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Breeders' Cup 2017

Classic: How hot does the pace get?

For the fans of Zenyatta, the possibility of a hot pace bodes well for the closing mare in Saturday’s $5 million Classic. With one confirmed speed horse and three possible pressers, the long run to the first turn and the excitement of the crowd, the pace could easily heat-up to a level where anywhere near it will have a hard time hanging around.


The lone confirmed speed horse is Regal Ransom, who waltzed around Louisiana Downs in his Super Derby win in September. Such an easy lead is unlikely, and while he could possibly rate, that would be taking away his most potent weapon – his natural early speed. Unless the track is favoring the front runners throughout the day, I think Regal Ransom will find it difficult to fend-off the numerous challenges he figures to face.


The initial challenges figure to come from three fellow 3-year-olds. Girolamo, Quality Road and Summer Bird all have tactical speed and at one point in their respective careers have been involved with the pace or shown an eagerness which put them into the race earlier than their rider might have wanted.


Summer Bird was a closer when he won the Belmont Stakes. Since, however, he’s developed into a more tactical pace presser who likes to sit anywhere from one to three lengths off the lead. He was making a move for the lead with four furlongs left to go in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and simply used his stamina to out-grind his rivals to the wire.


The key difference in the Classic is that out-grinding fellow pace-pressers is not good enough. There are plenty of quality mid-pack closers and come-from-behinders who have the quality and speed late to make Summer Bird run harder than he ever has before.


So, at this point, I am assuming that Regal Ransom sets the pace and faces mid-race trouble from Quality Road, Summer Bird and possibly Girolamo. I do not think Quality Road is as good at ten furlongs to sustain his run. Girolamo is super talented, but I feel as though he’ll be overbet, and will use him underneath only. Summer Bird is talented too, but the surface is a concern (remember, he was training out west but they shipped him east for whatever reason…) and so is the race shape which might not allow him to reallyexcel.


Who is left? Here’s how I see the pace shaking-out…








Early Speed





Regal Ransom


Colonel John

Awesome Gem



Quatliy Road (+)


Gio Ponti



Summer Bird (+)

Rip Van Winkle

Mine That Bird




Twice Over

Richard's Kid







I’m focusing my efforts on the right two columns. I feel as though the pace will favor the mid-pack runners and the deep closers. Let’s take a look at each…


Use at the right price…


Colonel John (Top Synth Beyer: 106) – He just missed in the Goodwood and is lightly-raced enough this year to where another forward move, or duplicate effort, is reasonable. He also loves the Santa Anita surface. If he pulls-back and makes one run versus a middle-move type effort he could have enough late.


Einstein (Best Synth Beyer: 107) – You have to lose the old warrior who may, believe it or not, be best on synthetic surfaces. His win in the Santa Anita Handicap was a tad light on the Beyer-scale to really make him a shoe-in here, but he's run well since. If you forgive his Arlington Million, he has yet to miss the board since August 2008. Gritty and tough – strong contender.


Rip Van Winkle – On paper, this could be the Raven’s Pass of 2009, who also looked like a miler on paper. The Racing Post Rating’s for this guy are really strong, and so is the second place finish (beaten just one length) to Sea the Stars. Furthermore, I love how he’ll be second off the layoff in this spot, a European angle I prefer opposed to a lot of races coming in.


Gio Ponti (Best Synth Beyer: 98) – The question is whether or not Gio Ponti can rebound off his odd effort in the Turf Classic. I love the cutback in distance, the second-off angle and the fact he’s a winner over this surface. The pace figures to be in his favor as we’ve stated, so if he runs his race, I expect him to be closing late. Good value.


Figure to be overbet, try and beat…


Twice Over – I think he’s a notch below Rip Van Winkle for sure but think he can contend with the remaining horses in the Classic. He has really developed nicely this fall but will not make his fourth start in just two months. He feels like one of those, “Don’t want to use, but don’t want to lose.”


Richard’s Kid (Best Synth Beyer: 107) – The Pacific Classic really set-up well for him, and his subsequent effort in the Goodwood was strong too. My question is: What now? Does he return to the Pacific Classic form, or does he regress off two strong races in a row? These are big questions you face in every Breeders’ Cup race. I’m going to let price dictate my terms here because I feel he is all or nothing.


Zenyatta (Best Synth Beyer: 108) – Her best race fits but she figures to be very overbet given her name and fame. That’s fine because she does belong. Many of her wins have been with slow paces, what happens when the pace heats-up? Respect, but try and beat.


Can’t see it…


Awesome Gem (Best Synth Beyer: 106… recent best is 101) – Deep closer is 1-for-12 over synthetic surfaces and his most recent races are no where near fast enough.


Mine That Bird (Best Synth Beyer: 99) – Kentucky Derby fame has carried this guy along nicely, but the reality is he hasn’t been quite the same horse since the Triple Crown trail. I suppose a forward move is possible, but then you’re asking a lot of others to tank completely. Underneath would be his ceiling.


Final Thoughts...


Assuming a strong pace, I think you set yourself up well to lean on Rip Van Winkle. I also think Einstein and Gio Ponti will offer good value. Finally, Colonel John feels like a horse could jump-up and run a career best race.


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Older Comments about Classic: How hot does the pace get?...

My guess is with Regal Ransom and Quality Road on the front end it will be very quick fractions. This could set up the race perfectly for a late closer like Zenyatta or Gio Ponti.
Colonel John would need a career best race and it might not be good enough, but an on-the-board finish at a big price? Maybe. As for Zenyatta, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook: Bob Baffert on Zenyatta taking on the boys in the Classic: "It's a big question mark but it’s going to be answered. It’s a championsip race and that’s what it’s all about. If she’s a true champion she’ll do. It if she’s a filly and mare champion she won’t."
Reading this article, I agree with some of it. I think Rip Van Winkle, Einstein and Gio Ponti will all be big factors in the race. I don't, however, think Colonel John will be there against a field as strong as this. In having just watched a replay of the 09' Lady's Secret, I really picked up on something with Zenyatta. It's common knowledge that she never really start's running until just right before the top of the stretch. But in the Lady's Secret, it was like she only allowed herself to run as fast as she felt like she needed to overtake the field. The question is, when they turn for home on Saturday, and horses like Rip Van Winkle, Einstein, Gio Ponti, Summer Bird and Quality Road are the targets that she'll have to run at, self-adjusting her speed as she often does, will she have enough pure speed to overtake this field? Zenyatta is an unusually big, strong mare. As big as most of the colt's she'll be racing. It just remains to be seen if she has the same kind of speed as the colt's she'll be racing. I wish her all the best. This would make a great caper, for a great horse, that's had a great career.

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