by Johnny D
November 5, 2020
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/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/CASTLELLANO)
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/ORTIZ JR.) - 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.
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.
TOP 4 PICKS:
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 BETTING 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
Friday (Race 7): Juvenile Turf
Really a crapshoot, so don’t take any wooden nickels in here. Remember, short run to the first turn.
Friday (Race 8): Juvenile Fillies
This field is short on numbers but long on talent.
Friday (Race 9): Juvenile Fillies Turf
Looking for a non-Euro closer in here.
Friday (Race 10): Juvenile
Saturday (Race 4): Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday (Race 5): Turf Sprint
Saturday (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.
Saturday (Race 7): Filly & Mare Turf
Saturday (Race 8): Sprint
Saturday (Race 9): Mile
Saturday (Race 10): Distaff
Saturday (Race 11): Turf
Saturday (Race 12): Classic
See above for complete analysis. #10 Maximum Security and #8 Improbable seem best in here.