Undefeated Flightline and Rich Strike, upset winner of the Kentucky Derby, head a field of nine for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with trainer Todd Pletcher pre-entering two horses for the US$6 million race that also includes a horse from the barn of embattled trainer Bob Baffert.
Trained by John Sadler, Flightline is 5-0 in his career, winning his starts by a combined margin of 62 3/4 lengths.
“We know we have a really super horse,” Sadler said Wednesday. “The pressure is there because he’s going to be a heavy favourite, but I’ve trained quite a long time and this is the kind of pressure you want.”
The 4-year-old Flightline is coming off a record 19 1/4-length win in his last race, the US$1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sept. 3.
“He just made mockery of everybody behind him,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who will send Olympiad against Flightline. “When you get these good horses all together, he’s going to have to face the best group he’s faced so far. That’s the true test.”
Rich Strike is winless in three starts since his shocking victory in the Derby at 80-1 odds in May. He was a close second to Hot Rod Charlie, another Classic pre-entry, in his last start, the Lukas Classic on Oct. 1 at Churchill Downs.
Rich Strike is the only winner of this year’s Triple Crown races to still be competing. Preakness winner Early Voting and Belmont winner Mo Donegal have both been retired to stud.
The Classic field was among the horses pre-entered Wednesday for the $28 million, 14-race world championships on Nov. 4-5 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. The track last hosted in 2020, but without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pletcher’s two pre-entries are Happy Saver and Life is Good for the 1 1/4-mile Classic to be run on November 5 and broadcast on NBC. The Classic has implications for the Horse of the Year honours.
“Going up against a horse like Flightline, it makes for an interesting jockeys’ race,” Pletcher said.
Baffert plans to enter Taiba in the Classic, a race the Hall of Fame trainer has won a record four times. The colt won the Pennsylvania Derby and finished second in the Haskell. He was 12th in the Kentucky Derby while being trained by Tim Yakteen, who took over because Baffert has been banned by Churchill Downs through the 2023 Derby.
The other Classic pre-entries are Cyberknife, Epicenter and Olympiad. Cyberknife also was cross-entered in the Dirt Mile.
Baffert has five horses pre-entered in the world championships, his first major event since serving a 90-day suspension by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission earlier this year. The penalty was the result of Medina Spirit testing positive for the medication betamethasone after the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Baffert can enter horses at Keeneland since the track is not owned by Churchill Downs. Besides Churchill Downs-owned tracks, he is banned at New York Racing Association tracks. Both entities suspended him separately from the KHRC penalty and he is suing both.
The US$4 million Turf has a full field of 14 pre-entries, including two each from Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, Graham Motion, Mott and Charlie Appleby.
The US$2 million Juvenile has 12 pre-entries, including two from Baffert (Cave Rock and National Treasure) and two from Pletcher (Forte and Lost Ark).
The US$2 million Distaff features a showdown between Malathaat and Nest, both from Pletcher’s barn.
Trainer D Wayne Lukas has two entries, which will add to his record of 167 career Breeders’ Cup starters. The 87-year-old Hall of Famer has the most BC wins (20) and is third in money won.
New York-based trainer Chad Brown has 17 pre-entries. O’Brien, Pletcher and Steve Asmussen, who is North America’s most successful trainer, have 10 each.
Keeneland is hosting the richest two days in North American racing for the third time.
Final entries and the post-position draw is on Monday at Rupp Arena, home of the fourth-ranked Kentucky men’s basketball team.
The world championships will open with five races for juveniles in what’s billed as Future Stars Friday on November 4, followed by nine races on Saturday.
Twenty-six countries will offer pari-mutuel wagering through the Breeders’ Cup global pool. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong and Mexico will offer separate pool wagering.