Randy's Rankings

Updated October 12, 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 pace complexion of the Classic has shifted after the defection of Liam’s Map to the Dirt Mile, and in my opinion, the change works in favor of American Pharoah. Now it looks as if the Triple Crown champion should control the early pace, and it might be no faster than an average pace by Classic standards. Of course, he was in a similar position in the Travers Stakes and was beaten after Frosted forced him into a punishing second half-mile in :46.78, the fastest in Travers history by more than a full second. But that is unlikely to happen again. Frosted is decidedly better from several lengths behind the pace, and as Beholder has matured, she has developed a similar running style — although the wily Gary Stevens will almost certainly keep Beholder within close striking distance of American Pharoah and won’t let Victor Espinoza “steal” the race. The Classic promises to be an epic confrontation, made all the more interesting by the fact that Keeneland’s surface is typically kinder to deep closers like Tonalist and Honor Code than the average American dirt track. To me, Bob Baffert’s decision to give Pharoah a 70-day freshening between the Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic is not a cause for concern and could actually be a positive given the Triple Crown campaign, arduous travel schedule, and strenuous Travers effort.
(Last week - 2) As preps go, her cakewalk in the Sept. 26 Zenyatta Stakes couldn’t have gone better had Richard Mandella and Gary Stevens drawn it up on a chalkboard. Now the Breeders’ Cup Classic could very well come down to the lady and the champ, and this lady will be a formidable adversary if she duplicates her effort against males in the Aug. 22 Pacific Classic. Stevens and trainer Richard Mandella are supremely confident in Beholder, so neither will feel the need to “hook” American Pharoah on the front end to keep him from cruising on an uncontested lead. They believe Beholder has the tactical speed to stay as close as necessary to American Pharoah before unleashing the devastating second-turn kick she displayed at Del Mar. Their 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 - 4) His second straight Jockey Club Gold Cup victory was exactly what we have come to expect from him — but this time he won, at level weights and without the likes of Honor Code to face. As usual, Christophe Clement now has Tonalist perfectly prepared for another top-level performance, but a legitimate question is whether the absence of Liam’s Map in the Classic leaves enough pace for closers Tonalist and Honor Code to get past the likes of American Pharoah and Beholder. John Velazquez appeared to put Tonalist closer to the front in the Gold Cup, but that was mainly an illusion created by slower fractions; pace figures show his race wasn’t substantially different from the way he ran in the much-faster-paced Whitney. And although he ran down Wicked Strong in the Gold Cup despite a pace disadvantage and sloppy going, that was a far cry from what he’ll be asked to do in the Classic. Keeneland’s honest surface does helps his chances, though, and if American Pharoah and Beholder hook up earlier than expected or don’t bring their best performances, the steady Tonalist will most likely be right there to capitalize.
(Last week - 3) His third-place finish in the one-mile Kelso can be considered nothing short of disappointing. But it also shouldn't lead to overreaction. He was running over a sloppy surface while backing down in distance from the 1 1/8 miles of the Whitney to a one-turn mile, he has always been inconsistent and quirky, and trainer Shug McGaughey chose the $400,000 Kelso not because it gave Honor Code a better chance to win than the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup but because he thought it would be a more effective prep for the Classic. Those dramatic surges in the Metropolitan Handicap and Whitney weren't mirages; he still belongs on the very short list of prime Classic contenders, although as mentioned above, the new Classic pace scenario doesn’t work in his favor.
(Last week - 6) 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 this time Frosted got the kind of trip he prefers to rebound nicely at Parx despite a three-week turnaround that wasn’t ideal, and in my opinion, he’s the second-best 3-year-old Classic contender by a very slim margin over ...
(Last week - 7) 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.” Keen Ice will lose the services of Javier Castellano, the regular rider of Honor Code, but 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. He’s another closer, but 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 - 8) 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 may be pointed for the pre-BC Marathon, and now-retired third-place Bayern hit the wall in his 4-year-old season.
(Last week - 9) Here we go again. Trainer Aidan O’Brien would like to run Gleneagles this Saturday in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Qipco British Champions Day. But the ground at Ascot is presently rated good-to-soft, and Gleneagles prefers his footing firmer. O’Brien has already scratched Gleneagles from four major stakes in the last four months due to the footing, and it could happen again this week. But whether he runs Saturday or not, Gleneagles is being pointed to the Classic as his end-of-year target. Running in the QEII would give him only two weeks to the Classic plus a trans-Atlantic flight and quarantine, but that schedule is less concerning given his lack of racing so far this year. Gleneagles hasn’t started since the St. James’s Palace Stakes on June 16, having earlier taken the Irish 2,000 Guineas on May 23 and English 2,000 Guineas on May 2. His three starts this season have all been at one mile, and he has never gone farther, but he has the kind of tactical speed that translates well to American dirt racing. The main problem, though, is that his pedigree is 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 - 12) Wicked Strong was a well-beaten second to Tonalist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup while Effinex splashed in another six lengths back in third. And now trainer Jimmy Jerkens is trying to figure out what to do with each of them. Both would figure to be at least 30-to-1 in the Classic because neither have run fast enough to project them as prime contenders under the full load of 126 pounds, but both have been admirably consistent at top levels of competition. At this point, the guess is that Effinex would try the Classic and Wicked Strong would be rerouted to the Dirt Mile, but the presence of Liam’s Map in the Dirt Mile could change that scenario, too.

(Last week - unranked) Through attrition, the Top Dozen has now become the Top Ten. Hard Aces is back in the rankings because he is being pointed for the Classic despite his recent undistinguished sixth-place efforts in the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again. And why not? He earned a free roll back in June by winning the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race. He’s yet another deep closer.