2022 Breeders' Cup Classic Cheat Sheet: Get to Know the Horses

Flightline, Life Is Good, and Epicenter (left to right) are set to contest the 39th running of the Breeders' Cup Classic Nov. 5 at Keeneland. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The culmination of horse racing’s second season (following the conclusion of the Triple Crown in June) is upon us, and the 2022 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic set for Nov. 5 at Keeneland Race Course is shaping up as one of the most eagerly anticipated races in the 39-year history of the  Breeders’ Cup World Championships

The wave of excitement is all created by the presence of Flightline, who brings a perfect 5-for-5 record and some of the fastest speed figures in history to the $6 million, Grade 1 Classic. Flightline has taken the racing world by storm since last summer and enters the Classic as the clear favorite to win the 1 ¼-mile race and consequently secure Eclipse Awards for both champion older dirt male and Horse of the Year.

Flightline will face the toughest field of his brief racing career, however, as all seven of his projected opponents have all won Grade 1 races and earned more than $1 million on the track. Absent Flightline’s overpowering margins of victory and superior speed metrics, the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic would be one of the most competitive in recent memory … and even with Flightline present, it’s worth remembering that this race produced the biggest longshot winner in the event’s history 29 years ago. 

The Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic will be televised live nationally on NBC with a scheduled post time of 5:40 p.m. ET.

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Whether you are interested in making a couple of bucks on the race or just want to know a little bit about this year’s runners, we’ve got you covered with our 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic Cheat Sheet Presented by 1/ST BET with contenders listed in post-position order and morning-line odds added.

Taiba wins the Pennsylvania Derby. (Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO)

1. Taiba (8-1)

Jockey: Mike Smith

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Zedan Racing Stables

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,236,200

Earnings per start: $247,240

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 114

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Needmore Flattery, by Flatter

Color: Chestnut

Age: 3

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: With only five career starts, Taiba stands alongside Flightline as the least experienced Breeders’ Cup Classic starters, which means they should both have some untapped potential that just might be fulfilled in the near future. In Flightline’s case, reaching a higher level is hard to imagine and is more than a little frightening for the opposition, but Taiba’s continuing development should rattle some nerves as well given how well he’s run in his past two starts. He’s been highly regarded ever since he won his debut by 7 ½ lengths back in March at 1-2 odds for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, which he followed by extending from six furlongs to a mile and an eighth successfully and winning the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Perhaps Taiba was pushed along too quickly to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve where he finished 12th, but he put some shine back on his reputation with a superb comeback effort in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes when second by a head. Taiba then ran even better in the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby Sept. 24 at Parx Racing, stalking the early pace and then running away in the stretch to score by three lengths. This $1.7 million purchase is bred to handle the Breeders’ Cup Classic’s 1 ¼-mile distance and he’s racing for connections who lap the 2022 field in terms of Classic success. As with the six other contenders in this race, he’s taking a back seat to Flightline in terms of speed-figure data, but one can make a compelling argument that Taiba is the most likely candidate to fill out the exacta behind that historically good opponent or win the Classic should Flightline falter.

Breeders’ Cup Classic history: Baffert has won four of the last eight Classics: Bayern (2014); Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year American Pharoah (2015); Arrogate (2016); and Horse of the Year Authentic (2020). He’s also finished second six times (including last year with Amr Zedan-owned Medina Spirit) and third twice. “Big Money” Mike Smith, the all-time leader in Breeders’ Cup wins with 27 and earnings with more than $37.7 million, won the 2016 Classic on Arrogate for Baffert and also with Skip Away (1997), Zenyatta (2009), and Drosselmeyer (2011). Smith has also finished second three times in the Classic and third twice.

Bet Taiba in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Life Is Good wins the Woodward Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

2. Life Is Good (6-1)

Jockey:  Irad Ortiz Jr.

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owners: China Horse Club and WinStar Farm

Career record: 11 starts – 9 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $4,361,700

Earnings per start: $396,518

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 125

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Beach Walk, by Distorted Humor

