There is not a horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic field that impresses as much as Curlin. But you already knew that. With morning line odds of 7–5, the reigning Horse of the Year is attempting to win his second BC Classic in a row, a feat accomplished by only one other horse, the accomplished Tiznow. And though there are a couple of similarities between the two horses of past and present going into the Classic, one clear difference stands out: Curlin would eat Tiznow for dinner.
What about the synthetic surface, you say? What about the Euros? There are plenty factors going up against Curlin in the Classic. One is the Pro-Ride, a surface he’s never run on before. Two is the depth of the field, from the imposing Euros to the undefeated up-and-comer Casino Drive. There is also plenty of reason why he should be able to shut them all away, too.
Yes, Curlin lost on his first attempt on the grass. He also lost that race over a 1 ½ mile distance, and against a Breeders’ Cup Turf winner. Not the easiest of circumstances to claw your way to a first victory. We already know that the distance will not be a factor in the Classic, as he won it and several other Grade I races at the same 1 ¼ mile distance. Curlin has won seven consecutive dirt races. No other horse going into the Classic is coming off a win streak, and only Duke of Marmalade has won five in a row. That being said, Curlin’s biggest adversaries in the Classic are most likely Duke of Marmalade, Raven’s Pass, and “team Go-Go”: Go Between ridden by Garrett Gomez.
The thing about Duke of Marmalade is, he will have to bounce back to an impressive form if he wants to win the BC Classic; in his last start, the Duke placed an abysmal seventh in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on October 5th. Before that loss, the Duke had won five consecutive Group I races over the turf. He also boasts the only one of the invading Euros to have already run at over a mile’s distance, with 1 ¼ miles being around his limit.
Raven’s Pass seems to have the best chance of the British team. He’s not been raced as heavily as the Duke and looks like he could run well past his usual distance of a mile. He will be facing tested rival Henrythenavigator in the Classic, and looks as if he may handle the additional distance better. Neither he nor Henry have ever gone around two turns over a mile’s distance. And none of the Euros have ever raced on synthetics, though they train on a similar surface in Britain. The synthetics will likely not be much of an issue to these shippers, as grass horses have faired well over it.
Go Between has a good chance to show up in the Classic because California is his stomping grounds. While he hasn’t got a winning streak to boast about like some of the others, he’s not placed worse than second in his five starts this year. He will also be among the freshest horses in this race, as his last start was August 24th, when he won the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar. His rider, Garrett Gomez, is always a factor to consider, as the jockey has the talent to turn just about any horse he touches into gold.
And then there’s Casino Drive, the Japanese import. You remember Casino Drive—he was supposed to be Big Brown’s main competition before the ill-fated Belmont Stakes this year, but the Better Than Honour baby was scratched the day of the race from a bruised foot. He’s big, he’s flashy, and he inhaled his hapless competitors in his prep race for the Classic, an allowance race at Santa Anita, without breaking a sweat. He’s unbeaten in only three starts and has never faced competition like he will be facing this Saturday. He’ll be coming back after only a two-week layoff, but that race was more like a glorified workout. Casino Drive has proven himself to be a talented and versatile horse, handling the synthetics as well as the dirt, but can he get down and dirty with the professionals?
There are other horses in the race, but their records don’t scream “spoiler!” to me. It will have to be a horse with tenacity, talent, and maybe even a little luck to surge by Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Comparing distances, surfaces, and talent, several of these horses seem evenly matched. They say this is the most level playing field the Breeders’ Cup has ever seen, and that is why more Euros have made the trip than in previous years. Sort of like what’s happening with the economy and foreign travel. But in America’s most prestigious race, the invaders will have to dig up everything they’ve got if they want to get past our reigning champ. Tiznow snuffed the Arc winner in 2001 to cinch his second Classic in a row; Curlin will repeat history and ask for another go-around.
The $5 Million Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic will be aired on ESPN this Saturday, October 25th. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:45pm CST. Go to www.breederscup.com for racing schedules of the entire 2-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships.