Breeders’ Cup Classic Just a Guessing Game

As you get closer to delving into the Breeders’ Cup Classic past performances be prepared for so many questions it will send you into a state of total confusion.~ Steve Haskin

Breeders’ Cup Classic Just a Guessing Game

By Steve Haskin


Between now and the Breeders’ Cup Classic you’re going to hear more than once that there are no standouts, but it’s a good betting race. Wrong. In actuality it’s a terrible betting race. Yes it’s an interesting wide-open race, but in order for it to be a good betting race you have to have a fairly strong conviction based on your handicapping tools, having some idea who these horses are, how they are coming up to the race, and who stands out on the speed figures.

Do you use the Beyer, Brisnet or Equibase figures or Ragozin or Thoro-Graph? How are they going to help you when the two favorites are coming off 13-week and 10-week layoffs and the third and fourth choices are both coming off nine-week layoffs, as are the first two finishers of The Jockey Club Gold Cup?

Do you really have any idea what to make of the leading older horse, White Abarrio, who had been a nice solid up and down horse for Saffie Joseph Jr. his entire career and surely was not known for his brilliance and explosive victories? Two races after being turned over to Rick Dutrow, who is trying to restart his career following a 10-year suspension, White Abarrio looked like Flightline, crushing his field in the Whitney Stakes by more than six lengths at odds of 10-1. That was back on August 5, and instead of building on his brilliant form and being given a prep for the Classic, he wasn’t heard from until he shipped to Santa Anita in September to train for the Classic.

Could it be it was because a horse who was running between a “2” and “16” on Thoro-Graph the first two years of his career now winds up running a “negative-6” in the Whitney and Dutrow was forced to give him time off? To add to the confusion, after shipping to California, White Abarrio missed a scheduled workout. He has since worked.

As for the possible favorite Arcangelo there is no doubting his talent and the fantastic job his trainer Jena Antonucci has done with him, getting the lightly raced colt to win the Belmont Stakes and then defying the doubters by winning the Travers Stakes off an 11-week layoff. Now she will try to add the Breeders’ Cup Classic coming off a 10-week layoff. The question is can she continue to race her colt so sparingly and keep the magic going against a whole new group of opponents, several racing over their home track across the country? No one would be surprised if he kept his winning streak going, but is he worth the odds he’s going to be? After all, his two main opponents in the Travers, the favorite Forte and Kentucky Derby winner Mage, did virtually no running , as if they weren’t handling the track, and were uncharacteristically beaten eight and 13 lengths, respectively. And Arcangelo was being hard-ridden to hold off 12-1 shot Disarm by one length after opening a three-length lead at the eighth pole.

Arcangelo could very well be on the verge of stardom and a Horse of the Year title, but once again we are looking at this strictly from a betting standpoint and there seems to be enough questions regarding the two favorites. So how high would your confidence level be betting both at short odds in a big field?

Then we have 3-year-olds Arabian Knight and Geaux Rocket Ride, the one-two finishers of the Pacific Classic. Beating a weak group of California older horses is not the accomplishment one would normally think. That is reflected in the modest 101 Beyer figure by both horses to go along with the pedestrian final quarter of :26 1/5. When you go an opening half in :46 3/5 and wind up with a final time of 2:03 you have to have some doubts about the quality of the race and whether these are true mile and a quarter horses. Their “3” on Thoro-Graph didn’t flatter them either. Again, both horses no doubt are talented and will win their share of stakes, but are you confident betting them in the Breeders’ Cup Classic based on the Pacific Classic? The third-place finisher Slow Down Andy came back to beat another weak field in the Awesome Again Stakes, going wire to wire on a speed favoring track, and like the first two finishers of the Pacific Classic he earned only a 101 Beyer figure.

Now let’s go back east and take a look at Forte, who has had a star-crossed year. The favorite for the Kentucky Derby was a vet scratch the morning of the race due to a foot bruise, was then forced to miss the Preakness, but came back to run a strong second in the Belmont and win the Jim Dandy before running by far the worst race of his career in the Travers. Now he reportedly is dealing with a quarter crack. Good luck figuring out what to with him in the Classic if he even makes it.

Kentucky Derby winner Mage looked as if he was reaching his peak form with a strong second in the Haskell, but who knows what happened in the Travers when he was a no-show? The questions keep piling up.