Color: Bay

Age: 4

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: If opposing owners and trainers have assembled an instruction guide for defeating Flightline – and such a document may end up having as much practical value as the great works of the R. R.’s, Tolkien and Martin – then this talented colt should be the X-factor based on his penchant for speed. Life Is Good has assembled a 4-for-5 campaign this year featuring gate-to-wire wins in all four of his domestic starts. His 3 ¼-length romp in the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by 1/ST BET back in January, when he easily defeated 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go, is arguably the most impressive performance on a dirt track in North America this year … aside from Flightline’s two wins. Life Is Good has earned more than $4.3 million on the track by going directly to the lead and using his elite cruising speed to intimidate his opponents, and he’s shown the ability to reel off an opening half-mile the 46-second range multiple times. Having said that, Life Is Good’s efforts in two-turn races since the Pegasus have called into question his ability to sustain that speed during his stretch runs; he wavered on the track in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Stakes in August when briefly challenged by Happy Saver (possibly due to needless handling by Irad Ortiz Jr.) and then had to be put to a drive by Ortiz at the quarter pole of the 1 1/8-mile Woodward Stakes on Oct. 1 before re-breaking and outfinishing Grade 2 turf winner Law Professor. Furthermore, in Life Is Good’s only start at 1 ¼ miles when shipped overseas for the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline last March, he went straight to the lead, set the pace with minimal pressure, and spurted clear in early stretch only to tire late and finish fourth, more than two lengths behind both winner Country Grammer and runner-up Hot Rod Charlie (two starts later, Country Grammer checked in second by 19 ¼ lengths to Flightline in the TVG Pacific Classic). Winning a mile-and-a-quarter race over Flightline and the rest of an exceptional Breeders’ Cup Classic field will be a significant challenge for Life Is Good but expect him to give it his all and be aggressively ridden by Ortiz straight from the gate. Taking the fight directly to Flightline gives him the best chance to win, and Keeneland’s speed-favoring main track could help him stay in front longer than many expect, especially if it’s dry.

Breeders’ Cup Classic history: Recently inducted Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher won the 2019 Classic with Vino Rosso, and he’s also finished second once and third once. Irad Ortiz Jr. was aboard Vino Rosso, and he has two runner-up finishes in this race. WinStar Farm owned 2011 Classic winner Drosselmeyer.  

Bet Life Is Good in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Happy Saver wins the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

3. Happy Saver (30-1)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owners: Alain and Gerard Wertheimer

Career record: 12 starts – 5 wins – 5 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $1,198,100

Earnings per start: $99,842

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 122

Pedigree: Super Saver – Happy Week, by Distorted Humor

Color: Chestnut

Age: 5

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Happy Saver finished out of the money for the first time in his 12-race career in his most recent start when he stalled out in the stretch of the 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs Oct. 1 and checked in fourth, 5 ½ lengths behind Hot Rod Charlie. Prior to that, he had finished second in five straight races going back to last September, including a very good effort when two lengths short of Life Is Good in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Stakes Aug. 6 at Saratoga and a runner-up effort six lengths behind Flightline in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap, otherwise known as the Met Mile, in June at Belmont Park. This horse’s Grade 1 win came over two years ago when as a 3-year-old he took the 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes in its final running at Belmont Park. That was the fourth out of five consecutive wins to begin his career, and as the above race record shows, he’s since gone on a seven-race losing streak that’s lasted a year and a half. All evidence points to Happy Saver bouncing back from his fourth in the Lukas Classic Stakes and rallying into contention on Nov. 5 – and if he does, that might be enough to secure him third, or much less likely second, in this very tough Breeders’ Cup Classic field.

Breeders’ Cup Classic history: Trainer Todd Pletcher won the 2019 Classic with Vino Rosso and has finished second once and third once. Fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez won his first Classic two years ago at Keeneland aboard Authentic; he’s also finished second four times, including last year on Medina Spirit. 

Bet Happy Saver in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Flightline Wins the Met Mile. (Viola Jasko/NYRA)

4. Flightline (3-5)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: John Sadler

Owners: Hronis Racing, Siena Farm, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Woodford Racing

Career record: 5 starts – 5 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,394,800

Earnings per start: $278,960

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 128

Pedigree: Tapit – Feathered, by Indian Charlie

Color: Bay

Age: 4

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Imagine a scenario where a horse is favored at odds of less than even money when the starting gates open, competing in a race where every opponent is a Grade 1-winning millionaire. The horse in question would be very special indeed – and there’s a very good chance that this possibility will come to pass on Nov. 5, thanks to Flightline. The 4-year-old Tapit colt has won all five of his spaced-out career starts by a cumulative 62 ¾ lengths, in the process reeling off speed figures not seen since Ghostazpper was fashioning a similar brief but brilliant career back in the mid-2000s. After Flightline overcame a poor start in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap – aka the Met Mile – on June 11 and cruised to a six-length victory, the only remaining question about his ability was whether he could extend his punishing speed to a race spanning two turns and extending to the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles. He answered that emphatically Sept. 3 with a 19 ¼-length tour de force against a quality field in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes, in which he pressed the early pace, took over at will before the far turn, and was geared down late by Flavien Prat but still finished with final time of 1:59.28. That mile and a quarter time is faster than 34 of the prior 36 runnings of the Longines Classic held on a dirt track, second only to Ghostazpper’s stakes record of 1:59.02 set in 2004 and Skip Away’s time of 1:59.16 in 1997. Trainer John Sadler has trained Flightline steadily since the Pacific Classic, putting him through three six-furlong breezes in October prior to shipping him to Kentucky, and everything seems to be set in place for this gifted racehorse to make a bid for a new stakes record on a track that, based on the two prior Breeders’ Cups held on it, will be speed-favoring. He will face a competitor in Life Is Good who is very capable of setting fast early fractions in the 46-second range for a half-mile – so Flightline should not be able to secure a comfortable lead – but Life Is Good finished off the board in his only attempt at 1 ¼ miles and comes into the Breeders’ Cup Classic off of a win in the 1 1/8-mile Woodward Stakes where he appeared to have difficulty putting away an unheralded opponent in the stretch. Every other contender in the Nov. 5 Classic would have to run faster than they’ve ever raced before and also count on Flightline to regress to a level he never displayed to begin with in order to win. There’s nothing to suggest that’s going to happen … and that makes the 2022 Classic one of those rare races where hard-bitten horseplayers momentarily set aside their desire to beat the favorite and instead summon their inner fans to enjoy watching something special take place.

