November 3, 2012 at 5:30pm PST will mark the 29th running of the prestigious Breeders Cup Classic. The $5,000,000 1 1/4 miles race has seen superstar horses such as Curlin, Cigar, A.P. Indy, Awesome Again and Sunday Silence among others win. In a field of 12 males, there are nine older males and three three year olds. How do they match up?
GRADED WINS & CONSISTENCY
When it comes to handicapping big races such as the 2012 Breeders Cup Classic, I always look to horses who have won at the highest level of graded company, how often they have won and their consistency. The first horse you have to look at in this race is Game on Dude.
The five year old Awesome Again gelding finished 2nd to Drosselmeyer in last year’s Classic and will look for redemption on home soil this year. Aside from his poor performance in Dubai, he hasn’t done much wrong back in the US. He’s won 4 of 5 races including the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) at BetFair Hollywood Park on July 7 and Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita on September 29. His only defeat came to Dullahan in the TVG Pacific Classic where he finished 2nd. Four of his seven career graded stakes wins have come at Santa Anita. He knows the track and has performed well over the dirt surface.
Ron the Greek has been as consistent as any in 2012 with two wins and three runner-up in six races. He may only have the two wins, but those two were quite impressive. He traveled to Santa Anita in March and won the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), so we know he likes the surface. The other victory was the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs on June 16. He’s finished 2nd in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and Whitney Invitational (G1) as well as the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes. Not sure what happened in his later where he finished 6th in the Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont Park. It was the first time in 13 races that he didn’t finish on the board. Expect trainer Bill Mott to have him ready to go.
Flat Out is another Mott trained horse who is coming off his best performance in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park on September 29. It was his first win since taking the same race last year. Mott took over the reigns of the six year old Flatter colt from Scooter Dickey in early Spring. He missed action five months of action after his 5th place performance in the Donn Handicap in February. His return came in July at Monmouth Park in the Monmouth Cup Stakes (G2). He finished 2nd to Rule in a five horse field. He returned a month later to finish 3rd in the Whitney Invitational and won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in his third race back from layoff. He looks to be ready to improve on his 5th place performance in last year’s BC Classic.
Fort Larned has burst on the scene in 2012 for trainer Ian Wilkes. He started the year at Tampa Bay Downs where he had a 4th in his season debut, then won the Challenger Stakes. He shipped across the state to Gulfstream Park and won the Skip Away Stakes (G3) in March. On May 4, he finished 2nd to Successful Dan in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs. His worst race of the year came in the Stephen Foster where he finished 8th. Still not sure what happened there as he was sitting off the lead early on. He erased any doubts from that race by winning the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3) and Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) at Saratoga within five weeks of each other. His last was a 3rd in the Jockey Club. He’s proven that he can compete consistently at the highest level in this division.
The seven year old Richard’s Kid keeps on ticking. After a dismal year in Dubai from March 2011 to March 2012, he quickly picked up where he left off. In October 2010, he won the Goodwood Stakes (G1) and upon his return this year for trainer Bob Baffert, he won the Prove It Stakes at BetFair Hollywood Park in June. He finished 2nd to Game on Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup before winning the Cougar II Handicap (G3) at Del Mar. He ran a game 3rd in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes under new trainer Doug O’Neill trained horse. His last race was a closing 3rd in the Awesome Again. In Dubai, he didn’t finish in the top three in five consective races, but in Southern California he hasn’t finished outside the top three. The 1 1/4 miles will bode well for his closing racing style.
Mucho Macho Man has won 3 of 5 races this year with one 2nd and a 3rd. In 17 career races, he’s won six times and been in the top three in 14 of those 17. Certainly a model of consistency for trainer Kathy Ritvo. The three wins in 2012 have come in the 1 1/8 miles Florida Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes, one mile Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) at Gulfstream Park and 1 1/8 miles Suburban Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park. He’s had two previous attempts going 1 1/4 miles or longer and that occurred last year as a three year old. He finished a game 3rd behind Animal Kingdom and Nehro in the Kentucky Derby and 7th in the Belmont Stakes. We could forgive the poor result in the Belmont as he would miss five months after that race.
