This week Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said that back in the day, he might have come into Breeders’ Cup weekend “not prepared,” having raced his horses too many times to give them their best chance once November rolled around.
This year’s BC Classic is the opposite of that.
Not only does Baffert have the 5-2 morning-line favorite in Improbable, but he has two other live shots, Kentucky Derby winner Authentic and 2019 3-year-old champion Maximum Security.
They’ll break next to each other from the three outside posts in the 10-horse field while facing a challenge from Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Tiz the Law, the star colt owned by Sackatoga Stable who is coming off a second to Authentic in the Derby.
The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, will kick off with five races restricted to juveniles on Friday, followed by nine BC races on Saturday capped by the Classic, with a scheduled post time of 5:18 p.m.
There will be TV coverage on Friday from 2-5:30 on NBCSN, and on Saturday from noon-2:30 on NBCSN and 2:30-5:30 on NBC.
Baffert brings two older horses into the Classic who have run measured campaigns late in the season with this race in mind, and a 3-year-old, Authentic, who targeted the reconfigured Triple Crown series and has done nothing wrong in the last 3 1/2 months other than finish second by a neck to the filly Swiss Skydiver in the Oct. 5 Preakness.
“One thing I learned about the Breeders’ Cup through the years is it’s the best horses, the best jockeys, the best trainers, and you’ve got to be on your game,” he said.
“By the end of the year, I’ve learned through the years to just don’t run them too much through the year. So I feel really good coming in here the way I’ve prepared them. We make a plan, we’re going to run them here, here and here, and then have them ready for the Breeders’ Cup. That’s the end. It’s all about results in this game.”
Results of a different kind have chased Baffert throughout his career, and especially into this Breeders’ Cup.
Horses in his care have failed four drug tests in the last six months, including two by Gamine, his star 3-year-old filly who, at 7-5, is the heavy favorite to win Saturday’s Filly and Mare Sprint.
While speaking to reporters in the Keeneland barn area on Wednesday, Baffert addressed the ongoing blot on his reputation:
“It’s been a tough year, and a lot of the stuff that happened was sort of things that were really no intent was made there to do anything wrong. But, we’re going to deal with it, and we’re going to get better.
“I always thought I ran a tight ship; I’ve got to run it tighter. You can’t run it like a barn, you’ve got to run it like a hospital. It’s embarrassing. I don’t like what I’ve been going through. It’s been tough on my family and everyone, but at the end of the day, the owners are behind me and we’ll get through it.”
Improbable garnered favoritism in the Classic by virtue of Grade I wins his last three starts, the Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 6, the Whitney at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 1 and the Awesome Again at Santa Anita on Sept. 26, by a combined 9 3/4 lengths.
After five months off during a transfer from the barn of indicted trainer Jason Servis to Baffert, Maximum Security won two graded stakes at Del Mar before finishing second to Improbable in the Awesome Again.
“I’ve never been this strong in the Classic. I’d be happy to have just one of these, but to have three is amazing,” Baffert said.
“What they’ll have in common is they’re all extremely talent. You hate to run all three of them together like that, but for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, everything’s on the line, championship honors on the line with horses like Tiz the Law in there. I’ve been watching him, and he looks fantastic, too.”
“The most interesting thing is the Baffert horses are in the three outside posts,” said Al Stall Jr., who trains Tom’s d’Etat. “That is kind of wild. We’re fine. Absolutely no excuses whatsoever. He runs inside, he can take dirt, he can rate off a fast pace.”
Tiz the Law, the Belmont Stakes and Travers winner, has been training at Keeneland since the middle of October and by all accounts appears to have thrived and regained his best form while skipping the Preakness.
One of the most intriguing matchups on the weekend is between Swiss Skydiver and Monomoy Girl in the Distaff on Saturday.
Monomoy Girl, the 2018 3-year-old filly champion who missed all of 2019 with physical issues, is 8-5, undefeated from three starts in her 2020 comeback season.
She’ll break from the No. 10 post in the 10-horse Distaff.
“She was [post] 11 of 11 in the Breeders’ Cup in 2018; she was 14 of 14 in the Kentucky Oaks. I love it,” trainer Brad Cox said.
“She’s definitely got her game face on. She’s ready, her coat’s great, just everything physically and mentally. It’s been a long road getting her back, but she’s had a great year and put us on an unbelievable ride.”
Swiss Skydiver has run against males twice this year, finishing second to Art Collector in the Blue Grass in July and winning the Oct. 3 Preakness.
She had been cross-entered in the Classic for the 10th start of her season, which included a win in the Alabama at Saratoga, but her connections opted for the Distaff.
“We stuck our necks out [in the Preakness] because we thought she deserved a chance,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “It was a tough call because we had to decide to go against straight 3-year-olds or go against older horses. We felt like the upside was there, and she came through for us. It was very cool.
“We felt like, in this case, the Classic had a lot more depth to it. She was going to get a weight break in the Classic, I think seven or nine pounds, but we felt the Distaff maybe had a little less depth, as it should be.”
“I see what everyone else sees, a very, very good filly,” Cox said. “She’s champion 3-year-old filly [this year], for sure. She’s tough. She’s danced a lot of dances this year and showed up every time. The Preakness was a race we won’t ever forget. I’m a fan of hers. I’m looking forward to the match-up.”
Met Mile winner Vekoma, the 3-1 morning-line favorite for the Sprint on Saturday, will scratch after spiking a fever.
Horses expected to scratch on Friday’s card include the Harlan Estate off the also-eligible list for the Juvenile Turf and Tetragonal in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
On Saturday, Inthemidstofbiz will scratch from the Filly and Mare Sprint, dropping that race to an eight-horse field.
Trainer Todd Pletcher’s only horse entered on Thursday, Seize the Hay at Gulfstream Park West, was scratched, leaving him one shy of 5,000 career wins.
Pletcher has nine horses entered on Friday, seven on the Breeders’ Cup card and two at Aqueduct.
NO MIKE SMITH
Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who has more BC wins (26) and earnings ($36,634,605) than any jockey in the history of the event, will have no mounts at Keeneland this weekend.
Smith’s BC prospects were hurt in part by the retirement of Midnight Bisou, McKinzie and Honor A. P. He’ll ride at Del Mar this weekend.