Fields begin to narrow for Breeders' Cup

The laundry list has become much more manageable in these final two weeks before the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The more than 40 horses that were candidates — or not — have been winnowed to 16.


A few names on the list still look less likely to be racing for $6 million Nov. 7 at Keeneland than to be preparing for something in the future. Dennis’ Moment has about as much of a shot at being in the gate as I do.


All systems are go for Improbable (+ 325 Circa, 4-1 foreign), the consensus futures favorite for the race. He and Bob Baffert’s other two colts — Kentucky Derby winner Authentic (+ 525, 7-1) and four-time Grade 1 victor Maximum Security (+ 575, 7-1) — will also be there. They have been givens for weeks.


Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver (+ 755, 11-1) remained a wild card right up to Wednesday’s announcement of the pre-entries for the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, and maybe beyond. Her connections, owner Peter Callahan and trainer Kenny McPeek, had been steadfast in saying their durable 3-year-old filly would be cross-entered into the Classic and the $2 million Distaff. The company line was that the first preference was the Distaff. Maybe.


“The owner says the (Distaff), the trainer says the (Classic),” Callahan told VSiN last week. “Kenny has a long-standing belief that you don’t make a big decision until you have to make one. That’s a saying that a former partner of mine used to abide by, so I agreed.”


Told that McPeek made an unconvincing comment to another interviewer that he was also leaning toward the Distaff, Callahan said: “I wasn’t convinced either. I think he was just trying to be nice to me, because he’s a nice guy. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, and I don’t speak for him. I think slightly he harbors a dream about the Classic, and who wouldn’t? But I think he’s starting to come my way because I think he knows it’s my preference.”


Whatever race she is in, Swiss Skydiver will not be favored. At least five horses — the three Bafferts, Tiz The Law (+ 385, 9-2) and Tom’s d’Etat (+ 610, 8-1) — are shorter priced for the Classic. In the Distaff, she is a 3-1 second choice to 8-5 favorite Monomoy Girl, the 2018 winner who missed all of 2019 but has come back to win all three of her starts in 2020 for trainer Brad Cox.


The Distaff would miss her more. Where Authentic figures to bring the early speed to the Classic as he did in winning the Derby and finishing second in the Preakness, Swiss Skydiver would not. Why would she not lie in wait until a seam opened on the backstretch for jockey Robby Albarado to pierce? That was the way the Preakness was won.


The Distaff, however, lacks the same early speed, and Swiss Skydiver could be prominent against the likes of 20-1 long shot Ollie’s Candy, a three-time Grade 1 runner-up this year for trainer John Sadler.


Swiss Skydiver would appear to be a value play right now, but that is for anyone who has a strong feeling about which race she will actually start. The doubt about whether she will go in the Classic or Distaff is the biggest reason she carries longer odds. Once it is known which race Callahan and McPeek have chosen, her odds will plunge.


All 14 Breeders’ Cup races will come into sharp focus Monday evening, when the fields will be drawn, and horseplayers will be playing beat the clock trying to handicap and strategize and arbitrage their way into tickets they may rewrite countless times before the races are actually run four and five days later.


At least now most of the pretenders have been parsed from the lists of likely starters. The better to consider Improbable and Tiz The Law rather than waste time being distracted by names like Charlatan and Tax. That seems downright normal for this time of year.


Normal? In 2020? Perish the thought.

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