There will be no Justify in the Breeders’ Cup Classic starting gate Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs, but the absence of the recently retired Triple Crown winner doesn’t mean the $6 million race will be an uninteresting one.
Several big names are still on track to make it to Louisville, and the betting public got an early chance to lay some money down on the big race. The results of the first Breeders’ Cup Classic future wager, which closed Sunday evening with $86,670 in the pool, provide a glimpse of who the top contenders might be when that race is run.
Accelerate — a 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky and trained by John Sadler — has won four of five races this year with three Grade 1 victories at the Breeders’ Cup Classic distance of 1 ¼ miles. The only horse to defeat him, City of Light, finished more than 5 lengths behind Accelerate a few weeks later in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
The amount wagered on Accelerate ($17,327) more than doubled that of every other horse in the early betting field. He’s expected to have one more start, likely the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Sept. 29, before heading to Louisville for the Classic.
Catholic Boy — trained by Jonathan Thomas — was the second choice in the early wagering at 7-1 after his dominant performance in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes on Saturday. The 3-year-old son of More Than Ready won that race by 4 lengths, defeating a star-studded field that included Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic, Preakness runner-up Bravazo, Belmont Stakes runner-up Gronkowski, Kentucky Oaks runner-up Wonder Gadot, as well as UAE Derby winner Mendelssohn and others.
Thomas said Sunday that the Grade 2 Hill Prince — a 1 ⅛-mile turf race at Belmont — might be the final Classic prep for Catholic Boy, who won his previous two races on the turf following a fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby that knocked him off the Kentucky Derby trail.
“The Hill Prince seems to make sense right now,” Thomas said in an NYRA press release. “It’s against his own age group, cutting back an eighth of a mile and on what I would call just a little bit of kinder surface. I don’t know whether we want to go running against Diversify (in the Jockey Club Gold Cup), as quick as he is. I don’t know if that’s something I feel good about.”
Diversify — a 5-year-old gelding trained by Richard Violette — employs a front-running style and has won three straight races, the most recent a victory in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap three weeks ago. He was the third betting choice in the Classic future wager at 10-1 and is expected to be the favorite in the Jockey Gold Cup on Sept. 29 at Belmont.
Travers Stakes runner-up Mendelssohn was next at 11-1 and was bet down after Saturday’s performance, by far his best of three races in the United States this year.
The 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and dominated the field in the UAE Derby in Dubai before finishing last in the Kentucky Derby and third as the favorite in the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes last month.
Mendelssohn will continue to train toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic for another try at the Churchill Downs track after that dreadful trip on Derby Day.
Good Magic and Gronkowski were the top two betting choices in the Travers but finished ninth and eighth, respectively, though trainer Chad Brown said Sunday that both came out of the race in good shape.
Brown mentioned the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a possible next start for Gronkowski, but declined to speculate on the next stop for Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic.
“I haven’t given any thoughts on him until I see the horse a couple of days removed from the race,” Brown said Sunday.
Good Magic finished the weekend at 13-1 odds in the Classic future wager — Gronkowski was 22-1 — and both are still expected to be at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said that Bravazo — the only 3-year-old other than Justify to run in all the Triple Crown races — was in “great shape” Sunday following his third-place finish in the Travers and would next run in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 22.
Bravazo finished at 30-1 in the Classic future wager.
Others of interest:
▪ Reigning 3-year-old champion West Coast hasn’t raced since finishing second to Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup in March, but he was included in the Classic future wager and ended up with 12-1 odds. West Coast was also second to 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Gun Runner in the Pegasus World Cup in January. Trainer Bob Baffert told HorseRacingNation.com last week that West Coast and 2017 Classic runner-up Collected (26-1 in the Classic future wager but sidelined since January) both still have a shot at the Nov. 3 race.
▪ Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl finished at 79-1 in the Classic future wager. She was the second choice behind 2017 Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff future wager, which also concluded Sunday evening. Monomoy Girl is most likely to run in the Distaff, which will also be run Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
▪ Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow was 23-1 in the Classic future wager. His most recent start was an eighth-place finish on the turf in the Group I Juddmonte International in England last week, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup could be next. His only other trip to the United States did not go well: a wild-out-of-the-gate, last-place finish in last year’s Kentucky Derby.
▪ McKinzie, who looked like Baffert’s best Derby bet earlier this year and likely would’ve been among the race favorites had he made it to Louisville, was 19-1 in the Classic future wager. He hasn’t raced since suffering an injury early in the Derby prep season, but the 3-year-old son of Street Sense is now back in training with an eye on next month’s Pennsylvania Derby.
▪ Belmont Stakes third-place finisher Hofburg finished at 18-1 odds after missing the Travers Stakes with a fever this past weekend.