Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Fort Larned is back to defend his 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic victory while Game On Dude is in the best shape of his career. However, don't write off Juddmonte International winner Declaration of War.
The Aiden O'Brien-trained colt has won seven of 12 lifetime starts and might be a tad overlooked when compared to the U.S.-based horses. Declaration of War, who already has a victory over synthetics, should not have any problem handling the dirt at Santa Anita.
Despite never racing in this country, the son of War Front was bred in Kentucky. His damsire, Tempo, might be familiar to some folks as she not only produced Tempo West, Declaration of War's dam, but also produced the 2011 Kentucky Derby favorite and Belmont Stakes winner, Union Rags.
The lone issue for the 4-year-old is inactivity. His last race - the win in Great Britain's Juddmonte International - was back on Aug. 21. Nevertheless, O'Brien is confident this will not be a problem. In fact, Declaration of War had run five times in a two-month span between June 18 and Aug. 21 so the time off might work to his advantage.
Declaration of War will not be anywhere near the favorite in the race as Game On Dude should take that honor. The 6-year-old has had an unbelievable campaign with six consecutive victories. However, he has tried to win this race twice before (last year as the favorite) and came up without a victory each time.
In 2011, Game On Dude led for almost the entire race, but Drosselmeyer stormed to the top through the stretch to win by 1 1/2 lengths. The Bob Baffert-trained gelding wound up second but the final time of 2:04 1/5 was extremely slow.
Last year at Santa Anita, Game On Dude failed to show his usual early speed, and even though he was third after the first mile, he tired to finish seventh, beaten 15 lengths as the 6-5 favorite.
Speaking of the 2012 BC Classic, Fort Larned held off Mucho Macho Man to win by a half length at odds of 9-1. It was a gap of 6 1/2 lengths to Flat Out, who finished third. Fort Larned was helped by a pronounced speed bias that day and the odds are strong he will not be able to get a clear lead this time around.
Of last year's top three finishers, only Mucho Macho Man is in decent form at this time of the year. Both Fort Larned and Flat Out have won just twice and are 4-of-12 combined in 2013.
Mucho Macho Man has raced just three times since June and has one win and a pair of thirds. The sole victory came over the track in the Awesome Again Stakes in late September.
3-YEAR-OLDS AND THE REST OF THE PROSPECTIVE FIELD
This year's 3-year-old crop is represented by Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, Travers Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby winner Will Take Charge, and Travers and Pennsylvania Derby runner-up Moreno. It is also important to note Palace Malice ran fourth behind the other two in the Travers.
Of the three, Palace Malice has the most natural ability, but the likelihood of a 3-year-old hitting the board against elders in this race is slim and none.
Ever since Ron the Greek won the Santa Anita Handicap last year, the 6-year-old has run 12 times with three wins and two second-place finishes. As is the case with Mucho Macho Man, Ron the Greek ran impressively well in his last outing - a 6 3/4-length triumph over Palace Malice in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. Nonetheless, the Bill Mott-trainee has not won back-to-back starts since 2011.
The feel-good story of this year's Breeders' Cup is Paynter. Out for almost a year and not even expected to survive after health issues last summer, the 4- year-old returned to the track and won an allowance race at Hollywood Park. Unfortunately, Paynter has not reached the winner's circle in his last three starts.
Last Gunfighter is up against it despite seven victories in his last nine starts. Only one of those races came in a Grade One stakes event and the son of First Samurai ran fifth, beaten almost 10 lengths in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
The final horse in the prospective field is Planteur. The Irish-bred finished next to last in the Prix Dollar last time out. However, he ran third in the last two Dubai World Cups, so there is an outside chance for him to hit the board.
The choice in the 2013 BC Classic is Declaration of War, with a battle for second between Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man.