The 2019 Breeders’ Cup Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita Park is fast approaching. Once again, the World Championships are set to attract top racehorses from across the globe as the event is the richest two days in sports, with $30 million in purse money awarded over the weekend.
The signature race over the two days is the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, a 1 ¼-mile, Grade 1 race for 3-year-olds and older on the dirt main track that is again expected to attract a stellar field.
Over the last decade only three favorites have won the Classic, and the race has a very competitive look to it in 2019. The two early betting favorites at present are McKinzie and Code of Honor, who also retain the top two spots, respectively, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings. This puts them ahead of the likes of Vino Rosso, Yoshida, Higher Power, and Omaha Beach. Let’s review the credentials of the two horses heading up the betting for the highly anticipated Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert posted his three victories in this race in succession in 2014, 2015, and 2016, making him the winningest trainer in the history of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Baffert looks to have another strong chance of winning the race in 2019 with 4-year-old McKinzie. Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman own the Street Sense colt, and he is a racehorse who has shown ability from the start, winning his career debut by 5 ½ lengths in October 2017.
Since then, McKinzie has proved incredibly consistent with seven wins and five seconds from 13 career starts. He also has amassed $2,298,560 in earnings and won at least one Grade 1 race in each of his three seasons of racing.
McKinzie started his career with three consecutive victories, culminating with a 3 ½-length win in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes. Following a 63-day break, he was sent off as the even-money favorite in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. He again finished powerfully in the stretch but, despite finishing first, his three-race winning streak was halted when he was disqualified for interference in the stretch and placed second behind Bolt d’Oro.
He was considered a leading contender for the 2018 Triple Crown races but was unable to take up the challenge following a hind-leg injury that sidelined him for the rest of the spring and through the summer.
McKinzie’s stablemate Justify went on to sweep all three classic races to become just the 13th winner of the Triple Crown and the second for Baffert in four years following American Pharoah’s Triple Crown in 2015.
McKinzie returned to the track following a 196-day break and landed the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing in September 2018.
McKinzie was an early favorite for the 2018 running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic after his Pennsylvania Derby victory, but he faded badly after pressing the pace as the second betting choice and finished a well-beaten 12th.
Following a short break, McKinzie regained his winning form in December with a visually impressive 4 ¾-length victory in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita Park. However, he was then upset as the 1-2 favorite in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes by Battle of Midway.
Sent off at odds of 2-5 in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap April 6, McKinzie came up a nose short to Gift Box in an exciting finish. McKinzie followed with an eye-catching 4 ¾-length victory in a Grade 2 race at Churchill Downs on the May 3 Kentucky Oaks undercard.
McKinzie was then defeated again at short odds when finishing three-quarters of a length behind Mitole in the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont Park. Following that race, he was sent to contest the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga and produced an impressive performance, powering away in the final furlong from runner-up Yoshida for a 1 3/4-length win.
In his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, McKinzie was entered in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Sept. 28. He was again sent off a the short-priced favorite but failed to fire as he could not match upset winner Mongolian Groom late and was beaten by 2 1/4 lengths as the 3-10 favorite.
McKinzie heads to the Classic as the horse to beat if he brings his “A” game, and he has proved capable of dominant performances throughout his career. However, he has also come up short as the heavy favorite in four of his six starts this season, including three seconds as the odds-on favorite.
Code of Honor
Another key contender heading into the Classic is 3-year-old Code of Honor, owned by William S. Farish and trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. Sired by Noble Mission out of graded stakes winner Reunited, by Dixie Union, he was bred for success and that has certainly materialized.
He was an outstanding 2-year-old who won his debut then ran second after a terrible start in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, which placed him the early favorites for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. However, chestnut colt was withdrawn from consideration for the race because of a mild fever.
Following a short break, Code of Honor failed to fire in his 3-year-old debut as he finished fourth, beaten by 7 ¾ lengths, in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes Jan. 5 at Gulfstream Park.
McGaughey then really stepped up Code of Honor’s training in preparation for the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes and he was rewarded with a three-quarter-length win.
That led to another step up to Grade 1 competition for the Florida Derby. Code of Honor started as the third-betting choice and ran well but could not make an impression on the top pair of Maximum Security and Bodexpress on a track that favored speed.
Code of Honor moved on to the 2019 running of the Kentucky Derby and ran an eye-catching race, leading briefly near the quarter-pole, before being passed late while holding on for third. Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first, subsequently was disqualified for interference while ducking out on the turn, so Country House was elevated to first and Code of Honor awarded second.
Since then, Code of Honor has improved significantly. He first picked up a Grade 3 win at Belmont Park when drawing a way to a 3 ¼-length score in the Dwyer Stakes July 6. He followed with a powerful three-length victory in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes Aug. 24 at Saratoga.
In Code of Honor’s first try against older horses in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, he battled through the Belmont Park stretch with Vino Rosso, who bumped Code of Honor multiple times in the final eighth of a mile, before coming up a nose short. Vino Rosso was disqualified for interference in the stretch run, which gave Code of Honor the Grade 1 win.
Code of Honor has now won five of nine starts with earnings of $2,298,320, and if he can continue to improve he must be considered a serious win contender in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.