Randy's Rankings

Updated October 1, 2015 — NBC analyst Randy Moss provides his weekly rankings in the Classic division all summer and fall leading to the $5,000,000 Breeders' Cup Classic on October 31 at Keeneland on NBC.

(Last week - 1) Thanks to the sporting nature of owner Ahmed Zayat — and perhaps also the fact that Zayat won’t be standing him at stud and thus isn’t as preoccupied with stallion value — the sport’s darling will get an opportunity for redemption after his upset loss in the Travers. And he deserves another chance, because in hindsight the defeat actually looks gallant given the way the race developed: the punishing second half-mile in :46.78 was the fastest in Travers history by more than a full second. Also, Triple Crown winners have never been infallible. Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed all lost multiple times after their sweeps, but bounced back with efforts that cemented their status as all-time greats. American Pharoah will be voted Horse of the Year win or lose, but if the prospective Classic field holds up, a victory would burnish his legacy even further. Not only will it be his only race against older horses — and good ones — he will be coming off a 63-day layoff (Invasor won the 2006 Classic despite a 90-day layoff). The opinion here is that Pharoah remains the slight favorite, especially since he figures to get the same stalking trip he loved in the Haskell.
(Last week - 2) As preps go, her cakewalk in the last Saturday’s Zenyatta Stakes couldn’t have gone better had Richard Mandella and Gary Stevens drew it up on a chalkboard. In getting her third straight victory in the race, she strolled home through the stretch under no encouragement whatsoever and thus should have plenty in the tank for the Classic. She also has a guaranteed “Win and You’re In” spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, which she won in 2013, but the Classic is the primary goal — and make no mistake, she will be formidable if she duplicates her effort against males in the Aug. 22 Pacific Classic. Although the post position draw will impact Stevens’ strategy, Beholder figures on paper to be tracking American Pharoah, which gives her a tactical advantage over come-from-the-clouds types such as Honor Code and Tonalist. The primary concern: even Mandella concedes Beholder has a history of being a poor traveler. Her two previous excursions outside of California ended in losses in the Ogden Phipps and Kentucky Oaks — the only blemishes on her record in her last 13 starts.
(Last week - 3) The Whitney winner gets his final Classic tuneup Saturday at Belmont, but in the $400,000 Kelso at a one-turn mile rather than the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at a mile-and-a-quarter. Obviously, that decision by trainer Shug McGaughey has nothing to do with the money, at least not the money offered this weekend. McGaughey believes the mile prep will better move Honor Code forward into the Classic. Honor Code has proven equally adept at either distance; he earned a 113 Beyer Speed Figure in the two-turn Whitney after his 112 in the one-turn Metropolitan Handicap, so that stretch-out progression in distance has been a winning formula for McGaughey in the past. Perhaps Honor Code deserves to be ranked No. 2 or even No. 1, but his late running style is more dependent on pace and traffic, plus he can be quirky, too.
(Last week - 4) In the absence of Honor Code, Tonalist is expected to be the solid favorite to defend his title in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was also favored in his last three starts: the Metropolitan Handicap (8-to-5), the Suburban (2-to-5) and the Whitney (7-to-2), and lost each of them. But he wasn’t really a disappointment; he lost twice to Honor Code and by a head to Effinex while spotting that one six pounds. As a 3-year-old, he beat a fairly soft bunch in the Gold Cup, and Saturday looks like another good spot for Tonalist to get back in the win column and set himself up nicely for the Classic. The worst performance of his career was his fifth-place finish in last year’s Classic at Santa Anita, but Keeneland should be a much better fit for his come-from-behind style. In fact, some analysts believe Tonalist is a more natural mile-and-a-quarter horse than Honor Code.
(Last week - 5) The Dirt Mile or the Classic? After his Woodward romp, trainer Todd Pletcher mentioned both races as possibilities for Liam’s Map’s next start, but I’ll be surprised if the $5 million Classic doesn’t win out over the $1 million Dirt Mile. Unless the Classic gets a surprise entrant, Liam’s Map could again be on an uncontested early lead, and the only reason he isn’t higher on this list is the likelihood that American Pharoah and/or Beholder will try to take him on at some point on the second turn. If Liam’s Map does run in the Classic, it creates an interesting decision for Javier Castellano, also the regular rider of Honor Code – and for different reasons, both horses can be tricky to ride. Also, fingers crossed that Liam’s Map stays sound — as an uberfast son of Unbridled’s Song, that’s always a major concern.
(Last week - 8) His impressive Pennsylvania Derby win actually flattered American Pharoah as well; both were victimized by the fast middle fraction in the Travers. Well, actually, Pharoah was more the victim and Frosted the perpetrator. But Frosted rebounded nicely at Parx despite a three-week turnaround that wasn’t ideal, and in my opinion, at least, he’s the second-best 3-year-old Classic contender by a slim margin over ...
(Last week - 6) Donegal Racing’s Jerry Crawford is talking smack after Keen Ice’s upset win over American Pharoah in the Travers. Crawford called his colt the “fastest, best-bred 3-year-old in the world” and said “it will take bad racing luck for him to lose to American Pharoah in the Classic.” Like Liam’s Map, Keen Ice is likely to lose the services of Castellano, but he is obviously bred to excel at a mile-and-a-quarter (his sire Curlin and maternal grandsire Awesome Again are both Classic winners) and is improving. Looking deeper into his past performances, his earlier losses to American Pharoah aren’t as bad as they look on paper. In the Kentucky Derby, he lost by 8¾ lengths but lacked running room through the stretch that undoubtedly cost him several lengths. He had the widest trip of all in the Belmont, and despite losing by 7½ lengths was arguably second-best that day given Frosted’s rail run. And while American Pharoah was toying with his rivals in the Haskell, Keen Ice was the only one doing any real running through the lane at a 1 1/8-mile distance that isn’t as advantageous for him as 1¼ miles. Keen Ice’s 106 Beyer Speed Figure in the Travers puts him squarely in the middle of these, and bump that up a couple of points for the Classic since he would get a four-pound weight allowance as a 3-year-old.
(Last week - unranked) In only his fourth lifetime start, Smooth Roller demolished his competition in Santa Anita’s Awesome Again en route to a rock-solid 111 Beyer Speed Figure. The 4-year-old obviously has the talent, the pedigree (by Hard Spun out of an Unbridled mare) and an advantageous tactical running style. About the only knock is that he has yet to face top-level competition. Awesome Again runnerup Hoppertunity is probably more of a Dirt Mile prospect that a bonafide Classic contender, and now-retired third-place Bayern hit the wall in his 4-year-old season.
(Last week - 7) If Gleneagles gets to the Classic as trainer Aidan O’Brien hopes, he should be a fresh horse. Most recently, he was scratched from the Irish Champion Stakes (taken by Epsom Derby hero Golden Horn, who amazingly wasn’t DQed….watch it on YouTube) due to a soft turf condition that O’Brien believes his horse dislikes. The enter-and-scratch pattern has repeated itself throughout the summer. “It’s the fourth time he’s been trained for a race,” O’Brien said. “I’m sorry for everybody but it’s the right thing for the horse.” When he has gotten the firm ground he prefers, Gleneagles is a perfect 3-for-3 this year. He hasn’t run since the St. James’s Palace Stakes in mid-July at Royal Ascot, having earlier taken the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the English 2,000 Guineas, and presumably he now will be pointed for the Oct. 17 Qipco British Champions. That would give Gleneagles only two weeks to the Classic plus a trans-Atlantic flight, but if he comes out of the Ascot race well, the schedule is doable given his lack of racing so far this year. Gleneagles has never gone farther than a mile, but has the kind of tactical speed that translates well to American dirt racing. Pedigree-wise, though, he’s a mixed bag for dirt. His sire, Galileo, finished 6th in the 2001 Classic. Three of Galileo’s sons have competed in dirt Breeders’ Cup races, all in the Marathon: one was eased, one was beaten 40 lengths and the other beaten 20 lengths. But Gleneagles’ dam is a full-sister to Giant’s Causeway, who lost by a neck to Tiznow in the 2000 Classic.

