With any sporting event, it’s a very rare and memorable day when you can look at the list of competitors, analyze the excitement being generated by those competitors, and say with confidence that there has never been a greater renewal of the event.
But amazingly, if everything comes together as expected, horse racing fans will get to witness a race for the ages on October 31st when the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Classic is held at Keeneland. Run at the same ten-furlong distance as the Kentucky Derby, the Classic has featured many thrilling renewals throughout its 31-year history, but arguably none can compare with the excitement and significance of the upcoming 2015 edition.
For the first time in history, a Triple Crown winner will be competing in the Classic, that being American Pharoah, who ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought when he completed a sweep of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes earlier this year. Trained by Bob Baffert, American Pharoah later won the Haskell Invitational to bring his win streak to eight straight races, but suffered a surprising defeat on August 29th when he finished second in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. American Pharoah has not run since the Travers, meaning that he will enter the Classic off a long rest, but the Triple Crown champion is reported to be training well as he prepares for the final race of his career. Should he win the Classic, he will be the first horse in history to complete what some are calling the “Grand Slam” of racing; winning both the Triple Crown and the Classic.
But American Pharoah’s competition in the Classic will be fierce, and he may be facing a champion of his equal in the magnificent five-year-old mare Beholder. Winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2012 and Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 2013, Beholder turned in perhaps the most impressive performance of any horse this year when she won the ten-furlong Pacific Classic at Del Mar by 8 ¼ lengths, defeating a quality field of older male horses with incredible ease. Unbeaten in five starts this year, Beholder will seek to become just the second filly or mare in history to win the Classic (following the legendary Zenyatta), and a win in the Classic would make Beholder the first horse ever to win three different Breeders’ Cup races, an extraordinarily difficult feat that—if she can achieve it—might never be replicated. [Note: Since the original publication of this article, Beholder has been withdrawn from the Classic.]
But the Classic isn’t just a two-horse race—far from it, in fact. Another major contender is Honor Code, whose late runs from the back of the pack have earned him victories in the Metropolitan Handicap and Whitney Handicap. One of the last sons of 1992 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy, expect to see Honor Code closing ground fast if the pace is fast.
Likewise, Tonalist—who upset California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid in the 2014 Belmont Stakes—should be closing strongly from behind the leaders, as should Keen Ice, who won the Travers Stakes to become the only horse to defeat American Pharoah this year.
Add in the lightly-raced Smooth Roller, who burst onto the scene with an impressive win in the Awesome Again Stakes; Gleneagles, who ships in from Ireland after dominating Europe’s most prestigious eight-furlong turf races this spring; and Frosted, who won the Pennsylvania Derby after finishing behind American Pharoah three times this year, and you have yourself an incredibly deep and talented group of horses that could make this year’s Classic the greatest of all time.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic will be broadcast live on NBC Sports starting at 4:00 pm ET on October 31st. Be sure to tune in and watch as American Pharoah, Beholder, and the rest of the talented runners face off in a race for the ages!
J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and racing enthusiast who considers Zenyatta to be his all-time favorite racehorse. He is the founder of the horse racing website TheTurfBoard.com and writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.