With the Breeders’ Cup Classic just over a month away, here’s an early look at this year’s Top 10 contenders...
1. Tom’s d’Etat - I suppose Improbable would be the en vogue pick for this spot (see No. 3 as to why I’m a bit leery of him), and after all Tom’s d’Etat hasn’t run since finishing third behind that one in the G1 Whitney, but prior to that race he was the undeniable leader of this division and I see no reason why that should change now. His trip in the Whitney was downright disastrous as he stumbled badly at the start and had no chance to make an impact behind a glacial pace. It’s somewhat concerning he hasn’t made it back to the races since that effort, however, I trust Al Stall to have this horse ready and he gets the slight nod for me over Tiz the Law because of his home-court advantage.
2. Tiz the Law - The one concern I had about this horse prior to his runner-up finish in the G1 Kentucky Derby is that his best races had all come in New York. While that may still be the case after he failed to get by Authentic in the stretch of the ‘Run for the Roses,’ I thought he ran valiantly in defeat and in my mind is still the best 3-year-old going. I kind of wish his connections hadn’t opted to keep him sidelined following the Derby, but Barclay Tagg is an old-school horseman who knows how to prep a horse for a big race. I’m expecting a career-best effort from him in the Classic, and that’s going to make him very dangerous.
3. Improbable - There’s no doubt he was visually impressive in the G1 Awesome Again, but he sat a perfect trip behind a hotly contested pace and blew past the enervated front-runners in the stretch. That makes two very good trips in a row for this guy, who was also a fortunate winner of the Whitney in early August, and he was beating very little three back in the G1 Gold Cup. He’s clearly improved as a 4-year-old and can now reliably be counted on for a top effort regardless of distance, I’m just not sure he’s quite as good as the top two on this list.
4. Authentic - I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about him, but he proved last out in the G1 Preakness that his Derby win was no fluke. It was and is strange that a horse who so desperately won the 1 ⅛-mile Haskell over an inferior horse was able to put away Tiz the Law in the 1 ¼-mile Derby despite setting a much faster pace, but take nothing away from his runner-up finish in the Preakness when Swiss Skydiver got the jump on him in the stretch and he hounded her all the way to the wire. It was another game effort from Authentic, whose combination of early speed and stamina is really starting to shine in the back half of 2020.
5. Maximum Security - Now that people are ready to completely give up on him, the contrarian in me wants to keep hope alive. I have been eagerly playing against him all year since he was transferred from Jason Servis to Bob Baffert, and that really hadn’t paid dividends until Improbable beat him soundly in the Awesome Again. While I do think he was exposed a bit after a facile score in the G1 Pacific Classic, I don’t think he ran as bad as it looks in the Awesome Again as he was tracking a rapid pace. The middle of this list feels right for him: he’s probably not as bad as many are now claiming, but he’s also not nearly as good as his biggest fans would have you believe.
6. By My Standards - He really couldn’t have had an easier time of it last out in the G2 Alysheba when he was able to sit just off a dawdling early pace and sprint home to defeat inferior competition, and before that he was no match for Improbable in the Whitney and Tom’s d’Etat in the G2 Stephen Foster, which about sums up his Classic candidacy. He’s not as good as the best in this division, but he’s a quality horse who’s generally able to work out a good trip and put forth a strong performance. Expect that to be no different on November 7.
7. Global Campaign - He can be a bit mercurial and is prone to physical ailments, but when he’s right he’s one of the top older dirt horses in the country. That said, it feels like we saw his ceiling in the G1 Woodward at Saratoga in his last start, and while it was a fine effort, it would still leave him at least a few lengths short of the best of this group.
8. Art Collector - There’s no two ways about it: his fourth-place finish in the G1 Preakness was very disappointing. It was truly a pedestrian effort from a horse that’s shown much more throughout his sophomore campaign. It was his first time running outside of Kentucky this year, and the Breeders’ Cup just so happens to be squarely inside of his favorite state on a track he’s already shown an affinity for, but it’s a lot to ask for him to bounce back from a dismal performance and also move forward off his career-best races, which he would need to do in order to have a shot.
9. Benbatl - It’s never easy for a foreign shipper to win this race, but this horse held his own with some top American runners in the Group 1 Saudi Cup much earlier in the year, finishing just behind Maximum Security and Midnight Bisou. His return to the races in the Group 2 Shadwell Joel at Newmarket wasn’t great, but it should set him up nicely for this assignment. I doubt he’s up to the task, but crazier things have happened.
10. Tacitus - Now that the betting public’s love affair with this horse should finally be over we can acknowledge that while he’s obviously a talented animal, he’s no world-beater. Look no further than his second-place finish as the odds-on favorite in the Woodward last out for proof — in a race that was his to lose, he lost.