Do you want even more confusion? You may have to deal with two Japanese invaders, the Dubai World Cup winner Ushba Tesoro and UAE Derby winner Derma Sotogake. As we know it’s always dangerous betting against Japanese horses these days. Could we also get the Saudi-trained Emblem Road, winner of last year’s Saudi Cup and third in this year’s Dubai World Cup?

OK, so far are you truly confident in any of the horses we’ve mentioned? Let’s go to The Jockey Club Gold Cup and the two horses separated by a nose, Bright Future, who two races back was beaten 43 lengths in the Brooklyn in his only other stakes appearance, and Proxy, a tough, hard-knocking 5-year-old who has won six of his 19 career starts, but only three of his last 11. The JC Gold Cup was just another on the list of weak fields for older horses this year, so it’s difficult to know what to make of it. The 103 Beyer was well below par for older Breeders’ Cup Classic horses in a Grade 1 race.

Now I’m going to surprise you. It would sound foolish to say a horse who lost eight straight races has no question marks. But Zandon has none, or very few. He may not be talented enough to win the Classic, but at least you know what you’re going to get, and with an impressive confidence builder in the Woodward Stakes to snap his losing streak it is safe to say that based on his overall resume he is the sturdiest, most consistent, and in many ways the classiest horse in the race over a period of time. This is a horse who looked like a major Derby contender winning the Blue Grass Stakes by daylight. He then went into a rut when it came to finding the winner’s circle. But his eight-race losing streak consisted of five seconds, two thirds, and a fourth, with six of those races Grade 1, including the Kentucky Derby, Travers, Met Mile, and Whitney. In addition, during his losing streak he finished ahead of White Abarrio, Cody’s Wish, Mo Donegal, and Cyberknife.

Looking at the Classic’s leading contenders, White Abarrio has three triple-digit Beyer figures in his career, Arcangelo and Geaux Rocket Ride have two, and Arabian Knight has one, as does Mage. The hard-knocking Proxy, with 19 career starts, has four in his last eight races. Zandon has seven triple-digit Beyers in his last eight starts and is the only horse coming off four straight negative Thoro-Graph numbers. The one race he didn’t reach a triple Beyer, the Cigar Mile, was the only time he ran on a sloppy track. His 106 in finishing second to Cody’s Wish in the Met Mile was the second fastest Beyer of all the Classic horses behind White Abarrio’s 110 in his freakish performance in the Whitney. The main reason I’m going into such detail about him is that he has proven his class over a period of time, is coming off a powerful victory, and he will be higher odds than just about every horse mentioned above.

From a non-handicapping standpoint, Zandon’s breeder, Airdrie Stud, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Airdrie’s founder Brereton Jones, one of Kentucky’s most beloved figures, passed away last month at age 84. In 2010, Claiborne Farm won the BC Classic with Blame on its 100th anniversary.

So the bottom line is this year’s Classic could turn out to be an entertaining race, but from a handicapping standpoint it is a pure guessing game because of all the questions surrounding the participants.


Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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92 Responses to “Breeders’ Cup Classic Just a Guessing Game”

  1. Lynda King says:


    This is the heartbreaking story of what happened to Ruffian after she fractured her sesamoids.

    • SJ says:

      I couldn’t read that site, but I can tell you Ruffian was her own worst enemy. She thrashed about so much that her brace to stabilize her leg came off in recovery. Mr. Jenney then decided on euthanization. I was there.

    • Deacon says:

      I swore to myself that I would never watch another video or relive that tragic day. I have never forgotten that horrible day, nor will I ever.
      She is my all time favorite filly. As a male I have cried much in my life, but I cried fateful day in 1975.
      48 years ago, I remember it as yesterday.
      Many blessings Lynda go to you for your tireless activity in the protection of horses.

  2. Ms Blacktype says:

    There’s a good follow story on Echo Zulu on the drf website. According to Scott Blasi, Steve Asmussen’s top assistant, she’s resting comfortably in her stall at Santa Anita, has been sleeping a lot, and is able to get up and down with no problem. She’ll be transferred to Chino Valley Equine Clinic later this week to continue her recovery.

  3. Matthew W says:

    White Abarrio works tomorrow….Ill be watching—Emily Ellingwood has had trouble pulling him up—thats a real good sign ….