LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Recent runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Classic looked on paper, and often played out, like two-horse races, with Gun Runner against Arrogate, and Arrogate against California Chrome. Or they were even more narrowly cast, such as the coronation for Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
That’s not the case this year.
Although Accelerate heads into the $6 million Classic on Saturday at Churchill Downs as the acknowledged favorite, he’s a lukewarm one. There’s enough doubt surrounding him – his recent narrow victory in his final prep in the Awesome Again, the fact that he’s only traveled for a race once and was beaten, his trainer John Sadler’s inexplicable winless Breeders’ Cup record after 41 starts heading into this year’s event – and enough support for many of his rivals that this race looks as though it could flop any number of ways.
Like many in this race, Mind Your Biscuits and West Coast have run races that are good enough to win, but they have questions, too. For Mind Your Biscuits, it will be trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time, and for West Coast, it’s whether he’s as good now as he was before he departed for the Dubai World Cup in March. Axelrod, Catholic Boy, and McKinzie have progressed this fall, but this will be the first time those 3-year-olds face elders.
Mendelssohn and Thunder Snow come off good tries in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but both had ugly experiences at Churchill Downs in their respective Kentucky Derbies. Discreet Lover won the Jockey Club Gold Cup but benefitted from a radioactive pace meltdown.
Pavel returns to the track where he scored his biggest win in the Stephen Foster Handicap, but he was pummeled by Accelerate in his only start since then in the Pacific Classic. Yoshida won his only start on dirt in the Woodward, but this field is tougher, which means Woodward runner-up Gunnevera has to step up his game, too.
Roaring Lion is a top-class European who has won four straight Group 1 races, but this will be his first try on dirt. Lone Sailor, likely the longest shot in the field, is the only horse who looks completely overmatched on paper.
Those are the 14 who made it into the main body of the race. Collected ended up on the also-eligible list at entry time, and trainer Bob Baffert would love to get him into the race. But there’s the matter of needing a scratch, and even if he gets in, he hasn’t run a race since his runner-up effort in last year’s Classic that would make him a major player here.
“It’s a pretty good field with a lot of good horses,” Baffert said. “With American Pharoah, we knew we had ’em over a barrel.”
Accelerate and West Coast were one-two in the Awesome Again, with both getting Beyer Speed Figures below their best. The trainers of both runners believe they will improve.
Accelerate made it more difficult on himself by breaking poorly, getting caught wide, and making a bold move in the middle of the race.
“I looked at it as a prep,” Sadler said. “He didn’t get a trip, everything conspired against him, and he still won going away. I had trained him a little easier for that race, thinking West Coast wasn’t going to run. And I think he wants a mile and a quarter. He’s better now at a mile and a quarter.”
Baffert said West Coast “is coming into this a lot better than last time” but conceded that Accelerate is “definitely the horse to beat.”
Mind Your Biscuits, a sprint star throughout his career, has run terrific races at a mile and 1 1/8 miles as this year has progressed, most recently winning the nine-furlong Lukas Classic here, a performance that gave his connections the confidence to try 10 furlongs.
“He passed that test with flying colors,” trainer Chad Summers said. “On numbers, the two strongest are us and Accelerate.”
Yoshida passed a test last time, too, winning the Woodward in his first try on dirt.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” trainer Bill Mott said. “What was exciting was how easily he looked like he was going coming to the wire. He wasn’t under a drive. He was comfortable.”
Thunder Snow, who beat West Coast in the Dubai World Cup, ran poorly in the Juddmonte International on turf at York before his runner-up effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
“In the race in England, he lost two shoes,” trainer Saeed bin Suroor said.
Suroor is hoping Thunder Snow can get farther into this race than he did in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, where he was pulled up soon after leaving the gate after buck-jumping on an off track.
“Hard to explain,” Suroor said. “Before the race, he was fine. In the gate, he was fine. Suddenly, the drama started.”
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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