American Pharoah's BC Classic Quest

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D.S. Williamson

August 9th, 2015

With California Chrome on the shelf until the end of 2015 , the Todd Pletcher trained Liam's Map has officially become the challenger to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Should each horse suffer no setbacks from now until the Oct. 31 race at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, KY, it's difficult to see any horse other than Liam's Map and American Pharoah battling it out in the stretch in this year's Classic.

Honor Code won the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga this past Saturday. He nipped Liam's Map at the wire. Even though it's true that Tonalist, who finished third, and Honor Code gave up 7 pounds to Liam's Map in the Whitney, Liam's Map ran one of the best races that horesplayers have seen all year in the handicap division. Saratoga by no means has been a speed favoring track. Pressers and closers have done well over the track so far. Liam's Map carved out ridiculous fractions. The son of Unbridled's Song ran a quarter in :22.3, a half in :46 and 6 furlongs in 1:09.3. Liam's Map ran a mile in 1:34.3. The final time of the Whitney Handicap was 1:47.4. Since 2000, only Left Bank in 2002 and Laywer Ron in 2007, both Todd Pletcher trainees, have run faster Whitney Handicaps than Honor Code and Liam's Map.

The difference between Honor Code and Liam's Map is that Liam's Map doesn't need a pace set-up like he ran in the Whtiney Handicap in order to win. Liam's Map ran two speedy rivals in the Whitney, and his likely competition upfront in the BC Classic, into the ground on August 8. He dominated both Moreno and Noble Bird. Unless Bayern, the 2014 Breeders Cup Classic winner turns around his form, who is going to challenge Liam's Map in the first half mile of the Classic? Even if a rabbit does emerge, Liam's Map is likely to have no issue rating. According to Pletcher, he's a very good "work horse", meaning that Liam's Map pays attention to the cues that his work rider gives him. Those cues no doubt include waiting patiently behind the horse in front of him and then passing that horse during workouts.

American Pharoah next race has yet to be announced. In my other blog this week, I discussed the possibility of American Pharoah running in the Pacific Classic instead of the Travers Stakes. Richard Eng wrote a great article in the Las Vegas Review Journal highlighting the fact that Baffert is going to consider all possibilities. Whether Pharoah runs in the Pacific Classic or the Travers and whether or not a horse emerges that can take on the Triple Crown winner in the BC Classic may not matter. Based on Liam's Map's performance in the Whitney Handicap a challenger to American Pharoah in the Classic has already emerged.