Randy's Rankings

Updated July 29, 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) Trainer Bob Baffert put the finishing touches on the Triple Crown winner’s Haskell Invitational preparations Tuesday at Del Mar with an easy half-mile breeze in :48 4/5. American Pharoah arrived at Monmouth Park on Wednesday, and will gallop over that track Thursday, Friday and Saturday. His primary Haskell challengers are expected to be once-beaten Competitive Edge (making his first start around two turns) and Keen Ice (most recently a wide-trip third in the Belmont Stakes). The strategy to upset “Pharoah” could be to try and outrun him to the early lead; he has twice won from slightly off the pace, but his pace-stalking victory in the Kentucky Derby was not nearly as dominating as his front-running wins in the Preakness and Belmont.
(Last week - 2) Saratoga’s Aug. 8 Whitney Stakes promises to be star-studded, 2015’s strongest race thus far in this country — and Tonalist’s winning chances probably aren’t as good in the mile-and-an-eighth Whitney as they were at his more-favored mile-and-a-quarter distance in the Suburban, which he lost in a photo-finish at 2-5 odds. But these rankings are specific to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which a) is run at a mile-and-a-quarter, b) typically features a fast pace, and c) will be run over a Keeneland surface kinder to Tonalist’s come-from-behind style than Santa Anita, where he was fifth in the 2014 Classic.
(Last week - 3) Also prepping for the Whitney, the Shug McGaughey trainee bounced back from his slow workout two Saturdays ago at Belmont with five furlongs in 1:01.05 last Saturday at Saratoga. Not that McGaughey was fretting about the slower work. “He worked fine at Belmont,” McGaughey said, pointing out that jockey Javier Castellano “was afraid to do anything with him” after Honor Code’s fast half-mile six days before. Got all that? Honor Code recently has been inconsistent on the track, too, but there is no denying his brilliance in the June 15 Metropolitan Handicap, which stamped him as a prime Classic contender — assuming he proves as adept in two-turn races as he has been around one turn.
4. LEA
(Last week - 4) Even by his Hall of Fame standards, Bill Mott is having a banner season. Only Todd Pletcher, Baffert and Chad Brown have accumulated more purse earnings, and last week Mott even won with a first-time starter at Saratoga! The point is, Mott will do his part to have Lea up to a top performance to the Whitney. The 6-year-old lost to Noble Bird in the Stephen Foster but now might be ready for a forward move, since that Churchill Downs race was his first outing since a third in the Dubai World Cup. Lea’s 108 Beyer Speed Figure in the Stephen Foster was solid and probably about what he ran in Dubai, too, but he was even faster than that in the 2014 and 2015 Donn Handicaps.
(Last week - 5) This quirky son of Birdstone is another Whitney probable and has been on a roll lately. His narrow Alysheba defeat on Kentucky Derby weekend was a career-best effort, and he followed by hitting another peak in his Stephen Foster victory. His quirkiness involves a tendency to shift into neutral, so to speak, when he gets to the lead in his races. Trainer Mark Casse and his son/assistant Norman have worked hard on the psychology of pushing Noble Bird past his reluctance to separate from the pack, which is still a work in progress and may never be fully overcome. Regardless, the talented Noble Bird’s pattern of improvement is encouraging and the Classic distance is no problem.
(Last week - 7) Having rejoined the Todd Pletcher stable at Saratoga after an injury timeout, Constitution has now recorded workouts each of the last three Sundays. He has never been one to break stopwatches in the morning; just the fact he is on a consistent training regimen is positive news. The son of Tapit was being pointed to the Dubai World Cup when he developed a shin problem and he was sent to recuperate at WinStar Farm. That followed a hairline fracture of a cannon bone as a 3-year-old, which knocked the Florida Derby winner off the Kentucky Derby trail. “It’s just unfortunate he’s had some minor issues right before some big races,” Pletcher told Daily Racing Form. In his last start in the Feb. 7 Donn, Constitution set the pace and comfortably held off Lea by three-quarters of a length while getting two pounds in the weights.
(Last week - unranked) His surging score Saturday in Del Mar’s San Diego Handicap was better than it may have appeared visually — nearing the top of the stretch he was still four lengths behind pacesetters Appealing Tale and Bayern, who had loped along in slow fractions and were still relatively fresh. That win represented a return to form for Catch a Flight, who was outfinished as the 8-to-5 favorite in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. On the other hand, the San Diego was at a mile-and-a-sixteenth, and Catch a Flight is still a question mark at a mile-and-a-quarter; in addition to the Gold Cup, he was also outfinished by a tiring Moreno through the stretch of the Santa Anita Handicap.
(Last week - 9) We are looking for small triumphs here, and his five-furlong workout in 1:01.68 Sunday at Saratoga was another step in the right direction. The Dogwood Stable 5-year-old is trying to overcome a frustrating series of maladies and ascend back to his peak form. The good news is that unlike some on this list, Palace Malice has already run fast enough to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in many years. He ran successive Beyers of 114, 114 and 112 last season but since has been limited to one start in nearly a one-year period. Assuming things keep going smoothly in his reboot, he could come back at some point in the Saratoga meeting, most likely in an allowance race. Palace Malice finished sixth at Santa Anita in the 2013 Classic as a 3-year-old — like American Pharoah and Tonalist at the top of these rankings he won the Belmont Stakes, so the Classic distance is no concern.
(Last week - 8) He did nothing wrong last week, but dropped a notch in these rankings, anyway, as he was leapfrogged by San Diego winner Catch a Flight and Palace Malice. Effinex and his Jimmy Jerkens-trained stablemate Wicked Strong are both probable starters in the Whitney, and Effinex is coming off a win over Tonalist in the Suburban in a 107 Beyer Speed Figure. Significantly, in the Suburban he showed no trace of his odd behavior in the Brooklyn, where he inexplicably veered to the outside fence and failed to finish.

(Last week - 12) He had a perfect rail-skimming trip in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita and his Beyer Speed Figure (98) was far from extraordinary. But as Hard Aces sat out the mile-and-a-sixteenth San Diego Handicap to await the mile-and-a-quarter Pacific Classic on Aug. 22, his stock still rose. He was flattered by the performances of Catch a Flight and Hoppertunity, both of whom he defeated in the Gold Cup. And more importantly, the Breeders’ Cup Classic distance is right up his alley.

(Last week - 10) His consistency is admirable. He makes a lot of money (almost $1.3 million so far). He is a Grade 1 winner (the Clark Handicap last fall). But he just doesn’t seem good enough to be a bonafide Breeders’ Cup Classic threat. If American Pharoah makes the Classic, Baffert might even elect to run Hoppertunity in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. In a ranking of the best dozen in this division, he has earned the right to be in the conversation. Yet it is difficult to rank him any further up the list than this after four consecutive defeats, including his fourth in Saturday’s San Diego.
(Last week - 11) After getting a month of easy training to put on some weight, American Pharoah’s 3-year-old understudy has now recorded workouts on back-to-back Mondays. His last Del Mar move was a half-mile in :48 3/5. These are baby steps, clearly, but after tailing off and losing weight from his massive frame following starts in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, it is an encouraging sign that perhaps the Kentucky Derby third-place finisher can make more noise this year.