Breeders’ Cup: Classic Contenders Continue Prep

November 1, 2022

Epicenter in his Oct. 30 work at Keeneland. Coady Photography

Breeders’ Cup Notes

LEXINGTON, Ky.—Keeneland is a busy place this week with horses getting in gallops and schooling in the gate and paddock. Epicenter, Flightline, Happy Saver, Life Is Good, Hot Rod Charlie, Rich Strike and Taiba were all out and about.  

Epicenter – Winchell Thoroughbred’s Epicenter returned to the track to gallop 1 ½ m Tuesday for the first time since completing his major preparations for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) Sunday with a 4f work in 50 4/5.

Trainer Steve Asmussen said he’s had a high level of confidence in the Not This Time colt since right before the Travers Stakes and that has only continued to grow watching him train at Keeneland. 

“With Epicenter being the favorite in the Derby and going through that, being second there and second in the Preakness. You know, obviously you’re extremely high on him and your hopes are good, but I think we have reached a new level of confidence with Epicenter. Me personally, just looking at him before the Travers. I have always been impressed with him and love the athlete that he is and the races that he’s run. But I remember schooling him the week of the Travers. He was just a picture of strength and athleticism that gave me a new level of confidence in him. And, he has continued to flourish. I think he’s just simply older. I mean, he’s just more mature him coming in here. Off the break, the Derby preps to the Triple Crown races in two runs in Saratoga. He’s got the foundation in him.”

Epicenter will follow a similar training schedule the rest of the week.

Flightline tuning up for the Big Show on Saturday. Coady Photography

Flightline – Hronis Racing, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm and Woodford Racing’s Flightline galloped 1 1/2m shortly after the track opened for training at 6 o’clock with Juan Leyva aboard for trainer John Sadler.

Undefeated in five starts, Flightline drew post position four for Saturday’s Classic and is the 3-5 morning line favorite. 

Sadler was in a similar spot at Churchill Downs in 2018 for the Classic with the favorite in Accelerate for Hronis Racing. Accelerate had compiled a 6-5-1-0 record that included four Grade 1 victories coming into the Classic, a race he won by a length to clinch an Eclipse Award as Champion Older Dirt Male.

“The vibe is definitely different this year, but it is the kind of vibe you want,” said Sadler, who was asked if he was feeling any pressure coming into the race. “Nope. I think the pressure is on the other guys.”

Sadler added that Flightline would be schooling in the Paddock at 11 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.

Life Is Good gets a work in the light of day at Keeneland. Coady Photography

Happy Saver/Life Is Good – With their final workouts behind them, Happy Saver, Life Is Good and trainer Todd Pletcher’s other Saturday entrants had routine gallops. The group is expected to add standing in the starting gate to Wednesday’s exercise. Wertheimer and Frere’s homebred Happy Saver drew post three for the Classic while WinStar Farm and CHC Inc.’s Life Is Good will leave from post two.

“We are happy with the draw,” Pletcher said. “I don’t think post is too important going a mile and a quarter. (There is) plenty of time to get position and play things off the break.”

Hot Rod Charlie stretches it out at Keeneland. Coady Photography

Hot Rod Charlie – Trainer Doug O’Neill sent his Longines Classic contender Hot Rod Charlie out for an “energetic” 1 1/8 m gallop Tuesday morning at Keeneland. Owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable, and Strauss Bros Racing, Hot Rod Charlie has been training at Keeneland since late June preparing for the Breeders’ Cup. 

“With the Breeders’ Cup being here it seemed like it would be an asset (to have him in training at Keeneland),” O’Neill said. “I’m really happy with the way he looks weight-wise and energy-wise. He’s a happy horse right now.”

The 4yo colt was piloted by exercise rider Connor Murray over a fast track. He will be breaking from post five on Saturday under Tyler Gaffalione with morning line odds of 15-1.

Olympiad winning the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs July 3. Coady Photography

Olympiad – Bill Mott-trained Olympiad drew post six of eight in Saturday’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, seeking his second consecutive G1 over 1¼ miles – the same distance over which he had an easy gallop at 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday. Neil Poznansky was aboard for the routine leg-stretcher.

