All eyes on the Breeders’ Cup Classic

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The $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic closes the two-day World Championships program at Keeneland Race Course and it packs plenty of implications. Eclipse Award titles are on the line for the 3-year-old male division and older dirt male division, along with the big prize of North America’s Horse of the Year for 2020.

The 10-furlong test brings together the best of the best – or at least what’s left after a grueling season filled with highs and lows. Nothing could sum up the scene better for 2020, a year rocked by a pandemic, delayed and shifted Triple Crown and scores of races and race meetings run in front of empty stands.

The Classic was designed, like so many of the other original Breeders’ Cup races, to provide some clarity to the season. We expect to see that Saturday, when the Classic goes for the 37th time with a stacked field of 10.  

The team from This Is Horse Racing and The Saratoga Special didn’t make the journey to Lexington for the second Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland, but we thankfully didn’t get shut out on content to preview all the action. Thanks to a five-person pool reporting team assembled by the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters, which was granted full access all week to the stable area and grandstand for morning training, we’ve got the Breeders’ Cup Classic covered horse-by-horse. Tip of the cap to the crew – Jennie Rees, Alicia Hughes, Nicole Russo, Frank Angst and Tim Wilkin – who started their mornings early and finished late, churning out written, video and audio content for the world to use.

Here’s a look at the field for the 37th Breeders’ Cup Classic.

1. Tacitus. Juddmonte Farms multiple Grade 2-winning homebred certainly has his share of critics and naysayers He’s won the Grade 2 Suburban and Tampa Bay Derby and placed in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, Travers, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Asked this week if 4-year-old son of Tapit needed to do his impression of Mott’s Classic winner Drosselmeyer, the answer came quick.
Trainer Bill Mott: “He certainly needs to. … We need him to step up. The Classic is a good race, good tough horses in there and we need him to step up.”

2. Tiz The Law. A lot on the line for the pride of Sackatoga Stable and the New York breeding program. Winner of the Holy Bull Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes in succession before a loss in the Kentucky Derby, he could redeem here and take home Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male honors. He’s trained at Keeneland for three weeks and brings way more than a punchers chance into his first start against older horses.
Trainer Barclay Tagg: “I guess he’s going to have lay right away from there so he can get position. I don’t want a whole crowd on his outside. It’s all we can do. Leave away from there like he did in the Florida Derby. Ideally if Baffert’s horses would team up there on the front end, go like that and we sit off them a couple lengths and just be outside a couple lengths. Who knows?
What about the notion he doesn’t like to be down inside: “I don’t think he gives a damn, but I don’t really know. … I don’t think it makes an difference to him. It’s just what happens in a race. There’s a lot of things that can happen.
Are you amazed at his durability: “He’s been a nice sound horse for us. But like I say, we’ve kept a close eye on him. Robin (Smullen) went over his legs every day, Juan (Barajas) went over his legs every day and I went over his legs every day. Heather (Smullen) does when she’s with us. Nobody says, ‘he already looked at him,’ or anything like that. We all look at him. Keep a close eye on him. I have a super-duper crew.”
Was he tired going into or coming out of the Kentucky Derby: “I don’t think he was tired, I think he didn’t like the track. You could see it coming down the (lane). As soon as the jock jumped off he said ‘he didn’t like this track Mr. Tagg.’ ”

3. By My Standards. As consistent as they come, 4-year-old son of Goldencents has four wins and two seconds in six starts this year and has only been worse than third once in 12 career starts – in last year’s Kentucky Derby.
Jockey Gabriel Saez: “By My Standards, he’s my man. I love that horse. We’ve been having success over the year.
Trainer Bret Calhoun: “It’s hard to be super confident in these races, all I can base it on is how he’s doing and he’s doing extremely good. Every day is a great day for him. … Now he’s just to be a good enough. I’ve always thought he was and we’ll find out Saturday.
“Post three is fine for us. A mile and a quarter, you’ve got a long run to the first turn. The majority of the speed did draw outside. We’re in a good spot. I don’t think they’ll be pushing out too hard too quick. I think Authentic will be sent pretty hard. Maximum Security will be pretty close. I know those two should be out there. They drew outside so they should be hustling away from there a little bit.  Tactically as far as us we’ve got good tactical speed, definitely not part of the pace but could be sitting off of it.”

4. Tom’s d’Etat. Trainer Al Stall Jr., who spoiled Zenyatta’s undefeated career with a victory in the 2010 Classic with Blame, regrouped with 7-year-old son of Smart Strike after his unlucky trip in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga. He brought him back to Churchill, let him down a bit and got back to serious work in September with eyes on the Classic. He’s won at Keeneland – a blowout win in the Grade 2 Fayette last fall.
Trainer Al Stall Jr.: “Love post 4. We liked post 5 because that’s where Blame was but close enough. Very interesting that the three Baffert horses all drew outside. Three in a row. I’m glad we’re kind of far away from Improbable for obvious reasons. I just want to break cleanly, like he normally does. He’s a very good gate horse. I’m going to assume the Whitney was an aberration. Let him break well, Joel (Rosario) and the horse will place themselves where they’re comfortable depending on who does what from his inside and who does what from the outside. There’s speed on both sides of him. Totally out of my hands but I like the setup.
“We let him down just a little bit after the Whitney. Got the one month out of the way, August into September, trained him every day but then we started picking his breezes up. He’s hit every breeze like we wanted. His last three or four, including those two three-quarter-mile works were just what you’d want. We’re very happy with the horse. He’s got a reputation, a history, of running extremely well fresh and we’re hoping that angle works well for us.
Will you be sad to see him go to retirement? “I’m excited. At age 7 it’s enough. And I’m really excited he’s got a wonderful place to go to at WinStar. There won’t be any heads down. When he leaves here tomorrow to go to Keeneland it will be his last time to ever see Churchill Downs. What he’s got ahead of him in the future is good.”

