11/13/2016 9:35AM

Watchmaker: BC Classic and Distaff were races for the ages


Every Breeders’ Cup is special, but last weekend’s was, I believe, extra special.

Arrogate and California Chrome made this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic one of the best ever. Not only was this Classic incredibly appealing from a visual standpoint, its winning 120 Beyer Figure tied for second in Classic history with Black Tie Affair (1991), Skip Away (1997), and American Pharoah (2015), behind only the 124 assigned to Ghostzapper in 2004.

And thanks to Beholder and Songbird, this year’s Distaff will never be forgotten. This Distaff was so good people openly wondered if anything to follow on Day 2 of the Breeders’ Cup could match it. The Classic did, and, like the Classic, this Distaff will be remembered among the all-time great races.

The Classic and Distaff would have been enough. The 11 other Breeders’ Cup events could have been merely average and this Breeders' Cup would still have been a cut above. That’s how outstanding were the Classic and Distaff.

(As an aside, I strongly feel that 11 other Breeders’ Cup races, in addition to the Classic and Distaff, over two days is just too much. People tell me I’m not alone on this. The Breeders’ Cup should have lost the Turf Sprint when it ditched the mistake that was the Marathon, and it should end the Dirt Mile, which will always threaten to cannabilize horses from the Classic and Sprint. The Breeders’ Cup can do this. It can also consolidate the event to one day, and move the preliminary stakes it now runs on Saturday to Friday, with the supporting stakes already on the Breeders’ Cup Friday card. Not only would the Breeders’ Cup still have a special Friday, it would strengthen its event by pruning dead wood.)

But the Classic and Distaff weren’t the only special races in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. This Juvenile was special, too, one of the best in years.

Classic Empire and Not This Time, who finished first and second in the Juvenile only a neck apart, are exciting colts. They finished a gaping 7 1/2 lengths in front of third-place finisher Practical Joke, who had won “only” the Champagne and Hopeful in his prior two starts. There was another big gap of just over four lengths to the fourth finisher.

Classic Empire pressed a pace of 23.05, 46.60, and 1:10.48 that was not only much faster than the pace in the Juvenile Fillies earlier in the card (23.77, 48.19, and 1:13.01), but it was also actually faster than the pace California Chrome set in the Classic four races later (23.28, 47.15, and 1:10.96). The final time in the Juvenile of 1:42.60 was a stunning 2.52 seconds faster than the final time of the Juvenile Fillies, and resulted in a winning Beyer of 102, which is above the Juvenile par of 97.96 established in all runnings of the race since 1991.

Dominant is the only way to describe Classic Empire and Not This Time in the Juvenile, and it was no surprise.

Classic Empire won the first two starts of his career, including the Bashford Manor, and was the 8-5 favorite in the Hopeful won by Practical Joke when he wheeled coming out of the gate, losing his rider.

That meant that when Classic Empire ran in last month’s Breeders’ Futurity, he was stretching out to two turns for the first time without having had a representative outing in three long months. Yet with blinkers on, he crushed his 11 opponents.

Not This Time showed powerful finishes in his maiden win in August and in the Iroquois Stakes in September. He went into the Juvenile off a designed two-month layoff, which may or may not have made a difference in the outcome. But while Classic Empire deserves the credit he is getting for winning after pressing what was clearly a strong early pace, I also found it interesting that Not This Time was not as far back early as one might have expected given the fractions. In other words, Not This Time might be the rare powerful finisher who also has some positional speed.

It’s impossible to not be optimistic when it comes to Classic Empire and Not This Time. What might develop into a terrific rivalry is also tantalizing.

One downside to this Juvenile was there were a handful of accomplished colts who weren’t in the same league with Classic Empire and Not This Time; those colts clearly have a lot of improving to do just to get into the same ballpark. The good news is we had three first-start winners in recent weeks - Mastery, Takaful, and Beach Bum - who were so impressive that I can’t wait to see how they might eventually stack up against Classic Empire and Not This Time.