Analyzing the 2022 Breeders' Cup Classic pre-entries

October 26th, 2022

Pre-entries for the Nov. 4-5 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland were released on Wednesday, and a small but stellar field is shaping up for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

Only nine horses have pre-entered the richest race of the two-day extravaganza, and only eight are shaping up as probable starters for the 1 1/4-mile event. But the quality is exceptional: all nine pre-entrants are established Grade 1 winners, led by the otherworldly Flightline.

A four-year-old son of Tapit trained by John Sadler, Flightline is undefeated and unchallenged in five starts. He’s won those five starts by a combined total of 62 3/4 lengths, so his average margin of victory is better than 12 1/2 lengths.

Along the way, Flightline has dominated some of the most important races in the United States. He obliterated the seven-furlong Malibu S. (G1), overcame trouble to romp in the one-mile Metropolitan H. (G1), and unleashed a devastating display of speed and stamina to crush the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic (G1).

Flightline’s tour-de-force performance in the Pacific Classic was pretty much in a league of its own. He beat Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Country Grammer by 19 1/4 lengths in the blazing time of 1:59.28. Flightline has trained up a storm since then and looms as a heavy favorite to give Sadler his second Breeders’ Cup Classic win following Accelerate in 2018.

If Flightline runs as well in the Breeders’ Cup Classic as he did in the Pacific Classic, his rivals are likely running for second place. But if Flightline unexpectedly falters in his Keeneland debut, there are some seriously talented horses waiting to take advantage.

Reigning Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Life Is Good is the most accomplished of the challengers, counting victories in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), Whitney S. (G1), and Woodward S. (G1) on his 2022 record. But the son of Into Mischief is attempting to stretch his speed over 1 1/4 miles for only the second time in his career, following a fourth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup (G1) back in March.

The Classic distance isn’t a question mark for Olympiad, who handled 1 1/4 miles just fine when forging to a two-length victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Victorious in five graded stakes this season, Olympiad combines tactical speed with relentless finishing power and figures to be a danger down the Keeneland homestretch.

2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Happy Saver hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since May 2021, but he’s finished second in four Grade 1 prizes since then, most notably rounding out the exacta behind Flightline in the Metropolitan and against Life Is Good in the Whitney. He misfired when finishing fourth behind Hot Rod Charlie in the recent Lukas Classic S. (G2) at Churchill Downs, but Happy Saver’s overall consistency (11 top-three finishes from 12 starts) shouldn’t be underestimated.

As for Hot Rod Charlie, he has the most Breeders’ Cup experience of any horse in the Classic field, running second in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and fourth in the 2021 Classic. Placed twice in Triple Crown races and winner of the 2021 Pennsylvania Derby (G1), Hot Rod Charlie heads to Keeneland off a narrow victory in the Lukas Classic (G2) at Churchill Downs.

The runner-up in the Lukas Classic was 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Rich Strike, who leads a deep group of three-year-olds pre-entered in the Classic. The stretch-running colt is a formidable runner on his best day, as evidenced by his close finish against Hot Rod Charlie in the Lukas Classic. But Rich Strike’s best performances have all come at Churchill Downs, and it remains to be seen whether he can produce his A-game at Keeneland.

Fewer doubts surround Epicenter, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby after racing closer to a blazing early pace than Rich Strike. Epicenter has repeatedly taken his game on the road without issue and exits a dominant victory in a fast renewal of the 1 1/4-mile Travers S. (G1) at Saratoga, in the process seizing leadership of the three-year-old division.

But to maintain his position at the top of the three-year-old crop, Epicenter must reckon with Taiba, the lightly raced winner of the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G1). Trained by Bob Baffert (a four-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic), Taiba trounced a strong field by three lengths in the Pennsylvania Derby and heads to Keeneland in career-best form.

Rounding out the Classic pre-entries is Cyberknife. The Haskell S. (G1) and Arkansas Derby (G1) winner is cross-entered in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and the Dirt Mile listed as his first preference.