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Every sport has a definitive year-ending event to crown its champions. In Thoroughbred racing, the Breeders' Cup World Championships is the culmination of the horse racing season worldwide and the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic is the defining event of the international racing season.The Breeders' Cup Classic, run at 1 1/4 miles, draws the top international Thoroughbreds year after year. It is open to horses 3-years-old and older and is limited to 14 starters.
With every major prep and every "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge Series race in the rearview mirror, the 38th Breeders' Cup at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in California is in full focus as racing's World Championships beckon Novemeber 5-6.
Although there are 14 races and more than $31 million in purses and awards at stake, the $6 million Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) will garner the most attention. This year's Classic figures to not only decide Horse of the Year, but is shaping up as one of the very best in the race's long and storied history.
Race 12 at Del Mar on Saturday, November 6 - Post 8:40 PM
|1||Tripoli||15-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|3||Hot Rod Charlie||4-1||Flavien Prat
|4||Essential Quality||3-1||Luis Saez
|5||Knicks Go||5-2||Joel Rosario
|6||Art Collector||8-1||Mike Smith
|7||Stilleto Boy||30-1||Kent Desormeaux
|Ed Moger, Jr.|
|8||Medina Spirit||4-1||John Velazquez
|9||Max Player||8-1||Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Essential Quality continues to flaunt the brilliance that has made him a superstar.
Last year's Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old male and TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G1) winner comes to the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) with a sterling resume from his 3-year-old season. He has gained even more respect this year for his fortitude that is the hallmark of superior Thoroughbreds with victories in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1), the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga, and half-length victory in the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) on Aug. 28.
Prior to that, the gray colt displays remarkable consistency and grittiness even in defeat. Compromised by his post position (14 in a field of 19) as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), Essential Quality was forced to race wide and finished fourth. He was beaten just a length for the victory and arguably ran better than those who finished ahead of him. He reconfirmed his superiority five weeks later by cruising clear from Hot Rod Charlie in late stretch to win the Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Brad Cox recognized Essential Quality's exceptional talent in one of his first timed workouts.
"He just never stopped," Cox told Thoroughbred Daily News. "He just kept going and going and you're like, 'Whoa, we did too much with him.' Then he walks off the track like he did nothing. He gave us a lot of confidence when we led him over there (to the race) the first time and he's continued to do so every time we've run him."
Essential Quality races for his breeder Godolphin, the global Thoroughbred operation headed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates. He also is ruler of the emirate Dubai. Essential Quality is a son of world-renowned stallion Tapit and the broodmare Delightful Quality who also raced for Sheikh Mohammed.
Cox grew up near Churchill Downs and began following racing as a youngster. He won the Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer in 2020 when his achievements included winning a record-tying four Breeders' Cup races.
Knicks Go is the type of horse that likes to go first and go fast. With a penchant for leading from the break of the gate, the 5-year-old son of Paynter has stamped himself as one of the speediest Thoroughbreds around two turns, often leaving his competition - and his audience - in awe.
Having earned an automatic berth in the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar by virtue of his dominating victory in the Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course, Knicks Go likely will employ all his natural speed - what trainer Brad Cox refers to as his true "weapon" - when he returns to the World Championships for the third consecutive year.
Knicks Go had his final Classic tune-up at Churchill Downs with a front-running 4-length victory in the Lukas Classic (G3) for his fourth consecutive triumph.
Originally trained by Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go burst onto the scene in 2018 when at only 2, he turned in a sizzling front-running performance in Keeneland's Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) winning at odds of 70-1. The Breeders' Futurity would punch his first ticket in the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series to that year's TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) in which he came in a strong second.
His 3-year-old campaign proved more of a march than a sprint with no wins that season, but a new barn, and a new trainer in the form of Cox, proved just the change Knicks Go needed to get back on the path to success at age 4. Knicks Go was undefeated that year in three starts, capped by another gate-to-wire victory in the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Keeneland.
"He was a very good horse last year, and he's a better horse now," Cox told NYRA Communications following Knicks Go's victory in the Whitney.
Cox is no stranger to the pressures of the World Championships. He already has won seven Breeders' Cup races, including four in 2020 alone, a record-tying feat that helped him earn the 2020 Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer.
Knicks Go was purchased for $87,000 by the Korea Racing Authority from the Woods Edge Farm consignment to the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Twenty-three starts later, it's safe to say that the horse has more than made good on his purchase price, as he has banked more than $5.5 million in purse earnings.
Bred in Maryland by Sabrina Moore and Angie Moore, Knicks Go hails from a long line of Classic participants. His sire, Paynter, took a turn in the 2013 renewal of the Classic and his grandsire, Awesome Again, was the Breeders' Cup Classic winner of 1998. Awesome Again also holds the distinction of being the first Classic winner to sire another Classic winner in Ghostzapper.
At last year's Breeders' Cup World Championships, Hot Rod Charlie arrived as a little-known newbie and left as a potential star. This year, he is a proven commodity as one of the best of his generation.
In the 2020 TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G1), Hot Rod Charlie was a 94-1 longshot, but was a game runner-up when finishing less than a length behind Essential Quality. Hot Rod Charlie had gone winless in his first three career starts, but his talent really came through with some strategic adjustments.
