Keeneland

American Pharoah 6-5 favorite for Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland

worked at Keeneland Race Track  in preparation for Breeders Cup weekend on Monday October 26, 2015 in Lexington, KY.  Photo by Mark Mahan
worked at Keeneland Race Track in preparation for Breeders Cup weekend on Monday October 26, 2015 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Mark Mahan Herald-Leader

There is the big mare with the even more massive résumé. The chosen one who kicked down a 37-year barrier. The dragon slayer. The son of a king.

And that's not even including the Triple Crown-thwarting classic winner or the European invader.

With nine Grade I winners among its 10 entrants, the 2015 Breeders' Cup Classic field has put itself in the discussion for the greatest the 1 1/4-mile race has pulled together. It stands to reason, then, that American Pharoah, who became just the 12th Triple Crown winner in history this summer, is held up as the target of targets, installed as the 6-5 morning-line favorite out of post No. 4 for Saturday's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland.

Post position isn't normally that crucial in a 10-horse field. However, the collective ability of those slated to enter the starting gate means even the most minuscule of advantages could be the game-changer.

To the outside in post 10 is the champion mare Beholder, already the winner of the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and 2013 Distaff. The 5-year-old with the tactical, high cruising speed is the 3-1 second choice as she attempts to join Zenyatta as the only females to win the Classic.

To Beholder's inside, watching to see how the pace unfolds, will be the late-running, multiple Grade I winner Honor Code, who is aiming to channel his legendary sire, 1992 Classic winner A.P. Indy, by taking down North America's richest race in his final career start.

Coming out of the No. 2 post will be Donegal Racing's Keen Ice, the big-bodied bay with an increasingly impressive turn of foot who defeated American Pharoah in the Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 29.

"I think that field is an incredible field. That's what the Breeders' Cup is supposed to be," said American Pharoah's Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who saddled last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner in Bayern. "The best horses on the best big day. You couldn't ask for a stronger field."

The easy thing for American Pharoah's camp to do would have been to retire the Triple Crown winner after his 51/2-length coronation in the Belmont Stakes on June 6, knowing his place in history is secure.

Instead, Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat kept the train rolling through his easy-as-he-pleased victory in the Grade I Haskell Invitational and his runner-up finish in the Travers where he took all the heat from Grade I winner Frosted and still almost pulled off what would have been his ninth career win.

Since that Saratoga heartache, Baffert pulled back on American Pharoah and worked on getting him fresh and on point for what will be his final career start before entering stud at Ashford Stud in 2016. The familiar, fearsome Pharoah has been bursting forward in his morning workouts, including his 4-furlong move in :46.60 at Santa Anita Park on Monday.

"We're very, very happy. We could not be happier with him. He's right on target," Zayat said. "He always works well every week so it's no surprise to us. But we can see that right now he's in the zone. He's feeling it, and that's the feeling he's giving everyone right now. All systems are go, and we're expecting a huge race from him."

If American Pharoah is walking into the Hall of Fame when his eligibility comes, Beholder's plaque is equally certain.

One thing the nine-time Grade I winner and her younger, male rival also share is speed that is brutal enough to put the rest of the field at its mercy but handy enough to stalk if needed.

"There were mornings at Santa Anita I just wanted to say to Bob (Baffert), 'Let's just spin them once around and see what happens," joked Richard Mandella, trainer of Beholder.

How the two handle each other in the first tier — along with Frosted who is never far out of the mix — will be the X-factor is determining how effective Honor Code's late kick will be and when the likes of Keen Ice, 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist and English and Irish classic Gleneagles make their moves.

"The No. 2 hole this meet going over a mile on the dirt is 26 percent win percentage. No other post is really close," said Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing. "And the outside has been very difficult, the percentages are low from seven on out.

"I don't expect to be asked for any consult by the Beholder folks, but if you've got a mare with speed out of the 10 hole, it seems logical that maybe you would put her as forwardly as you could out there. I can tell you this, we will not lose contact with the field."

The Classic headlines a two-day Breeders' Cup card featuring 13 races worth more than $26 million in purses.

A field of 14 with one "also-eligible" was drawn for Friday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, including defending race winner and champion Untapable.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, the daughter of Tapit has won just one of six starts this season but was made the co-third choice at 5-1 on the morning line after drawing post 11.

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