By Kevin Martin
This Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic headlines what is certain to be a memorable weekend of thoroughbred racing at the Del Mar Racetrack near San Diego, California. Del Mar, a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean and near-consensus pick for the most picturesque track in North America, will host its first-ever Breeders’ Cup. The two-day event features 13 Breeders’ Cup races, bringing together the best thoroughbreds in North America to compete for purses totaling $28 million. The highlight of the weekend is the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic run at 1 1/4 miles over the dirt oval at Del Mar.
The big story of this year BC Classic isn’t a horse but a trainer. Bob Baffert has trained the last three winners of the race and will have a total of four entries this year in an attempt to run his streak to an unprecedented four in a row. To put that into perspective, only one other trainer has won the race in two consecutive years. Since its inception in 1984, the Classic has featured the nation’s elite horses, making it one of the toughest and most competitive races on the racing calendar. Winning it four straight years will put Baffert in rarefied air and, perhaps, establish a record that would stand for decades.
Baffert enters with a stacked deck of entries in Arrogate, West Coast, Collected, and Mubtaahij. Arrogate won last year’s Classic and is the best of the Baffert bunch. Early this year, Arrogate followed that win with victories in the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup. That trifecta made him the richest horse in North American racing history with $17 million banked in 10 career races. After a four-month layoff upon returning from his trip to Dubai, Arrogate seemed unstoppable heading into the summer. He finished a lackluster third when he returned to race for the first time in July. When he ran again a month later, he lost again. Both of those races were at Del Mar, so the home of this year’s Breeders’ Cup has not been kind to Arrogate. He has not raced since those two inexplicable losses. While his recent performances raise questions, he’ll still be among the favorites come post time Saturday. Arrogate would surprise few should he win his second Classic and become only the second horse in racing history to accomplish that feat.
Another of the Baffert entries, Collected, beat Arrogate in one of those summer races at Del Mar. Collected won all his four starts in 2017, and one of those starts was a win over Arrogate in the 1 1/4 mile Pacific Classic in August. A win at the same distance and track as the Breeders’ Cup Classic — not to mention who he beat — makes him a prime player on Saturday.
In addition to saddling the best older horse in the country with Arrogate, trainer Baffert also has the best three-year-old in training with West Coast, who has won his last five starts and six of eight career races. His last two wins in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes and Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby put him at the head of the three-year-old class, as the stars from the Triple Crown series have been sidelined or retired.
The last of the Baffert starters, Mubtaahij, won his first career Grade 1 race in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita in his most recent start. While he is the most unlikely winner of the Baffert entries, he enters the race in great form.
Gun Runner is the biggest threat to keep Bob Baffert out of the winner’s circle on Saturday. Gun Runner finished third in last year’s Kentucky Derby and has won five of his last six starts. His only loss in 2017 came when he finished second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup. He last ran in September at Saratoga, where he won the Grade 1 Woodward by a resounding 10 lengths. He has never raced over the Del Mar surface, but he has been training in California for the last two months. He is a well-bred, talented runner who is the deserving morning line favorite on Saturday.
Churchill, Gunnevera, and Pavel are a trio of longshots to consider. Churchill has never raced on dirt, but he has won seven of 12 career starts on turf while competing against the highest class of horses in Europe. Gunnevera and Pavel are two talented but still developing three-year-olds who have a chance to finish in the top four at long odds.
The Breeders’ Cup is the 12th race on Saturday, capping a stellar two days of stakes races at Del Mar. Post time for the race is 5:35 local California time (8:35 ET).
If you would like to learn more about handicapping and wagering on the races, check out the horse racing education site Hello Race Fans.