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An Early Look at the Breeders’ Cup Classic

by Brian Nadeau

October 19, 2017

With all the heavy lifting done, the prospective field for the Breeders’ Cup Classic is pretty much set. And while the speedy Diversify is still not committed to running, we know the rest of the main protagonists. And make no mistake about it, it’s a salty bunch. But they aren’t without their faults either, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at the main contenders and see what we can come up with.

Gun Runner: While he’s the divisional leader at this point, I still don’t view him as the horse to beat, as he’s never won at 1 ¼ miles and he’s never even Arrogate. So sure, his recent form has been raging and he’s been unbeatable since coming back from Dubai, but no one is confusing Arrogate, Collected and West Coast with Honorable Duty, Breaking Lucky, Keen Ice and Rally Cry, who he vanquished in his three subsequent GI wins. And don’t overlook the fact that he’s likely best on the lead, which he’s not getting in the Classic, regardless of whether or not Diversify runs. I have a lot of respect for Gun Runner, but I’ve also termed him the Medaglia d’Oro of his generation, and if you remember, Medaglia d’Oro couldn’t win at 1 ¼ miles and always seemed to meet one better when the brightest lights were on. And that’s how I view Gun Runner.

Arrogate: While many deemed him over the top after losing (again) in the Pacific Classic, it’s worth nothing he ran a 114 Beyer Speed Figure (if that’s you thing), which is only a few lengths or so below his scintillating best. But my real concern is that Arrogate has seemingly lost that high cruising speed that allowed him to go on a three-race tear that announced his presence on the national scene. And sure, he won the Dubai World Cup from the clouds over Gun Runner, but in that race (when he didn’t break as slow as everyone wants to believe), and then the San Diego and Pacific Classic, he’s had to be niggled on to keep up early, which is not the way to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic over three true stars. And that’s before I even mention that there is a good chance he’s not the same horse over the Del Mar surface, which he is 0-for-2 over. I’m not an expert on visuals, but it does seem that he labors over the surface just a little bit more than the rest. So, when you put it all together, do you really want to take 9-5 on a horse who may be over the top, while running over a surface that he’s not at his best over? I sure don’t. Plus, if you’re like me, are you feeling some bad vibes from this corner and from Bob Baffert? It has never been “in the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” rather, “If Arrogate runs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.” Maybe I’m way overthinking things, but it just seems like they are limping to the line and hoping to get there, as opposed to tearing the barn down and counting down the days until the race.

Collected: If Diversify doesn’t run, then here’s the main beneficiary, as he could be loose on the lead, like he was when he wired stablemate Arrogate in the Pacific Classic. And does anyone realize he’s 4-for-4 this year and will be Horse of the Year if he wins? I didn’t think so. But, regardless of whether or not Diversify starts, it’s not like they are going to let Collected lope along on the lead. Gun Runner is as tactical as any horse in the country, and I can’t think Mike Smith is going to let Arrogate get too far behind a potential loose leader who just beat him over a track his mount isn’t too fond of, while Collected loves. So, point being, if the latter wants to be loose, he’ll have to run hard to get there. And, aside from a potentially over the top Arrogate, who has Collected ever beaten? No one the likes of Gun Runner, or even West Coast. So, while I have a ton of respect for him, he’s the type I need to make prove it before backing.

West Coast: The last of the fearsome trio from Baffert is the real wildcard, as he enters never better, but has made his reputation beating a sad sack of 3yos who have gone out of their way to run slow and take turns beating up on each other all year. Of course, he sure did it the right way in a pair of GIs, the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, but this is a seismic step up in class. And he’s also never run remotely fast enough to beat any of the three seasoned older superstars, who are battled-tested on the national scene. But West Coast also enters with the highest ceiling and has a dangerous blend of tactical speed and stamina, and it’s pretty clear that he’s never been better and we have not seen his best yet. And it’s also quite obvious that he HAS to be the fourth-choice in the betting, somewhere in the 8-to-10-1 range. And that seems mighty appealing when his three biggest rivals will be a fraction of that, and have more questions to answer than he does too. To me, he’s a no-brainer play, but obviously a lot can happen from now until Saturday, November 4.

Keen Ice: I don’t see any scenario where he wins the race, even though he’ll love the expected honest, and maybe even hot, pace and clearly the 1 ¼ miles, but at the end of the day he’s a slow plodder that has never run close to fast enough to win a race like this. Pace meltdown or not, he can get a piece, but that’s it.

Diversify: I wouldn’t bet him if he was 100-1, but you could argue he’s the most important of the prospective starters, as the complexion of the races changes a ton if he runs. Should he start, there’s no free pass on the lead for Collected and the pace looks raging hot. Should he pass, then Collected is a confirmed front runner who could get loose, while putting Gun Runner, West Coast and Arrogate in the precarious position of being on the hard chase throughout. Keep a close eye on the proceedings, as Rick Violette holds a lot of aces, even if they won’t play well when all the cards are turned up.