Breeders’ Cup Classic history: Sadler ended a much-ballyhooed winless streak in the World Championships when Accelerate captured the Classic in 2008. Flightline’s principal owner, Hronis Racing, was sole owner of Accelerate. Sadler also finished third in the 2019 Classic with Hronis-owned Higher Power; that horse was ridden by Prat for his best Classic finish to date.

Bet Flightline in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Hot Rod Charlie. (Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire)

5. Hot Rod Charlie (15-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Doug O’Neill

Owners: Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable, Roadrunner Racing and William Strauss

Career record: 18 starts – 5 wins – 5 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $5,556,720

Earnings per start: $308,707

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 122

Pedigree: Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie

Color: Dark bay or brown

Age: 4

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: As game and reliable as they come, Hot Rod Charlie is perhaps the best bet in the Nov. 5 Classic aside from Flightline. That bet would be to fill out the exacta or trifecta as he’s often come up just short of winning but otherwise has competed hard for 15 straight races dating back to his maiden victory in October 2020 at Santa Anita Park. One race after that, he nearly pulled off a 94.40-1 upset in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by TAA at Keeneland, finishing three-quarters of a length behind Essential Quality, and it’s been good vibes ever since aside from an unfortunate DQ out of first in the 2021 TVG.com Haskell Stakes. Hot Rod Charlie picked up his Grade 1 win one start after that in the Pennsylvania Derby, and he's come back at age 4 to win two of five starts with two seconds and one third. In his Classic prep, he was passed by Rich Strike in deep stretch of the 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic Stakes Oct. 1 at Churchill Downs but responded courageously as that foe lugged into him to fight back and edge the Kentucky Derby winner by a head. He’s been based at Keeneland this fall and is training well for Doug O’Neill, and retains the services of Tyler Gaffalione after that talented, young jockey and Keeneland mainstay got back on Hot Rod Charlie for the first time since the Juvenile in the Lukas Classic Stakes. As with all of the other Classic contenders, it’s hard to see Hot Rod Charlie upsetting Flightline if both colts run their ‘A’ race. But filling out the exacta and adding another million-plus to his already bountiful career bankroll is well within his scope.

Breeders’ Cup Classic history: O’Neill’s best Breeders’ Cup finish came last year when Hot Rod Charlie faded from second in early stretch to finish fourth – his only off-the-board start since the abovementioned maiden victory. Bet Hot Rod Charlie in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Epicenter wins the Travers Stakes. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

6. Epicenter (5-1)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds

Career record: 10 starts – 6 wins – 3 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $2,940,639

Earnings per start: $294,064

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Pedigree: Not This Time – Silent Candy, Candy Ride

Color: Bay

Age: 3

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: If Flightline was not running in the Classic, a strong argument could be made for Epicenter as the morning-line favorite based on his eye-catching improvement over the summer. Always highly regarded, he’d won four of six starts racing on or near the lead heading into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, in which he went off as the 4.10-1 favorite. The son of young sire Not This Time stalked the pace in the Derby and took command in midstretch, holding Zandon at bay with every step, only to be overtaken by a surging Rich Strike two paths to his inside (it appeared that Epicenter never saw that foe). After another runner-up effort in the Preakness Stakes, in which he was squeezed early and raced farther back than usual, Epicenter resurfaced at Saratoga in midsummer and took his game up a notch, emphatically winning both the Jim Dandy Stakes and the 1 ¼-mile Runhappy Travers Stakes while establishing himself as the best 3-year-old in North America. He’s been training at Keeneland steadily since the Travers, and Steve Asmussen has expressed confidence that his charge has taken yet another step forward in development as he prepares for the biggest challenge of his career. He’ll need to do just that to pull off the upset as his best finishing times in route races and overall speed figures can’t compare with Flightline’s. Epicenter is a must-use horse in vertical bets such as the exacta and trifecta, however, and if for some reason Flightline fails to show up on Nov. 5, he should be in the right position to take advantage under the skillful handling of Joel Rosario.