(Last week - 9) Should Tonalist go down to defeat again Saturday in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, this overachiever is the one most likely to accomplish the upset. The Woodward was yet another gritty performance for the Mike Repole runner, who keeps getting better and better after the blinkers were taken off and he was gelded. He is ordinarly a frontrunner, but the presence of Liam’s Map in the Woodward forced him into a pace-stalking role that he handled beautifully, as he got a ground-saving ride to finish second in a race he undoubtedly would have won in wire-to-wire fashion had his Pletcher stablemate not been entered.

(Last week - 10) His third-place effort in the Woodward was exactly par for the course for him, completely in line with his other recent races — solid and moneymaking, good enough to warrant a crack at the Classic, but ultimately not good enough to win it. His eight top Beyer Speed Figures fall between 100 and 104, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that — you’d kill to have a horse like him in the your barn. But since it typically takes a 112 or better to win the Classic, he’d probably be a legitimate 40-1 shot if the race were run this weekend. Those odds could change, however, if he turns in a career effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Trained by Jimmy Jerkens.
(Last week - 11) Also trained by Jerkens and also running Saturday in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Effinex misbehaved behind the starting gate prior to his fourth in the Woodward, and although the effect of such shenanigans on actual race performance can be overrated, it is tempting to give the New York-bred a smidgen of extra credit. And it’s far better to cop an attitude at the gate than to make a run for the outside fence as Effinex did in the Brooklyn. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens has done a masterful job at getting him to a legitimate Grade 1 level, but like his barn mate Wicked Strong, he would be a big Classic longshot right now.