Looking for Longshots in the Breeders' Cup Classic

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

October 30th, 2018

Unlike the last few years, when a handful of standout runners have made the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) more of a showdown among short-priced favorites than a wide-open betting race, the November 3rd, 2018 edition of the Classic at Churchill Downs is surely among the most puzzling in recent memory.

In terms of career-best Beyer speed figures, it’s easy to point to #14 Accelerate and #7 West Coast as the horses to beat. Indeed, they’re the two favorites on the morning line odds, and if they bring their best, it will be difficult for anyone else to keep up. Accelerate alone has won four Grade 1 races this year, including three over the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar, he crushed a quality field by 12 ½ lengths with a 115 Beyer. Likewise, West Coast boasts some huge Beyers on his record—including a 117 from his second-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup (gr. I) back in January—and his third-place finish in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic was a respectable effort.

But Accelerate seemed to take a step backward while winning the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I) last time out, breaking slowly and looking a bit dull early on before rallying under pressure to defeat West Coast by 2 ¼ lengths with a Beyer of just 100, his lowest of the year. And when you consider that West Coast was making his first start since March and was reportedly only 80% ready for the Awesome Again, the fact that Accelerate had to work to beat him is a little bit concerning. Throw in the fact that Accelerate has now drawn the far outside post position while making just his second start outside of California, and I’m tempted to try to beat him.

West Coast is certainly a logical candidate to get the job done, considering that he has come back with three strong workouts since the Awesome Again, but he’ll need to really step up his game a lot to win, and it remains unclear whether he’s quite as effective going 1 ¼ miles as he is going shorter.

Truthfully, the two horses that I find most interesting in the Classic are #2 Roaring Lion and #10 Yoshida, who offer significantly better odds (20-1 and 10-1) than the two favorites. Simply put, Roaring Lion has been an absolute beast in Europe this year, winning five of his last six starts (including four straight Group 1 races) while proving particularly dominant going 1 ¼ miles and 1 5/16 miles. He sharpened his speed with a victory in the one-mile Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I) just two weeks ago, and the stiff, uphill mile of that race could serve as a perfect prep for the Classic.

The obvious question is whether Roaring Lion can handle the switch to dirt—he’s never run on anything but grass, and his sire, Kitten’s Joy, isn’t known for siring dirt runners—but from a class perspective, I think Roaring Lion is arguably the best horse in the Classic field, and if he can stay out of trouble while breaking from post position two (granted, easier said than done), I don’t think it’s out of the question that he can upset this race at a big price.

Yoshida has also spent the vast majority of his career running on turf, but he demonstrated a clear affinity for dirt as well while producing a powerful late rally to win the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga against a quality field that included three next-out graded stakes winners. In terms of Beyer speed figures, Yoshida still needs to step up his game a bit, but late runners closing from far behind have won six of the eight previous Breeders’ Cup Classics at Churchill Downs, and if the pace gets testing over the often tiring main track at Churchill Downs, Yoshida could be a candidate to roll past the field in the final furlong and prevail.

Two other colts that I’ll use are #6 McKinzie, who recently returned from a long layoff to win the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. I), and #9 Mendelssohn, who pushed a blazing pace in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) before battling on to finish third, beaten two lengths. I prefer Mendelssohn over the Jockey Club Gold Cup 1-2 finishers #13 Discreet Lover and #1 Thunder Snow, who took advantage of the fast pace while rallying from much farther behind.

So let’s mix and match these contenders and see if we can’t come up with some winning plays….

$10 to win on #2 Roaring Lion and #10 Yoshida ($20) $3 exacta: 6,7 with 2,10 ($12) $2 exacta: 2,10 with 2,10 ($4) $1 trifecta: 2,10 with 2,6,7,9,10 with 2,6,7,9,10 ($24)

Total: $60

Good luck!