The Breeders' Cup showcases the best in Thoroughbred racing and the $5 million Classic takes center stage as the grand finale of the 15-race event. It is the sport's equivalent to the Super Bowl.
NBC will provide live coverage of the Classic from 8-9 p.m. (ET).
The attrition aspect can not be overlooked this year - notable 3yo stars I'll Have Another, Bodemeister and Union Rags are all retired to stud - but the Classic will still feature America's top older horse, Game on Dude. The classy 5yo gelding is listed as the prohibitive 9-5 favorite on the Classic morning line.
Game on Dude enters the Classic as the Horse of the Year front-runner, posting four convincing stakes victories this season, including an impressive 3 ¬-length tally in the local prep, the September 29 Awesome Again. He brings an outstanding five-for-five record at Santa Anita into the race as well as stellar connections in trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Rafael Bejarano.
The 2011 Classic runner-up has a lot going for him, but Game on Dude is no sure thing Saturday. The biggest questions surrounding his chances are pace pressure and the 1 ¬-mile distance.
Alpha, Fort Larned and To Honor and Serve all add speed to the equation, and Handsome Mike appears ready to come out ripping and rolling for 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning trainer Doug O'Neill, who needs a fast pace to set up the chances of his main Classic hope, the late-running Richard's Kid.
Handsome Mike exits a front-running win in the Pennsylvania Derby and was sharpened for speed in a blistering three-furlong workout Monday.
Distance also represents a challenge. Game on Dude has won last four starts at 1 1/8 miles, but he is only two-for-six at 1 ¬ miles, with both wins coming over softer company.
It is not a stretch to say he prefers less ground than the Classic distance and at expected short odds, Game on Dude does not offer much appeal to me as a win bet.
Mucho Macho Man is my top pick.
Mucho Macho Man was an immature, big-and-gangly colt when finishing third in last year's Kentucky Derby, but he's developed into a professional at age 4, opening 2012 with three straight stakes wins, including an easy triumph over next-out Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron the Greek. He recorded a fantastic victory in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park two starts back, netting a whopping 114 BRIS Speed rating, and don't count his narrow second in the Woodward Stakes last time against him.
The inside was the worst part of the Saratoga track in the Woodward and Mucho Macho Man never got the trip he needed after breaking from post 3. The Florida-bred was stuck along the rail through the far turn and when he finally got outside it was too late as he came charging to miss by a neck.
The son of Macho Uno has never displayed any distance limitations and appears to be sitting on a big race for trainer Kathy Ritvo, recording several sensational workouts in preparation.
Post 11 is key to his chances in the Classic; Mucho Macho Man is a big-striding individual who needs room to run and should sit a perfect stalking trip, just off the early leaders in the clear.
Mike Smith is a big-money rider, on the verge of becoming the Breeders' Cup all-time leading jockey with one more victory, and Mucho Macho Man can finish, registering BRIS Late Pace numbers of 107 and 108 in his last two outings. His 8-1 early odds are very appealing.
I will focus upon playing Mucho Macho Man to win and place in the Classic, and recommend three straight exactas, using Game on Dude and closers Richard's Kid and Ron the Greek underneath.
Enjoy the race!