The Breeders' Cup Classic is the culmination of a year's worth of attention to detail and explosive efforts on the dirt across North America. It's the ultimate test to see who reigns supreme as the best horse in world.
Three-year-olds rub shoulders with older horses in an open company contest. It matters not that Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes in June or that Game On Dude is unbeaten in five starts this year.
This is the strongest field any of these horses will face. It's the Super Bowl of horse racing and several of the likely 14 horses entered have a shot at winning North America's richest horse race.
Read on to see which horse may take the richest race this side of the Atlantic.
Here's a short list of the non-contenders, and it is a short list.
Chad Brown trains Last Gunfighter, a horse who appears to be very outclassed here. He's not alone. Planteur, a European turf miler, is pre-entered and will likely have a problem with distance and the surface.
Graydar was once nominated to the Classic, then pointed to the Dirt Mile, but has since scratched from that due to an injury.
And now, without further ado, here are the heavy hitters...
Moreno made waves when he nearly won the Grade 1 $1 million Travers Stakes back in August. He bolted to the lead and took them all the way around before he was clipped by Will Take Charge.
In the Travers he beat Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner. He beat Palace Malice, the Belmont winner. He beat Verrazano, the Haskell winner. And, like Fort Larned and Game On Dude, you better believe he's going to try and go to the lead. If he's going to win, it will be that way. If he's going to lose, well, he's going down like Walter White.
He's probably not quite as classy on the front end as the others. He strikes me as the type of horse, in this race, where he'll do all his running in the first mile before receding into the tide of contenders.
Best Bet: 10th
Aidan O'Brien, the Todd Pletcher of Europe, always brings several horses to the Breeders' Cup. His Classic contender this year is Declaration of War, a horse who has never raced, let alone won, on dirt.
He has won three races in 2013, including a stakes race in his last effort at York.
Raven's Pass won this race in 2008 at Santa Anita when Santa Anita had a synthetic track laid down. Track management has since moved back to dirt, so turf runners who ever thought they had a shot on dirt is long gone.
Raven's Pass's sire, War Front, was a turf horse, so DW's chances are slim. But O'Brien brought him 6,000 miles from home to run so there's must be something he likes.
Best Bet: 9th
Just a year ago, this horse was fighting for his life. After a near-fatal case of colitis, he developed laminitis, the same hoof disease that took Barbaro's life.
Paynter fought through it all, from Haskell winner in 2012 to Classic contender in 2013.
He's a forwardly-placed horse for trainer Bob Baffert, though not quite to the extent of Game On Dude. He broke poorly in the Woodward and didn't like the mud. He ran second to Mucho Macho Man in the Awesome Again, so he could be ready to fire his best race since the Haskell in 2012.
He's an unlikely winner, but given where he came from where he finishes doesn't matter.
Best Bet: 8th
Bill Mott, trainer to Flat Out and Ron The Greek, won this race two years ago with Drosselmeyer. Flat Out, like Ron The Greek, does most of his running late. Flat Out, however, could be in declining form.
In 2011 and 2012 he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, a track he loves more than bees love honey. This year he attempted to win his third in a row, which would have put him in rare company. Instead he finished third, a steady, non-threatening third.
What he's got in his corner is Joel Rosario, his jockey. Rosario will likely win the Eclipse for top jockey in the nation, having won the Dubai World Cup and the Kentucky Derby. This may be the wild card and Flat Out's best chance at getting to the winners circle.
Best Bet: 7th
Speaking of horses that like Santa Anita. Fort Larned set the pace in the Classic a year ago, out-gunning Game On Dude for the lead.
Fort Larned didn't get off to a great start this year. He has just two wins from five starts. He's only raced three times since June 15 when he won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster. He laid an egg in the Whitney at Saratoga in August, then ran in a lame stakes race carded just for him at Churchill (which he won, mind you) to prep for the Classic.
Fort Larned can also dictate the terms of a race, but it could be that, while he's still talented, his best days are behind him. There's just too much talent in this race.
Best Bet: 6th
D. Wayne Lukas, trainer to Will Take Charge, is back, but don't call it a comeback.
Will Take Charge, like Ron the Greek, is a late runner. That's how he won the Travers this year, running down Moreno to collar him at the wire. It was a thrilling finish. Will Take Charge then went on to collect a fat check in the Grade 1 $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx back on Sept. 21. That's about six weeks to freshen up.
He can't be ignored in exotics and, if he gets the right trip and the pace melts down, he's the type of colt who will be there in the end.
Best Bet: 5th
This horse is as enigmatic as the island on Lost. In many ways he's your classic going-to-finish-third-or-fourth horse. He's a late closer, which means he needs pace to run into. Done and done.
Ron the Greek will have no shortage of pace and if he runs like he did back at the end of September in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he is set for a epic run. But, as is often the case, he's just as likely to fire blanks.
A late close needs two things: pace and no traffic. He'll get pace, but will he be able to navigate the clustered highway that is the final quarter mile of a 10-furlong race?
That's the $5 million question.
Best Bet: 4th
Game On Dude is 5-2 on the morning line and a deserving favorite. He's unbeaten in five starts this year and was positively brilliant in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic back in August.
What Game On Dude does as well as any horse in this race is bring his race to them. The terms of a race, no matter the distance, are his and his alone. He's going to the front. He's going to be clear of traffic. Catch him if you can.
Maybe not since Ghostzapper in 2004 have we seen a horse as strong on the lead for two turns than Game On Dude. It's this ability to hit the front and make the others worry about his comfort on the lead. Again, his terms.
His one knock is that he was the favorite here a year ago and watched Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man blow by him. A repeat effort is possible, though unlikely.
Best Bet: 3rd
Palace Malice has the Breeders' Cup Classic in his blood. His sire, Curlin, won this race as a three-year-old in 2007. Palace Malice is also a three-year-old and is most definitely one of the major contenders in this year's renewal.
He won the Belmont Stakes over Oxbow back in June, this after setting suicidal speed fractions in the Kentucky Derby. He won the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, then was ridden poorly by Mike Smith, finishing fourth in the Travers.
In his first attempt against older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup he finished a game second, having the unfortunate timing of running into Ron the Greek.
His running style is tactical enough to put him near the leaders. He won the Belmont near the lead and if he's to win the Classic, it will be in similar fashion.
Best Bet: 2nd
For what it's worth, I really like Mucho Macho Man this year.* He's got great versatility on the front end. While not a classic speed horse he likes to be near the lead, keeping a close eye on the leaders. This allows him to stay close without burning too much gas, but also leaves some in the tank for a great, lasting kick. He nearly won this race a year ago.
MMM prepped over this surface about a month ago in the Grade 1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita and won with ease. Horses aren't supposed to win Grade 1s that easy and this signifies that he's as ready and tight as any horse in this field.
Best Bet: 1st
*As a result, you may want to find another horse to wager on. I have a way of jinxing live horses.