American Pharoah and Beholder left a lasting impression during the 2015 season, with the former becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and the latter crushing male rivals in a Pacific Classic tour-de-force, and the heavy hitters will meet in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic to determine who is best.

I’ll take a look at the Classic participants and discuss as well a pair of races on the Breeders’ Cup Friday program, the $2 million Distaff and $1 million Dirt Mile.

Classic

American Pharoah provided a boost to the sport, generating huge crowds and enormous ratings in his march through the Triple Crown and beyond, and interest was so keen 15,000 people showed up at Saratoga the morning before the Travers to watch him gallop. The son of Pioneerof the Nile displayed brilliance winning his first six starts this year, with convincing victories in the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes, Haskell Invitational and Arkansas Derby among the highlights, but American Pharoah must rebound from a setback, finishing second in the August 29 Travers Stakes.

Freshened nine weeks since the Travers, the bay colt appears to be training forwardly and conditioner Bob Baffert is confident we’ll see American Pharoah’s best in his career finale. The bay colt could put his early speed to good use in a Classic field that lacks front-runners.

Beholder was named champion 2-year-old filly following her victory in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and champion 3-year-old filly after dominating the 2013 Distaff. But the Richard Mandella-trained mare has continued to offer more at age 5, making her first start at 1 ¼ miles and against males a memorable one in the August 22 Pacific Classic.

She registered a Classic-field best 112 BRIS Speed rating winning the Pacific Classic by 8 ¼ lengths, stopping the teletimer in 1:59 3/5, and Beholder tuned up for the Breeders’ Cup with an easy victory over females in the September 26 Zenyatta, stretching her current win streak to six. The future Hall of Famer will be facing her toughest task yet but remains extremely formidable.

New York-based older horses Honor Code and Tonalist are the likely third and fourth choices in the wagering.

Honor Code has defeated his rival in both meetings this year, winning the Met Mile and Whitney with Tonalist second and third, respectively, but the well-bred colt will be making his first attempt at 10 furlongs and exits a non-threatening third in the Kelso Mile H. Tonalist sustained three close losses before a resounding 4 ¾-length score in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Supporters will be buoyed by the encouraging performance, but the 4-year-old must still prove himself outside the friendly confines of Belmont Park.

Honor Code and Tonalist also bring a late-running style to a Classic field with little early speed.

Frosted possesses the tactical speed to enjoy a potentially favorable trip. Granted, he’s finished behind American Pharoah in all three meetings this year, but the gray colt has the look of a rapidly-improving type following a sharp two-length score in the Pennsylvania Derby. Travers upsetter Keen Ice brings improving form into the Classic but the closer will need horses to come back to him in the stretch.

Smooth Roller will enter on the upswing, recording his first stakes victory with a 5 ¼-length thumping in the September 26 Awesome Again at Santa Anita, but the 4-year-old faces a severe class check in his first start outside of California. Perhaps prudent to look for more down the road from the lightly-raced gelding.

Gleneagles was a top 2-year-old and dual classic-winning miler earlier this season, but the transition to dirt is a daunting one for the Galileo colt. Class isn’t in question but the stretch out to 1 1/4 miles on dirt against quality rivals could prove too much.

Effinex and Hard Aces are hard-knocking older horses who must find form to play any part in the outcome.

Distaff

Beholder’s absence from the Distaff leaves a highly contentious, full field of 14 fillies and mares for the 1 1/8-mile race.

Untapable will make a title defense, but the champion 3-year-old filly of 2014 is 1-for-6 this year and won’t be an 8-5 Distaff favorite like last year. She has finished second four times this season, including a neck runner-up in the October 4 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland, and remains a serious win contender for Steve Asmussen.

Wedding Toast owns fine credentials, earning top BRIS Speed ratings for convincing victories in the Ruffian, Ogden Phipps and Beldame Invitational in advance of the Distaff, but those starts came around one turn at Belmont Park. The 5-year-old mare looms a serious front-running threat for Kiaran McLaughlin if she takes to the two-turn trip at Keeneland.

I’m a Chatterbox is the leading 3-year-old filly on the main track and could compete for favoritism following an excellent win in the September 19 Cotillion Stakes. Sheer Drama is also very capable, recording Grade 1 victories in the Personal Ensign and Delaware H. in her last two outings, and Spinster heroine Got Lucky will bring momentum into the race, winning three of her last four starts.

Adding further depth to the Distaff field are Grade 2 winner Frivolous; Zenyatta runner-up My Sweet Addiction; multiple Grade 3 queen Stopchargingmaria; Yahilwa, a close third most recently in the Spinster; and the 3-year-old filly Stellar Wind, who was last seen posting a 4 1/4-length stakes score at Del Mar.

Dirt Mile

Liam’s Map was considered possible for the Classic following a neck second in the Whitney H. and a 4 ¾-length victory in the Woodward, but the decision by his connections to opt for the Dirt Mile leaves him as a likely prohibitive favorite. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the 4-year-old colt will be the one to catch with his speed.

Confirmed challengers include Appealing Tale, winner of the Kelso Mile and Pat O’Brien in his last two outings; and Kelso runner-up and Pacific Classic third-placer Red Vine.

Lea, a Grade 1 winner on dirt and third in this year’s Dubai World Cup, will merit consideration if his connections opt for the race. The Mile is listed as the 6-year-old’s first preference following a runner-up in the grassy Woodbine Mile, but Lea probably has a more realistic chance to contend in the Dirt Mile.

Other runners of note include Grade 2 winner Bradester, 2014 Dirt Mile runner-up Tapiture and Jockey Club Gold Cup second Wicked Strong.

American Pharoah photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese Photography

Brisnet.com has the Breeders’ Cup PPs files available for all 13 races — 4 on Breeders’ Cup Friday (30th) and 9 on Breeders’ Cup Saturday (31).

And check out the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup News & Notes blog for all the news, features & photos in one place!