Don’t count out V.E. Day in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic

V.E. Day and jockey Javier Castellano (left) moved past Wicked Strong to win the Travers Stakes.

HANS PENNINK/AP

When writing about the 31st running of the Grade 1, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the story of unbeaten favorite Shared Belief has to come to the fore. Despite being the two-year-old champion of 2013 with three wins in as many tries, Shared Belief had issues that kept him off the Derby trail earlier this year. But he returned at the end of May as if he never took time off. Shared Belief has reeled off four straight wins, the last two in Grade 1 stakes. Lined up to try to spoil Shared Belief’s Breeders’ Cup party are 13 other runners (including six other 3-year-olds), plus an also-eligible should there be a scratch.

The 3-year-old group is led by Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, who enters the Classic off a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby. Other Breeders’ Cup Classic notables are Grade 1 Travers Stakes winner V.E. Day and Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, the latter coming into the Classic off a win in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Grade 2 Suburban Handicap winner Zivo, Grade 1 Whitney Stakes winner Moreno and Grade 1 Pacific Classic runner-up (behind Shared Belief) Toast of New York also could have a say in the outcome of the Classic.

Possible pace scenario:

Bayern and Moreno both like to lead early, and although both occasionally have pressed the pacesetter in a couple of their races I suspect neither horse (nor their jockeys) will let the other get anything resembling an easy lead. Cigar Street has rarely been farther away than third in the early stages of his races and he could press the two frontrunners into faster than average fractions for the distance.

Contenders:

The numbers don’t tell the Shared Belief’s whole story. Winning the Pacific Classic with a career best 109 Equibase Speed Figure, Shared Belief subsequently earned a 106 figure when victorious by a neck last month in the Awesome Again Stakes. Shared Belief was kept wide by another horse through most of the first half of that race. That pressure, combined with having to run farther than the other horses, might have caused most horses to get tired late, but Shared Belief just kept persevering and battled head-and-head, neck-and-neck, down to the wire to win. Having won at the Classic distance in the Pacific Classic and having won at Santa Anita in the Awesome Again, with a pace scenario that suits his off-the-pace running style and with an indomitable spirit that refuses to lose, Shared Belief gets top billing in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Though there could be money to be made (and not only with win bets) on a couple of others that should go to post at much higher odds but with exactas or trifectas in the Classic with a full field. First among those is V. E. Day. Yes, he suffered from a bump at the start of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which caused him to be farther back than the jockey likely wanted him to be. He had to steady in traffic with about a half-mile to go as well, eventually finishing sixth in a field of 11. But prior to that, V. E. Day reeled off four straight wins — including the upset in the Travers — with a career best 114 Equibase Speed Figure effort that may be good enough to post the upset.

Like Shared Belief and V. E. Day, Tonalist is also a Grade 1 stakes winner at this 1 ¼-mile distance. Following his upset win in the Belmont Stakes in June, Tonalist disappointed a bit when he placed second as the favorite in the Jim Dandy, and then again when finishing third behind V. E. Day in the Travers. But the blinkers came off for the Jockey Club Gold Cup last month and the result was a strong victory, as Tonalist rallied from 10th of 11 in the early stages to a career-best 113 Equibase Figure. With Joel Rosario in the saddle for his last three wins and again in the Classic, Tonalist has every right to take another step forward and post the upset.

Zivo has won more than half of his 17 career races, with nine victories including the Suburban Handicap in July at the distance of the Classic. Usually last or nearly so in the early stages, Zivo often starts running on with about a half-mile to go, which is what he did when he was second behind Tonalist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last month. With an 111 figure in that race to improve upon and having earned a very competitive 115 figure in the Suburban, Zivo rounds out a quartet of contenders I plan to play in exacta and trifecta boxes. I might wager on him to win as well if he goes to post anywhere near his 15-1 morning-line odds.

Notes about others: California Chrome may have found a mile and one-half too far or the long spring campaign took its toll when he finished fourth in the Belmont, but I can find no excuse for his sixth place effort last month in the Pennsylvania Derby and I would need to see a better effort before endorsing him. Chrome is likely to go to post as the second or third betting choice, leaving him off our exacta. Other exotic wagering tickets may help us make a profit in the race even if Shared Belief validates favoritism by winning. As stated previously, Bayern and Moreno both could likely go too fast for their own good on the front end, and it’s questionable either of them would be successful at this mile and one-quarter trip. I won’t be wagering on them.

Cigar Street is a horse many bettors may fancy, based on his improving pattern this year (109 last-race Equibase Figure, finishing second and then first), but the horses he faced recently are Grade 3 types at best, so he might be overmatched in this field. Toast of New York could be interesting to consider for exacta and trifecta tickets as well, as he finished a non-threatening second behind Shared Belief in the Pacific Classic (with a 105 figure) and has been rested since then.

The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, are Big Cazanova (109), Candy Boy (115), Footbridge (107), Imperative (122), Majestic Harbor(109) and Prayer for Relief (113).

My Selections:

Shared Belief

V. E. Day

Tonalist

Zivo

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