January 18, 2021

Handicapping the Classic

Last updated: 9/30/04 9:57 PM


HANDICAPPING
THE CLASSIC


by James Scully


The $4 million Classic (G1) is the main event on the Breeders’
Cup World Thoroughbred Championships program. The 1 1/4-mile race
crowns champions and has featured some wild results.


The greatest upset in Breeders’ Cup history occurred in 1993
when Arcangues shocked the world with a two-length Classic
victory at 133-1. The French import was making his U.S. and dirt
debut at Santa Anita, and his trainer, Andre Fabre, didn’t even
come to the paddock before the race, leaving saddling duties to
an assistant who didn’t speak English. Jockey Jerry Bailey was
probably as shocked as anyone when Arcangues ran past the
competition.


“I don’t know a thing about the horse,” Bailey told
fellow rider Gary Stevens during the post parade. “I don’t
have any idea how to pronounce his name. I couldn’t understand a
word the groom was trying to tell me.”


More synonymous with Classic history are winning champions
like Tiznow, Skip Away, Sunday Silence, Alysheba, Ferdinand,
Unbridled, A.P. Indy and Cigar.


Defending champion Pleasantly Perfect (Pleasant Colony) will
train up toward a repeat performance at Lone Star Park, and other
top contenders for the October 30 race include Ghostzapper (Awesome
Again), Roses in May (Devil His Due), Birdstone (Grindstone), The
Cliff’s Edge (Gulch), Bago (Fr) (Nashwan) and Funny Cide (Distorted
Humor).


Pleasantly Perfect capped a four-win Breeders’ Cup Day for
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella with a 1 1/2-length score
at Santa Anita in 2003, and the six-year-old horse owns wins in
the Pacific Classic (G1), Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) and San
Antonio H. (G2) this year, with his lone 2004 setback being a
close runner-up finish in the San Diego H. (G2). A victory this
year would put him in the same company with Tiznow, the only two-time
Classic winner.


History


Tiznow took part in two of the most exciting races ever when
edging European superstars Giant’s Causeway (at Churchill Downs)
and Sakhee (at Belmont Park) in the 2000-01 Classics,
respectively, and great finishes have defined Classic history.
The first edition featured a thrilling stretch drive between Wild
Again, Gate Dancer and Slew O’ Gold. Ferdinand-Alysheba (1987),
Sunday Silence-Easy Goer (1989) and the trio of Alphabet Soup,
Louis Quatorze and Cigar (1996) all delivered sensational
performances.


Two trends are easy to identify over the last 20 years — a
race within the last 50 days and a race at the distance. Every
Classic winner has raced within the previous 50 days, and most
have started within the last month. Black Tie Affair (49 days),
Cat Thief (42) and Sunday Silence (41) came off the longest
layoffs to win. A race at the distance has also proven important
— every Classic winner has raced at 10 furlongs before.


Post-time favorites have been vulnerable, winning only five
times, and the Classic has been the stage for major surprises.
Wild Again, who came off a third-place finish in a turf allowance
in 1984, was 31-1 when winning by a head. Alphabet Soup and Cat
Thief (1999) both surprised their rivals at 19-1. Volponi, who is
given credit for exposing the Pick 6 scandal, was the longest
shot on the board at 43-1 in 2002. Pleasantly Perfect was the 14-1
eighth choice last year. Eleven Classic winners have paid more
than $10.


Jerry Bailey and Pat Day are by far the most successful
jockeys still riding, each with four Classic wins on his resume.
One-time victors Jose Santos and Mike Smith are the only other
active riders, so most jockeys this year will be seeking their
first Classic score.


The only official wire-to-wire winner is Black Tie Affair (Ire)
(1991), but Tiznow, Cat Thief, Skip Away (1997), Cigar (1996) and
Skywalker (1986) all parlayed front-running trips to victory.
There have been more late-running winners. Ferdinand, Alysheba (1998),
A.P. Indy (1992), Awesome Again (1998) and Pleasantly Perfect all
rated off the pace while Proud Truth (1985), Unbridled (1990),
Arcangues and Concern (1994) came from the clouds.


The average beaten lengths for Classic winners after a half-mile
is 4 1/2.


Post positions haven’t been much of a factor. Unbridled won
from post 14 on the clubhouse turn at Belmont, and three winners
have started from post 12. Alphabet Soup broke from post 11, and
two others have come from post 10. Skip Away is the only Classic
winner to start from the rail.


European shippers can’t be discounted. Arcangues is the lone
victor, but Sakhee, Giant’s Causeway, Chester House, Swain (Ire),
Jolypha and Ibn Bey (Eng) have all turned in strong performances
to hit the board after shipping across the ocean.


Eight Classic winners have entered off a defeat in their final
prep race, and both Arcangues and Cat Thief rebounded off
extremely disappointing performances to win.


Three-year-olds have also more than held their own, winning
seven previous runnings.


Analysis


The Classic is a good race for value. Only two winners have
paid less than $10 in the last 14 years.


Pleasantly Perfect looks very formidable, but he’ll be
shipping to Texas. All of his U.S. starts have come in California.
He’s been to Dubai and back this year and is closing in on the
end of his career.


Lone Star favors Early and Early/Presser runners in dirt
routes and there won’t be a home-field advantage. Ghostzapper is
a leading contender based on his BRIS Speed figures and 3-for-3
mark this year, but he’s never run at 1 1/4 miles. Bago is a
proven 10-furlong horse in France and England and could threaten
if he takes to the main track at Lone Star.


One classic hopeful knows something about upsets. A friend
offered this advice before this year’s Travers S. (G1), “Don’t
let the Birdie get you.”


Birdstone stunned everybody when handing Smarty Jones his lone
career loss in the Belmont and was the fourth choice in a seven-horse
field when capturing the Travers. The smallish colt figures to be
overlooked once again and would make for quite a story at Lone
Star.


This year’s Classic should feature a large and competitive
field.