced or trained better.

On his best day #10 Maximum Security can win this race. If his last outing can be forgiven (trainer Baffert has suggested he may not have liked the deep Santa Anita surface), then there’s very little between #8 Improbable and #10 Maximum Security and the latter likely will be in front in the stretch.

Tom’s d’Etat must be respected. The 7-year-old was unlucky in his last and clearly was the best in the east before that. A bounce-back effort places him squarely in the final picture. He’s entering this race off a 3-month layoff and no horse has won the Classic off that long of a layoff. He’s also the senior citizen of the field and that needs to be considered.

1. Maximum Security – Looking for a bounce back from this tiger.
2. Improbable – Absolutely the one to beat.
3. Tom’s d’Etat – 7-year-old star returns off challenging layoff.
4. Higher Power – Always seems to find a spot in the Superfecta.

$100 Wager Strategy
$25 Exacta
Maximum Security with Improbable, Tom’s d’Etat ($50)

$25 Exacta
Improbable with Maximum Security, Tom’s d’Etat ($50)

Additional Breeders’ Cup Race Analysis
(Runners ranked in order of preference)

Friday
Race 6 Juvenile Turf Sprint
#14 Golden Pal will leave the outside gate running and must be caught. North American-based runners do well in this race. He’ll be an underlay from a challenging post but can’t be ignored.

#10 Bodenheimer has speed and has won at 3 different tracks, including a stakes race at Keeneland.

#12 Dirty Dangle is unbeaten in two Woodbine starts, a huge price and a must use win and exotics.

#9 After Five is a closing maiden but has been second twice for trainer Wesley Ward.

#5 Cowan needs a trip from behind. Figures as an exotic use. Working well.

#6 Ubetterbelieve it only Euro worth exotic look. They don’t do well in this race.

#13 Second of July is a closer, has wide post and is unbeaten at big prices. Exotics toss in only.

Race 7 Juvenile Turf
(Really a crapshoot, so don’t take any wooden nickels in here. Remember, short run to the first turn.)
#9 Battleground is favored and will try to snap an extended dry spell for trainer Aidan O’Brien in the US and Breeders’ Cup. He will be overbet from an outside post. Euros do well in this race and there are others worth consideration. He’s well-bred, won 2 of 3 and a bit of a guess at a short price off a layoff.

#5 Cadillac didn’t take to soft last out but has 2 wins in 4 starts against decent Euro company.

#8 Outadore is North American-based, unbeaten, has speed and stretches out. Wire to wire threat.

#1 Sealiway is a Euro that may lack a bit of class but always is around at the finish.

#2 New Mandate is a gelding, an obvious player and a ‘wise guy’ Brit runner.

#6 Mutasaabeq already has a Keeneland 2-turn stakes tally for Todd Pletcher.

#11 Gretzky the Great has 3 wins in 4 starts and bullet works to boot.

#12 Go Athletico is another Euro that tries, has a difficult post but reasons to notice at a huge price in what is a wide-open race.

Race 8 Juvenile Fillies
This field is short on numbers but long on talent.
#7 Princess Noor has slow figs but has looked like a monster in 3 victories.

#3 Dayoutoftheoffice is unbeaten and so is about everyone else in here. Has handled one turn, now two?

#1 Simply Ravishing is 3 for 3 and has won around 2 turns in decent time and fine fashion at Keeneland.

#2 Vequist also is fast, trying 2 turns for the first time and will be overlooked in the wagering.

Race 9 Juvenile Fillies Turf
Looking for a non-Euro closer in here.
#3 Alda fits that bill and could save ground early and launch a big closing kick.

#5 Aunt Pearl, morning line favorite, hasn’t done a thing wrong in two turf starts. She’s one of the speed horses.

#12 Spanish Loveaffair has strong figs but could be forced wide.

#4 Plum Ali is unbeaten in a trio of turf routes. Her trainer Chris Clement is 0-38 in BC races. That streak needs to end.

#8 Mother Earth is a notable Euro but they don’t usually do well in this race.

