The 40th running of the Grade 1, $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic brings together a big field of 12, with nine entering the race off of group/graded stakes victories. Among the group of strong contenders at the top level, Ushba Tesoro brings an impressive career bankroll of $9.5 million into the race as well as a six-race winning streak, including victory in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline in March. Derma Sotogake is another travelling from Japan, with his biggest win coming this past March in the Group 2 UAE Derby Sponsored by Atlantis The Royal. Among the contingent based in the U.S., Proxy has proven himself at this level, first when winning the Grade 1 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare last November and most recently when beaten by a nose in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes at the distance of the Classic. Bright Future won the Gold Cup and hopes to win his second Grade 1 race in a row at the distance of 1 ¼ miles. Zandon appears to be another strong contender. Following three straight runner-up efforts to start his 2023 campaign, last year’s Kentucky Derby third-place finisher broke through with a strong win last month in the Grade 2 Woodward Stakes. The Classic drew a group of four horses that are 3-year-olds, including Derma Sotogake, as well as Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby winner Saudi Crown, Grade 1 FanDuel Racing Pacific Classic Stakes winner Arabian Knight, and Pennsylvania Derby runner-up (by a half-length) Dreamlike, who may also be improving and able to step up and compete favorably. Another horse who has top credentials is White Abarrio, winner of the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes this past summer. Clapton adds more depth to this year’s Classic field. He improved off a fourth-place effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup behind Bright Future and Proxy to win the Grade 2 Lukas Classic Stakes at the end of September. Missed the Cut cuts back from 1 ½ miles to 1 ¼ miles after winning the Grade 1 Tokyo City Cup Stakes in October and might be this good. Senor Buscador rounds out the field, having won six of his 14 races, including the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap in July. Note: Arcangelo is scratched and will not run.
Note about the early pace in this race: Saudi Crown has led from the start through the first six furlongs in all three of his route races and it is very likely jockey Florent Geroux will use his position in the starting gate from the six post to try to get the lead and get the colt into a steady stride. This is how he won the Pennsylvania Derby, however by a diminishing margin by a half-length after leading by two lengths with an eighth of a mile to go. Arabian Knight, who has also led from the start through the first six furlongs in his last three races, all routes, will have to use energy to get the lead he likes from post-position 12. If Saudi Crown has the lead and the inside position, this will force jockey Flavien Prat and Arabian Knight to go even faster to get the lead, or it will put them in second in the early stages, a position the colt has never found himself in. Missed the Cut has some tactical speed and is drawn inside Saudi Crown in the gate, as is White Abarrio, and that could add more pace pressure to the early leader. Proxy draws the extreme outside and his best efforts have come when fifth or closer after a half-mile, so he too may need to use some of his energy to get that kind of position. At the least, with Saudi Crown and Arabian Knight both being need-the-lead types, we can expect the early fractions to be faster than average and if both duel for the front from the start, the stalkers and closers may have an edge in the late stages.
Analysis and main win contenders:
Ushba Tesoro has won 10 of his 30 races but more importantly seven of his last eight. Six of those seven wins have come in succession, starting a little over a year ago. The successful stretch coincided with Ushba Tesoro moving to dirt after running his first 22 races on grass. He won the Yokohama Stakes in April of 2022 the first time he ever ran on dirt, winning by four lengths in a 14-horse field, then finished third last September following nearly five months off. Since then all he has done is win, doing so against an average field size of 13 and always in impressive fashion. Ushba Tesoro earned his biggest win this past March in the Dubai World Cup, in which he unleashed a powerful run during the last quarter-mile to win by nearly 2 ¾ lengths. That effort earned a career-best, and field high, 128 Equibase Speed Figure. He had earned a 124 figure last December, also at the distance of the Classic and in a Group 1 race worth more than $1 million. With jockey Yuga Kawada aboard for his last two wins and riding again, with the horse having a perfect 5-for-5 record on fast dirt tracks and a perfect 6-for-6 record on dirt at one mile and one-quarter and the similar distance of one mile and five-sixteenths, and making his second start following six months off so certainly ready to run another “A” race, Ushba Tesoro may be the one to beat in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
White Abarrio was a top 3-year-old in 2022, winning the Holy Bull Stakes and Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa in succession, but he was very wide throughout in the Kentucky Derby and finished 16th. Following that, White Abarrio did not appear to be the same horse, as he lost five in a row before a victory this past March. Given three months off after that and moving to the barn of Richard Dutrow, White Abarrio seems to have recovered his spark. He improved off a third-place finish in the one-turn Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap in June with a 110 figure to win the Whitney Stakes in August with a career-best 121 figure. North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. rode White Abarrio in the Whitney and rides again so that is a positive sign. Noting White Abarrio has had some foot issues in the past, there were concerns about not having raced since August and some missed workouts. However, with a sensational five-furlong drill on Oct. 27 at Santa Anita (:59.80, third best of 39 at the distance on the day), it appears White Abarrio is ready to run as well or better than he did in his most recent race. Considering his 121 figure is the second best in the field and came in his last start, this 4-year-old certainly must be respected as a strong contender.
Zandon has been the runner-up twice as many times in his career as he’s won, as he has finished second six times compared with three wins. However, there are a couple of legitimate reasons for some of his runner-up efforts, particularly this year. He returned from five months off in May and in the one-turn mile Westchester Stakes finished second to Repo Rocks, who at the time had won three of his last four races and was not returning from a layoff like Zandon. Next, Zandon ran into a monster in Cody’s Wish, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile Stakes winner, also in a one-turn mile race. Following that, and stretching out to two turns for the Whitney, Zandon ran second behind White Abarrio but improved to a then career-best 112 Equibase Speed Figure. In his most recent race on Oct. 1, Zandon won the Woodward Stakes in impressive fashion with a new career-best 114 figure. Another 4-year-old like White Abarrio, Zandon still may have some maturing to do and it would not take that much improvement to run as fast, or as well as, the top two contenders in this year’s Classic field.
Honorable mention goes to Derma Sotogake, not just because of how impressively he won the UAE Derby in March (with a 116 figure) at the similar distance of one mile and three-sixteenths, but because he has won on the lead and from off the pace. Granted, Derma Sotogake ran poorly in his only previous start in the U.S., finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, but then again considering he finished sixth of 18 perhaps that wasn’t so bad at all. Looking at his UAE Derby win, Derma Sotogake led from start to finish and was widening in the stretch in a 13-horse field. Considering how Japanese-based horses have fared against some of the best horses in the world in Europe and Dubai this year, we cannot entirely rule out this 3-year-old among this talented field.
Top three win contenders in preference order:
The rest of the Classic field (with their best Equibase Speed Figures): Arabian Knight (111), Bright Future (111), Clapton (108), Dreamlike (112), Missed the Cut (108), Proxy (113), Saudi Crown (112) and Senor Buscador (115).
You can get Ellis Starr's full card detailed analysis and betting recommendations for all the races at Santa Anita on Breeders’ Cup Weekend (Friday, Nov. 3 and Saturday, Nov. 4), here at Equibase.com