Oct 31, 2014
Up the Backstretch: It all comes down to the Classic
By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Historically, the Breeders' Cup Classic has become the race that decides any questions involving the Horse of the Year title. This year the $5 million, 1 1/4-mile Classic will also determine who is crowned 2014 3-year-old champion.
Saturday evening 14 horses will leave the starting gate at Santa Anita in the Classic with a 3-year-old going off as the favorite. This we know because most of the best older thoroughbreds have either been retired from competition or are injured or sick and unable to run.
Half the field for the Classic will be made up of 3-year-olds, and fortunately the best of this year's crop will all be in the race.
Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ California Chrome will be joined by Eclipse Award winning gelding Shared Belief, the undefeated 9-5 morning line favorite. Chrome is the 4-1 second pick and Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist is the 5-1 third choice.
Post positions in a 1 1/4-mile race, even with 14 horses, are not normally as important as those of the Kentucky Derby with 20 starters. However, California Chrome got a most desirable post with No. 13 where he won't have to be stuck on the inside.
Trained by Art Sherman, Chrome was stuck on the rail in his most recent start the Pennsylvania Derby. Jockey Victor Espinoza, who will be in the saddle Saturday, was unable to move the chestnut colt to the outside where he likes to run and finished a disappointing sixth behind fellow Classic starter Bayern. Bayern is 6-1 in the program and will break from Shared Belief's immediate outside in post 7.
The only starters in the race with single-digit odds are 3-year-olds. The older thoroughbred with the lowest morning line is 5-year-old Cigar Street at 12-1. He's coming off a win at Churchill Downs in the Homecoming Classic.
Shared Belief and California Chrome have each won 1 1/4-mile stakes. Shared Belief defeated older horses in the Pacific Classic on Del Mar's synthetic main track and Chrome got the Run for the Roses.
Speed horse Bayern will try to dictate the pace. Shared Belief showed a lot of heart in his Awesome Again victory at Santa Anita when he was forced to race wide most of the 1 1/8 miles.
"They tried to use some tactics on me which made the win today even sweeter," Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith said after winning the Awesome Again. "They just kept taking me wide, taking me wide, and I believe if you want to press the pace or take me out a little bit, OK. But doing it at all costs just to get me beat isn't the way it should be done. It was to the extreme, I thought it was ridiculous. You just don't do that."
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer expressed his gratitude, sort of, after Shared Belief overcame problems to win that race.
"It's not the worst thing in the world to have a tough race and be double-fit for the Breeders' Cup (Classic). That race will be tougher so we'll need to be tougher, too."
Being tough may not be the attribute that will win the Classic on Saturday, but it will take an amazing horse to get the best of Shared Belief in the year's ultimate stakes.
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