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Mucho Macho Man (above) dominated in the Suburban Handicap. Can he do it again in the Breeders' Cup Classic? (Photo by Adam Mooshian/NYRA)

The 29th running of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), the first Classic to be broadcast during primetime on a major television network, brings together a field of 12. Nine of the group have won a Grade 1 stakes in their careers and the other three have either won Grade 2 stakes or been the runner-up in a Grade 1 race, so it would be difficult to completely ignore any in the group. The field is led by Game On Dude, runner-up in the 2011 Classic, who enters the race with a win at Santa Anita last month in the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) (formerly the Goodwood Stakes) that brought his career record on this track to a perfect five for five. Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1) winner Flat Out is another proven at this 1 ¼-miile distance and at this level and could certainly have a strong impact. Fort Larned won the Whitney Handicap (G1) in August and, although a non-threatening third to Flat Out in the Gold Cup, has shown he fits with the best. To Honor and Serve won the Woodward Stakes (G1) at the beginning of September then regressed rather badly when fourth in the Kelso Handicap (G2) at the end of that month. To Honor and Serve previously rebounded from a fourth-place effort in the Suburban Handicap (G2) prior to the Woodward, so he could bounce back up with a top effort. Mucho Macho Man won the Suburban then missed by a neck in the Woodward, so he enters the Classic in very competitive form and certainly is proven at this top level.

Pool Play won the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) in June 2011 then went on the sidelines for a year, finally getting back into the winner’s circle in his fourth start on the comeback trail last month when victorious (at the distance of the Classic) in the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (G2). Richard's Kid hasn’t won a Grade 1 stakes since capturing both the Pacific Classic and Goodwood Stakes in 2010 but won the Cougar II Handicap (G3) in July. He enters the Classic off a fast-closing, yet non-threatening third to Game On Dude in the Awesome Again. Ron the Greek earned the biggest win of his career at Santa Anita when victorious in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) in March but there could be concern about his ability to repeat that effort following a sixth-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Brilliant Speed hasn’t won in 13 months, his last win coming in the Saranac Stakes (G3) and his biggest win coming earlier that year when taking the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1). Last but not least, there are trio of 3-year- olds that could contend, with two of them having potential to be peaking at just the right time for big efforts. Alpha won the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) in July and followed that up with a win at the Classic distance in the Travers Stakes (G1). However, his most recent effort was a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2). Handsome Mike won the Pennsylvania Derby with a career-best effort and runs for the 2012 Kentucky Derby-winning connections of trainer Doug O’ Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez. Nonios was no threat to Game On Dude when second in the Awesome Again last month but was well clear of the third-place finisher and could threaten in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with just slight improvement.

Top contenders:

Mucho Macho Man has really matured as a 4-year-old in 2012, winning the Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes in his first start of the year then coming right back to win the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2). Although he disappointed when third as the favorite in the Alysheba stakes (G2) in May, Mucho Macho Man ran the best race of his career while earning a career-best 120 Equibase Speed Figure in the Suburban Handicap in July before missing by inches to To Honor and Serve in the Woodward Stakes. Having rested two months since the Woodward, Mucho Macho Man could fire a big shot like he did in both the Suburban and in the Sunshine Millions Classic, both with similar rest between starts, and that could be good enough to take this year’s Classic. Jockey Mike Smith, who rode Mucho Macho Man for the first time in the Suburban and again in the Woodward, will ride. Considering Smith won last year’s Classic with Drosselmeyer and came inches short the year before on Zenyatta, Mucho Macho Man appears to have all the tools necessary to win the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Game On Dude has ZERO knocks except for getting run down and beaten a half-length by synthetic-track loving Dullahan in the Pacific Classic. Second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic after leading from the start, Game On Dude rebounded from a poor effort in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) and returned to his winning ways in the U.S., taking the Californian Stakes (G2) with a near-career-best 118 Equibase Speed Figure, following that up with a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap (G1)before that half-length defeat in the Pacific Classic. With a jockey change to Rafael Bejarano for the Awesome Again Stakes, Game On Dude once again showed his versatility when rallying from second to win rather easily in a field of nine. Appearing to be perfectly set up for another big Classic effort, just as he was last year, with the ability to lead from the start or to sit off the pacesetter’s heels as needed and with a perfect five-for-five career mark at Santa Anita, Game On Dude is certainly the one to beat on paper in this year’s event.

