All of the equine stars from the most prestigious 3-year old races this past spring and summer will meet in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita Park in California. While it is not a particularly deep field, the familiar faces from the 3-year-old division will add an element of intrigue for those who enjoyed this year's Triple Crown races.
The headliner will be California Chrome the "working class" colt who became a fan favorite when he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Since losing the Belmont Stakes, he has raced just once in the Pennsylvania Derby and finished a disappointing sixth. Tonalist, who ruined Chrome's Triple Crown hopes when he won the Belmont, enters the Classic off a win against older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Bayern and V.E. Day were the best of the summer sophomores. V.E. Day was the longshot winner of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Bayern had a lucrative summer. He won a pair of million dollar stakes races, the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and the Pennsylvania Derby over California Chrome.
Facing California Chrome and the formidable crew of graded stakes winners will be the California-based Shared Belief, arguably the best of this year's solid 3-year-old class. He missed the Triple Crown series due to injury but enters the Classic with an undefeated record and two impressive stakes wins against older horses in his last two races.
Shared Belief is the reigning 2-year-old champion and the likely post time favorite. He is owned by Jungle Racing, the stable of sports talk show host Jim Rome. Rome won the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint the last two years but a win in the Classic with Shared Belief would be his biggest career win as a thoroughbred owner. Considering Rome's stature in the sports world, a photo in the winner's circle with Shared Belief on Saturday would bring a slew of much needed attention to racing and the Breeders' Cup.
The 3-year-olds are the focus in this year's Classic because of injuries and retirements among the best older horses. The top older runners retired during 2014 include last year's BC Classic winner Mucho Macho Man and the second place finisher Will Take Charge. Palace Malice, one of the early favorites to win the 2014 Horse of the Year, was sent to the breeding shed after suffering an injury at the end of the summer.
While the quality of entries from the older division is thin, there are three Grade 1 winners entered in Moreno, Zivo, and Majestic Harbor. All are likely to be 10 to 1 or higher with the top four betting choices expected to come from the 3-year-old entries. Moreno and Zivo were no match for Tonalist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Zivo won the Suburban Handicap at 1 1/4 miles back in July and finished second to Tonalist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Zivo has proven himself at the Classic distance and could be overlooked by the bettors whose attention will rightly be on California Chrome, Tonalist, Bayern, and Shared Belief. Of the relatively weak pool of older horses, Zivo appears to have the best chance at upsetting the formidable crew of 3-year old's.
The last two editions of the Breeders' Cup Classic had a heavy favorite in Game on Dude. Like Shared Belief, Game on Dude was the best of the West Coast horses. In consecutive years, he was soundly beaten by runners who did most of their racing on the other side of the Mississippi. The legendary mare Zenyatta is the only California-based horse to win the Classic in the last decade. While it's clear that Shared Belief is a talented colt, questions remain about his talent relative to the other colts in his class. Can he beat a field of elite runners? Has his success been the result of weak competition he has faced in California? If Shared Belief answers these questions with a win, we could be witness to an historic chapter of a potential great one.
Post time for this year's Breeders' Cup Classic from Santa Anita Park is on Saturday at 8:35 p.m. eastern. The Classic is one of twelve Breeders' Cup races that will take place Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita.
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