Breeders’ Cup Classic history: Rosario has won two out of the last four Classics on Accelerate (2018) and Knicks Go (2021), and he’s also finished second once and third once. Hall of Famer Asmussen won the 2007 Classic with Curlin and in 2017 with Gun Runner (co-owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds), and both of those horses were voted Horse of the Year. 

Bet Epicenter in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Olympiad wins the 2022 Jockey Club Gold Cup. (Eclipse Sportswire)

7. Olympiad (10-1)

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owners: Grandview Equine, Cheyenne Stable and LNJ Foxwoods

Career record: 12 starts – 8 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $2,007,560

Earnings per start: $167,297

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 123

Pedigree: Speightstown – Tokyo Time, by Medaglia d’Oro

Color: Bay

Age: 4

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Set aside a puzzling fourth-place finish behind Life Is Good, Happy Saver, and Hot Rod Charlie in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga back in August, and Olympiad is undefeated and unchallenged in 2022. He’s won his other six starts by a combined 18 ¼ lengths and showed he could handle a mile and a quarter in his most recent start (and first at that distance) when taking the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga by two lengths on Sept. 3. After that victory, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said that he chalked Olympiad’s no-show in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney to excessive humidity at the Spa which may have sapped some of the colt’s energy. Truth be told, there’s nothing to not like about Olympiad – he’s proven around two turns, has shown the ability to race close to the early pace or sit back farther and stalk if needed, and he’s won at five different tracks including Keeneland, where he took a seven-furlong allowance just over a year ago. His best speed figures top out slightly below Life Is Good and considerably lower than Flightline’s, however, which places him alongside basically every other Classic starter as a second-tier contender. His wins this year have also come against lesser competition than what he’ll face Nov. 5, and humidity or not, it’s hard to look past the fact that when he faced a small but elite field including the aforementioned three horses in the Whitney, he wasn’t a factor. As such, Olympiad profiles as a trifecta filler in the Classic, with an outside shot at reaching second and a remote longshot to win.

Breeders’ Cup Classic history: Bill Mott has won the Classic twice, first with the legendary Cigar in 1995 and then with Drosselmeyer in 2011. He’s also finished third three times.

Bet Olympiad in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike. (Eclipse Sportswire)

8. Rich Strike (20-1)

Jockey:  Sonny Leon

Trainer: Eric Reed

Owner: RED TR-Racing

Career record: 11 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $2,200,489

Earnings per start: $200,044

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 107

Pedigree: Keen Ice – Gold Strike, by Smart Strike

Color: Chestnut

Age: 3

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: As this colt proved back on May 5, anything can happen in a horse race – anything. Rich Strike’s win at odds of 80.80-1 as an also-eligible entrant in the 146thKentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve will arguably go down as the biggest upset in that storied race’s history, based on a sequence of improbable events that somehow all came together. When he returned in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and was a complete nonfactor in finishing sixth of eight, a lot of analysts and horseplayers relegated Rich Strike back to his pre-Derby role of an easily dismissed member of the 3-year-old division with an added description of “fluke” attached. But his subsequent two starts have caused yet another revision: Rich Strike came back in the 1 ¼-mile Runhappy Travers Stakes in August and grinded through the stretch to finish fourth, only a head out of second, and then gave Hot Rod Charlie all he could handle in the stretch of the 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic Stakes Oct. 1 at Churchill Downs (with some highly questionable riding by jockey Sonny Leon) before yielding by a head. There’s no doubt about him now: Rich Strike is a stakes-caliber racehorse, and as the only deep closer lined up for the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Classic, he stands to benefit most from any pace meltdown. He certainly did just that in the Kentucky Derby, rallying into quarter-mile fractions of :21.78, :45.36, and 1:10.34 to charge past Epicenter in the final strides. But it’s unlikely to say the least that such a scenario will play out in the Classic as there’s no Dubai-based sprinter like early Derby leader and eventual last-place finisher Summer Is Tomorrow to set such a suicidal pace – instead, there’s a horse in Flightline who sat just off a :46.06 half-mile in the 1 ¼-mile TVG Pacific Classic Stakes, was in the lead when posting a six-furlong time of 1:09.97, and ended up winning by 19 ¼ lengths in a final time that is over three seconds faster than Rich Strike’s Derby time of 2:02.61. This working-class hero of a racehorse and his connections will get a lot of support from fans as they all make their first appearance in the Breeders’ Cup, and if Flightline runs every other Classic entrant into defeat by the quarter-pole, Rich Strike can certainly pass them all in the stretch and nab second. But winning the Classic? Well … anything can happen in a horse race. 

Bet Rich Strike in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

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