Three-year-olds could dominate the Breeders’ Cup Classic this year, but not for the first time

Arabian Knight held on to win the $1 million Pacific Classic on Saturday at Del Mar.
Arabian Knight held on to win the $1 million Pacific Classic on Saturday at Del Mar. Arabian Knight will be among the 3-year-olds favored in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Classic.
(Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

The Breeders’ Cup Classic is supposed to determine the best horse of the year, regardless of age. Yet here we are, awaiting the $6-million race on Nov. 4 at Santa Anita, with the likely favorite coming from the 3-year-old horses that seemingly should be closer to the beginning of their carer than the end.

The Pacific Classic on Saturday was won by Arabian Knight, a 3-year-old who missed his Triple Crown season because he wasn’t training up to expectations. Now, he has a chance to win on a less prestigious stage, but a more lucrative one should he win the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Arabian Knight joins Arcangelo, winner of the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes, as the favorites in the 1 ¼-mile season-ending race for horses of all ages.


Both Arabian Knight and second-place finisher Geaux Rocket Ride might be headed toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Although Arabian Knight’s trainer Bob Baffert, may think 1 ¼ miles might not be the optimal distance for his colt.

“Those two horses [Arabian Knight and Geaux Rocket Ride] are really good horses,” Baffert told Del Mar’s publicity department. “The wire couldn’t come soon enough. I know it was crazy to come back here and run him at a mile and a quarter but if you’re going to get beat, I’d rather get beat in a Grade 1. I loved the way he digs and fought and he’s going to get better.”

Jockey Flavien Prat was at Del Mar a year ago when he rode Flightline to a nearly 20-length win in this race last year. This year was different.

Del Mar continues to boast large field sizes as it readies for its big Saturday, highlighted by the Pacific Classic, the only $1-million race in the state.

Aug. 31, 2023

“He’s a nice horse and he showed it [Saturday],” Prat said. “He was running easily for me all the way around. He’s lightly raced and I think this race will only make him better. It’s an honor to win a big race like this.”

But when it comes to Classic-worthy horses, the thinking might be younger than older.

“Of course, the Breeders’ Cup is on the radar, but horses don’t care about schedules or spreadsheets,” Jena Antonucci, Arcangelo’s trainer, told the communications staff of the New York Racing Assn. “We’ll do what we’ve been doing and give him his space. We’ll let him pave the way.”

A 3-year-old winning the Classic would not be unprecedented. In fact, it’s not that uncommon with Sunday Silence, A.P. Indy, Tiznow, Curlin, American Pharoah, Arrogate and Authentic also winning the U.S.’s biggest race as a 3-year-old.


Arabian Knight wasn’t the only one given a free pass on Saturday. Bright Future won the Jockey Gold Club on Saturday at Saratoga.

“We regrouped with the allowance race here and I thought it was a powerful performance, so from that time on, for this and we’ve been pointing toward this and the horse has been training exceptionally well,” trainer Todd Pletcher told the NYRA about Bright Future’s win.

Arcangelo wins the 2023 Belmont Stakes, making Jena Antonucci the first woman to train a Triple Crown race winner.

June 10, 2023

Forte, the Kentucky Derby favorite until he was scratched on race day, could also be in the mix for the Classic despite a fourth-place finish in the Travers. His second place in the Belmont Stakes and win in the Jim Dandy Stakes keeps him in the conversation.

White Abbario, who is 4 and won last year’s Florida Derby, is also pointed to the Classic. The horse had languished after winning the Florida Derby until winning the Whitney Stakes, qualifying him for the big race.

“I want to get there as quickly as I can, as soon as they reopen Santa Anita, I want him to go there,” trainer Rick Dutrow told the Daily Racing Form after winning the Whitney. “I think it’s best for him to get the job done.”

Dutrow took over the training of White Abarrio after trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was suspended when two of his horses died at Churchill Downs the week of the Kentucky Derby. Joseph has since been reinstated. Dutrow just came off a 10-year suspension for medication and administrative violations, including having syringes of unauthorized medications in his stable.


There is one more qualifying race for the Classic and that is the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 30, about one month before the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

It’s a great concept but doesn’t always get the top horses looking for one final tuneup before the Classic. A lot of trainers like to give their horses some extra rest before the Breeders’ Cup.

A lot can happen in the two months leading up to the Classic, but right now the race seems to have a youth movement going for it.