Randy's Rankings

Updated August 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) His sparkling seven-furlong workout in 1:23 1/5 on Sunday at Del Mar was precisely what trainer Bob Baffert needed to see to finalize plans to run Saturday in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. American Pharoah will arrive at Saratoga Wednesday, and assuming all goes well in the interim he will become only the fourth Triple Crown winner to compete in the Travers — Whirlaway won in 1941, Gallant Fox lost to 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy in 1930, and Affirmed lost by DQ to archrival Alydar in 1978. Saratoga long ago earned its moniker as “The Graveyard of Champions,” but American Pharoah will have a huge advantage Saturday in one key aspect: He is the only prospective Travers entrant with early speed. Upsetting the Triple Crown winner will be tough enough without spotting him the huge advantage of an uncontested lead in what could be moderate to soft fractions. If “Pharoah” breaks as sharply as usual, the Travers could be a replay of the Belmont Stakes.
(Last week - unranked) In her first race against males, Beholder rocketed past the competition in the Pacific Classic as if they were running in quicksand. Her 8¼-length victory was accomplished in 1:59.77 for a mile-and-a-quarter, good for a Beyer Speed Figure of 114 that is better than any number American Pharoah or Honor Code has ever run but still doesn’t really reflect the extent of her dominance. Trainer Richard Mandella and owner B. Wayne Hughes aren’t certain at this point whether they will point Beholder for the Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Distaff, which she won in 2013. However, Hughes has been known to roll the dice — and what’s the point of a 1-to-5 cakewalk in the Distaff when she can try to make history against American Pharoah in a historic “battle of the sexes” match-up at Keeneland? That would truly be something to behold.
(Last week - 2) The Whitney winner is expected to get his final Classic tuneup on Oct. 3 at Belmont Park in either the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1¼ miles or the $400,000 Kelso at a one-turn mile. The come-from-the-clouds stretch runner earned a 113 Beyer Speed Figure in the Whitney and 112 in the Metropolitan Handicap in proving emphatically that he is equally adept around one turn or two. But in splitting hairs and trying to gauge how he should fit against American Pharoah and Beholder in these rankings, it is significant to note that his running style creates tactical disadvantages.
(Last week - 3) He turned in another strong performance in defeat, finishing just 1¾ lengths behind Honor Code in the Whitney while also closing with a rush. The two were eyeballing each other in the early stages of the race, nearly 20 lengths behind pacesetter Liam’s Map, and Tonalist and jockey John Velazquez followed Honor Code through the pack around the second turn and down the Saratoga stretch. Tonalist is now expected to run next in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. 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.
(Last week - 4) The Sept. 5 Woodward is next for the Todd Pletcher-trained son of Unbridled’s Song, who passed the class test in the Whitney. He ran defending champ Moreno into the ground with an opening three-quarters in 1:09 3/5 and still looked like a winner in deep stretch before succumbing to Honor Code’s surge only in the last strides. The temptation is to declare that the longer distance of the Classic hurts Liam Map’s chances, but it’s hard to imagine the Classic pace being any faster than the Whitney’s. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which American Pharoah and Beholder stalk Liam’s Map in the Classic, and this colt might not go down without a fight.
(Last week - 5) He chased loose-on-the-lead American Pharoah to a runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes, and as noted above, the pace scenario for Saturday’s Travers Stakes looks on paper to be eerily similar. In between, Frosted came up a half-length short to Texas Red in the Jim Dandy Stakes but may have been the best horse on the day. According to Trakus, the two horses ran precisely the same distance, but Frosted carried four more pounds and was slowly getting to Texas Red at the end.
(Last week - 6) Of course, it isn’t a given that Frosted ran a better race than Texas Red in the Jim Dandy. Texas Red was making only his second start of the year, and may have been one race away from a peak performance. Also, the slow Jim Dandy pace forced Kent Desormeaux to significant alter Texas Red’s running style, and it was he, not Frosted, who first went after pacesetting Japan. This is a consistent and determined horse with the versatility to charge from the back of the pack (as he did in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile) or stalk frontrunners from a close proximity (as he did in the Jim Dandy).
(Last week - 7) Now being aimed for the Sept. 26 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, a $175,000 race at 1 1/8 miles that Todd Pletcher has chosen as a conservative spot for his first start since outgaming Lea in February’s Donn Handicap. The son of Tapit was being pointed for the Dubai World Cup before a shin problem sent him to the sidelines, and he hasn’t run since. But the Classic could still be very much on his radar with a strong effort at Churchill Downs. His six-furlong breeze last Saturday in 1:14 1/5 was his seventh work in seven weeks as his planned return continues without training interruption.
(Last week - 9) His consistency is admirable and was on display again with a grinding fourth-place finish in the Whitney. Now he could run in either the Woodward or Jockey Club Gold Cup. He doesn’t seem good enough to win the Classic, and his seven top Beyer Speed Figures all falling between 100 and 104 is hardly cause for confidence; it typically takes much better to win the Classic. But it also doesn’t seem a stretch to call him the ninth-best Classic contender in the country, especially since the Whitney was the best race for older horses thus far in 2015.

(Last week - 11) Trainer Jimmy Jerkens is now pointing Effinex for the Sept. 5 Woodward at Saratoga, and he takes a small step forward in the rankings after Catch a Flight was demolished by Beholder. Effinex is coming off a win over Tonalist in the Suburban in a 107 Beyer Speed Figure. He is a much-improved three-for-four this year, with the only blemish on his record coming in the Brooklyn, in which he failed to finish after bizarrely trying to run to the outside fence on both turns — for no apparent reason, according to trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Significantly, he showed no trace of that behavior in the Suburban, so perhaps that was an odd one-off.

(Last week - 8) How good was Beholder in the Pacific Classic? In Catch a Flight’s distant runner-up finish against his stablemate Sunday, he ran practically the same race he did in his surging score over Appealing Tale and Bayern in the San Diego Handicap. That may have alleviated any concerns about Catch a Flight’s ability to handle a mile-and-a-quarter, but if he is pointed for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it certainly doesn’t dispel the notion that he and Hoppertunity and Hard Aces and the rest of the California-based older male division are a cut below American Pharoah, Beholder and the best of the 3-year-olds.
(Last week - unranked) See above comments for Wicked Strong and Catch a Flight and cut-and-paste here. Hoppertunity doesn’t seem talented enough to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, especially this year. Yet he is the type of horse anyone would love to have in the barn — a Grade 1 winner who has earned $1.3 million and never runs a bad race. Having recorded top-four finishes in all but one of his 13 lifetime starts — many against top competition — he very much deserves a place in a Top 12 ranking of the top Classic contenders in the country.