On Saturday, Nov. 2, the $6 million, Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic will conclude the 36th annual World Championships at Santa Anita Park by bringing together the best dirt route racehorses in North America to face off in a 1 ¼-mile test of class and endurance.
The Classic is usually very important in determining Eclipse Awards for Horse of the Year, champion older dirt male, and, on occasion, champion 3-year-old male, and it has been won through the decades by superstars of the sport such as Alysheba, Sunday Silence, A.P. Indy, Cigar, Tiznow, Ghostzapper, Curlin, Zenyatta, American Pharoah, and Gun Runner.
This year’s probable contenders are evenly matched, with no clear standout among them, and that should make for a very competitive race and a potentially lucrative one for horseplayers. The Classic has a scheduled 8:44 p.m. ET post time and will be televised nationally on NBC.
1. Math Wizard (30-1)
Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.
Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr.
Owners: John Fanelli, Collarmele Vitelli Stables, Bassett Stables, Ioannis Zoumas, Wynwood Thoroughbreds, and Saffie Joseph Jr.
Career record: 13 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 3 thirds
Career earnings: $860,623
Earnings per start: $66,202
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113
Pedigree: Algorithms – Minister’s Baby, by Deputy Minister
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Perhaps the best backstory among Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders belongs to this late-blooming colt, who gave his connections an emotional day in the spotlight last month when he won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at odds of 31.10-1. Trainer Saffie Joseph claimed Math Wizard back in January for co-owner John Fanelli, and since then he’s steadily progressed, finishing second and third in Grade 3 stakes over the summer and then responding to some time off after one subpar effort to end Mr. Money’s four-race win streak and also defeat Preakness Stakes winner War of Will and highly regarded Improbable in the Pennsylvania Derby. Consistency is a question for this son of Algorithms, and he’ll be facing the toughest field of his career in Saturday’s Classic, but at his best he’s capable of hanging with the leaders in his 3-year-old division, having already beaten the horses named above and also losing by a half-length to Owendale in the Ohio Derby. He’s an outsider as a win candidate but worthy of consideration in exacta and trifecta tickets at what should be hefty odds, and a series of swift workouts at Gulfstream Park since the Pennsylvania Derby signal that he could be getting better at just the right time. This will be the first Breeders’ Cup appearance for Math Wizard’s ownership group, for Joseph, and for jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
2. Seeking the Soul (20-1)
Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.
Trainer: Dallas Stewart
Owner: Charles Fipke
Career record: 29 starts – 7 wins – 6 seconds – 7 thirds
Career earnings: $3,354,153
Earnings per start: $115,660
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 122
Pedigree: Perfect Soul – Seeking the Title, by Seeking the Gold
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: The leading money-earner in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic field could also carry the longest odds once the gates open Saturday evening. Since shipping west mid-summer after an impressive win in the Stephen Foster Stakes at his home track of Churchill Downs, Seeking the Soul has been decisively defeated twice, finishing seventh by 18 ½ lengths in the TVG Pacific Classic and then fourth by 8 ½ lengths in the Awesome Again Stakes. Trainer Dallas Stewart said that Seeking the Soul suffered from the “thumps” (an electrolyte imbalance) on Pacific Classic day, excusing his performance, and in terms of Equibase Speed Figures he did rebound in the Awesome Again, posting a 113 number. His two timed workouts at Santa Anita since the Awesome Again have been solid as well, but this hard-knocking veteran still has much to prove in Saturday’s $6 million Classic. If Seeking the Soul can summon his Stephen Foster form – or more generally, his overall form at Churchill Downs where he’s run the best races of his career by far – he’s capable of passing some tired horses in the stretch and nabbing a minor placing. But anything more than that would be a surprise on Saturday. Owner Charles Fipke has won two Breeders’ Cup races overall but will be making his classic debut this year. Dallas Stewart, who has won the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff twice, finished sixth in the 2002 Classic with Dollar Bill. Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita aboard Fort Larned.
