Hot Rod Charlie, Art Collector, Medina Spirit and Stilleto Boy all come into the Breeders’ Cup Classic off career-best speed figures on all three barometers. Essential Quality and Max Player enter the fray off career-best marks on two tables.

Knicks Go-BC Classic Speed Figures
Knicks Go used this Lukas Classic victory at Churchll Downs as a tune-up for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where his speed figures top his competitors on two scales. (Image: Coady Photography)

So what to make of this year’s 10-horse field in what is the Breeders’ Cup’s flagship race? And what to make of a field that is more wide open than first glance indicates?

You’ll note that we haven’t mentioned likely favorite Knicks Go, who won his last three races going away. And that partially explains why this year’s Classic has the potential to be a real classic.

The open nature of the Classic leads horseplayers to parsing the speed figures. That, in turn, creates potential value picks for contrarians seeking an alternative to Knicks Go and even likely second favorite Essential Quality.

Go figure: Knicks Go claims top speed marks

Knicks Go comes in with the best career Beyer (113) and best co-Brisnet (111) figures. Leaving him unmolested on the lead is suicide for his rivals – as we’ve seen time and time again. His last Equibase Speed Figure is a 118, just two behind Hot Rod Charlie and Art Collector. The question for him: can he sustain that blistering early speed over 1 ¼ miles? Knicks Go has never run that distance before.

Hot Rod Charlie has, finishing third in the Kentucky Derby and second to Essential Quality in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes. His career-best 111 Beyer, 110 Brisnet and 120 Equibase all came in his last outing: September’s Pennsylvania Derby. He and Essential Quality are the only horses in the field not named Knicks Go to run multiple Beyers of 107 or greater. From a speed standpoint, the two 3-year-olds are the most consistent front-row contenders in the field.

As for Essential Quality, he turned in those career-best speed figures (107 Beyer and 109 Equibase) in his Travers Stakes victory. His 111 best Brisnet from his Belmont Stakes victory tied Knicks Go for the best in this field. He’s posted that 109 Equibase four times in his last five races.

The question for both: how will they fare against older horses?

Medina Spirit could be speed X-factor

Medina Spirit answered that question in his last start. The other 3-year-old in the Classic field passed that test going away, winning the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes by five lengths last month at Santa Anita. That came at the expense of fellow Classic runners Stilleto Boy (second by five lengths), Express Train (third by seven), Tripoli (fourth by 8 ¼) and Idol (sixth by 16).

Medina Spirit’s career-top Beyer (107), Brisnet (105) and Equibase (110) came along for the ride. He’s clocked 110 Equibases in two of his last four races, including the Kentucky Derby. But his question centers around those top speed figures. His career-best isn’t in the same high-rent district as the top horses in this field.

Art Collector has the numbers to contend here: a 107 Beyer, 108 Brisnet and 120 Equibase that ties Hot Rod Charlie for top marks on that scale. Those came in his Grade 1 breakthrough in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park earlier this month. But like Knicks Go, Art Collector has yet to see 10 furlongs.

Breeders’ Cup Classic-Speed Figures

Horse Best/Last Beyer Best/Last Brisnet Best/Last Equibase
Knicks Go 113/104 111/102 118/115
Hot Rod Charlie 111/111 110/110 120/120
Art Collector 107/107 108/108 120/120
Essential Quality 107/107 111/108 109/109
Medina Spirit 107/107 105/105 110/110
Tripoli 104/95 108/96 109/98
Max Player 102/102 107/101 113/113
Idol 102/83 102/97 107/86
Express Train 102/97 104/97 111/99
Stilleto Boy 99/99 99/99 102/102

Go past that quintet that figures to take most of the money and there’s two others worthy of some speed figures attention. That’s Tripoli and Max Player.

Tripoli clocked his career-best 104 Beyer, 108 Brisnet and 109 Equibase on this very track over this very distance. That came in August’s Pacific Classic. Tripoli turned in that 109 Equibase three times, including twice in his last four starts.

Max Player rides in with as much form as Knicks Go and Art Collector. He’s won his last two races: the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup (at 1 1/4 miles) and Grade 2 Suburban Stakes, with identical 113 Equibases. But his best 102 Beyers aren’t in the same neighborhood as his rivals.