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Declaration of War, above winnning in June at Royal Ascot, has a big chance in the Breeders' Cup Classic with the top Equibase Speed Figure and a distinctly American pedigree. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)

The 30th running of the Grade 1, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic brings together a stellar group of 12, including four entering the race off Grade 1 stakes wins and two others having won their most recent races. That group includes 2012 Classic winner Fort Larned, most recently victorious in the Homecoming Classic Stakes at the end of September and also winner of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap in June. Mucho Macho Man was the runner-up in last year's edition of the Classic and enters the race on top of his game, having won the local classic prep last month in the form of the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes. Ron the Greek has had success over this strip as well, winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in 2012 and he too comes into this year's Classic ready to roll, having dominated in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup last month by 6 3/4 lengths. Game On Dude attempts to make amends for failing in last year's Classic as the public favorite. Considering he has won six graded stakes races in a row, including the Pacific Classic, he could do just that. Declaration of War is a Kentucky-bred colt who has raced exclusively on turf and all-weather tracks in Europe but appears to fit with these, having won the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes in his most recent start. Will Take Charge is one of a trio of top 3-year-olds taking on older horses at the highest level in this race.  He could be up to the task, having won the Grade 1 Travers Stakes and Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby in his two most recent races. Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes winner Moreno (most recently second in the Pennsylvania Derby) and Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice (second to Ron the Greek in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last time out) are the other two potential upstarts in the Classic. Flat Out finished third in last year's Classic and although third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in his most recent race proved competitive in top company with a win in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap this summer. Last Gunfighter finished second in the Suburban but may need to improve off his recent fifth-place effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup to have a say with these. Paynter, winner of the 2012 Belmont Stakes, came back from a long layoff in June and ran well enough when second to Mucho Macho Man in the Awesome Again Stakes to be considered a factor. Like Declaration of War, Planteur is making his first start in North America and on dirt but has earned more than $3.5 million and was a Group 1 stakes winner in Europe.

Pace Scenario: The pace scenario is exceptionally important in this year's running of the Classic. Looking at the running styles of the entrants, it appears likely Moreno will want the lead from the start, perhaps at any cost, as he has led from the start and through the first mile in his last five races. Even though Fort Larned has earned his last three wins leading from start to finish (including last year's Classic), he has come from second and third to win in the past year and so it appears he will take a stalking spot, along with Game On Dude, who usually has a high cruising speed but proved twice in the last year he can sit behind the pacesetter and move for the lead when asked. Still, the early fractions probably will be much faster than average and that scenario benefits the horses who can sit in midpack in the early stages.

Main Win Contenders:

Declaration of War ran the best race of his career in his most recent start when winning the Juddmonte International Stakes in August, defeating highly regarded Trading Leather, Al Kazeem and Toronado in the process. That race was run at the distance of 1 5/16 miles, so Declaration of War should have no problem with the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic, having also won two of three other times he has raced the distance in his career. Although there is some question of Declaration of War handling dirt for the first time in his career, as a son of Kentucky-based sire War Front, whose son Departing won two graded stakes on dirt this year, I believe the colt will do just fine on the surface. In the International, Declaration of War earned a career-best 130 Equibase Speed Figure that is the best in the field. With jockey Joseph O'Brien having ridden the colt to his last five wins and being in the saddle for the Classic, Declaration of War can post the upset win.

Ron the Greek also enters the Classic in top form following a dominant win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at the end of September, tying a career-best 123 Equibase Speed Figure. Fourth in last year's Classic following a sixth-place Gold Cup effort, Ron the Greek is in decidedly better form entering this year's race. Having won the 2012 Santa Anita Handicap at the distance of the Classic, Ron the Greek would benefit from a spirited early pace battle and therefore could be rallying best of all in the late stages of the race to earn his second Grade 1 stakes win in a row.