5. Title Ready. Dallas Stewart and Chuck Fipke love the upset and they’re capable of pulling it off. Consider Forever Unbridled’s mild upset in the 2017 Distaff. Then there’s Unbridled Elaine’s 12-1 surprise in the 2001 Distaff, for Stewart and owner Roger Davenport. And who could forget Lemons Forever at 47-1 in the 2006 Kentucky Oaks for Willis Horton and Stewart? Now comes Title Ready, who might be that big of a price in search of his first stakes win in the biggest race in America. Stewart doesn’t shy from running a horse at a big price in a big race.
Trainer Dallas Stewart: “You’ve got to, if you want to survive in this business, you have to go after the big races and big purses. … It’s a tough race. Really good horses in there.”

6. Higher Power. John Sadler scored his first Breeders’ Cup win two years ago in the Classic with Accelerate and brings a bit of a dark horse to the 2020 edition with 5-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro. He’s won five of 19 starts but none since last year’s Grade 1 Pacific Classic at the Classic’s 10-furlong trip. Like Tiz The Law he showed up early at Keeneland – even sooner in fact – and comes in off three decent if-not-spectacular efforts in top stakes on the West Coast.
Trainer John Sadler: “The key for him is a good break that puts him in a stalking position. He needs to get a good position going into the first turn and have a good trip. … He didn’t break that well last year in the Classic. He needs to do that and get a good trip, something he hasn’t had a lot this year. … There is no question the field this year is deeper than last year. And, you don’t know how strong the 3-year-olds are.”

7. Global Campaign. Son of Curlin put some of his bad behavior and playfulness behind him this season and it culimated with victories in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup and Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga. He comes into the Classic fresh, without a race since the Sept. 5 Woodward, and could factor in the early pace under Javier Castellano.
Trainer Stanley Hough: “I can’t say he’s going to be better than those horses or whatever. I do think he’s doing well. His only mile and a quarter race was in the Woodward. He seemed to handle that very well. I think he likes that 60 days between races that he’s had the last couple times. I’m obviously excited about it but I do think he’s going to run a good race. He could follow the speed and do well.”

8. Improbable. The 5-2 morning-line favorite leads the three-horse lineup for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. He’s won three top Grade 1s in succession heading into the Classic – the Hollywood Gold Cup, Whitney and Awesome Again – and deserves the favorite’s role. A win and he’s Horse of the Year and champion older male. A loss and plenty is up in the air.
Trainer Bob Baffert: “With Improbable, it’s maturity. He was immature last year. He showed that he was a Derby favorite but really couldn’t put his races together. Now he’s a mature horse. He should be the favorite, after his last race and what he did in the Whitney. He’s going to be tough. He’s not one dimensional, he can stalk. Just an extra layer of weapons I have in the Classic. But you know what, Tiz The Law, he’s going to be tough. I’ve been watching him.  He’s a really good horse, looks great. Barclay Tagg has him looking fantastic. He came in here early, trained. It’s going to be a good horse race.”
“I’d never won the Whitney and when McKinzie won it was sad that Marylou Whitney had just passed. I would have loved to win when she was there. She had always been asking me, ‘when are you going to bring a horse and run in my race?’ The Whitney, for older horses, it’s a marquee race of the summer. It looks great on the resume of any stallion.”

9. Authentic. The Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness Stakes runner-up looks to get back on track and win his fifth race in seven starts this season, locking up champion 3-year-old male and potentially Horse of the Year honors in the process. He showed determination holding off Tiz The Law in the Derby but couldn’t get past the filly Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness a month later.
Trainer Bob Baffert: “Authentic is quick, he’s fast. … I have a good record bringing Derby winners to the Classic, bringing (American) Pharoah here. It’s exciting that we’re even running the Breeders’ Cup with a crazy year we’ve had. … Hopefully we can have some luck. I know what it’s like, I don’t get ahead of myself. Charlie Whittingham always used to say, ‘expect the worst, hope for the best, if you don’t this game will drive you crazy.’ I can’t think there’s any excuse for any of them.”

10. Maximum Security. The star-crossed disqualified Kentucky Derby “winner” didn’t miss a beat after being transferred to Bob Baffert from Jason Servis after his former trainer was dealt a federal indictment for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. He won the Saudi Cup in late February, didn’t run again until the summer and won the Grade 2 San Diego and Grade 1 Pacific Classic before a second to stablemate Improbable in the Awesome Again.
Trainer Bob Baffert: Max is fast. Max, you can put him where you want. Improbable he has speed himself, he can sit, he can stalk. What they have in common is they’re extremely talented horses. You hate to run all three of them together like that. Everything is on the line. Championship honors are on the line. It’s going to be a great race.
“We all know what a great horse he is. He didn’t win the Kentucky Derby. He came back and ended up 3-year-old champion. He was the best of his year. This year he’s done well. Had that one beat at Santa Anita where he was chasing a fast pace. It wasn’t his ideal type of race. He didn’t bring his A game. He’s come back and I think he’ll like this racetrack. These horses cannot make a mistake.
“He was trained a little bit differently than I train. I really got to know him really well. Probably the last few months, what he likes, doesn’t like. He doesn’t need a lot of training. Big, strong, heavy horse, but he’s got a tremendous heart and lung capacity. Never comes back blowing. He’s got what you need in a racehorse. What you can’t measure and that’s his heart. He can be empty and keeps finding. I saw him do that in the Saudi Cup, he was completely empty and still found a way to get there. At Del Mar, his first race back, he had every reason to get beat and he did not want to get beat.”