The 37th running of the Grade 1, $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic brings together a field which must be described as top notch, with the sum of their earnings totaling nearly the entire total of $31 million dollars in purse money to be shared over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland Race Course.
Three-year-olds Tiz the Law and Authentic represent the younger set, with the former having won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes and the latter victorious in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, but both enter the Classic off runner-up efforts which were very good, but with no real excuses for not winning. That’s one matchup fans will definitely have their eyes on, with the other being the third meeting between Improbable and Tom’s d’Etat, the first resulting in Tom’s d’Etat winning by three-quarters of a length in the Oaklawn Mile Stakes in April. Since then, Improbable is undefeated in three races including the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes in his most recent start while Tom’s d’Etat won the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes before a stumbling break and third-place finish behind Improbable in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes. Then there’s Maximum Security, who has won three of four races this year, including the Group 1 Saudi Cup Stakes. Maximum Security enters the Classic off a nonthreatening runner-up finish behind Improbable. Tacitus won the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes in July at the distance of the Classic and has managed only a second- and third-place finish since then. By My Standards finished second to Tom’s d’Etat in the Stephen Foster then second behind Improbable in the Whitney and tries to turn the tables on those foes. Global Campaign won the Grade 1 Woodward Handicap in his most recent start and at the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic and may be this good. Higher Power and Title Ready round out the field, with Higher Power winless in six straight races since capturing the Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic in the summer of 2019 and with Title Ready having finished fifth and third in his last two races against easier competition.
Main contenders: Even with the fantastic depth in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, I think Improbable and Tom’s d’Etat are the ones to beat and have the bulk of the probability to win. This assessment is based on not only how fast they’ve run, but their attitude about winning.
Tom’s d’Etat won two graded stakes to close out his 2019 campaign, including the Hagyard Fayette Stakes last fall at Keeneland. That effort earned a 116 Equibase Speed Figure, the second best he had earned to that point in his career, with the best being 118 in the Alydar Stakes two months earlier. In his 2020 debut in April after five months off, Tom’s d’Etat rallied from eighth to win the Oaklawn Mile Stakes over Improbable by three-quarters of a length with a 113 figure. In the Oaklawn Mile, Improbable had opened up a two-length lead in the stretch and appeared to have victory in hand but Tom’s d’Etat gained ground with every stride to win going away. Two months later, Tom’s d’Etat won the Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare with a 116 figure and was on a pattern for significant improvement before a bad stumble at the start of the Whitney Stakes in August, resulting in a third-place finish. Still, Tom’s d’Etat improved to a 117 figure in the Whitney, quite impressive in my opinion. Whitney winner Improbable came right back to win the Awesome Again Stakes and runner-up By My Standards won the Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet, both flattering Tom’s d’Etat. Particularly as Tom’s d’Etat has relished returning off similar layoffs in the past, I think he can run just as he did in the Oaklawn Mile and post the mild upset in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Improbable has become a different, better, horse since the addition of blinkers before last summer’s Shared Belief Stakes. Going into that race, Improbable had won three of seven races but his two just prior to the Shared Belief were poor efforts when fifth in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Preakness Stakes. Since then, Improbable has won four of seven, but it’s his most recent three efforts which were the most impressive. After returning from five months off and being defeated by Tom’s d’Etat in the Oaklawn Mile Stakes, Improbable won the Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita in June at the distance of the Classic with a 116 Equibase Speed Figure, which was the second best of his career. Following up with wins in the Whitney and in the Awesome Again, both with career-best 120 figures, Improbable enters the Classic in the best form of his life. As impressive is the authoritative way in which Improbable has run in his last three races, each time opening up by many lengths with an eighth of a mile to go and holding that advantage to the finish line while unchallenged. Granted, in the Oaklawn Mile he had opened up as well and was caught by Tom’s d’Etat in the stretch, but since then no other horse has worried Improbable in the late stages. Therefore, if Tom’s d’Etat can’t repeat what he did in the Oaklawn Mile, Improbable is very likely to have a commanding lead early in the stretch and win his fourth straight Grade 1 race.
About the rest: Lines of separation between most of the other eight contenders in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic are thin, but the line separating them from the top two contenders is not thin in my opinion. I’ll take them in alphabetical order, starting with Authentic, whose results on the track match his name with five wins and two runner-up efforts in seven starts. Two of those came at, or very close to, this Classic distance, in the Kentucky Derby and in the Preakness Stakes. Authentic ran valiantly in both, winning the former and coming up a neck shy of Swiss Skydiver in the latter. However, he did not improve in terms of his speed figures, with both efforts resulting in 109 figures, the same as he earned winning the TVG.com Haskell Stakes in July. I’m just not enamored with this pattern, particularly as I would expect a 3-year-old to continue to improve in the fall. He’s a very talented horse, but in my opinion he’s no match for either Improbable or Tom’s d’Etat at this stage.
The same can be said for By My Standards, who has won four of six this year and finished second in the two others. Those two runner-up efforts came behind Improbable in the Whitney and behind Tom’s d’Etat in the Stephen Foster Stakes. Although the figures earned in those races, 118 and 110, respectively, were better than the 109 figures Authentic earned in his last three races, I don’t see By My Standards turning the tables on either Improbable or Tom’s d’Etat in the Classic.
Global Campaign earned back-to-back 109 figures in the Monmouth Cup Stakes and in the Woodward Handicap and, although the latter came at the distance of the Classic, I don’t see him moving up to the level needed to win. Additionally, Global Campaign won both races leading from start to finish, with the exception that he was second with an eighth of a mile to go in the Monmouth Cup. In this year’s Classic that “early” running style is shared by Authentic and possibly By My Standards as well as Maximum Security.
Maximum Security was no match for Improbable in the Awesome Again. When winning the TVG Pacific Classic and San Diego Handicap prior to that, he faced competition which, for the most part, would be overmatched in this race. He did earn a 118 figure in the Pacific Classic but 107 in the San Diego and the 113 he earned in the Awesome Again was more of a function how fast Improbable ran than the effort Maximum Security put forth. There’s no doubt Maximum Security is one of the best horses in the country at this level, but perhaps not the best in this field.
Tiz the Law would be a top contender in this year’s Classic if not for the fact that it appears he peaked when winning the Runhappy Travers Stakes in August. After winning four straight graded stakes from February through August with a strong pattern of improving figures (112, 113 and 115) through the Travers, Tiz the Law not only could not pass Authentic in the stretch in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, his 107 figure suggests he was not as fast in September as he was earlier in the year. Still, he’s another horse in this year’s Classic with no real knocks, winning six of eight races in his career and earning $2.6 million.
Tacitus (110 best Equibase Speed Figure) has run evenly in his last two races with 107 and 105 figures and doesn’t appear as fast, or to have as much will to win, as many of the others. Higher Power earned a 113 figure winning the 2019 Pacific Classic but hasn’t shown the same ability since and particularly as he has been beaten three to six lengths in his last three races, twice by Maximum Security, he appears a bit over his head here. Title Ready earned a career-best 114 figure in the Stymie Stakes when second 19 months ago and has one allowance win to his credit since. He’s never run the Classic distance so far in his career.
You can get Ellis' full card detailed analysis and betting recommendations for all the races at Keeneland on Breeders’ Cup Weekend (Friday 11/6 and Saturday 11/7), at Equibase.com