By: Eric Solomon
Race #11: The Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic (Dirt – 1 1/4 Miles) 3 YO+
Purse: $6 Million
Eight Grade 1 winning horses, all based in the United States, come together for North America’s richest race, The Breeders’ Cup Classic. In 2015, the first time that this event was staged at Keeneland, we saw a generational talent, American Pharoah, dominate an eight horse field, in what was probably his best career performance. This year, there’s an eight horse field, headed by Flightline (#4, 3-5 ML), who certainly has the potential to be mentioned in the same elite company. While he is not a Triple Crown winner, Flightline might have the most raw talent of any horse since the turn of the century. He’s never been tested in any of his five career starts, turning in monster efforts each time. He’s won his last three Grade 1 races by a combined total of 36 ¾ lengths, winning prestigious races like the Malibu, the Met Mile, and the Pacific Classic. His win in the Pacific Classic might have been his most impressive effort since that was his first test at two turns and at this classic distance. Dubai World Cup winner, Country Grammar, was second, 19 ¼ lengths behind him. Flightline earned a monstrous 126 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort, which certainly cements him as the heavy favorite in this race. If he runs that race again, the other seven don’t have a chance. He’s answered every question so far, winning on the road, winning at longer distances, and beating top quality competition. He’ll face the deepest field he’s seen yet, but he has a definite advantage over his rivals.
We are going to get to the long-awaited heavyweight matchup between Flightline and Life is Good (#2, 6-1 ML) in this race. That was supposed to happen in June in the Met Mile, but a minor setback kept Life is Good on the sidelines. He returned in July in the John A. Nerud Stakes and was brilliant winning that race. That was followed up by wins in the Whitney and the Woodward. Whether or not he can be as effective at ten furlongs is going to be the question that he’ll have to answer here. His only start at this distance was a 4th place finish in Dubai. While I am a little forgiving of that effort, when I went back to watch his nine furlong races, I don’t see a horse that was necessarily crying out for more distance. He might be talented enough to beat everyone else, but there are others that I prefer.
There’s a trio of three year olds that are going to try facing older horses here. Rich Strike (#8, ML), was the longshot Derby winner in May. He ran credible races in the Travers and Lukas Classic in his last two starts. His best chance feels like it would be hitting the board with a rapid pace developing in front of him. The Travers winner, Epicenter (#6, 5-1 ML) has gone from being a very good frontrunner early in the season to a horse that has gotten very comfortable coming from off the pace. After a pair of tough luck second place finishes in the Derby and the Preakness, he rebounded nicely and had a very productive summer at Saratoga. He feels like the three year old with the best chance. Taiba (#1, 8-1 ML) may be bet down to the second choice in the wagering with the Baffert factor coming into play. He’s another one that showed some freaky ability, winning the Santa Anita Derby in his second career start. His Derby was a certified disaster, but he has come back with strong efforts in the Haskell and the Pennsylvania Derby. He’s sired by Gun Runner, who got better in the latter part of his three year old season and was excellent as a four year old. He might have the highest ceiling of this trio.
Hot Rod Charlie (#5, 15-1 ML) and Olympiad (#7, 10-1 ML) are four year olds that have run several good races in graded stakes company. However, when they faced top notch competition in the Whitney this summer, they simply weren’t good enough. That doesn’t bode well for them in this race today. Happy Saver (#3, 30-1 ML) is the longest shot on the board, in part because he hasn’t visited the Winner’s Circle since May of 2021. He was second in both the Met Mile and the Whitney, suggesting that he may offer better value than the other longshots, and could be a horse to think about in the bottom of a trifecta.
The Pick: Flightline