Race 10 Juvenile
#7 Jackie’s Warrior seems special. He’d better be. He’s run some very fast races; almost too fast for his own good. He’s 4 for 4 but hasn’t been 2 turns, yet. Still, he looks sensational and has drawn raves from opposing trainers—the ultimate compliment. If he should blow up at a short price and stop, anything could happen, and then it will be boxcar payoffs.

#6 Keepmeinmind is peaking at the right time, has the right style for a blow-up finish and is working well. He’s a huge price, if you like that kind of thing, especially in exotics.

#13 Rombauer is in a tough post, will drop back and come running at a big price.

#5 Essential Quality is training well, getting better and better, according to his trainer and clockers.

Saturday
Race 4 F & M Sprint
#2 Gamine and #7 Serengeti Empress figure to go very fast and this race has not been kind to pacesetters.

Take a look at #9 Bell’s the One, #1 Speech and #8 Sally’s Curlin as possible late running upsetters and/or exotic players.

Race 5 Turf Sprint
#1 Big Runnuer has a longshot chance of going wire-to-wire. He’s a lightly raced 5yo in good form and there’s not much real speed signed up.

#3 Imprimis and #7 Leinster are in good form.

Race 6 Dirt Mile
Puzzling race that doesn’t feel right for some reason. Is there a bomb we’re missing? Maybe. Could be time to boldly toss the two pace chalks and look for bomb.

#7 Rushi has faced the best of his crop and seems to be coming to hand. He needs better but he’s moving in that direction at 20-1.
#8 Pirate’s Punch is razor sharp off two wins. He’s 1 for 1 at Keeneland and 2 for 2 at the distance and 20-1!

#12 Owendale will lag behind from that far outside post and come running at 15-1. If the pace collapses, lookout.

#5 Knicks Go has speed and exploded last out with a huge allowance effort. Can he come close to repeating that race? He will have more earnest early competition than he did in his last. Can’t live with him, can’t live without him.

#10 Complexity is morning line favorite, has speed and will need to use it to get over from the outside. He’s unbeaten around one turn but his only 2-turn race was not good. He will be played heavily.

’19 Preakness winner #4 War of Will moves back to dirt and could rebound.

Race 7 Filly and Mare Turf
#4 Mean Mary is dangerous on the front end and will take these a long way.

#6 Rushing Fall is very live for Chad Brown and is 5-for-6 at Keeneland.

#1 Starship Jubilee is solid in here.

#2 Sistercharlie can’t be easily dismissed although she doesn’t seem quite as good this year.

Race 8 Sprint
#8 Firenze Fire is a decent price play in here from off the pace.

Unbeaten 3yo colt #10 Yaupon will take some catching.

#2 C Z Rocket has won 5 in a row after being claimed for $40K and is 2 for 2 at Keeneland. He and Yaupon figure to tussle up front.

Race 9 Mile
This is a wide-open race with recent Keeneland stakes winner #11 Ivar as the 4-1 morning-line favorite. He was impressive, for sure, but these are tougher.

Players can’t ignore #5 Digital Age or #12 Uni, both from the Chad Brown stable, but the latter is not quite as good as last year and has a tough post.

#13 Factor This and #10 Halladay figure as pacesetters. The latter is more attractive than the former who’s 0-6 at the distance.

#14 Raging Bull has that nasty post to deal with and is 1 for his last 9.

Euros may have something to say about this one and #1 Circus Maximus and #2 Kameko drew well.

Race 10 Distaff
#10 Monomoy Girl’s a pro—12 for 14; 1 for 1 at Keeneland and 3 for 3 at the distance.

#4 Horologist, #8 Valiance and #9 Ollie’s Candy are exacta compliments.

Race 11 Turf
#3 Tarnawa is pure class and on the rise.

#1 Arklow is doing very well and was competitive in this race last year.

#9 Channel Maker has looked good in two recent front-running scores.

#7 United won’t let him get too far away, though.

#2 Magical is at the tail end of a fantastic career and can’t be dismissed.

Race 12 Classic
See above for complete analysis. #10 Maximum Security and #8 Improbable seem best in here.

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Horse-by-Horse Classic and Complete Breeders’ Cup Analysis

On Track with Johnny D |