Just after half past midnight this Saturday evening, the runners will burst out of the starting gates in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Run over a mile and a quarter at Del Mar, California – the US racecourse where the surf meets the turf – the $6m horse race is the jewel in the crown of North America’s most prestigious race meeting.
An all-star line-up of 11 horses will face the starter, headed by last year’s winner, Arrogate, and also including two runners for record-breaking Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien.
Here, At The Races presenter Jason Weaver, a former top jockey who rode over 1000 winners, gives you the lowdown on the runn ers for the big race.
Jockey: Mike Smith | Trainer: Bob Baffert | Owner: Juddmonte Farms
Runs: 10 | Wins: 7 | Money Won: $17.3m
Last Race: Narrowly beaten into second in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar
"The world’s leading money-earner with $17.3m in prize money. When Arrogate won this race a year ago he couldn’t have been more impressive and, after following up with wins in the Pegasus and Dubai World Cup, he looked real superstar material. However, after having a break since that last win in March, his two runs over the summer were both defeats.
The big issue for Arrogate is ‘kickback’. The Classic is run on a surface the Americans call ‘dirt’ – effectively a mix of soil and sand – and, when you’re at the back of the field, the surface is kicked back into you by those in front. Arrogate clearly hated that on his return when he was a well-beaten fourth in the San Diego Handicap. His fans will say that he improved on that effort the next time when second in the Pacific Classic, but in my view that form is still some way off his best – and not good enough to win the Classic this year.
Drawn on the inside in stall 1, to win this race Arrogate needs to be aggressive in his run style and contest the lead from the start, but he won’t be the only horse fighting for the lead and there’s a risk he could do too much too soon.
In short, I don’t doubt that he’s the best horse in the race it’s just whether he still retains all of his enthusiasm."
2. WAR DECREE
Jockey: Seamie Heffernan | Trainer: Aidan O’Brien (Ireland) | Owner: A Rosen & Mrs J Magnier
Runs: 6 | Wins: 3 | Money Won: $276k
Last Race: Cosy winner of the Diamond Stakes at Dundalk
"I think he’s got the best chance of Aidan O’Brien’s two runners – at least on pedigree. He was very highly rated as a two-year-old, disappointed a little in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket on his first race this year but then ran much better to be fifth in the French Derby. We didn’t see him again until he ran at Dundalk at the end of September when he absolutely bolted up.
This is a huge step-up in class but he’s won 50% of his lifetime starts and, despite being among the outsiders for this, I think he will run much better than his odds suggest."
3. WIN THE SPACE
Jockey: Joe Talamo | Trainer: George Papaprodromou | Owner: Kretz Racing LLC
Runs: 17 | Wins: 3 | Money Won: $330k
Last Race: Third to Classic rival Mubtaahij in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita
"He shouldn’t really be good enough to win this. He was well-beaten in the Classic last year, albeit after being hampered early on, and though he ran well enough to be third to Mubtaahij in the Awesome Again Stakes last time, on that form he deserves to be big odds for this."
4. WAR STORY
Jockey: Jose Ortiz | Trainer: Jorge Navarro | Owner: Loooch Racing Stables
Runs: 23 | Wins: 5 | Money Won: $1.3m
Last Race: Thirteen lengths behind Classic rival Gun Runner when fourth in the Woodward Stakes.
"Has some decent form to his name when fourth to Gun Runner in both the Woodward Stakes and the Whitney Stakes. He’s now with his fifth trainer in 18 months and on all known form he’s just not up to this grade."
5. GUN RUNNER
Jockey: Florent Geroux | Trainer: Steve Asmussen | Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds
Runs: 17 | Wins: 10 | Money Won: $5.7m
Last Race: Storming to a 10-length triumph in the Woodward Stakes
"The likely favourite is improving all the time and ran a massive race on the clock when taking the Woodward Stakes on his last start; sitting on the shoulders of the leaders much of the way before powering down the stretch at Saratoga to score by 10 lengths.
That was his third successive win having also won the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes and the Stephen Foster Handicap earlier in the summer. Prior to that he ran second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup, where he set much too strong a pace which played right into his conqueror’s hands.
He’s undoubtedly a better horse now, but the one question mark for him that remains is the trip – he’s ran over the mile and a quarter on three occasions and though he’s been second once and third twice he is yet to win.
You can’t say he certainly doesn’t stay, but his best form so far has been over shorter and that’s a concern given the race is likely to be run at a real gallop."
Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke | Trainer: Bob Baffert | Owner: Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum
Runs: 18 | Wins: 5 | Money Won: $4.5m
Last Race: Notching a personal best in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita
"This five-year-old is a well-travelled horse who has been placed in two Dubai World Cups, most recently when fourth behind Arrogate and Gun Runner in March. He won the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes on his latest start, so is undoubtedly talented and to be fair he’s taken a long time to settle into the American way of racing. At 12/1 he’s got a place chance but it’s hard to see him winning."
Jockey: Ryan Moore | Trainer: Aidan O’Brien (Ireland) | Owner: Tabor, Smith & Magnier
Runs: 12 | Wins: 7 | Money Won: $1m
Last Race: A solid third on soft ground in Ascot’s Queen Elizabeth II Stakes
"This horse looked invincible when winning the English and Irish 2000 Guineas in May but hasn’t lived up to expectations since, getting beaten on his last four starts. I thought he didn’t stay the distance over 10 furlongs in the International Stakes at York in August and has then ran just OK when third in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot last time.
The other question for Churchill is whether he be able to handle the dirt? I’ve got my concerns – his sire Galileo hated it when beaten in this race back in 2001 - but the wide draw in 7 will at least allow Ryan Moore to angle him towards the outside and avoid the worst of the kickback. This race feels like the last throw of the dice for Churchill; if he gets beaten then it’s no big deal but if he wins then his reputation is restored."
8. WEST COAST
Jockey: Javier Castellano | Trainer: Bob Baffert | Owner: Gary & Mary West
Runs: 8 | Wins: 6 | Money Won: $1.5m
Last Race: Easy seven-length win in the Pennsylvania Derby
"A stablemate of Arrogate and Collected, I think this horse is a huge player for trainer Bob Baffert, who runs four horses in the Classic. Never out of the first two in eight races, West Coast has won his last five races and has been getting better with each run.
His last two wins have come in Grade 1 company; in August he beat Gunnevera with a bit in hand in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, making all the running, and then the following month he could not have been more impressive when powering to a seven length win in the Pennsylvania Derby.
West Coast is yet to run at Del Mar but given his trainer I don’t think that is an issue. What’s more he’s working like a champion coming into the race and actually has a similar profile to the one Arrogate had last year. The thing I really like about this horse is he doesn’t have to make the running and if they go quick here I think he will be even better held up. That’s the deciding factor for me."
Jockey: Edgard Zayas | Trainer: Anotonio Sano | Owner: Margoth
Runs: 13 | Wins: 5 | Money Won: $1.5m
Last Race: Chasing home Classic rival West Coast in the Travers Stakes
"If you fancy West Coast then this horse also deserves to be on the shortlist. Second to West Coast in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on his latest start, he was a little unlucky there being bumped early and then having to go wide the whole way around.
In the possible event that his rivals do go off too fast in this, I reckon Gunnevera might be another one to benefit and pick up the pieces."
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez | Trainer: Doug O’Neill | Owner: Reddam Racing LLC
Runs: 4 | Wins: 2 | Money Won: $317k
Last Race: Fair third in Belmont’s Jockey Club Gold Cup
"The most inexperienced runner in the field, having just had four starts, the evidence suggests that Pavel probably won’t be good enough. He’s run two decent races on his last two starts, including when third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont last time, but this race will be completely different to anything he’s faced so far. He’d be a shock winner."
Jockey: Martin Garcia | Trainer: Bob Baffert | Owner: Speedway Stable LLC
Runs: 11 | Wins: 8 | Money Won: $1.3m
Last Race: Gamely holding off Arrogate in the Pacific Classic over the Classic course and distance
"This is a horse that is peaking nicely. He comes into this race having won his last four races, most notably when beating Arrogate half a length in the Pacific Classic last time, holding on really well late on. If Arrogate gets a clear passage on the inside then Collected will do well to confirm that form but he will be pushing forward from wide and will at least ensure the race is run at a solid pace. I’m just not convinced he quite has the class for this."
JASON WEAVER’S CLASSIC VERDICT
"I don’t think Arrogate is quite as good as he was a year ago. Mike Smith will need to get him up near the lead to avoid the kickback but with other front-runners in the race that could really set things up for the improving three-year-old WEST COAST, who comes into this right at the peak of his form. The consistent Gun Runner should still have the ability to hit the frame, even if he doesn’t quite last home over this trip, whilst Aidan O’Brien’s lightly-raced War Decree has the chance to make the frame at big odds."