Handicapping the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic before pre-entries

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TwinSpires Staff

October 20th, 2018

McKinzie captures the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) (c) Kathleen O'Leary/

by Scott Shapiro

The Breeders’ Cup is right around the corner and if time permits it is never too early to get a head start on handicapping the World Championships. Sure, there will be much more data available once pre-entries take place next week, but there is certainly enough information out there now for those looking to get ahead of the game.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) will not have the star power it had in years’ past when the likes of American Pharoah, California Chrome, Arrogate and Gun Runner competed in the $6 million event, but the 2018 rendition could produce a “price” for the first time in a number of years.

My final work will not be complete until the fields are set and I can evaluate the likely pace scenario. Furthermore, I will need the Optix EQ plot and my preferred performance ratings to be able to make any sort of true prediction, but there are a couple of things I have been able to do a couple of weeks out to prepare myself for the mile and a quarter race over the main track.

First, of course I printed out my Brisnet Breeders’ Cup Contender PP’s. There will definitely be runners listed here who do not make the race, but gaining familiarity with those considering the big event cannot hurt.

After a quick perusal of the potential horses on paper, I have watched a lot of video replays on as my main preliminary research. Like any other race I started with the likely favorite. Establishing an opinion on the public choice will go a long way in determining just how much time and money I want to put into a given race. Therefore, gaining a strong understanding of how these top handicap horses ran over the last few months should help me when things get more hectic in the next couple of weeks.

Accelerate has won three straight Grade 1 races in Southern California and is almost certain to go off as the favorite in this year’s Classic. On paper, it is hard to poke holes, but visually he has not impressed as much as the past performances may suggest. Couple that with a horse who lacks significant experience away from home and a trainer who has struggled at the Breeders’ Cup and you have a short-priced runner who is worth taking a chance against under the Twin Spires.

With this in mind it makes diving deep into the Classic a worthwhile endeavor. The question now becomes which horses are likeliest to beat Accelerate on November 3 at legendary Churchill Downs. Even without my full array of data and the post positions still to be determined, I can still begin to separate pretenders from contenders.

Bob Baffert has won three of the last four renditions of the Classic, so I decided to dissect his runners first.

West Coast raced for the first time since a runner-up effort in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) on September 29 in the Awesome Again (G1) and ran pretty well considering he needed the race. He is an obvious contender in the Classic, but he will likely take significant support at the windows. That being said, I did not see anything that I did not like in his comeback start at Santa Anita Park.

The same can be said about McKinzie, who made his first start since March in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and won by a 1 3/4 lengths in the end. The son of Street Sense was prominent early as the 2-1 favorite and got the best of the Penn Derby field, earning a career-best 112 BRIS Speed rating in the process. He will meet the toughest group of his career in the Breeders’ Cup, but if the bay colt moves forward in his second start of the form cycle he has a shot to get to the wire first.

Collected was the least impressive of the Baffert trio on tape when disappointing as the 2-5 favorite on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard at Parx Racing. He will likely be a big price in Kentucky, but he appears to be going the wrong way after a 2017 campaign where he ran second in this race to Gun Runner and earned over $1.8 million. I will be careful to dig more into the Speedway Stable runner when more information is readily available, but for now he seems like a pass.

Outside of the Baffert trio, I was most impressed with Mind Your Biscuits most recent effort on replay. I was against the idea of this New York-bred racing at two turns against this level of competition before his performance over the Churchill Downs surface, but visually he did it very well in his victory in the Lukas Classic (G3) in late September. He is worthy of more homework.

Thunder Snow also intrigues after a strong runner-up effort where he sat in a comfortable spot off of the hot early pace of Diversify in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and took a brief lead in the lane before getting run down by Discreet Lover in the lane. The Irish-bred bay is not without a chance if he can move forward off of that performance.

After a first review, horses like Axelrod, Catholic Boy, Pavel and Seeking the Soul also merit further consideration, but on initial glance they appear a cut below those that interest me most.

I look forward to the next steps in the handicapping process, but I am glad I got familiar with the field and watched a lot of replays to get things rolling.