3. Owendale (15-1)
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Trainer: Brad Cox
Owner: Rupp Racing
Career record: 12 starts – 5 wins – 1 second – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $958,725
Earnings per start: $79,894
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 114
Pedigree: Into Mischief – Aspen Light, by Bernardini
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: After an under-the-radar start to his career where he won two of his first six starts, Owendale has emerged as one of the best racehorses in the 3-year-old division with three wins in Grade 3 stakes and two solid efforts in Grade 1s over the spring and summer. The jury’s still out, however, as to whether he’s good enough to win a top-flight Grade 1 stakes, especially against older horses, and that should make him a good value play on Saturday. His half-length win three starts back over Math Wizard in the Ohio Derby was subsequently flattered when that colt posted an upset win in the Pennsylvania Derby, and his following fifth-place run in the Runhappy Travers Stakes behind Code of Honor was decent – although it must be noted that he tired late in that race, his only start at 1 ¼ miles. He rebounded to win the 1 1/8-mile Oklahoma Derby by 1 ¾ lengths on Sept. 29, and has impressed trainer Brad Cox and his owners enough since then to warrant a start in the Classic. This son of Into Mischief will need a solid pace to close into, which may not materialize in this year’s Classic, but is a consistent type and will be giving it his all in the stretch. Regular rider Florent Geroux is sidelined due to injury, so Hall of Famer Javier Castellano picks up the mount. Castellano won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic on Ghostzapper and has finished second once and third three times. Brad Cox and Rupp Racing will be making their first Classic appearance.
4. War of Will (20-1)
Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione
Trainer: Mark Casse
Owner: Gary Barber
Career record: 13 starts – 4 wins – 1 second – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $1,615,569
Earnings per start: $124,275
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111
Pedigree: War Front – Visions of Clarity, by Sadler’s Wells
Running style: Press the pace
Notable achievements and interesting facts: War of Will provided one of the highlights of this year’s racing with a redemptive score in the Preakness Stakes back in May, proving that he was of classic caliber indeed after his run in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was disrupted by disqualified first-place finisher Maximum Security. But since then, the talented colt has underachieved, finishing ninth in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, fifth in the Jim Dandy Stakes, and most recently third in the Pennsylvania Derby. He did show improvement the Pennsylvania Derby, boosting his Equibase Speed Figure to a career-high 111 and gamely battling through the stretch before settling for third behind deep-closing Math Wizard and Mr. Money. The major concern for War of Will regarding Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic is distance: even considering Maximum Security’s infraction in the Kentucky Derby, War of Will noticeably tired in the Churchill Downs stretch, and he was absolutely no threat at all in the 1 ½-mile Belmont and faded in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy as well. Naysayers will argue that he got a perfect rail trip in the Preakness Stakes and took advantage of it to spurt clear of the field in midstretch, which is true. Look for regular rider Tyler Gaffalione to attempt a similar journey in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, settling just behind the early leaders and keeping his mount out of as much trouble as possible through the backstretch and far turn. If War of Will can move forward off of his improved Pennsylvania Derby showing, he can have a say in the Breeders’ Cup Classic outcome on Saturday, but he’ll have to show a heretofore unrevealed level of stamina to reach the winner’s circle. Gaffalione finished 11th last year in his Breeders’ Cup Classic debut. Mark Casse will be making his second Breeders’ Cup Classic appearance as well after finishing eighth in 2012. Gary Barber has been represented by several Breeders’ Cup runners in years past, either alone or in partnership, but never before in the Classic.
