Keeler Johnson's Breeders' Cup Classic Top 10: Yoshida Enters the Picture

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September 23rd, 2018

A lot has changed since I posted my last Top 10 ranking of contenders for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.

Major races like the Travers Stakes, Woodward Stakes, and Pennsylvania Derby have significantly influenced the landscape of contenders, while a wildly talented European has joined the list of possible starters. So with six weeks to go, here are my updated Top 10 rankings….
  1. Yoshida

Maybe I’m stretching a bit by ranking Yoshida at the top of my list, but I loved the way he rolled right by his rivals to win the Woodward Stakes (gr. I), overcoming a very wide run around the far turn to surge clear with authority and prevail by two lengths while running the final furlong in a solid :12.39 seconds. That was his debut on dirt, but Yoshida didn’t seem to have any issues handling the surface or the kickback. Given his past success on grass, I think he’ll relish Churchill Downs, a track that has a reputation for playing kindly toward turf horses.
  1. McKinzie

This talented three-year-old showed no signs of rust while winning the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. I) off a six-month layoff, racing wide before taking command and fighting off a challenge from the two-time graded stakes winner Axelrod to cross the wire 1 ¾ lengths in front. Trained by Bob Baffert, who has won three of the last four renewals of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, McKinzie earned a career-best 107 Beyer speed figure and appears to be back in peak form just in time for the Breeders’ Cup.
  1. Accelerate

It’s really hard to knock Accelerate, given that he’s won three Grade 1 races going 1 ¼ miles this year, and if he brings his A-game to Churchill Downs he’ll absolutely be the horse to beat. But he has very little experience racing outside of California (his lone road trip resulted in a loss), and it’s not hard to think back to horses like Lava Man and Game On Dude, who were generally beasts on the California circuit, but who had trouble bringing their best against tougher competition in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
  1. Catholic Boy

You can argue that Catholic Boy got a picture-perfect trip while winning the Travers Stakes (gr. I), but he was also much the best that day and clearly relishes 1 ¼ miles, which is something that not many Classic contenders can claim. As with Yoshida, Catholic Boy’s previous success on grass bodes well for his chances at Churchill Downs.
  1. Roaring Lion

Generally speaking, the progeny of Kitten’s Joy have had very little success on dirt, but after trainer John Gosden mentioned Roaring Lion as a possible candidate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, we may have to set that generality aside and make sure that we don’t overlook a very talented horse strictly on the basis of pedigree. After all, Roaring Lion won three of the biggest Group 1 races in Europe this summer, all coming at 1 ¼ miles or 1 5/16 miles, and his raw ability is indisputable. He’s already demonstrated his superiority over some of the best horses in Europe, including the classic winner Saxon Warrior and the two-time Group 1 winner Poet’s Word, and if he contests the Classic, Roaring Lion would be a very intriguing wildcard.
  1. West Coast

It remains unclear whether West Coast has enough time to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, or if trainer Bob Baffert would even enter him in such an important race off such a lengthy layoff, but West Coast does seem to be progressing quickly in his workouts over the last month, most recently breezing six furlongs from the starting gate in a bullet 1:12.60 on September 20th. On talent alone, last year’s champion three-year-old male can’t be counted out.
  1. Diversify

This two-time Grade 1 winner wrapped up his preparations for Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) by breezing five furlongs in a bullet :58.97, his second straight sub-:59 workout at Belmont Park. From all appearances, Diversify appears to be maintaining top form as the climax of the racing season approaches, but his disappointing run in last year’s Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs still looms as a question mark with the Breeders’ Cup heading to Churchill.
  1. Pavel

According to the Daily Racing Form, Pavel received a brief farm freshening following his runner-up effort in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) and is expected to train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. To that end, he breezed three furlongs in an easy :37.60 on September 21st, his first workout since the Pacific Classic.
  1. Thunder Snow

The Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner recently arrived in the U.S. for a start in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, where we’ll get a chance to see how he stacks up against Diversify. Don’t let his last-place finish in the Juddmonte International (Eng-I) concern you too much—that race was strictly a starting point to his fall campaign, and he lost two shoes during the running.
  1. Gunnevera

True, Gunnevera is more of a “pick up the pieces” type when facing top-class competition, but that tendency could still yield a big payday in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He finished a solid fifth in that race last year and demonstrated that he’s still in good form by unleashing an impossibly wide rally to finish second in the Woodward Stakes behind Yoshida. Like a few others on this list, Gunnevera is expected to train up to the Classic.