Keeler Johnson’s Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings: 8-12-15

Keeler Johnson’s Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings: 8-12-15

Breeders’ Cup Photo ©

1 American Pharoah
His victory in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) was nothing short of breathtaking, and one can argue that he might be even better now than he was for the Triple Crown. If that is the case, and assuming he stays healthy and maintains his form, I’m having trouble envisioning a scenario where he could lose the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

2 Tonalist
True, he could only finish third in the Whitney Stakes (gr. I), but I thought this was a very encouraging performance. After dropping more than 18 lengths off the early lead — a much larger margin than usual — Tonalist began to rally on the far turn but was still 8 1/2 lengths behind passing the eighth pole. It looks liked he wasn’t going to be a factor at the finish, but managed to gain 6 3/4 lengths through a final furlong in :13.16 seconds to finish just 1 3/4 lengths behind Honor Code. That was a pretty remarkable stretch run, and since we know he has no trouble going longer — and can also stay much closer to the pace if necessary — I think his performance was enough to keep him in the second position on this list.

3 Honor Code
He proved without questions that he can handle two turns by rallying to score a dramatic victory in the Whitney, unleashing a terrific burst of speed in the final five furlongs to close from more than 19 lengths behind and win by a neck. With this victory, he has most definitely risen to the forefront of the older male division in the U.S. and is among the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The only concern is that he lacks early speed needs a fast pace to set up his late run, which could compromise him in the Classic if the early pace comes up slow, as it did last year.

4 Catch a Flight
He’s come back strongly since the San Diego with a pair of sharp workouts at Del Mar, breezing a half-mile in :49.60 on August 5th and seven furlongs in 1:25.60 on August 12th. His next start is expected to come in the ten-furlong Pacific Classic (gr. I) on August 22nd, and while he didn’t quite see out that distance in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I), a more patient ride like the one he received in the San Diego should help his chances.

5 Texas Red
He took a big step foward in the Jim Dandy Stakes, flashing much more early speed than usual before taking command and holding off Frosted to win by a half-length. For his effort, he earned a 105 Beyer, and with a little more improvement (definitely a possibility as he continues to gain fitness and stretches out in distance), he might soon be on par with the best of the older horses.

6 Frosted
He ran very well in the Jim Dandy, settling four lengths back in third before rallying well in the final three furlongs to just miss catching Texas Red. The fact that he was carrying four pounds more, and coming off of a two-month layoff, suggests that he might be able to turn the tables in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) later this month.

7 Effinex
His connections skipped the Whitney to await a start in the Woodward, which was probably a clever move considering how deep the Whitney field turned out to be. The Woodward should be an easier race, and a great spot for him to try and pick up his first grade I win. In preparation for the race, he went three furlongs in :36.45 at Saratoga on August 7th, his second work since winning the Suburban.

8 Bayern
Like Catch a Flight, he’s been training strongly at Del Mar since the San Diego, breezing six furlongs in a bullet 1:11.60 on August 5th and following that up with seven furlongs in 1:25.60 on August 11th. With the main track at Del Mar starting to speed up after starting off the meet as a slow and tiring surface, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bayern turn in an improved effort later this month in the Pacific Classic.

9 Liam’s Map
He ran too good to lose in the Whitney, setting fractions of :22.79, :46.00, and 1:09.72 and kicking clear at the top of the stretch before tiring late to lose by a neck. He’s clearly a very, very talented colt, and with a better trip he probably would have won, but it’s important to note that he was carrying seven pounds less than Honor Code, and a rematch at even weights going a furlong farther probably wouldn’t help Liam’s Map’s chances.

10 Palace Malice
I probably shouldn’t be including him on this list after his comeback in the Curlin Stakes, but I actually thought that his performance in that race was very, very encouraging. Coming off an injury-induced layoff, and with only four workouts under his belt, I don’t think he was anywhere near ready to beat eleven talented rivals in a nine-furlong stakes race. Yet despite these obstacles, and despite breaking slowly and racing wide throughout, he battled on gamely in the homestretch to finish fourth after appearing certain at the eighth pole to finish well off-the-board. He should gain a lot of fitness off of that race, and I have the feeling we’re going to see him improve dramatically in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) next month.

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the blog Unlocking Winners.

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