Perhaps the greatest spectacle any sport puts on for its best is the Breeders Cup, horse racing’s two-day show of 15 championship races. The past two years the dominant filly Zenyatta has electrified the crowd. First in 2009, she came hard on the outside and won the Classic, the top race of the event—and of the entire calendar, with its $5 million jackpot. Last year, Zenyatta put her unbeaten record on the line under the lights at Churchill Downs on a Saturday night and lost a photo finish to Blame. There isn’t that kind of storyline going down this year, but there’s still a lot of good horses, top trainers and jockeys and exciting racing that will build up to the BC Classic at 7 PM ET on Saturday night.
This year’s favorite is Uncle Mo, an immensely talented three-year old thoroughbred, that many thought had a shot at this year’s Triple Crown, but he hasn’t always been healthy. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, both among the best in the country, Uncle Mo is a 5-2 shot to win the Classic, the best odds in the field (or worst odds, if you’re a betting man looking for a longshot payday). Mo dominated the Wood Memorial earlier this year, a race held at Aqueduct on the New York circuit, and one of the prestigious “Derby Prep” races that build up to the Triple Crown. He had to be scratched from the Derby though and was not able to fulfill his potential during the big summer races. Now is his chance at redemption.
Jockey Velazquez needs no such redemption. He’s already the top rider in New York, having won more races than anyone this year at the annual Saratoga meet, a lucrative late summer session in upstate New York. Velazquez also got this year’s Breeders Cup off to a fast start, winning two of the six championship races held on Friday. He won the Fillies Turf, the race for two-year old girls on the grass with Stephanie’s Kitten at roughly 7-1 odds, and then he delivered the big enchilada in the Juvenile Fillies, another race for the two-year olds, this one on dirt. Perfect Shirl cashed in at odds of nearly 29-1, the top price paid on the first day at Churchill.
The Classic is filled with talented thoroughbreds ready to challenge Uncle Mo, which is what makes this event—not just the showcase race, but all 15—so exciting for fans and bettors. The excitement value of anyone having the speed to win is obvious enough, but it also means it’s more likely a back-of-the-pack horse at pricey odds can step up and win. Take this year’s Classic. The last two winners of the Belmont Stakes are in the field, with Drosselmeyer and Ruler on Ice and they get odds of 15-1 to 30-1 respectively. Other horses with solid resumes include Stay Thirsty, who won the Jim Dandy Stakes, the top Saratoga purse of the summer, Ice Box, runner-up in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, Game On Dude, one of the best of the west coast and Havre de Grace, the filly who could win Horse of the Year honors if she can pull this one off at 3-1.
All in all, it promises to be a fun day of racing at Churchill. I won’t have any money down, but it’s going to be worth checking in and out during the college football day to watch the array of championship races. They start at 1:20 PM ET and go about every 45 minutes or so, up to the Classic at 7 PM ET. All races will be televised by ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.