5. Yoshida (8-1)
Jockey: Mike Smith
Trainer: Bill Mott
Owners: China Horse Club International, WinStar Farm, and Head of Plains Partners
Career record: 17 starts – 5 wins – 4 seconds – 1 third
Career earnings: $2,445,770
Earnings per start: $143,869
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 116
Pedigree: Heart’s Cry – Hilda’s Passion, by Canadian Frontier
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This versatile racehorse has not shied away from competing in some of the most lucrative and prestigious events in the sport over the past year, despite going winless through his past six starts. After excelling on turf early in his career, Yoshida turned heads with a dominant win in his dirt debut last August, taking the Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets by two lengths. He subsequently finished a decent fourth, beaten by 1 ¾ lengths, in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic but then failed to threaten in his next three starts, finishing sixth each time (the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational back on grass, the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline, and the Stephen Foster Stakes). In his two most recent starts during the losing streak, Yoshida showed signs of rounding back into his Woodward ’18 form, closing to get second behind McKinzie in the Whitney Stakes in early August at Saratoga, and then rallying again to nab third in this year’s Woodward. This Japanese-bred horse is a one-dimensional closer who is dependent on both solid early fractions and a track that favors his running style. He may not get either of those on Saturday, but is worth a look based on his August Saratoga efforts and also his new jockey. Mike Smith picks up the mount on Yoshida in the Classic after Joel Rosario was named to replace Smith aboard McKinzie, and it will be interesting to see whether Smith tries to get Yoshida involved earlier than usual in what appears to be a pace-deficient race. “Big Money” Mike Smith is the all-time leader in Breeders’ Cup wins with 26, and he’s won the Classic four times (Skip Away in 1997, Zenyatta in 2009, Drosselmeyer in 2011, and Arrogate in 2016). He’s also finished second three times. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who also conditions Elate, has sent 15 horses to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, winning with the “incomparable” Cigar in 1995 and with WinStar Farm-owned Drosselmeyer in 2011; he’s also finished third three times.
6. Elate (6-1)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Trainer: Bill Mott
Owners: Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider
Career record: 18 starts – 7 wins – 7 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $2,328,775
Earnings per start: $129,376
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 119
Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro – Cheery, by Distorted Humor
Color: Dark bay or brown
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This multiple Grade 1-winning mare adds intrigue to the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the third-highest earner in the prospective field and one who possesses a flawless résumé at a mile and a quarter, winning the past two editions of the Delaware Handicap at that distance and the 2017 Alabama Stakes as well. She is the picture of consistency, having only finished out of the top three twice in 18 starts (one of those coming early in her career when she was pulled up). Elate missed the Breeders’ Cup last year after checking in fourth in the 2017 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff as the 2-1 favorite, but will skip the Distaff this year and face males for the first time in Saturday’s Classic. Of concern is the fact that she enters the Classic off of two consecutive losses at less than even-money odds: second by a nose to Midnight Bisou in the Aug. 24 Personal Ensign Stakes Presented by Lia Infiniti; and second by a half-length to Blue Prize in the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Elate usually makes one sweeping run for the lead coming out of the far turn and, if it’s timed right, she has plenty of stamina to fuel her stretch drive. If it’s not, and she has to re-engage opponents and find another gear after making her initial move, she is vulnerable. Still, this classy racemare has a solid chance to hit the board in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and could make history as the second female to win the race after the legendary Zenyatta (2009) if everything falls into place. Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider campaigned the horse that foiled Zenyatta’s repeat bid in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, when their charge Blame held on to win thrillingly by a head in 2010. Jose Ortiz has ridden in the prior two Breeders’ Cup Classics, finishing fourth both times, most recently last year aboard Yoshida. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who also conditions Yoshida, has sent 15 horses to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, winning with the “incomparable” Cigar in 1995 and with Drosselmeyer in 2011; he’s also finished third three times.
