Randy's Rankings

Updated June 25, 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) The Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup Classic could complete the “Grand Slam” for the celebrated Triple Crown winner. Owner Ahmed Zayat hopes to race him three or four more times this season, with his next start penciled in as either the Aug. 1 Jim Dandy at Saratoga or the Aug. 2 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, provided he trains well in the interim. After that, his likely schedule would be possible starts in the Aug. 22 Pacific Classic at Del Mar or the Aug. 29 Travers Stakes at Saratoga, the Sept. 26 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, and the Classic. In the absence of injured Shared Belief, the older horse division is solid but not great, and American Pharoah deserves top billing — especially given the typical mid- to late-season improvement for 3-year-olds.
(Last week - 2) Last year’s Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner has opened his 4-year-old campaign with back-to-back solid efforts in one-turn mile races, most recently a runnerup finish in the Metropolitan Handicap. But his pedigree and running style are even better suited to 1¼ miles, the distance of the Classic and the July 4 Suburban at Belmont, his next scheduled start. Tonalist finished fifth in the Classic a year ago, but as a New York-based runner with Christophe Clement, this year’s Classic venue (Keeneland) works more to his favor than last year’s (Santa Anita).
(Last week - 3) The Aug. 8 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga is next for the Metropolitan Handicap winner, who hasn’t been easy to figure out. “I’ve still got a lot to learn about him myself,” trainer Shug McGaughey told Daily Racing Form. In the Metropolitan, Honor Code dropped far behind in the middle stages despite Javier Castellano’s efforts to keep him closer, then blew past Tonalist and the others to win by 3¾ lengths in a career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure. Yet, five weeks earlier he fell so far behind a much slower pace in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs that even his final quarter in 23.97 seconds wasn’t enough to threaten. Three points to justify a ranking this high but below Tonalist: first, the Alysheba is an outlier on paper; secondly, the Metropolitan’s opening half-mile in 44.92 seconds obviously helped his chances but his performance cannot be entirely attributable to pace (Wicked Strong was two lengths in front of Honor Code after a half and finished 9¾ lengths behind him), since those were America’s best horses running down a long backstretch in the one-turn mile over a very fast Belmont surface; and finally, as oddly as it sounds for a late-running son of A.P. Indy, Honor Code at this point has shown his best form in one-turn races, while Tonalist (who also carried five pounds more in the Met Mile) is a proven elite at 1¼ miles. As even McGaughey acknowledges, the jury is still out.
(Last week - 5) Co-owner Perry Martin planned to run “Chrome” in England’s Lockinge Stakes and Prince of Wales’s Stakes. But last year’s Kentucky Derby made neither race, and now is recovering from an abscess in his right front foot that apparently derailed Martin’s grandiose UK hopes. According to Daily Racing Form, California Chrome now will be flown to Chicago early next month for a planned start in the Aug. 15 Arlington Million. My bet would be that he’ll ultimately be returned to dirt, on which he was a close and gallant third in last year’s Classic, and ran wider and faster than Lea as runner-up in the Dubai World Cup. But what does his detour to Europe mean for his chances in the 2015 Classic and that potential dream match-up with American Pharoah?
5. LEA
(Last week - 4) The Bill Mott-trained 6-year-old was beaten a neck by improving Noble Bird in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, his first start following a third in the Dubai World Cup. The two earned solid Beyers of 107, with Lea probably best on the night, but not by much. Lea carried four more pounds than Noble Bird in the handicap conditions (120 to 116), plus he traveled about ¾ of a length farther in the running, according to Trakus calculations. It was a good post-Dubai beginning to the summer for Lea, who is to be rematched with Noble Bird in what could be a star-studded Whitney.
(Last week - unranked) The Stephen Foster victory represented more progress for the son of Birdstone — his previous career-best effort had been his narrow Alysheba defeat. Pedigree indicates that extra distance should be no problem (the Foster is run at 1 1/8 miles), and trainer Mark Casse and son Norman have worked hard on the psychology of getting him past his apparent reluctance to separate from the pack late in a race. His pattern of improvement is especially encouraging.
(Last week - 6) It is getting easier to forget — unless you’re Dogwood Stable’s Cot Campbell — that one year ago Palace Malice was a top dog in the Classic division, coming off successive Beyer Speed Figures of 114, 114 and 112 with victories as a 3-year-old in the Belmont and Jim Dandy already in the bank. Then in succession came a hind-leg bone bruise, a retirement, a comeback, a bruised left front foot, a bruised right front foot and most recently an infected tendon sheath in his right foreleg that cost him a Metropolitan defense. “The big horse is doing well after the brief interruption in his training schedule,” Campbell said in a blog posting June 19 on dogwoodstable.com. “We will point for the Whitney ... and we hope to prepare for it with a prep race around the Fourth of July.” Palace Malice has a score to settle with the Whitney, the race in which last season he finished sixth at 3-5 odds to kick off his downward injury spiral.
(Last week - 7) Like Palace Malice, another Todd Pletcher trainee sent to the sidelines by injury. The 4-year-old was being pointed to the Dubai World Cup, but was sent instead to recuperate at WinStar Farm after suffering a minor shin problem in his third workout after winning the Feb. 7 Donn Handicap. He is scheduled to rejoin Pletcher’s barn in a few weeks at Saratoga. It wasn’t his first dance with the doctor — as a 3-year-old, Constitution took the Florida Derby but was knocked off the Kentucky Derby trail due to a hairline fracture of a cannon bone. “It’s just unfortunate he’s had some minor issues right before some big races,” Pletcher told Daily Racing Form. In the Donn, Constitution set the pace and comfortably held off Lea to win by three-quarters of a length while getting two pounds in the weights. His biggest drawback — other than those shins — is that he tends to be headstrong in his races.
(Last week - 8) American Pharoah’s massive barnmate is getting cranked up again. He returned to the work tab June 11 at Santa Anita with a four furlong breeze in :49 1/5 and followed that up Sunday with another in :47 2/5. “We’re keeping him fit, but he still has a ways to go,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He lost a lot of weight, but he’s slowly getting it back.” It sounds as if Dortmund is a longshot to make the July 4 Los Alamitos Derby. The Jim Dandy or Haskell (whichever one American Pharoah doesn’t run in) might make more sense, or if he still needs more time, perhaps the Sept. 19 Pennsylvania Derby. Thoroughbred racing is a sport rife with excuses, and Dortmund has already been given his share. Baffert says in hindsight that Dortmund’s episode of colic just before shipping east for the Kentucky Derby may have been more ominous than he realized. On the track, the previously unbeaten colt might have regressed slightly in his third-place Derby finish, and then lost weight before the Preakness before also encountering a sloppy track for the first time.

