What does shaky history of odds-on BC Classic favorites mean for Flightline?
Unless Life Is Good runs off the screen in the Oct. 1 Woodward (G1) at Aqueduct and earns an eye-popping speed figure, the expectation is that Flightline's price in the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland will mirror his closing odds in Pool 2 of the Breeders' Cup Classic Future Wager held over Labor Day weekend. That being 4-5, or somewhere in odds-on territory.
Whether that will represent fair value or not is dependent on Flightline having a complication-free preparation for the Classic and other, more minor factors. Few, in general, like to take such a short price on any horse on any day, but sometimes it can be justified. More often in the history of the Classic, though, it has not.
There have been seven previous odds-on favorites in the Classic, only two of whom won. While that might theoretically make Flightline worth opposing in any event, it's far better to deep-dive into the circumstances surrounding those seven favorites before making that assumption.
Slew o' Gold (1984, second via disqualification at 3-5)
Although dominant in the late summer and fall in New York, Slew o' Gold entered the inaugural Classic following a well-publicized flare-up of a hoof crack issue that had been plaguing the horse throughout the season. While it would have been hard to come up with 31-1 upset winner Wild Again, taking Slew o' Gold at such a short price was in itself risky given his infirmities, his inexperience running in Southern California, and the presence of the best three-year-old in training at the time, Preakness (G1) and Super Derby (G1) winner Gate Dancer.
Easy Goer (1989, second at 1-2)
Easy Goer entered the Classic at Gulfstream Park on a five-race win streak, three of which were against older horses. But he was also facing for the fourth time archrival Sunday Silence, who had prevailed over Easy Goer in two of their prior showdowns in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness. Even allowing for Easy Goer's rising stock since those reversals, the bare form suggested the two were evenly matched and that Easy Goer's price was no bargain compared to Sunday Silence's 2-1 odds.
Cigar (1995, won at 7-10)
Entering the Classic at Belmont Park on an 11-race, cross-country win streak that dated back to the previous October, Cigar looked a solid bet to extend the good fortune. Not only had he sent three-year-old champion Thunder Gulch to an early retirement by crushing him in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), his main rivals in a relatively lackluster Classic were Gold Cup runner-up Unaccounted For and English star Halling, who wound up trailing having never faced top-level company on dirt before.
Cigar (1996, third at 0.65-1)
Cigar entered this title defense at Woodbine still the best older horse in America, but he'd begun showing signs of vulnerability when losing two of his prior three starts in the Pacific Classic (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup, the latter to Skip Away. While Skip Away bypassed this Classic, and there was little to absolutely love about any of the others, including longshot winner Alphabet Soup, the most important opinion to have was not believing Cigar represented good value in the circumstances compared to the previous year.
Curlin (2008, fourth at 9-10)
Curlin was the obvious class on paper in this Santa Anita edition, but also an easy one to take a stand against at the price. Not only had he made a bit of work to defeat an inferior rival in his final prep, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but Curlin was also being asked to run over a synthetic surface for the first time. Although he fared well enough in the circumstances, Curlin was beaten to the wire by two European invaders, whose turf form suggested they would handle the unfamiliar footing better, and the locally-based Tiago.
American Pharoah (2015, won at 7-10)
Although upset in his previous start in the Travers (G1), American Pharoah remained the star of this Classic, which was held at Keeneland for the first time. The first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, he had no standout older horse to fear and arguably benefited from the defection of leading older mare Beholder, a scintillating winner against males in the Pacific Classic. Receiving no serious challenge early, American Pharoah ran away from the field.
"A triple crown winner, a Breeders' Cup winner, a horse of a LIFETIME!" 🏆— Breeders' Cup (@BreedersCup) May 7, 2022
We'll never forget when American Pharoah and Victor Espinoza won the 2015 @Longines Breeders' Cup Classic at @Keeneland.
Tickets to #BC22 Keeneland go on sale Monday: https://t.co/MaddJzx9kF pic.twitter.com/tfk8387dLU
California Chrome (2016, second at 9-10)
Whether California Chrome, who was 6-for-6 on the season, was worth accepting at the price was dependent on whether one believed the lightly-raced three-year-old leader Arrogate could run back to, or come close to replicating, his historic, track record-setting romp in the Travers. For those who believed 'Chrome would finally be facing his first real challenge of the season, an odds-on price was surely an unattractive proposition.
The takeaway from this trip down memory lane is to keep your eyes and ears open over the next seven-plus weeks for signs of vulnerability in Flightline as an expected odds-on favorite. The main question is not so much who specifically will win the Classic, but whether Flightline will be a single or not.