In a wide open edition of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I), it is easy to embrace or dismiss participants based on personal preference. When a veteran like 5-year-old Pants On Fire is considered, fans have plenty of history to consider when forming their opinions.
Pants On Fire was squarely ensconced on the Triple Crown trail two years back, missing by a head in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III) two starts before taking the Louisiana Derby (gr. II). Third that day was Mucho Macho Man, who contests the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) one day after the Dirt Mile. After running unplaced in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Pants On Fire won the Pegasus Stakes (gr. III), and has run in seven graded contests since then, most recently successful in the Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) in September and the Monmouth Cup (gr. II) in July.
The son of Jump Start —Cabo de Noche, by Cape Town, has earned just under $1.2 million for owners George and Lori Hall, with eight victories from 22 lifetime starts. He is capable of tracking the pace and is versatile enough to be dangerous, especially since he has calmed down from his earlier years.
"He has really matured and settled down," said his trainer, Kelly Breen, who conditioned Ruler On Ice to win the 2011 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) for the Halls. "He used to have his idiosyncrasies; we used to have to saddle him on the walk. But now he behaves like an old pro, like he's been doing this all his life. He has confidence now and he has taken to the track here well."
Although he drew the 11 post in a field of 12, the outside draw might well work in Pants On Fire's favor. He is sandwiched between speed horses Verrazano to his inside and Goldencents to his outside, giving jockey Paco Lopez a bird's-eye view of the speed, who are also likely to be the two betting favorites in the event.
"The outside is actually to our advantage," said Breen, who summers at Monmouth Park and will move his stable to Palm Meadows in Florida after the Breeders' Cup. "Paco is going to be able to see where the two favorites are and where he needs to be. The horse is not a big fan of having dirt in his face, and he should be able to avoid that here. That is an asset to us.
"There is plenty of speed in the race, and I see us stalking. Hopefully, when they start backing up, we'll be kicking into gear."
Pants On Fire has been extremely effective at a flat mile, having won four of seven at the distance including the Ack Ack, although some of that success has come over one-turn miles at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park.
"He's run some of his best races in those scenarios," said Breen. "But he has no trouble with two turns. His biggest win was in the Louisiana Derby at nine furlongs. He's been off since early September and he's coming into this lightly raced as part of our plan to get him here. Now he's here, and he's doing great."
In a race that has produced its share of double-digit winners, Pants On Fire is just the type of horse who can jump up and light up the tote board, especially if he can relax and stay out of the way of traffic and flying dirt.