Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile: Only 2 pacesetters are on possibles list

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile: Only 2 pacesetters are on possibles list
Photo: Tim Sudduth / Eclipse Sportswire

Cody’s Wish might face a challenging pace scenario when he attempts to capture the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile for a second time on Nov. 4 at Santa Anita. Currently, the possibles list on both Horse Racing Nation and the Breeders’ Cup website lacks more than two horses who want the lead. 

Furthermore, both speed horses in question hail from the Brad Cox barn, which makes it less likely that they will compete against each other. If Cox decides to enter both, he likely will order one of them to sit off the other, as it does not make sense to duel himself into defeat.

The most notable runner with pacesetting speed on the possibles list is Saudi Crown, who recently won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby. Normally, that race works as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Given the difficult nature of that race, though, Saudi Crown might start in the Dirt Mile.

Some speed horses who set the pace at nine furlongs find it harder to lead in one-mile races because shorter distances mean a faster tempo. In other words, it takes more work to grab the lead in shorter races. 

Saudi Crown has proven his ability to secure the lead and set fast fractions in a one-mile race, as shown by his effort in the Dwyer Stakes (G3). He led the race uncontested with a one-length cushion through fast early fractions of 22.47 and 44.63 seconds before facing a challenge from Fort Bragg on the turn.

To his credit, Saudi Crown fought bravely in the stretch after setting those fractions, and he ended up losing by only a nose to Fort Bragg.

If Cox opts for the Dirt Mile and Saudi Crown brings that type of speed to the table, he could lead them all the way without another opponent challenging him for the lead. The only other Dirt Mile possible who regularly sets the pace is Zozos, who hails from the same barn as Saudi Crown.

Zozos has been a strange horse in his current campaign. The son of Munnings faded out of the trifecta twice this year in the Louisiana Stakes (G3) in January and the Philip H. Iselin Stakes (G3) in August.

But in the Ack Ack Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs on Saturday, Zozos did not fade when it counted for a Breeders’ Cup win-and-you’re in race. After setting the pace under pressure from Caddo River, Zozos began to open up in the stretch and won by one length over Stage Raider.  

Granted, Zozos set slow fractions of 23.69, 47.10 and 1.11.41. He might need to run faster in the Dirt Mile to secure the lead or even press his stablemate Saudi Crown in the event they both enter. Horses who enjoy racing up front, such as Zozos, tend to adjust to the pace.

For what it is worth, Zozos also set the pace in the one-mile Knicks Go Overnight Stakes at Churchill Downs in June. In that situation, Zozos set fractions of 22.66 and 45.15 seconds before briefly losing the lead to Kupuna through six furlongs in 1:09.23 and regaining the lead back in the stretch.

Zozos won the Knicks Go by a narrow 3/4-length margin over Kupuna. When Zozos gives his best effort and the pace ends up moderate to slow, he will fight in the stretch after leading.   

If Saudi Crown skips the Dirt Mile and Zozos enters the race, then Zozos will enjoy an uncontested lead based on the current possibles. Both speed horses face a moderate pace scenario at best, unless other true pacesetters change course and decide to join the Dirt Mile field.

In other words, the Dirt Mile looks vulnerable to a good pacesetter. Saudi Crown and Zozos look like the two horses capable of taking advantage, and it is just a question of which one of them shows up.

For the expected heavy favorite Cody’s Wish, the lack of speed in the race is bad news for him since he runs as a closer. But for value players, the race opens up betting-wise with a slow pace since Cody’s Wish will compete at a disadvantage, and that will make it exciting to bet on. 

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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