There was a time that the Breeders’ Cup World Championships (November 3-4, 2017, at Del Mar) was the last important date on the horse-racing calendar, the culmination of a long year. Following the championships, the best horses would take several months off. But that’s not the case this year, as the Breeders Cup has become part of a cycle, following on the heels of the Pacific Classic and Travers and leading into January’s $12 million Pegasus World Cup.
That said, the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year will be on the line in the Breeders Cup Classic, and its new position in the grand scheme of horse racing doesn’t matter a whit to bettors. So who is the best value bet at this year’s race?
Always a fast horse, Gunner Runner finished third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, behind Nyquist and Exaggerator. He was competitive, but didn’t win many elite races until the end of last year. After a second-place finish in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, he closed the season with an easy victory in the Clark Handicap.
After opening 2017 with a win as a huge favorite in the Razorback Handicap, he started to show his star power. Following a second-place finish behind reigning Horse of the Year Arrogate in Dubai, Gun Runner has been ultra impressive in blow-out wins in the Stephen Foster Handicap and The Whitney. He has not raced since early August, but his latest results are the most impressive among Breeders Cup contenders.
Late to the party last year, Arrogate emerged after missing the Triple Crown season. He made up for lost time quickly by going from outsider to the richest horse in history over a four-race span. He ran a 122 Beyer Speed Figure when capturing The Travers, beating a field that included Exaggerator, Gun Runner, and American Freedom by more than 13 lengths. Then he won the Breeders Cup Classic, besting the great California Chrome. At that point, few naysayers were left, but Arrogate silenced any remaining doubters when he romped in the Pegasus and won in Dubai.
However, Arrogate has run two dull races recently after resting from March to mid July; he finished fourth at the San Diego Handicap, and second in the Pacific Classic, both at Del Mar. It is unclear whether Arrogate was just rusty and is now primed to fire a big one, or has regressed after one of the great four-race spans in the sport’s history. It’s also possible that he doesn’t care for Del Mar, though he did win a low-level race at the track in 2016.
The 2016 Preakness was his first test against top caliber competition, and it didn’t go so well. After taking off ten months, he posted three quality wins in California before winning his second major challenge, August’s Pacific Classic, which was also at Del Mar and featured a strong field, including Arrogate and Accelerate.
He’s four for four this year and eight for 11 in his life. Collected is racing well now, likes the track, and has a legitimate shot to pull an upset.
Bob Baffert trains Arrogate and Collected, and his third option, West Coast (5/1), is viable too. A winner of five straight, West Coast won The Travers and was dominant in the Pennsylvania Derby last month.
Though he’s never run outside of New York, Diversify (25/1) is coming off of a good win at the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He beat Keen Ice, Pavel, Good Samaritan, Rally Cry, and Destin in the victory. In ten career races, Diversify has seven wins and only finished worse than second once.
If you want experience, Keen Ice (33/1) is super classy. That said, he rarely wins. The veteran was third in last year’s Breeders Cup Classic, and finished fourth in the Pegasus in January. He won the Suburban Stakes in July, and finished second in The Whitney and Jockey Club Gold Cup. With earnings of nearly $3.5 million, Keen Ice probably won’t win, but he has a good chance to hit the board.
The top three candidates all make sense, but that is not a profitable way to play the race. If you toss Arrogate because of his recent form at Del Mar, and recognize that Collected does not have a long track record of beating the best in the world, Gun Runner becomes the standout. The best bet for the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic, as far as I am concerned, is Gun Runner on top of West Coast, Diversify, Keen Ice, and any other longshot you have reason to like to complete a moderate exacta score.
Featured photo: Arrogate (By Jlvsclrk [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
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