(Last week - 10) He reportedly is okay physically after back-to-back disappointments in the Metropolitan Handicap and Alysheba, and is now being pointed for the July 25 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar as a prep for the Pacific Classic. Last year’s Classic winner was always better with the early lead, but now he seems to need it. Other parts of his mental game may need work, too: he is developing a disruptive habit of making left turns after leaving the starting gate. That nearly got him disqualified in the controversial aftermath of the Classic, and he did it again in the Met Mile, veering sideways to wipe out several rivals to his inside. Bayern’s reputation has taken a hit, but perhaps this low ranking is too pessimistic. On the brighter side, he should have an easier time getting to the front in softer-paced two-turn races like the San Diego than in races like the Met Mile.

(Last week - 9) Foot issues plagued him recently and will keep him out of the July 4 Los Alamitos Derby, but trainer Simon Callaghan says Firing Line is now back in training and is being pointed instead for Saratoga or Del Mar. He was eased in the Preakness after a stumbling start in a river of mud, but had previously never finished worse than second and was only a length behind American Pharoah in the Derby — by far the closest any rival has come to the Triple Crown champ all year. Granted, American Pharoah has made all his 3-year-old peers look like duffers, but when considering prospects for later in the year, don’t forget that this 3-year-old crop was one of the strongest and deepest in years.
(Last week - 11) He’s the only ranked horse that might be in action this week. Or he might not. Trainer Eric Guillot is weighing whether to run Moreno in Saturday’s Gold Cup at Santa Anita despite an unfavorable pace scenario due to the presence of one-dimensional Big Cazanova, or wait for the star-studded Whitney, which he won last year and where Moreno could have a better chance of getting to the front early. Moreno has shown more of a willingness to sit behind horses this season, but Guillot believes he tends to shift into neutral after passing the leader and shows more grit when on the lead. Guillot’s voodoo didn’t work in the 2013 Classic (next-to-last), and in 2014 in the Metropolitan Handicap (last) and the Classic (last again), but we all know he’s a better horse than that. He has won nearly $3 million, has wins in the Whitney and Charles Town Classic, and runner-up finishes in reverse chronological order in the Californian (his most recent start), Santa Anita Handicap, Woodward, Suburban, Pennsylvania Derby and Travers. That’s not a bad curriculum vitae.