To Honor and Serve has won 8 of 16 career races with four others in the top three. Another horse with consistency on his side. Of those 8 however, just two have come at distances longer than a mile. He won the Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct as a two year old and the Woodward Stakes (G1) at Saratoga this Summer. He defeated Much Macho Man by a neck. Of the three Bill Mott trained horses in this field, this is most inexperienced at the 1 1/4 miles distance. He finished 7th last year in this race and I don’t see him hitting the board this year.
HOW HAVE THREE YEAR OLDS FARED IN THE CLASSIC?
In 28 attempts, only 9 times has a three year old won this event. Of the nine, seven won a pre-Derby or triple crown race.
Proud Truth (1985 won the Florida Derby)
Sunday Silence (1989 won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness)
Unbridled (1989 won the Florida and Kentucky Derby)
A.P. Indy (1992 won the Santa Anita Derby and Belmont Stakes)
Concern (1994 won the Arkansas Derby)
Cat Thief (1999 none)
Tiznow (2000 none)
Curlin (2007 won the Arkansas Derby, Preakness and Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes)
Raven’s Pass (2008 won two Group 1 races before the Classic)
So of the 28 Classic races, just nine have been won by a three year old. Two of those nine did not win a triple crown or pre-Derby race. Tiznow won as a three and four year old and the reason this statistic sticks out more than ever is the 2012 Breeders Cup Classic will not have a pre-Derby or triple crown race winner in the field. With I’ll Have Another (Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner), Bodemeister (Arkansas Derby), Union Rags (Belmont Stakes) and Gemologist (Wood Memorial) retired, Take Charge Indy (Florida Derby) not in action since the Kentucky Derby, Hero of Order (Louisiana Derby) non-existent since the upset win and Dullahan (Blue Grass Stakes).
The three year olds in this year’s field are Alpha, Handsome Mike and Nonios.
Alpha came back to finish 6th in the Pennsylvania Derby after his dead-heat win with Golden Ticket in the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 25. The three year old Bernardini colt has won 5 of 10 career races and has take advantage of a depleted division. He’s also won the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga in July and Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct in February. The one thing he does have going for him is that he won going 1 1/4 miles. At least it shows he can run that far. However, this field is much stronger than those he defeated.
Handsome Mike comes off his biggest career race for trainer Doug O’Neill and Reddam Racing in winning the $1,000,000 Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Parx Racing on September 22. His only other win in 10 career races was when he broke his maiden last Fall. He’s been on the board in all but one of those 10 career races, but comparing the talent he’s faced to those of the older horses is not even close.
Nonios is an interesting horse in this field as the Jerry Hollendorfer trained colt hasn’t been able to win in his last four races, but has three runner-up efforts including the Awesome Again against Game on Dude and other older males. He won the Affirmed Handicap (G3) at Hollywood in June, then finished 2nd in the Swaps Stakes (G2), 5th in the Travers before the 2nd last month at Santa Anita. This will be his toughest task, but at least he’s shown he belongs.
Statistics and past performances are certainly not on the side of the three year olds, especially when you consider they’ve had a tough task at defeating horses in their own division. I don’t expect any of these three to come close to winning.
I fully expect Game on Dude to win this race. He is the class of the field with more graded wins than any other. It’s his home track and aside from the Pacific Classic, he has been unbeatable this year. I like the way Flat Out has improved with each race since changing to the Mott barn. The Jockey Club win has him on track for a big run here. Look for Fort Larned to continue his terrific 2012 campaign. He’s become better and better as the year has worn on and I expect another solid performance. He may be seven years old, but Richard’s Kid has loved every minute back in the comfy confines of Southern California. He’ll be a late presence in this race. If the speed is hot and contested early on, he could be the one to steal it just like Drosselmeyer did last year.
Click here to view the entire field for the 2012 Breeders Cup Classic, as well as, read analysis of each contender.