The top three choices for the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I) drew tough assignments when the post positions were drawn Wednesday morning for Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.
The first name drawn, Rock Hard Ten, drew post 1, and co-owner Ernie Moody groaned "Oh, no." His dismay was tempered later when 3-1 morning-line favorite Saint Liam drew post 13 in the 14-horse field. Borrego, the 9-2 third choice, drew post 11.
It's the farthest outside draw for both Saint Liam and Borrego. Previously, Saint Liam's furthest outside post was 11 in a sixth-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). Borrego, who has made 19 starts, has been outside the sixth post position only twice, including a 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) where he finished 10th.
"It's good; the post is fine," said trainer Beau Greeley of Borrego. "There's nothing you can do about the draw anyway. You have to see what happens. For where we're breaking from, I don1t think it's a big thing. It's not like we're going to be going to the front. We can tuck in anyhow."
Starcraft, the New Zealand runner whose owners had to put up $800,000 to supplement him to the Classic, drew the far outside post 14.
"We got the 'visitors' draw," said Luca Cumani, trainer of Starcraft. "He'll just have to run a bit faster now. We're giving a lot of ground away and ground given away is ground lost. It was going to be hard but 14 makes it even harder."
The draw for the now $4,680,000 Classic is more important than most because the 1 ¼-mile races at Belmont Park start on the turn over the expansive 1 ½-mile layout. Horses breaking from further out have more of run into the first turn than those to the inside.
However, past history may suggest an outside draw could be favorable. Unbridled, the winner in 1990 at Belmont Park, broke from the outside 14 post. The other two years the Breeders' Cup was hosted by Belmont Park, in 1995 and 2001--the winners, Cigar and Tiznow, respectively--both broke from post 10.
Longshot Jack Sullivan drew post 10 for this year's Classic.
Rock Hard Ten, co-owned by Madeleine Pickens, was made the 7-2 second choice on the morning line by NYRA oddsmaker Eric Donovan. Rock Hard Ten comes into the Classic off a victory in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) at Oak Tree. Earlier this year, he won the 10-furlong Santa Anita Handicap over Congrats and Borrego.
"In the Classic, where they start on the turn, you don't want to be too far out, so 3 is just right," said Jeff Mullins, trainer of Choctaw Nation. "Any way he can save ground is better for us."
"Hopefully, he'll be a little further off the pace, or if he is on the pace, then it won't be as fast as it was the other day," said trainer Todd Pletcher of 3-year-old Flower Alley. Flower Alley, the Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner, faded to a fourth-place finish after setting the pace in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Oct. 1. "If he could run a race like he did in the Travers or Jim Dandy, then he has a chance.
"I was going to identify Saint Liam as the horse to beat before the draw," he said. "I thought he took the worst of it in the draw, so I don't know if that's going to hurt him a little bit, but drawing 13 on a mile and a quarter can't be an advantage, that's for sure."
The Classic cast, from the rail out, is:
1--Rock Hard Ten, Gary Stevens, 7-2
2--Sun King, Rafael Bejarano, 30-1
3--Choctaw Nation, Victor Espinoza, 15-1
4--Oratorio, Kieren Fallon, 10-1
5--Perfect Drift, Mark Guidry, 12-1
6--Sir Shackleton, Javier Castellano, 20-1
7--Super Frolic, Eibar Coa, 30-1
8--Suave, Edgar Prado, 20-1
9--Flower Alley, John Velazquez, 10-1
10--Jack Sullivan, Frankie Dettori, 50-1
11--Borrego, Garrett Gomez, 9-2
12--A Bit O'Gold, Jono Jones, 30-1
13--Saint Liam, Jerry Bailey, 3-1
14--Starcraft, Pat Valenzuela, 12-1
In all, there will be 101 total starters and three of the races will have full fields: the Juvenile (gr. I), the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), and the Classic. Total purses will be a record $15,755,000. If all 101 horses start, it will be highest number of starters since the record 103 when the Breeders' Cup was run at Churchill Downs in 2000. The only other year there were more than 100 starters was in 1999 when 101 went to the posts at Gulfstream Park.
The draw was conducted by Andrew Byrnes, stakes coordinator for Belmont Park, and racing secretary P.J Campo.