Breeders' Cup Classic Preview: Pacific Classic, Travers reinforce early projections

September 7th, 2023

We previewed the major role three-year-olds were poised to play in our first installment of the Breeders’ Cup Classic preview last month, and Arabian Knight and Arcangelo established themselves as the probable top two betting choices with respective wins in the Pacific Classic (G1) and Travers (G1).

Making his fourth career start for four-time Classic winner Bob Baffert, Arabian Knight improved in his second race back from a six-month layoff, shrugging off challengers before courageously withstanding the late bid of Geaux Rocket Ride by a neck in the Pacific Classic.

The top two didn’t finish fast at Del Mar, requiring nearly 26 1/2 seconds to complete the final quarter-mile, but Arabian Knight and Geaux Rocket Ride remain eligible to keep progressing off their first attempt at the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic distance.

Arabian Knight rebounded from a well-beaten third in the July 22 Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park, netting a career-best 107 Brisnet Speed rating. Flavien Prat picked up the mount on the son of Uncle Mo, and Arabian Knight will bring dangerous speed to the Classic line-up.

Geaux Rocket Ride lacked the same kick from his sterling 1 3/4-length Haskell triumph, but the Candy Ride colt has come a long way since a non-threatening second in the San Felipe (G2) last spring. After a three-month freshening, the stalker reeled off consecutive stakes wins, and Geaux Rocket Ride received a career-best 107 Speed rating in the Pacific Classic. Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, who sent out Pleasantly Perfect to win the 2003 Classic at Santa Anita, trains.

Arabian Knight and Geaux Rocket Ride will train up to the $6 million Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.

Arcangelo backed up his win in the Belmont S. (G1), surging from just off the pace to a clear lead in upper stretch of the Travers. The Jena Antonucci-trained gray colt registered a third consecutive triple-digit Speed number (105) for the one-length decision, and Javier Castellano picked up a record-extending seventh Travers win.

A maiden winner at Gulfstream the third time out in March, Arcangelo stepped up two starts later in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, but doubters remained after he took advantage of an inside trip in the final leg of the Triple Crown. His advanced form was on display in the Travers, and similar to sire Arrogate, the athletic sophomore thrives with time between starts, winning the 1 1/4-mile Travers off a 2 1/2-month rest.

One can argue that Arcangelo has lost focus after opening a clear lead in midstretch of his last two starts, which would suggest he’s still figuring things out and hasn’t peaked yet. If he takes to Santa Anita, Arcangelo promises to bring a powerful turn of foot to Classic.

Unfortunately, Disarm will not go on to the Classic after recording a fine second in the Travers. The late-running colt appeared to be discovering his best stride, but trainer Steve Asmussen announced Disarm will miss the rest of 2023 due to a soft-tissue injury.

Bright Future and Proxy put themselves in the Classic mix with a good showing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) on Sept. 2.

Bright Future has shown improved tactical speed winning his last two starts for Todd Pletcher, who captured the 2019 Classic at Santa Anita with Vino Rosso, and the Curlin colt's Speed and Late Pace numbers have really increased. The four-year-old will face a class check in the Classic. Proxy appeared to be going off form when eighth in July’s Stephen Foster (G1), but he’s reversed course nicely for Michael Stidham, recording a confidence-building win in the Monmouth Cup (G3) before missing by a nose in the Gold Cup.

Proxy is more effective when he can race closer to the pace, so the trip will be everything at Santa Anita. He has experience over the track, finishing a close second in the Santa Anita H. (G1) earlier this year, and the five-year-old will be one to consider for at least the vertical exotics off an encouraging final prep.

Remaining U.S. Classic prep races include the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx on Sept. 23 and a trio of races on Sept. 30 – the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, Lukas Classic (G2) at Churchill Downs, and Woodward (G2) at Aqueduct.

Japanese hopeful Ushba Tesoro is one to track overseas. Unraced since swooping last-to-first to take the Dubai World Cup (G1) by 2 3/4 lengths, the six-year-old horse started to come on when switching to dirt last year. Ushba Tesoro stretched his stakes-winning winning streak to five in Dubai, and he’s scheduled to tune up for the Classic in a Japanese stakes at the end of September.

In our next edition, we will preview the fields for the final round of Classic preps.