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Trainer: John Sadler
Owner: Hronis Racing
Career record: 14 starts – 5 wins – 1 second – 5 thirds
Career earnings: $836,648
Earnings per start: $59,761
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 115
Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro – Alternate, by Seattle Slew
Running style: Press the pace/stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt could be overlooked somewhat by bettors in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic as the jury’s still out as to whether his breakthrough performance in the TVG Pacific Classic was a fluke. In that race back on Aug. 17 at Del Mar, Higher Power made a bold move for the lead heading into the far turn and shot away from the field when straightened out for the stretch drive, winning by an impressive 5 ¼ lengths under Flavien Prat. He was then sent off as the second betting choice behind McKinzie in the Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 28 at Santa Anita, but never really threatened after a poor start and finished third by 7 ½ lengths to Mongolian Groom. Prior to the Pacific Classic, he’d found some success competing primarily in allowance races in the Midwest circuit for a different trainer and then also for John Sadler after being transferred to California. But the Pacific Classic was truly an “out of left field” performance, and Higher Power will need to summon that Del Mar form again – or surpass it, truthfully – to have any shot at winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If the colt breaks well, Prat should have Higher Power in a good position just off of the early lead through Santa Anita’s backstretch, setting him up to make a bid for the lead once again as the field moves through the far turn. John Sadler and Hronis Racing campaigned last year’s dominant Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate. This will be Prat’s second Classic appearance after finishing sixth aboard Effinex in 2016.
8. McKinzie (3-1)
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Owners: Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman
Career record: 13 starts – 7 wins – 5 seconds – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $2,298,560
Earnings per start: $176,812
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 123
Pedigree: Street Sense – Runway Model, by Petionville
Running style: Press the pace
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Which McKinzie will show up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic? The colt who unleashed two of the most visually impressive performances of the year in the Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet (a 4 ¾-length runaway) and the Whitney Stakes (a 1 ¾-length score under a hand ride)? Or the one that has finished second three times in 2019 as the odds-on favorite? McKinzie earned a career-best 123 Equibase Speed Figure in his most recent start, the Sept. 28 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, but still checked in 2 ¼ lengths behind upset victor Mongolian Groom. He contested last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs and did not fire in that race, fading to 12th of 14 as the second betting choice behind winner Accelerate. So, despite being arguably the most accomplished horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (fans of Elate have an argument), inconsistency is a big issue with McKinzie. Distance is another concern, as he’s 0-for-2 at a mile and a quarter, including his 2018 Classic no-show and a runner-up effort to Gift Box last April in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Miguel Indian Bingo and Casino, where he led in the stretch but was outfinished. This colt is too talented to leave off of vertical tickets when making Classic wagers but shapes up as an underlay as a 3-1 win candidate on the morning line. Joel Rosario replaces Mike Smith on McKinzie, and it will be interesting to see how aggressive he is out of the gate in a race where the early lead could be up for grabs. Owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman have sent three horses to the Breeders’ Cup Classic; in addition to McKinzie last year, they have finished fourth twice. Pegram’s Captain Steve ran third in the 2000 Classic. Hall of Famer Bob Baffert counts three Classic winners among his 15 total in the World Championships: Bayern in 2014; American Pharoah in 2015; and Arrogate in 2016. He’s also finished second three times and third twice. Rosario scored his first Breeders’ Cup Classic win last year aboard Accelerate.
9. Mongolian Groom (12-1)
Jockey: Abel Cedillo
Trainer: Enebish Ganbat
Owner: Mongolian Stable
Career record: 16 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 3 thirds
Career earnings: $579,141
Earnings per start: $36,196
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 126
Pedigree: Hightail – Bourbonesque, by Dynaformer
Color: Dark bay or brown
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This hard-trying gelding departed from his usual stalking style to set the pace in the Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 28, and was rewarded with a 2 ¼-length win over heavily favored McKinzie. He earned an automatic, fees-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic with that victory, but Mongolian Groom was not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup as a foal, and his owners were faced with a decision about whether to pay the $200,000 late nominating fee in order to be admitted to the race. That they did so is a sign of confidence, indicating that they believe Mongolian Groom has a decent chance of at least finishing fourth and earning approximately $300,000. Abel Cedillo, enjoying a breakthrough meet at Santa Anita where he (as of Oct. 24) leads the jockey standings in both wins and earnings, has paired well with Mongolian Groom, finishing second to Catalina Cruiser in the San Diego Handicap and then third in the TVG Pacific Classic prior to their victory in the Awesome Again. Look for Cedillo to be aggressive once again with the gelding in a Breeders’ Cup Classic that lacks a pure pacesetter. If Mongolian Groom can extend his effort from the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again another eighth of a mile on Saturday, an upset win is not out of the question. Cedillo will be making his debut in the World Championships. Trainer Enebish Ganbat and owner Mongolian Stable memorably won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint with Mongolian Groom. Both will have a horse in the Classic for the first time this year.
