Perhaps the best method of handicapping this year’s perplexing Breeders’ Cup Classic is to make a checklist comprising every major handicapping category that pertains to the race and see who qualifies in the most categories.
As it turns out, there are two horses who qualify in every category -- horses with no question marks. In other words, the “classic” horse for the Classic based on pure handicapping and process of elimination. One is Einstein, who is 7 years old, has already made two cross-country trips this year, and should be well backed at the windows. The other is running on his home track and is a horse who could very well be forgotten by the bettors.
Although there are many who still are not believers in Colonel John, it would be difficult even for them to dispute the fact that on paper he has no question marks and is coming into the Classic primed for a career best performance. His detractors believe he’s simply not good enough, but that is more opinion than fact. We’ll find out for sure on Nov. 7. Until then here is how Colonel John fared in each category:
Is he proven on Pro-Ride? Yes, coming off a strong second in the Goodwood Stakes (gr. I). In fact, he’s proven on Pro-Ride, Cushion Track, grass, and dirt.
Is he proven at the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles? Yes, having won the 2008 Travers Stakes (gr. I).
Has he been racing consistently in top company over a period of time? Yes, seven of his last nine races have been in grade I stakes.
Is he fast enough? Yes, with a 106 Beyer in the Goodwood, he equaled his career high figure from last year’s Travers. The only two horses to earn higher Beyers on a synthetic surface this year are Einstein and Richard’s Kid, each with a 107. He ran a career best “zero” on Thoro-Graph and a career best “2” on Ragozin in the Goodwood, racing in the five-path the entire run down the backstretch and around the far turn.
Is he coming into the Classic on an upward swing? Yes, and he’s still a fresh horse, having run only three times this year. The last American-trained BC Classic winner at Santa Anita, Pleasantly Perfect, also was making his third start of the year after prepping in the Goodwood. Colonel John’s Beyer figures this year are 102, 102, 106. His Thoro-Graph numbers are 1 1/2, 1 1/2, zero. By pairing up his first two starts and then improving in his next start, without too drastic an improvement, it suggests he’s sitting on another move forward in his next start.
Can he adapt to any pace scenario? Yes, he’s won stakes coming from second, fourth, fifth, and sixth. He’s won at 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/8 miles, yet has enough speed to have run seven furlongs in 1:21 2/5 and a mile on turf in 1:32 3/5.
Is he bred to win the Classic? Yes, his sire, Tiznow won the Classic twice and his broodmare sire, Turkoman, finished a fast-closing second in the Classic.
Can he come home fast? Yes, and he can close in fast fractions after racing relatively close to the pace. In the Goodwood he was 2 1/2 lengths back and closed his last three-eighths in :35 flat and last eighth in :11 3/5, despite a wide trip most of the way. In the Wickerr on turf, he raced 2 1/2 to 3 lengths off the pace and came home his final quarter in :23 3/5.
As a side note, the last BC Classic starter to have won a mile turf stakes in under 1:33 that same year was Volponi, who romped in the 2002 Classic.
In his mile turf victory, he defeated Ferneley, who came back to run second to Ventura in the grade I Woodbine Mile in 1:32 flat.
In the Pacific Classic, he was bottled up in traffic all the way around the turn and in the upper stretch, was coming off only a mile turf race in the past seven months and likely was a bit short for the race, stretching out to 1 1/4 miles, yet still was beaten only three lengths.
He’s ridden by the best money rider in the country, Garrett Gomez.
Even in last year’s Classic, although he finished sixth, beaten five lengths, he did make a big run on the turn and may have actually stuck his head in front briefly before tiring. But he was coming off a two-month layoff; he lost the services of Gomez, who was committed to Go Between; he broke from the 11-post; he was forced to make his run five wide; and most important, he’s more mature and professional this year.
So, does all this mean that Colonel John is going to win the Classic? Of course not, as there are way too many other classy, talented horses in the race and we have no idea how good the Euros are. But if you’re looking to -- as the song says -- eliminate the negatives and accentuate the positives, he is one horse you can at least bet with confidence, knowing he has no question marks and has the right trainer and the right jockey. In short, he’s the kind of horse you tend to forget about, looking for one of the more glamour-type horses, and then can’t believe you missed him after he wins and pays a good price.