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Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Fort Larned led from start to finish when winning last year's Classic but if he tries to go to the lead from the start this time he could run smack into Moreno and tire from those efforts. However, Fort Larned has proven he doesn't need the lead for his best as he won the 2012 Whitney Invitational from off the pace. In last year's Classic, Fort Larned earned a strong 122 Equibase Speed Figure, bettering that effort to a near-field-high 129 Equibase Speed Figure when victorious in the Stephen Foster Stakes in June. After a poor fifth-place effort in this year’s Whitney, Fort Larned redeemed himself with a strong win the inaugural Homecoming Classic Stakes with a 123-figure effort that sets him up nicely to defend his title in this year's Classic.

Game On Dude enters this year's Classic on a six-race winning streak, started one month after failing as the betting favorite in the 2012 Classic when he did not get the lead he sought and gave up. Since then, Game On Dude has appeared to mature and although five of the six wins came when on the lead from the start, he doesn't seem as aggressive and so may be able to run as he did when winning the Charles Town Classic Stakes in April from off the pace. Jockey Mike Smith is a perfect 5-for-5 when riding Game On Dude and with 122, 120 and 121 figures in his three most recent races as well as with a 7-for-8 career record at Santa Anita, it would be hard to discount his chances of succeeding in this race.


Others: If we could run the race 100 times under these conditions and with this field, I believe the winner would be one of the four above about 80 times in 100. That leaves a decent amount of room for any of the other eight runners to run well, particularly to complete the exacta or trifecta. Among those I am considering for any exotic wagers of that type, Will Take Charge deserves specific mention as he has rallied nicely from fifth with about a quarter-mile to go in each of his last three starts, finishing second in the Jim Dandy Stakes before winning both the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, earning 114Equibase Speed Figures each time. As such, it doesn't take much imagination to envision him closing nicely for a piece of the purse in this year's Classic.

Mucho Macho Man, who earned a 117 winning the Awesome Again Stakes on this track and who finished second in last year's Classic; Flat Out, who earned back-to-back 123 figures in the Suburban (first) and Woodward (second); and Paynter, second to Mucho Macho Man recently and with a 119 figure earlier this year, are three more that could be part of the exacta or trifecta.

Moreno earned a career-best 114 Equibase Speed Figure when second by a nose in the Travers and, although I wouldn't argue with anyone that thinks he can run well, in my opinion the pace scenario does not favor his chances. Palace Malice likewise earned a 114 figure when second in the Gold Cup, with his best a 115 figure winning the Jim Dandy Stakes, and although 3-year-olds can improve a lot in the fall of the year it still doesn't appear he will be competitive with his elders. Planteur has a Group 3 stakes win and a non-graded stakes win to his credit this year and although efforts from 2010 and 2011 would be competitive if repeated in this year's Classic, I don't see that happening. Last Gunfighter earned a 120 Equibase Speed Figure when second behind Flat Out in the Suburban but was uncompetitive at this level when fifth in the Gold Cup in his most recent race.

My Selections:

Declaration of War

Ron the Greek

Fort Larned

Game On Dude 

$5 million Breeders' Cup Classic

Nov. 2, Santa Anita Park, Race 12, Post Time 8:35 p.m. ET

1 1/4 miles (Dirt), 3-year-olds and older

Post Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Last Gunfighter Javier Castellano Chad C. Brown 20-1
2 Paynter Martin Garcia Bob Baffert 12-1
3 Planteur Ryan Moore Marco Botti 20-1
4 Moreno Joe Talamo Eric J. Guillot 15-1
5 Declaration of War Joseph O'Brien Aidan P. O'Brien 10-1
6 Mucho Macho Man Gary Stevens Kathy Ritvo 5-1
7 Fort Larned Brian Hernandez Ian R. Wilkes 6-1
8 Palace Malice  John Velazquez Todd A. Pletcher 10-1
9 Game On Dude Mike Smith Bob Baffert 5-1
10 Will Take Charge Louis Saez D. Wayne Lukas 12-1
11 Ron the Greek Jose Lezcano William I. Mott 8-1
12 Flat Out Joel Rosario William I. Mott 12-1
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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