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Owners: Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable
Career record: 14 starts – 5 wins – 1 second – 3 thirds
Career earnings: $1,503,125
Earnings per start: $107,366
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 114
Pedigree: Curlin – Mythical Bride, by Street Cry
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Based on his 2019 campaign, Vino Rosso stands out as a leading win candidate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He has rewarded his connections’ decision to keep him in training by making major advances during his 4-year-old season to become one of the top dirt distance runners in North America, winning two of five starts so far this year and finishing first in the historic Jockey Club Gold Cup in his most recent start, only to be disqualified for bumping Code of Honor in the stretch. As a 3-year-old, Vino Rosso was a one-dimensional closer with a decent, but not electrifying, turn of foot, but this year trainer Todd Pletcher has changed his running style to move him up in the field and get him involved in races earlier. This has ignited a competitive drive in Vino Rosso and has also revealed that he has enough stamina (as a very well-bred son of 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Curlin) to draw on if a prolonged stretch duel materializes. He’s crossed the finish line first both times going a mile and a quarter this year, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and also in his hard-fought win over Gift Box back in the May 27 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Irad Ortiz Jr. keeps the mount on Vino Rosso after riding him in the Jockey Club Gold Cup for the first time when prior regular jockey John Velazquez chose to pair with Code of Honor. Ortiz moved Vino Rosso to the lead early in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and set a contested pace, and he very well may attempt a similar trip in Saturday’s Classic. Ortiz finished second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Gunnevera. Todd Pletcher has yet to win the Classic with 13 prior starters; he finished second with Flower Alley in 2005 and third with Keen Ice in 2016. Co-owner Mike Repole has had two prior Classic runners, and Vino Rosso will be the first Classic starter for Vincent Viola’s St. Elias Stable.
Jockey: John Velazquez
Trainer: Shug McGaughey
Owner: Will Farish
Career record: 9 starts – 5 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third
Career earnings: $2,298,320
Earnings per start: $255,369
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 112
Pedigree: Noble Mission – Reunited, by Dixie Union
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Code of Honor is already in the running for the 2019 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male based on his overall body of work and especially his recent races. A win or runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic could seal the deal. He’s been highly regarded ever since breaking his maiden in his very first start in August 2018 at Saratoga, and other than a fourth-place finish in his sophomore debut last winter at Gulfstream Park, he’s never run a poor race. Code of Honor already has shown he can handle the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a commanding win in the Runhappy Travers Stakes over fellow 3-year-olds back in August and then a game effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 28, where he was elevated to first over Vino Rosso after finishing second by a nose and being bumped in deep stretch. He has a good stalking/closing running style for the Classic, but it must be noted that this year’s edition does not project to have an especially fast pace, with few front-running types entered. Nevertheless, he is in great form with some upside left to reach, races for elite connections, and retains regular rider John Velazquez for the Classic (Velazquez rode Vino Rosso in all of his races before the Jockey Club Gold Cup). Velazquez has ridden 18 horses in the Classic without a victory; he’s finished second three times (Roses in May, 2004; Flower Alley, 2005; Henrythenavigator, 2008). Will Farish of Lane’s End co-owned 1992 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy, who would become a legendary sire at the Central Kentucky farm in the years following. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has finished second twice in the Classic from eight starters, both in memorable races. Seeking the Gold lost to Alysheba in 1988, and Easy Goer finished second to Sunday Silence to conclude their storied rivalry in 1989.
Watch NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup starting with Future Stars Friday on Nov. 1 from 4-8 p.m. ET (NBCSN) and continuing with Championship Saturday on Nov. 2 from 3:30-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN until 8, NBC from 8-9).