Even including the Triple Crown races, the Breeders' Cup Classic may represent the most star-studded field in horse racing every year. With a 14-horse lineup, the Classic possesses droves of quality to go along with its quantity, making it the weekend's premier race.
There are no shortages of storylines for the race. A "clash of the titans" type narrative has evolved between Shared Belief and California Chrome, but in reality, neither horse is significantly superior to the other top contenders in the field. Indeed, the Classic's appeal is in its depth as much as the names at the top.
Taking a look at the pre-race odds via Odds Shark, let's delve into some of the race's biggest names and make predictions for how the top storylines will unfold.
|2014 Breeders' Cup Classic Odds|
|1||Prayer for Relief||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Dale Romans||30-1|
|2||Cigar Street||John Velazquez||William Mott||20-1|
|3||Imperative||Lanfranco Dettori||George Papaprodromou||30-1|
|4||Moreno||Javier Castellano||Eric Guillot||25-1|
|5||V.E. Day||Joseph Talamo||James Jerkins||20-1|
|6||Shared Belief||Mike Smith||Jerry Holendorfer||7-5|
|7||Bayern||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||13-2|
|8||Zivo||Jose Lezcano||Chad Brown||15-1|
|9||Toast of New York||Jamie Spencer||Jamie Osborne||12-1|
|10||Footbridge||Rafael Bejarano||Eoin Harty||20-1|
|11||Tonalist||Joel Rosario||Christophe Clement||11-2|
|12||Candy Boy||Corey Nakatani||John Sadler||25-1|
|13||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||7-1|
|14||Majestic Harbor||Tyler Baze||Sean McCarthy||30-1|
|AE||Big Cazanova||Elvis Trujillo||Peter Miller||40-1|
|via Odds Shark|
California Chrome Finishes Out of Money
The horse that captured the nation's attention last spring will be at the center of attention for this race. However, with just one sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby since the end of Triple Crown season, California Chrome actually represents one of the biggest unknowns in the entire field.
Chrome's lengthy layoff stemmed mostly from the hoof injury he suffered during the Belmont Stakes, but even so, we have no evidence that he is the same indefatigable machine who romped through Churchill Downs and Pimlico. Trainer Art Sherman has expressed pre-race confidence, per Claire Novak of Bloodhorse.com (via ESPN.com), but on the eve of the race, there seemed to be a hint of resignation in his sentiment toward Chrome's chances, per Thoroughbred Racing's Stephen Panus:
California Chrome is still a supremely talented horse who should continue to rack up graded stakes victories if Sherman wants to keep racing him. However, in this sterling field, even California Chrome at his best would be no sure bet to win. In this state, Chrome is not a wise bet to finish in the top three.
Shared Belief Comes in Second
With Chrome on shaky ground, Shared Belief has emerged as the top favorite. The three-year-old missed the Triple Crown season due to injury but has since returned to win three consecutive Grade 1 races. Take a listen to any horse racing expert and he or she will wax poetic about Shared Belief's chances in this race:
In fairness, Shared Belief has not given a reason for doubt. While he has yet to face Chrome or several of the other top-tier horses in the field, his come-from-behind victory at his last race, the Awesome Again Stakes, was a breathtaking display that extended his unbeaten streak to seven.
It would be a surprise if Shared Belief finished out of the money, especially starting from the No. 6 post, where the last two Classic winners have emerged from. However, there may be at least one horse capable of springing the upset.
Tonalist is hardly a true underdog, but the Belmont winner may once again upset the favorite at Santa Anita. Starting wide from the No. 11 post, Tonalist will be able to play to his strengths and trail the field before kicking up for a strong closing finish.
The New York-bred colt has experienced tremendous success at Belmont, his home park, with two other wins at the track apart from his Triple Crown triumph last June. Unlike most horses, Tonalist's final tune-up did not come at Santa Anita, as he has only had some casual gallops at the California track. Nevertheless, he has received excellent reviews for his recent form:
Since the Belmont victory, Tonalist has finished in the top three in each of his three starts, including a win at the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes in his last start. Tonalist will close strong, and if the pace set (by Bayern and/or Moreno) is too strong to start, he stands an excellent chance of usurping the field at the finish line.