Eight horses will enter their gate in the 39th running of the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Seven of them will be racing over Keeneland’s mile-and-a-quarter dirt track for second place if you believe the handicappers and bettors who have made undefeated Flightline the 3/5 favorite.

Saddled by John Sadler and ridden by regular jockey Flavien Prat, Thoroughbred racing’s newest and brightest star is expected to run straight to a lead he will never relinquish. The four-year-old son of Tapit has run a perfect five-for-five, winning by a combined total of 62 3/4 lengths.

His latest and greatest triumph came in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar Sept. 3. In that race, he emerged from a light dusting of Pacific coast fog like a racing version of some mythical hero.

“The Mile and a quarter, that was the question before the Pacific Classic,” recalls Sadler. “He answered that.”

…by 19 1/4 lengths.

But trainers and riders in one of the deepest field’s in the race’s history may well have other ideas. There is Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up, Epicenter.

The Steve Asmussen trainee most recently won impressively in the Travers Stakes. The three-year-old son of Not This Time would be Asmussen’s third Classic winner (Curlin, 2007; Gun Runner, 2017)

“If he beats older horses, he’s [Eclipse Award] Horse of the Year,” states Asmussen flatly.

Todd Pletcher will saddle Life Is Good and Irad Ortiz Jr. will likely pilot the Into Mischief four-year-old into an early confrontation with the favorite. His speed is not in doubt. His stamina over the Classic distance is. Length turned an early Dubai World Cup (G1) lead into a disappointing fourth-place finish.

Imagine winning the Kentucky Derby (G1) and being thought to be “valued” at only 20-1. That’s the level of disrespect Rich Strike will carry into the race. But trainer Reed says, whatever the result, 80-1 Derby longshot winner Rich Strike has changed his life as well as that of rider Sonny Leon and businessman owner Richard Dawson.

“I’m loving this because the horse is loving it,” says Reed, who also says Flightline is the only other entry he’s seen training as well as the horse he affectionately calls “Richie.” [Flightline] looks full of fire and ready to run.”

Bob Baffert adds his praise for the favorite and speaks as though he is almost willing for his Sept. 24 Pennsylvania Derby (G1) winner, Taiba, to finish a distant second. “It would be great, just like last year,” who saddled Medina Spirit to a second-place finish over last year’s winner, Knicks Go.

While he speaks like he’s prepared for the worst, Baffert has trained long enough to know the best may yet come. “It all comes down to having the horses show up and run their races.”

Hot Rod Charlie always shows up and runs his race, most recently by nudging a nose in front of Rich Strike to nudge to victory over Rich Strike in the G2 Lukas Classic Stakes. The BC Classic will be the first time the four-year-old Oxbow runner will run against Flightline.

Trainer Doug O’Neill also joins the lengthy list of Flightline praisers. Still, like his fan-favorite gutsy horse, O’Neill is prepared to yield nothing to what he called a “once-in-a-lifetime type of horse [in Flightline].”

“If something happens and Flightline doesn’t run his best race, and Hot Rod Charlie does, we could shock the world,” asserts a hopeful O’Neill.

Connections for Olympiad hope their entry can shock the world and compete with the early speed of both Flightline and Life Is Good. The son of Speightstown will most likely have to run down both for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s 10-1 underdog to have any chance at a win.

Speaking of having a chance, Pletcher thought it worth a second chance, even at 30-1, to enter in the small field. But his Happy Saver will enter the race with perhaps a lesser chance. He will be running with a patch on a left hind foot quarter crack that cost two days of training this week.

It’s not serious nor is it expected to affect his performance, but no contender would want to yield even the smallest of advantages to Flightline.

The field for the Breeders’ Cup Classic features several accomplished challengers and one whose accomplishments have even the connections of his challengers gushing praise.

While it is true the most serious questions—speed and distance—have met with resounding answers from Flightline, serious horse racing enthusiasts feel two may yet remain. Accustomed to running in front with no challenge, how might he respond if a speedy early opponent “looks him in the eye”?

And there remains some question about weather. Late fall temperatures at Keeneland are predicted to remain cool, but winds have been gusting near 30 mph since the early morning under an overcast sky. And, there is a 30 percent possibility of rain at or near the 5:50 pm [EDT] race time. Used to floating over dry land, a messy surface could muddy Flightline’s favored result.

In a few hours, all questions will be answered. Even those who have hedged their respect for the lightly
raced favorite will be forced to concede it if the hype surrounding Flightline becomes a historic victory.

Feature Image: Richard R. Gross