GAME ON DUDE

GameOnDudeHorse

Pool Play may be an interesting longshot in the Classic and can run well at high odds in my opinion. He proved he belonged in top company when winning the Stephen Foster Handicap in June 2011, but then went on the sidelines for nearly 13 months, returning in July of this year. Needing a few races to get back into top shape, Pool Play finished fourth, then fourth again, then third, before breaking through with a big effort winning the Hawthorne Gold Cup last month. Unlike some of the other Classic entrants, there’s no question regarding whether Pool Play can get the 1 ¼- mile distance of the race as he has won at distances up to 1 3/4 miles. Having improved his Equibase Speed Figures in his last three races, from 95 to 102 then to 109, Pool Play appears to be on the verge of surpassing the 114 career-best figure earned in the Foster, and if he does he could be in line for a big share of the purse in the Classic.

POOL PLAY

Pool Play

Nonios is another horse who could run well at high odds. Looking at his career record of three wins and three runner-up finishes it may appear he doesn’t have what it takes to win. However, a closer look reveals that in all three of those runner-up efforts Nonios faced horses that ran career-best or nearly career-best efforts. Having started his career rather late as a 3-year-old in February of  this year, Nonios won his first two races then, after a third-place effort, was supposed to run in the Derby Trial Stakes but was scratched following a weather delay and shoeing issue. Posting the 15-1 upset in the Affirmed Handicap (G3) in June, Nonios then ran into a peaking Blueskiesnrainbows in the Swaps Stakes (G2), then subsequent Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up (and near winner) Paynter in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1), earning a career-best 111 Equibase Speed Figure in that last race. After a poor effort when fifth in the Travers Stakes, Nonios stepped up to face older foes in the Awesome Again and finished well to be second behind Game On Dude while 4 1/2 lengths clear of third-place finisher Richard’s Kid. With a good possibility for improvement in his second race at Santa Anita, Nonios is a horse we must consider for any exacta, trifecta or superfecta tickets we play in this race as he could get another nice share of the purse.

Others: Ron the Greek earned the biggest win of his career when victorious in the Santa Anita Handicap this past March, earning a 112 speed figure, having earned a then-career-best 115 figure prior to that when winning the Sunshine Millions Classic. Two races later, he earned his second Grade 1 win of the year in the Stephen Foster Handicap, before a second-place finish behind Fort Larned in the Whitney. However, his recent sixth-place effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup just doesn’t appear to be one he can improve enough off of to contend in the Classic, as it was his worst effort this year by far. To Honor and Serve has similar issues, as his recent fourth-place effort in the Kelso with no excuse as the heavy favorite was extremely disappointing. To Honor and Serve won the Woodward with a near-career-best 118 figure prior to that, but last year he entered the Classic off a win and finished seventh after getting to second place with an eighth of a mile to go, so I don’t feel he’s got what it takes to contend this year either. Flat Out proved himself at the Classic distance and at the level once more in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last month with a career-best 121 figure, having also won the Gold Cup in 2011 before a fifth-place effort in the Classic. His last three wins have come at Belmont Park and he has lost eight times at other tracks during the same period stretching back to July 2011. He has not put wins back-to-back since 2009. Fort Larned earned a career-best 123 figure winning the Whitney in August then finished a non-threatening third to Flat Out in the Gold Cup. He is another entering the Classic going on a declining, not improving, pattern of efforts and speed figures.

The rest of the field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures): Alpha (114), Brilliant Speed (100), Handsome Mike (110) and Richard's Kid (114).

My Selections:

Mucho Macho Man

Game On Dude

Pool Play

Nonios

Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 3 8:30 PM EDT
Post Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Pool Play Miguel Mena Mark Casse 30-1
2 Flat Out Joel Rosario William Mott 5-1
3 Alpha Ramon Dominguez Kiaran McLaughlin 20-1
4 Fort Larned Brian Hernandez, Jr. Ian Wilkes 5-1
5 Game On Dude Rafael Bejarano Bob Baffert 9-5
6 Brilliant Speed Junior Alvarado Thomas Albertrani 20-1
7 Handsome Mike Mario Guttierrez Doug O'Neill 30-1
8 Nonios Martin Pedroza Jerry Hollendorfer 20-1
9 Richard's Kid Garrett Gomez Doug O'Neill 12-1
10 Ron the Greek Jose Lezcano William Mott 6-1
11 Mucho Macho Man Mike Smith Kathy Ritvo 8-1
12 To Honor and Serve John Velazquez William Mott 8-1
Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

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