A Breeders' Cup Classic target would benefit American Pharoah & Beholder

Profile Picture: James Scully

October 15th, 2015

With the front-running Liam’s Map bypassing the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in favor of the $1 million Dirt Mile, there is a common misconception that it benefits the chances of American Pharoah and Beholder because they possess speed.

Don’t buy it.

The connections of American Pharoah and Beholder would much prefer to have a target at the 1 ¼-mile distance and Liam’s Map fit the job description to a tee.

American Pharoah and Beholder are now at the mercy of the Classic post draw because an inside starting position could result in being on the lead by default. And we witnessed how that worked out for American Pharoah in the Travers; the Triple Crown winner caught early pressure and weakened late.

The Haskell Invitational two starts back is a prime example of the ideal Classic trip, with American Pharoah biding his time just off the pacesetter before making his move on the far turn and accelerating into the stretch full of run. He did the same in an eight-length Arkansas Derby blowout as well.

If American Pharoah makes the lead by default leaving the Classic starting gate, there’s no guarantee he’ll have everything his own way similar to the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Indeed, many observers, including myself, thought the Travers would be a carbon copy of the final two legs of the Triple Crown but Frosted didn’t play along, dueling head-and-head with American Pharoah down the backstretch at Saratoga.

Classic participant Smooth Roller advanced to hustle American Pharoah’s pacesetting stablemate, Bayern, down the backstretch of the September 26 Awesome Again at Santa Anita and Baffert doesn’t want to see the same scenario develop in the October 31 Classic at Keeneland, with American Pharoah pinned down on the rail catching outside pressure before the critical final stages.

An inside draw could compromise the chances of Beholder as well. Once a confirmed speedball, leading wire to wire in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and posting her first seven wins in front-running fashion, she’s become a stalker despite being misclassified as a horse who prefers to run on or very close to the lead.

The 5-year-old mare has not led at the first two points of a call in her last nine races. The transformation began in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), where jockey Gary Stevens kept Beholder a wide third early, avoiding any chance of a pace duel in her second attempt at a 1 1/8-mile distance.

Richard Mandella realized Beholder needed to relax in order to thrive at longer distances and the Hall of Fame trainer orchestrated a change in running style.

The change has paid off handsomely as anyone who watched her romp the 1 ¼-mile Pacific Classic can attest; Beholder was five lengths back after the opening quarter-mile and continued to trail by four lengths at the second point of call. In the September 26 Zenyatta at Santa Anita, Beholder rated in fifth during the early stages.

American Pharoah and Beholder will be the top two betting choices, by a wide margin, in the Classic field. A wire-to-wire victory is not impossible to envision, but both would benefit from having a target to track instead of being the hunted one. has the early Breeders' Cup PPs files available for all 13 races -- 4 on Breeders' Cup Friday (30th) and 9 on Breeders' Cup Saturday (31st). Click here to access: