July 5, 2020

2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic potentially the richer with several set to skip early-season glory

Code of Honor and jockey John Velazquez capture the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday, August 24, 2019 (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

While there’ll be a collective $41 million in purse money worldwide dangling in front of anyone with a capable older horse during the first quarter of 2020, a longer game instead will be played by several horses with eyes on prizes closer to home.

With the 2020 Breeders’ Cup scheduled to be in the heart of the bluegrass at Keeneland for a second time, notable connections are seemingly focusing their attention on the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) 11 months from now rather than a bountiful of riches to be found in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park on January 25, the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh on February 29, and the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) at Meydan on March 28.

Knock wood, the 2020 older dirt male division has the potential to be one of the most appealing in several years. And it’s no great surprise Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey and his blue-blood clients are pursuing campaigns that would culminate with a win in the Classic, and thus division and possibly Horse of the Year titles, in their own backyard.

Code of Honor, who races for Lane’s End patriarch Will Farish, is a likely Eclipse Award finalist for champion three-year-old colt this season. Although victorious in the Travers (G1) and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), the latter via disqualification, the son of Noble Mission was a well-beaten seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, a track McGaughey said afterwards the colt didn’t handle especially well. The main track at Keeneland presumably won’t be as problematic.

“He’s turned out in Kentucky and I’ll pick him up the first of January,” McGaughey told NYRA publicity on Sunday. “It was a planned turnout, nothing was wrong. I had planned on turning him out after the Breeders’ Cup, he had been going a pretty good while. We gave him a pretty good break and he’ll come back in the spring…”

Performer wins the 2019 Discovery
Performer wins the 2019 Discovery (Coglianese Photography)

McGaughey unveiled the exciting Performer in stakes company for the first time on Saturday in the Discovery (G3) at Aqueduct, and the son of Speightstown improved his record to four wins in five starts with a 1 1/4-length score over multiple graded stakes winner Tax in the nine-furlong test, earning a 102 BRIS Speed rating. Performer is owned in partnership by Phipps Stable and Claiborne Farm.

“He was progressing the whole way through the summer and fall,” said McGaughey of Performer, who raced once at two before breaking his maiden in June and later won two allowances. “He’ll ship to Florida next week and hopefully we’ll have a good spring, summer and fall four-year-old campaign for him.”

Soon-to-be four-year-olds aren’t the only ones in the division to look forward to. Tom’s d’Etat, whose start-and-stop career limited him to just nine starts through his five-year-old season, is about to turn seven and is in the form of his life after back-to-back victories in the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland and last Friday’s Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs.

Tom's D'etat wins the Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs 2019
Tom’s d’Etat wins the Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs (Coady Photo/Churchill Downs)

Earning BRIS Speed ratings of 104 and 103 for those tallies, Tom’s d’Etat has dealt with infirmities for much of his career but has been judiciously handled throughout by trainer Al Stall Jr., who conditioned champion Blame to his 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic win at Churchill over Zenyatta for Claiborne and Adele Dilschneider. Stall told Daily Racing Form on Monday he was inclined to pass all three of the lucrative Cups in early 2020 and emphasize a “back-end of the year” campaign for Tom’s d’Etat.

The 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic is a virtual eternity from now compared to some of the richest races on the planet over the next several months, but already has some racing fans dreaming of a possible tantalizing showdown among several horses that hopefully haven’t reached their peak.