Analyzing the evenly-matched Breeders' Cup Classic pre-entries

October 28th, 2020

Pre-entries for the Nov. 6-7 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland were released on Wednesday, and while fields for the 14 races are deep across the board, the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) is shaping up to be a particularly contentious event.

RELATED: Official 2020 Breeders’ Cup Pre-Entries

Let's take a look through the Breeders' Cup pre-entries and pullout some takeaways...

Breeders' Cup Classic

The 1 1/4-mile Classic attracted 11 pre-entries, and some racing analysts are describing the prospective field as the deepest in recent memory. With eight Grade 1 winners and a couple of Grade 2 stalwarts in the mix, I can’t disagree, though the depth of quality doesn’t necessarily mean the favorites are bound to dominate.

To the contrary, the field appears evenly-matched from a Brisnet Speed rating perspective, and just two runners have ever posted a Speed rating in excess of 110. This suggests mid-range longshots will need only modest improvement to fight for a spot on the board.

Three-time Classic-winning trainer Bob Baffert holds a strong hand with four-quadruple Grade 1 winner Improbable, reigning champion 3-year-old male Maximum Security, and Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Authentic. The “now” horse and likely favorite is Improbable, who enters off consecutive victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1), Whitney (G1), and Awesome Again (G1).

But Improbable has a tendency to break slowly, and he’s struggled to bring his A-game when faced with adversity. His three Grade 1 wins this season have come with perfect trips in small fall fields, so I’m hesitant to trust him against a much larger field in the Classic.

REILLY: Breeders’ Cup Classic: Same factoid against Improbable, Tiz the Law

Maximum Security and Authentic likewise have questions to answer. The former won his first three starts of 2020 (including the Grade 1 Pacific Classic and $20 million Saudi Cup) in fine fashion, but he never looked like himself in the Awesome Again, fighting to gain second place while finishing 4 1/2 lengths behind Improbable.

Authentic also enters the Classic off a defeat. After showing unwavering determination to win the Kentucky Derby in gate-to-wire fashion, Authentic was out-dueled by a neck in the Preakness (G1). He had the length of the stretch to reel in the filly Swiss Skydiver, who slipped through inside on the backstretch, but never got back on even terms and simply encountered a gamer rival on the day.

Swiss Skydiver (right) winning the Preakness (G1) (Photo by Jim Duley/Maryland Jockey Club)

Swiss Skydiver is cross-entered in the Classic and the Distaff, and while the Distaff looks like an easier spot, the distance of the Classic is arguably a better fit for the ultra-durable 3-year-old. A dominant winner of the 1 1/4-mile Alabama (G1) during the summer, Swiss Skydiver has contested eight consecutive graded stakes this season and clearly thrives under challenging conditions.

With chinks in the armor of all three Baffert trainees, some bettors will consider Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law, who threw down a field-high 115 Brisnet Speed rating when dominating the 1 1/4-mile Travers (G1). Two months ago he was viewed as a possible Triple Crown winner, but a shocking defeat in the Kentucky Derby upset the applecart. Tiz the Law had every opportunity to run down Authentic—he even stuck his head in front for a few strides—but the 7-10 favorite faltered late to finish second by 1 1/4 lengths.

Tiz the Law subsequently skipped the Preakness in favor of training up to the Classic, and a series of sharp workouts in the interim suggest giving him time to recuperate from his tough Derby effort was the right move. But Tiz the Law will be facing tougher competition than ever in the Classic, and it remains to be seen how the previously dominant colt will bounce back from his heartbreaking Derby defeat.

That’s why I’m tempted to think outside the box and favor Tom’s d’Etat. The veteran 7-year-old dominated the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland last fall, kicking off a four-race win streak highlighted by an easy triumph in the Clark (G1) and a victory over Improbable in the Oaklawn Mile S.

HANSON: Assessing the vulnerability of likely 2020 Breeders’ Cup favorites

Tom’s d’Etat is already fast enough to challenge in the Classic, having thrown down a 112 Brisnet Speed rating when crushing four-time Grade 2 winner By My Standards in the Stephen Foster (G2). And while Tom’s d’Etat was beaten by Improbable and By My Standards in the Whitney, he was severely compromised by a stumbling start and a slow early/fast late race shape. Under the circumstances, Tom’s d’Etat ran admirably to finish third by 2 1/2 lengths, posting a massive 120 Brisnet Late Pace rating in the process.

Conditioned by Al Stall, who upset the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Blame, Tom’s d’Etat has been freshened since the Whitney and brings a solid work tab to the mix. He’s run well off layoffs on four occasions in the past and is versatile in terms of running style, setting the stage for a rebound in the Classic.

Woodward H. (G1) 1-2 finishers Global Campaign and Tacitus have repeatedly run well against quality competition, but they’ll need improvement to vie for victory in the Classic. The same can be said of 2019 Pacific Classic (G1) winner Higher Power, third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic but 0-for-4 in 2020.

Rounding out the pre-entries is Title Ready, a three-time allowance winner entering the Classic off a third-place finish in the 2020 Fayette. Trainer Dallas Stewart has a reputation for saddling longshots to outrun expectations in major races, and Title Ready has hit the board 10 times against stakes company. But from a Brisnet Speed rating perspective, this stretch-running 5-year-old appears to be in deep waters.

2020 Breeders’ Cup News & Handicapping Notes

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