“He’s very good and a very honest, talented horse,” Mott said. “Physically, he’s a beautiful horse who’s well-balanced and he’s done everything right since we got him as a 2-year-old. We had some issues with him as an early 3-year-old, but we got him back to the races later in his 3-year-old year and that’s carried on right through this year. We’re now nearing the end of the year and we’ve made it to the Breeders’ Cup. He’s here in with the best horses in the world, as far as I’m concerned, and we’re going to see how we stack up. He’s a good horse and it’s an interesting race loaded with talent and a number of horses who are going to be competitive in there.”

Mott seeks his third Classic, following Cigar (1995) and Drosselmeyer (2011).

“The year Drosselmeyer won, we had a horse called To Honor And Serve who was quite exciting and it worked out to be a matter of the trip (distance); who got the mile and a quarter,” he said. “To Honor And Serve was right there turning for home with Uncle Mo and Havre de Grace and they were battling it out to the eighth pole, and here Drosselmeyer came down the center of the track. The 10 furlongs is a game-changer for a lot of horses.”

The striking Rich Strike schooling in the paddock at Keeneland. Coady Photography

Rich Strike – RED TR Racing’s Rich Strike galloped 1 1/4m under exercise rider Dallas King shortly after the main track opened at 6 o’clock.

“He relaxed early and was strong at the end,” trainer Eric Reed said of the Kentucky Derby winner, who drew post eight for the Classic. “The two and an eighth miles he did yesterday settled him down a bit.”

A little more than a year ago, Rich Strike had run his first race for Reed after being claimed for $30,000 out of a maiden victory at Churchill Downs. In his debut for Reed, Rich Strike had finished third going a mile in an allowance optional claiming test at Keeneland. 

“Did I think I had a horse for the Classic? That would be a big NO in capital letters,” Reed said. “I just wanted him to be good enough to try for the (Kentucky) Derby.”

Taiba working in company at Santa Anita before shipping to Keeneland. Photo by Earnie Belmonte/Past The Wire

Taiba – In a decidedly different scenario from most years, trainer Bob Baffert’s accomplished 3yo colt Taiba isn’t likely to be among the betting favorites in the $6 million Classic.

Although Baffert is the leading money winner in Breeders’ Cup history, has won the Classic a record four times and the Zedan Racing Stables colt has two Grade 1 wins on his resume, Taiba could go off as the fourth or fifth choice in the wagering in the eight-horse field. Unbeaten Flightline and Life Is Good are the highest-profile horses in what is a very strong field. Taiba, who will start from the rail under Hall of Famer Mike Smith, is listed at 8-1 on the morning line.

Taiba, a $1.7 million yearling purchase, did not race at 2. He opened his career with a decisive maiden score in March and followed with a victory in the Santa Anita Derby. His unbeaten status ended with a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. After a short break from competition, he was second by a head in the Haskell and won the Pennsylvania Derby. Taiba shipped from California with his Baffert stablemates Sunday, jogged Monday and galloped Tuesday morning.     

“He’s a 3-year-old that was sort of thrown into the deep end right away,” Baffert said. “He’s recovered from that and ran a respectful race in the Haskell, then came back and won the Penn Derby. I think he’s a horse that’s just going to get better. He reminds me a lot of his sire. Gun Runner got better as he got older.”

Flightline has smoked the competition in his five starts, winning by an average 12.5 lengths. Life Is Good, who Baffert trained early in his career, has a 9-1-0 record, four of them in Grade 1 races, in 11 career starts.

“It’s a tall order,” Baffert said. “You got these two brilliant horses, Flightline and Life Is Good. And they are 4-year-olds. If they were 3-year-olds, it would be different. But they are 4-year-olds, so they’re at their max right now. I’ve never won it with a 4-year-old. I’ve won it with 3-year-olds and because they were so good, they were retired.”

Baffert’s Classic winners are: Bayern (2014); American Pharoah (2015), Arrogate (2016) and Authentic (2020). American Pharoah and Authentic won the Classic in the first two times that Keeneland played host to the Breeders’ Cup. American Pharoah’s victory made him racing’s first “Grand Slam” winner, sweeping the Triple Crown races and the Classic.

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