Perhaps we're super-imposing a narrative where none exists, but we think the Classic result usually mirrors the year in racing. Let's look at the last few years to prove our point.
2005: After Ghostzapper's unfortunate retirement and Afleet Alex's failure to race after June, Saint Liam becomes the pro-tem and underrated division leader. He wins a workmanlike victory in the Classic at a decent price.
2006: The three best horses (after Barbaro's injury) are Bernardini, Invasor and Lava Man. The last of the three craps the bed in the Breeders Cup Classic when he can't use California drugs; Invasor and Bernardini run 1-2.
2007: The 3 year olds are clearly a great crop. They run 1-2 as Curlin beats Hard Spun.
2008: Big Brown retires before the Breeders Cup and Zenyatta's popularity is nascent. The remaining story is Curlin's 4yo campaign, which is solid if unspectacular as he tries to avoid synthetics at all costs. He runs in the Breeders Cup on a polytrack anyway, and runs 4th while European turf milers run 1-2.
2009: The older male horse and 3yo male divisions are a complete mess. Filly Zenyatta wins the Classic over two turf horses.
2010: Blame emerges as the only reliable older horse. He beats Zenyatta in a memorable Classic.
2011: The older horse division and 3yos are both a mess. Drossselmeyer shocks everyone winning the Classic, confirming that racing's stardom is a mess.
What's the dominant theme this year? The 3 year olds are a MASH unit, while the older horses have had a couple of excellent performances sandwiched around some boringness. Let's see how that translates to the Classic itself and count down the runners from 12th to 1st.
This is a Curious Idea
12. Brilliant Speed. When we last saw this guy on the dirt, it was the 2011 Jim Dandy, where he lost by a dozen lengths to a bunch of horses that have done nothing this year. Which is fitting, because he's also done nothing this year, having done no better than three non-threatening thirds in six starts on the grass.
11. Handsome Mike. His two wins to date were a maiden race and a shocker in the Pennsylvania Derby. He would make Drosselmeyer's win last year look sensible.
You'd Have a Shot in the Dirt Mile
10. Alpha. No seriously, this horse would be really intriguing in the Dirt Mile. While he won the Travers and Jim Dandy, he was staggering at the end of both races and doesn't seem to really want the added distance. His Pennsylvania Derby was execrable and he doesn't seem to be on the improve. But a cut back in distance against second-tier horses, that we could get interested in. Alas.
9. To Honor and Serve. Well he did win the Cigar Mile last year. Outside of his win in the Woodward this year, which was a little headscratching and where he was clearly losing ground late, he's done zippo to indicate that he's ready to beat multiple horses at 10 furlongs.
Maybe Some Other Month. Or Year.
8. Richard's Kid. I'm bored to tears by this horse, who is a synthetic specialist. The last time he won a race on the dirt was an ungraded stakes at Fairgrounds worth $50,000 in February 2009. His Goodwood did nothing to indicate that he's an improved specimen on the dirt 3 1/2 years later. Pass.
7. Ron the Greek. Ah, the first-half specialist. We could excuse his second in the Whitney where he had a bad trip, but he was so bad in the JCGC that we're completely against him. Also, the fact that Bill Mott is entering two other horses in this race speaks volumes about his confidence in this horse. He's got a shot to clunk up for 3rd or 4th, we suppose, but can't endorse on top.
The Overrated and Overbet
6. Game On Dude. We are completely unconvinced that this horse wants any part of 10 furlongs. His record at a mile and an eighth is spectacular, he's great at Santa Anita, and he's got great tactical speed. We get all that. We STILL think he's going to fold his tent come the top of the stretch against better bred competition who aren't going to be burned out by the pace. He'd be a fun horse to own, but think he's a terrible favorite at 9-5.
5. Flat Out. We don't have a ton to add from our original post, where we noted that this guy seems to be an inferior horse away from New York tracks. Now yes, it's possible that super-trainer Bill Mott has rounded him into excellent form and he'll come into the Classic guns blazing. The problem is that he was in the exact same position last year and came up completely empty at the top of the stretch. After he had to work his eyeballs out to beat a mediocre Stay Thirsty in the JCGC, why should we think he's turned the corner to now become a world beater? Look elsewhere for the winner.
4. Pool Play. The analysis is this simple: this horse is 2-for-2 in starts on a fast dirt track and is 5-for-3o in all other starts, which are completely besides the point for his chances here. Now yes, his dirt wins were over absolutely nothing in the Hawthorne Gold Cup and in a Stephen Foster that completely fell apart. But he's 30-1 on the morning line and is likely the longest shot on the board. He seems to not mind the distance. What if he's just been oddly managed all along and really likes a fast dirt track?
3. Nonios. Sandwiched around his complete no-show in the Travers is are a pair of excellent second-place finishes in the Haskell and Goodwood, both of which were against loose-on-the-lead types that were never getting caught. He's well-bred for the distance, is an improving three-year old and has a race against his elders. He reminds us a lot of Fly Down, who ran a non-threatening third to Blame and Zenyatta two years ago. We don't think he's as good as the next two horses, but certainly like his upside more than anyone else on this list.
2. Fort Larned. His burst of speed on the turn in the Whitney was the best move we've seen a horse make this year, which he used to carry into the stretch to a nice victory over half the horses on this list. He followed that up with a predictable regression to third in the JCGC which is probably a little better than it seems -- he hadn't run in nearly 2 months and was clearly being pointed to the Classic, not the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He has enough tactical speed to keep Game on Dude and the front-runners in his sight but doesn't need the lead. We think he makes another strong move on the far turn and gets to the lead, but ultimately loses out to...
1. Mucho Macho Man....the horse that made the second best move we've seen this year, his turn and stretch in the Suburban. His running line is fractured enough that it's forgotten that this was his trainer's design of how she wanted him to get to this race: spacing between races with carefully selected starts. And Kathy Ritvo has done a great job getting this guy ready for spots: he dominated his two wins in Florida, was great in the Suburban, and would have won the Woodward with two more jumps. The fact that he hasn't won a Grade 1 yet is besides the point: the Suburban was a strong race, and he's been campaigned in a way to peak on November 3rd. We say he does and wins handily.
Good luck to all and enjoy the races!