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Nov 21, 2014

Horse of Year on the line in Breeders' Cup Classic

By: By Jeff Frank, The Sports Analyst


 Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Breeders' Cup Classic has failed to produce the Horse of the Year in each of the last three years. In fact, the last time the BC Classic winner was crowned champion was back in 2007.

Shared Belief and California Chrome, and to a lesser extent Tonalist and Bayern, have a chance to break the streak with a win on Saturday night in the $5 million Grade 1 event.

Shared Belief missed out on the Triple Crown series due to injury, but bounced back with four consecutive victories in distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. The last two wins came in Grade 1 races against older horses

California Chrome was the talk of the racing world from March through June with dominant scores in two Kentucky Derby preps followed by wins in the Derby and Preakness. Unfortunately, the Triple Crown dream fell short in the Belmont Stakes with a fourth-place finish.

Art Sherman's charge then took time off to prepare for the fall season. Chrome's first stop was a trip to Pennsylvania and the PA Derby. The Grade 2 event against seven other 3-year olds was a total flop as the chestnut colt faded badly through the stretch en route to a sixth-place finish.

Despite trailing eventual winner Bayern by only a couple of lengths through slow early fractions, California Chrome failed to fire as he had during his winter/spring campaign. In the end, Bayern rolled to a 5 3/4-length track record win while the Derby-Preakness winner defeated just two horses.

One could argue California Chrome's poor performance was due to the three- month layoff as well as racing inside of horses, which is not his preferred place on the track. However, competing in the grueling Triple Crown series, along with four other starts between December of 2013 and early April might have taken its toll on the "People's Horse."

Shared Belief, last year's Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old, has been patiently handled by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Unlike California Chrome, who has raced seven times since January, Shared Belief has but five starts since late May. It also could be argued that the gelding has improved each race since his 3-year-old debut on May 26 at Golden Gate Fields.

The Jim Rome-owned superstar ran his eyeballs out in his first trip over nine furlongs in the Los Alamitos Derby as Mike Smith guided the gelding to a 4 1/4-length victory over Candy Boy. (Two races later, Candy Boy finished third in the PA Derby, defeating California Chrome by a length and a half.)

Hollendorfer decided to tackle older horses next in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles. Facing another gelding, the much-older Game On Dude, Shared Belief was up to the task as he blew by the son of Awesome Again to win by 2 3/4 lengths as the 6-5 favorite.

Shared Belief's last appearance prior leading up to Saturday was in the Awesome Again Stakes on the dirt at Santa Anita and it was his toughest test to date. Not only did he take on multiple graded stakes winner Fed Biz, but also Fed Biz's stablemate Sky Kingdom, ironically ridden by Victor Espinoza, California Chrome's usual rider.

Sky Kingdom forced Shared Belief five-wide around the first turn and all the way up the backstretch before fading to last beaten over 20 lengths. Meanwhile, Shared Belief, who was still five-wide into the homestretch, was not to be denied as he gutted his way past Fed Biz in the final strides to win by a neck. That extraordinary performance should toughen him up for Saturday's big race.

POSSIBLE UPSETTERS

Despite what many may think, the Breeders' Cup Classic is not a two-horse race. About seven other horses, including five 3-year-olds, have decent chances to pull off the upset.

Tonalist comes to California with four wins in eight career starts. Three of those victories came at Belmont Park, including the Belmont Stakes and the more recent Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Since winning the Peter Pan Stakes prior to the Belmont, Tonalist was never more than two lengths off the leader at any point in a race. However, that all changed in the Jockey Club when he was taken back at the start by jockey Joel Rosario. Tonalist trailed by 10 lengths as the field hit the backstretch.

The bay colt faced more trouble approaching the far turn when Rosario, along with a few other jockeys, had to check their mounts due to Wicked Strong unseating his rider in front of them.

Tonalist moved from the back of the pack to third approaching the top of the stretch but found trouble once again having to steady when a hole closed off between both pacesetters. Rosario switched to the three-path and powered his way past the two leaders for the 1 3/4-length score over Zivo.

If Tonalist takes to Santa Anita the same way he did to Belmont Park, he has an excellent chance to win and grab Horse of the Year honors.

Bayern has been extremely impressive in winning three of his last four starts for trainer Bob Baffert. The son of Offlee Wild is the one to catch due to his blazing speed, which has helped him bankroll more than $1.5 million.

The knock on Bayern is his inability to win over nine furlongs. He was never a factor in the Preakness, and spit the bit at the top of the stretch in the Travers before finishing 10th and last. Look for him to lead the field approaching the stretch but drop back inside the final furlong.

MORE 3-YEAR-OLDS WITH A CHANCE

Three more 3-year-olds have outside chances for success. They are V.E. Day, Toast of New York and Candy Boy.

V.E. Day, a winner of four of his last five starts, surprised both Wicked Strong and Tonalist to win the Travers at 19-1. He followed that effort up with a sixth-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but that performance looked better live than it does on paper.

Breaking from post 9 in a race beginning on the clubhouse turn, V.E. Day was dead last at the start. He made a solid middle move in running a 48-second half-mile as the field approached the top of the stretch. Nevertheless, the son of English Channel could find no more as he flattened out down the lane.

V.E. Day picks up an experienced California-based rider in Joe Talamo so he might be worth a few dollars at huge odds.

Toast of New York has finished first or second in all five of his non-turf starts. The problem is all five came on synthetic surfaces and the BC Classic is on dirt. Still, the UAE Derby winner ran a game second to Shared Belief in the Pacific Classic, and if he takes to the dirt, he could be in line for a share of the purse.

Candy Boy is a doubtful winner since he has never beaten Shared Belief and lost to California Chrome in both the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby. However, he ran against the track bias in the PA Derby and still finished third. At 20-1 morning line, the son of Candy Ride must be included in all exotic wagers.

TWO OLDER HORSES TO WATCH

No trainer has won the BC Classic three times, but Bill Mott will do just that if Cigar Street is successful. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense has four wins in five starts since Mott took over as trainer.

Cigar Street likes to race on the engine, but he does not need the lead to win. That is good news considering Bayern and Moreno are both in the race. The 5- year-old should get the jump on the closers and is a possible winner at double-digit odds.

Finally, Zivo comes to Santa Anita off a bang-up second to Tonalist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The New York-bred won the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park earlier this year, and as is the case with V.E. Day, could pick up a share if the early pace is hot.

BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC SELECTIONS

Given a bankroll of $100, put $32 on an exacta of Shared Belief over Tonalist. Wager $20 on a Tonalist-Shared Belief exacta. For $16, go with a $2 tri part- wheel keying both Shared Belief and Tonalist for first and second, with Cigar Street, V.E. Day, Zivo and Candy Boy for third.

The remaining $32 will be played as follows: $6 exactas of Shared Belief over Cigar Street, V.E. Day, Zivo and Candy Boy, and $2 exactas of Tonalist over Cigar Street, V.E. Day, Zivo and Candy Boy.



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