One thing jumps off the page when looking at the first U.S. futures for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Keeneland in Kentucky.
There are not that many names. And unlike the futures for the Kentucky Derby, that might be a good thing.
Sportsbook director Matt Metcalf and risk supervisor Paul Zilm posted only 11 horses Monday at Circa Sports in Las Vegas. They were led by Bob Baffert-trained 4-year-old Improbable at around 4-1, opening at + 380 and drifting to + 410. They added a 12th by request when news came out that English-based 5-year-old Ghaiyyath (18-1) may be cross-entered into both the $4 million Turf and the $6 million Classic.
The dozen horses on the board at Circa pale by comparison to the more than 200 that were offered at the peak of the Derby futures last spring. As fun as it might sound to have that many for this race, there are just not 200 candidates for the Classic. There might not even be 20 legitimate contenders, although some asleep-at-the-wheel foreign bookmakers still list more than twice that number.
“Unlike the Triple Crown races, I think the heart of the field is pretty set,” Zilm said. “All the win-and-you’re-ins are done.”
What Zilm was too polite to say is what I am crass enough to write. Who seriously thinks that a horse like Benbatl, the third-place finisher in the Saudi Cup, is coming to the Breeders’ Cup? Trainer Saeed bin Suroor said last month, “We’re not thinking of the Breeders’ Cup.” What more of a hint do these offshore and overseas boiler rooms need? Yet there he is, still showing at 16-1 in Central America and 20-1 in England.
“We are certainly open to adding horses if the situation warrants or a request is made,” Zilm said. “I put Swiss Skydiver in because she is a polarizing horse and one that the general public is familiar with.”
Swiss Skydiver (+ 775) might actually show up for the Classic because owner Peter Callahan and trainer Kenny McPeek have been known to change their minds. They sound like they are going to the Distaff, but they have entertained the notion of crashing the boys’ party again. They did, after all, fool most of the betting public when Swiss Skydiver cashed as an 11-1 long shot in the Preakness.
The obvious difference in betting the Classic is that the market will have been open only three weeks before the race is run and bets are graded. With the Derby the market is open for months or, with a 21st-century pandemic, upward of a year.
Also, bettors really know these Classic horses by now. In the case of Improbable, he has raced 14 times, including four this year. The last three have resulted in Grade 1 victories, including last month’s Grade 1 Awesome Again upset of stablemate Maximum Security.
Bettors know what Improbable can and cannot do at 1¼ miles more than they did when, at the last click, they made him the 4-1 post-time favorite for last year’s Derby. He was also best priced as the 6-1 futures favorite before Country House was promoted over the disqualified Maximum Security. Improbable was promoted to fourth that day. Thirteen months later, he won the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup at 1¼ miles to begin his current three-race winning streak.
In short, it may not be as popular, but betting for the Breeders’ Cup — particularly the Saturday races that are offered after the often hard-to-figure 2-year-olds have had their day — is less of a crapshoot than the Derby. A lot less guesswork is involved about who will be in the Classic.
“I believe 90% of the field is set,” Zilm said.
We also know their idiosyncrasies. Even though he has not raced since he was outdueled by Authentic at Churchill Downs, horseplayers have a much better idea about Tiz The Law (+ 450) than they did even 1½ months ago. They know he can win at 1¼ miles. They also know he can lose at 1¼ miles. They know he is better coming back from at least seven weeks off than he is after only a four-week break.
The same can be said for Authentic (+ 550), a Preakness loser coming off the shortest break of his career. Maximum Security (+ 610) is a known commodity again with three starts for Baffert after his Saudi Cup win and his transfer from disgraced trainer Jason Servis. And when it comes to resumes, nothing compares with 7-year-old Tom’s d’Etat (+ 640), an 11-time winner in 19 races.
But wait. There is a little mystery. With his pace-chasing style, Tom’s d’Etat has never gone as far as 1¼ miles. And Maximum Security has never raced as a Baffert shipper. And was Authentic a one-trick pony at 10 furlongs? And did Tiz The Law peak in the Travers? And would Swiss Skydiver be as strong dancing her ninth dance of the year? And will we see the Improbable that is on a roll or the one that came into the year flat after he finished fifth in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile?
Even with only 12 choices, there is plenty to distill before betting on what are so far the only domestic futures for the Classic. Oh, yes. There are actually five more choices — the “no” props on the five horses shorter than 10-1 at Circa to win the race. Six’ll get ya one, for instance, that Improbable does not win.
There are 13 other Breeders’ Cup races to be considered, although they are unlikely to be offered in regulated futures betting in the Divided States of America. In a parallel universe, something that requires a passport, those races are on offer. But even in this movable-type era of domestic sports gambling, at least we have a few choices for the Classic. And really, a few is all we really need.