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2010 Breeders' Cup: Classic Preview

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ARCADIA, CA - NOVEMBER 07: Winner Mike Smith rides Zenyatta races in the Breeders' Cup Classic race during the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park November 7, 2009 in Arcadia, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
ARCADIA, CA - NOVEMBER 07: Winner Mike Smith rides Zenyatta races in the Breeders' Cup Classic race during the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park November 7, 2009 in Arcadia, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The crown jewel of any Breeders' Cup is the Classic, the richest race in North America and a race where many of our greatest thoroughbreds have performed in the last 27-years.  Names like Cigar, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Easy Goer, A P Indy, and Ferdinand dot the history of this great event.  With the Breeders' Cup returning to Churchill Downs for this year's event the race has a certain "buzz" about it; there is something about running big races at one of the most recognizable tracks in the world in the heart of horse country, Kentucky.

I want to start off this look at the Classic by reviewing some historical numbers from the race, primarily as a baseline starting point.  I'll first take a look at the payout history, in order to get a sense of what kinds of dollars we are generally talking about with the Classic.

Win Average

$29.08

Win Median

$14.35

Exacta Average

$221.57

Exacta Median

$86.45

Trifecta Average

$3,897.04

Trifecta Median

$1,065.70

Super Average

$118,579.52

Super Median

$8,786.50

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are looking for the historical payouts for all Breeders' Cup races, check out the Excel file below:

Breeders' Cup Historical Payouts

Half the horses that have won the Classic in the last 27-years have gone off at odds of 6/1 or higher, not a bad return at all, and half of all trifectas have paid more than a $1,000.  If you can get a piece of the super, you're likely looking at a payout of at almost $10,000, at a minimum.  In terms of the payouts, the Classic has historically been pretty attractive.

The second piece of data is a chart that I posted a while ago summarizing previous Classics in terms of pace, winner, odds, and the winner's position after a ½ mile.  

(The table was a bit wide for the post so I screen captured it and posted as a picture.  Click on the table for a larger view.)

Classic_profile_medium

The final piece of information that I wanted to provide are the internal splits for all previous Classic's at Churchill Downs. 

Year

1/4

1/2

3/4

Mile

Finish

1988*

23.60

24.20

24.60

26.20

26.20

1991

24.20

24.20

24.20

25.40

24.80

1994

22.60

24.00

24.60

25.40

25.80

1998

23.40

24.20

24.40

25.20

24.80

2000

23.52

24.03

24.46

24.07

24.67

2006

23.13

23.47

24.51

25.48

23.59

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Race run over a "Muddy" surface.

As we can see by the above numbers, the pace is usually testing in the Classic - nobody gets away with a free lunch.  We have seen two horses win from the front during the five Classic's at Churchill Downs (Black Tie Affair (IRE) and Tiznow), which is a good sign for Quality Road, but it's certainly not easy to get it done up front in this race.

As I tried to envision how I thought the Classic will play out I sketched out a few thoughts on each of the Big 4 as to what needs to happen for each to win.

Blame: In terms of obstacles to overcome in order to win, I think the Classic probably sets up best for Blame, although I don't know that it's by a wide margin.  He can sit off the pace and be comfortable anywhere from four to eight lengths behind the leaders which allows him a lot of flexibility in terms of trip.  His last race at a mile and a quarter was solid and it doesn't appear the distance will be a factor.  And finally, he's been in great form pretty much all year.  He was well back of Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup but I can't hold that against him when the winner was allowed to walk through six furlongs in 1:13.2.  He should get the pace to run at in the Classic and really appears to have a huge shot to win this one.

Lookin At Lucky: If you go through all of Lucky's 12 career races it's difficult to overlook the fact that the three times he has not won he experienced absolutely brutal trips.  In last year's Juvenile and this spring's Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby, Lookin At Lucky was steadied, roughed, blocked, bumped, pinched...you name it and he probably experienced it.  Those are the only three losses of his career.   With that in mind, a clean trip is priority number one for the Preakness and Haskell winner.

The Classic will be Lucky's first attempt at facing older horses; I don't think that's a big deal, but it's still part of the equation.  My biggest concern with Lucky might be the distance - not that I don't think he can get 10 furlongs (I think he can) but whether that's his best distance (I think it might be 1 1/8 miles).  Still, Bob Baffert has had this colt on excellent form for almost a year and a half now and, if he gets a clean trip, you can be sure he'll be in the mix.

Quality Road: Of the Big 4, I have the most questions about Todd Pletcher's four-time Grade 1 winner and it all revolves around pace and stamina.  The Classic should have plenty of pace in the early stages of this race which, in general, I don't think is a problem for Quality Road.  In the Donn he put up some very fast early fractions and hadplenty in the tank to destroy that field at 1 1/8 miles.  The problem I have with Quality Road in the Classic is I don't think he can run Donn-like fractions and hold off all of the other three in deep stretch at a mile and a quarter.  His races in the Whitney and the Woodward, for me, were a bit of a "tell" as to his vulnerabilities when going longer than 1 1/8 miles.  Quality Road ran the final furlong of each race in 12.53 and 13.34 seconds; those aren't bad splits after doing the dirty work on the front end, but I also don't think that will get it done in this Classic. 

Zenyatta: In last year's Classic, Zenyatta was 13 lengths behind the leaders after a ¼ mile and 9 lengths behind after a ½ mile.  I don't think she can be that far behind in this race and still run down Blame, Lookin At Lucky and Quality Road.  I think she needs to be a bit closer by the time they've run six furlongs or else she might just have too much to do in the stretch.  On the positive side, if Zenyatta is able to say a bit closer and is able to be within 4 lengths of the lead when the field rolls off the far turn...well, I won't be surprised at all if she runs them down in the lane one more time.  Running a fast final quarter won't be the issue for Zenyatta, being close enough that she can get by the entire field in the final furlongs.  I don't believe the surface or the distance is any kind of a problem for her but instead think that Mike Smith has to avoid giving her too much to do late in the race.

The rest of the field

  • Like a lot of other people, I think Fly Down and Musket Man are prime candidates to hit the board, although I have no idea where they might end up.  Both will be able to conserve some energy early and should have enough in the tank to fight for spots in the tri or the super. 
  • I'm concerned about the distance for Espoir City (JPN), a colt that has never run at a mile and a quarter.  Throw in the fact that he wants to be near the lead in what should be a crowded pace situation and he looks to be in a difficult spot.
  • I doubt Haynesfield gets away with 1:13+ in this race, which immediately makes it a tough ask.
  • Gio Ponti has won graded stakes races on turf and synthetic so he's either going to put himself in select company by being one of the few horses to win a graded race on all three surfaces or he's going to struggle in his first ever attempt on dirt.  I honestly have no clue as to how he'll run in this race as he hasn't even worked on dirt recently.
  • First Dude doesn't like to win but likes to be in the money.  He probably needs to be in the tri or super bets if you're going deep.
  • Pleasant Prince seems a bit over his head in this spot but his running style should suit the race set-up.
  • If the track comes up sloppy or muddy, then Paddy O'Prado becomes an attractive play.  I'm not sold on him if the track is dry.