The greatest spectacle in horse racing isn’t the Triple Crown races. It’s the Breeders Cup. Over Friday & Saturday there will be 14 races featuring the best horses, from both here and abroad, at Keeneland Racetrack in Kentucky. And the biggest story of them all is American Pharoah’s last run for glory.
The Breeders Cup Classic is the final race of the extravaganza and goes at 5:30 PM ET on NBC. American Pharoah’s retirement has been announced and this race is the final chance to watch the horse who electrified the country in May & June when he won the Triple Crown.
American Pharaoh does not come in undefeated, as Zenyatta did back in 2010. This past summer in Saratoga—a prestige meet that draws horses from all over–American Pharaoh came in a close second at the Travers Stakes. This is his first race since then and he comes in as a 6-5 favorite to go to stud as a winner.
Beholder is considered the best challenger at 3-1, although the one I’m most intrigued by is Tonalist (6-1), who won the Belmont Stakes in 2014 and is ridden by John Velazquez, one of the nation’s best jockeys. Honor Code, also at 6-1, has a top jock of his own in Javier Castellano, whose $23 million in 2015 earnings are the best among all riders.
Finally, if you want a really big longshot, how about Effinex at 30-1? Mike Smith, the rider of Zenyatta who has four career Triple Crown wins and 21 wins on the Breeders Cup stage, will be in the saddle.
Other notable things to watch in the coming two-day gala…
Friday has five races that begin at 3:30 PM ET on NBC Sports Network and will run every 40 minutes. The jockey/trainer team of Velazquez and Todd Pletcher—easily atop the trainers board for earnings—will be a frequent combo at Keeneland. They start with Azar, a 10-1 shot in the day’s opening race.
*Wicked Strong, the horse named to honor the Boston Marathon victims of 2013 goes in a one-mile race at 4:10 PM ET ESPN. Wicked Strong was a regular pick of mine in the Triple Crown sweepstakes of 2014 and never quite got there in the year of California Chrome. Velazquez is in the saddle and the odds are 5-1, as Wicked Strong looks to dethrone even-money favorite Liam’s Map, a Castellano/Pletcher entry.
*Based on the betting odds, the most competitive race of Friday is the Longines Distaff at 5:35 PM ET. Wedding Toast, Sheer Drama, Stopchargingmaria and Got Lucky are all priced within 4-1 and 6-1. The Castellano/Pletcher team has Stopchargingmaria, and Pletcher also trains Got Lucky.
*The all-day action of Saturday begins at noon ET, and the first six races will be on NBC Sports Network, again running every forty minutes. The most intriguing goes at 2:50 PM ET, with Runhappy (3-1) and Private Zone (5-2) set up as top-heavy favorites and promising a showdown race.
*The final three races shift to NBC and start at 4:10 PM ET. The Sentinet Jet Juvenile is the first has four horses bunched up at the top of the betting odds. Brody’s Cause (7-2), Greenpointcrusader (4-1), Exaggerator (6-1) and Nyquist (9-2) promise an interesting race.
*The biggest favorite of the day is Golden Horn, the 4-5 favorite to win the Longines Turf at 4:50 PM ET. The jockey is Italian-born Lanfranco Dettori, who will be aboard several notable horses throughout the two days. The best challenger is another Castellano/Pletcher entry that goes by the name of Red Rifle—if he wins, is this is a sign that Andy Dalton will be the NFL MVP?
*Looking at the two days as a whole, the horses shipped in from Ireland always catch my eye, with my last name giving away the Irish lineage. My favorite is Shogun, who runs in Friday’s first race at 12-1 odds and is a statement to legitimate cultural diversity. The longshot hope is Last Waltz, at 20-1 in the third race and is fortunate enough to have Castellano in the saddle. But the best horse from Ireland is Legatissimo, the 8-5 favorite on Saturday at 2:10 PM ET.
That brings us to the finale on Sunday evening. The single best sports moment of 2015, at least so far, has been hearing NBC’s Tom Hammond utter the words “American Pharaoh beings his run for glory” as the horse came down the stretch at Belmont Stakes. It’s time to watch this special horse one last time at the Breeders Cup.