Strength of Breeders' Cup Classic is in 3-year-olds

ARCADIA, Calif. – The kids are all right.

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome and Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist both look like viable candidates to win the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita. Yet the favorite is another member of this year’s 3-year-old crop, Shared Belief, and so is the expected pacesetter, Bayern.

Toss in the winner of the Travers in V. E. Day; the well-traveled Toast of New York, who won the United Arab Emirates Derby; and Candy Boy, a stakes winner here earlier in the year, and there’s quite a youth movement for this race.

Both Shared Belief, unbeaten in seven starts, and Tonalist are proven against older Grade 1 runners. The other 3-year-olds still have to show they are capable. And the older runners, while perhaps not of the depth of past Classics, do include such dangerous entrants as the speedy Moreno, who won the Whitney; the fragile but talented Cigar Street, making his third start off a layoff for Bill Mott, a two-time winner of the Classic; and Zivo, who graduated from New York-bred races and now performs admirably in open company.

Majestic Harbor won the biggest summer race at this track, the Gold Cup. Footbridge, Imperative, and Prayer for Relief all appear a cut below the best, but in a race that offers vertical wagers including the Super Hi 5, at the very least they are tempting longshots to throw in underneath.

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It should be a truly run race, with horses who prefer the lead (like Bayern and Moreno), horses who stalk (including California Chrome and Shared Belief), and horses who come from way downtown (such as V. E. Day and Zivo).

The Classic could well decide Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male. From a betting standpoint, it’s one of the best gambling races of the weekend. This Breeders’ Cup might very well have saved the best for last.

KEY CONTENDERS

Shared Belief (Last 3 Beyers: 101-115-104)

-- Last year’s champion 2-year-old male, he turned in a remarkable performance to win the Awesome Again at Santa Anita, where he overcame being hounded by an outclassed rival yet still showed the fortitude to get up and win.

-- His trainer and co-owner, Jerry Hollendorfer, said he initially thought Shared Belief was not handling the track well early in the Awesome Again. Then he realized Shared Belief was being packed wide. That comment has been widely misinterpreted as Hollendorfer saying he doesn’t think Shared Belief handles the track.

California Chrome (Last 3 Beyers: 98-98-105)

-- Flopped in the Pennsylvania Derby in his first start since the Triple Crown but has given every indication in his recent works that he is capable of returning to his best form here.

“I’m so satisfied with the way he’s been working,” said trainer Art Sherman. “I’m all pumped up.”

-- There are other reasons to believe California Chrome will significantly improve off his last. He needed the race, he absolutely loves Santa Anita – where he won the Santa Anita Derby in April – and he drew an outside post that should prevent him from getting boxed in.

More on Chrome: Outside post suits colt well

Tonalist (Last 3 Beyers: 106-98-96)

-- After Tonalist flashed too much speed in the Travers, trainer Christophe Clement removed blinkers for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Tonalist settled, accelerated on the turn, and finished the race with style. If he brings that form west, look out.

Bayern (Last 3 Beyers: 110-73-111)

-- He is the fastest horse in the race away from the gate and will lead this field for as long as he can.

-- He is unbeaten in two starts at Santa Anita.

-- His two biggest wins of the year, the Haskell Invitational and Pennsylvania Derby, were run on surfaces that appeared to flatter his front-running style.

-- His lone prior try at 1 1/4 miles, the Travers, was a dud.

Moreno (Last 3 Beyers: 96-107-109)

-- His best races, like the Whitney, have come when he makes the lead. Being drawn inside of Bayern, he can try to outrun Bayern early or let Bayern go and stalk. Neither scenario is ideal, but his presence should, at the least, ensure an honest pace.

Cigar Street (Last 3 Beyers: 101-94-104)

-- He is making his third start off a layoff of almost 17 months for a Hall of Fame trainer who does not run longshots simply to have a horse in a race.

-- He figures to sit a perfect trip on the inside behind Moreno and Bayern.

-- He never has run in a race of this caliber but “always has been well thought of,” Mott said.

-- Injuries have kept him from having a chance to attain the spotlight. Now is his chance.

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