"We had tried different things with him, but things didn't click until his fourth start where he went two turns on the dirt with blinkers on (and he won)," said Bill Strauss, part of the colt's large ownership group. "The light bulb went on."
Hot Rod Charlie solidified his status as a Triple Crown contender by winning the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans in March. He subsequently finished third in the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and second in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G1). He crossed the wire first in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1) in July, but was disqualified and placed seventh because of interference in the stretch.
As a youngster, Hot Rod Charlie brimmed with enthusiasm after being purchased for $17,000 at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton February mixed sale in Lexington, Kentucky. He was sent to Ben Berger's nearby Woodstock Farm to mature. (Coincidentally, 2021 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner and Breeders' Cup Juvenile starter Rombauer was among Hot Rod Charlie's barn and pasture mates at Woodstock Farm.)
"He was a high energy kind of colt and wanted to do things his way," Berger said in a May 27 Thoroughbred Daily News article. "He wanted to be first in and first out, and if he wasn't he got a little bit excitable. In sales prep it all came together a bit ... and he settled and showed himself nicely."
Returned to the same auction house for the October yearling sale, Hot Rod Charlie was sold to trainer Doug O'Neill's brother Dennis for $110,000.
Hot Rod Charlie's sire is 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow. His dam Indian Miss also produced 2019 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) winner and Eclipse Award champion sprinter Mitole.
Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner Medina Spirit has risen from underdog to the winner of one of the most important races in the world in only three years.
The colt was one of 35 foals born from his sire Protonico's first crop and sold for $1,000 early in his yearling year when breeder Gail Rice sent him through the sales ring. Selling for $35,000 as a 2-year-old the following season, the colt's earnings have far surpassed his purchase price with every start since those days in the Ocala Breeders' Sales ring.
Medina Spirit is one of only a handful of horses for Amr Zedan's Zedan Racing Stable, which ran its first horse in 2017. But those horses have proven to be some of the best with Zedan also owning last year's Del Mar Debutante Stakes (G1) winner Princess Noor.
That filly took her owner to some of the highest places in the sport, becoming his first Breeders' Cup starter when fifth in the 2020 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).
Only a month after that experience, Medina Spirit burst onto the scene with a 3-length maiden special weight victory last December. Medina Spirit let Zedan Racing Stable enjoy the 3-year-old division with multiple first- and second-place finishes in Kentucky Derby prep races before winning the Kentucky Derby in May.
A horse who loves to be as close to the front as he can, Medina Spirit then went head-to-head with Midnight Bourbon throughout the Preakness Stakes (G1) to ultimately finish third in the second leg of the Triple Crown. Earning a break after the Preakness, Medina Spirit came back fresh and ready to go in late August when he won the listed Shared Belief Stakes. The race was an important steppingstone that he easily conquered with a 1 ¼-length victory at Del Mar, the same track he'll be running on at the Breeders' Cup.
His returned was further burnished when he won the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita in front-running fashion by 5 lengths when facing older horses for the first time.
Bred in Florida, Medina Spirit's sire and dam never raced in Breeders' Cup races, but his grandsires were both notable finishers in their respective races. Medina Spirit's paternal grandsire is Giant's Causeway, who was second by a neck to Tiznow in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) in one of the most memorable editions of the race. Meanwhile, his maternal grandsire is Brilliant Speed, who was third in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) and followed that up the following year with a run in the Classic.
His owner won't be the only one registering a second Breeders' Cup runner when Medina Spirit steps into the gate. Rice also experienced the Breeders' Cup for the first time as a breeder last year when Speech ran in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1).
Max Player keeps good company. The only member of his generation to compete in all three Triple Crown races during the rearranged 2020 schedule, Max Player is guaranteed a spot against the best of the best on Nov. 6 at Del Mar. He earned that ticket to the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) by capturing the "Win and You're In" Suburban Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park in July.
Max Player is conditioned by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, who recently became the winningest Thoroughbred trainer in North America when he notched his 9,446th triumph on Aug. 7.
Max Player followed up on his Suburban triumph by posting a 4-length victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Saratoga on Sept. 4. The Jockey Club Gold Cup also was a Breeders' Cup Challenge race.
"He's kind of a funny horse," said Toby Sheets, Asmussen's New York-based assistant, immediately after Max Player won the Suburban. "He always has more, but sometimes he doesn't give it. He had a clear trip today and that helped so much. He finished well."
Max Player demonstrated an affinity for an off track when he gained his initial victory on a sloppy track at the end of 2019. He had the same conditions in the Suburban.
"He needed a little confidence builder and he got one today," Sheets said.
Max Player is from the first crop of Honor Code, the Eclipse Award champion older dirt dmale of 2015 and third-place finisher in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Honor Code is a son of 1992 Classic winner and Hall of Fame member A.P. Indy.
Max Player races for George E. Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds Corp. He was bred in Kentucky by K & G Stables.
At age 4 Tripoli has found his best stride after switching to dirt surfaces and now has a guaranteed spot in the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) after winning the TVG Pacific Classic (G1) Aug. 21. Both races are at Del Mar.
"This horse has matured and just keeps coming along and (in the TVG Pacific Classic) he proved himself," said Kosta Hronis, who co-owns the colt with his brother Pete, and named the chestnut colt in honor of their father, whose hometown was Tripoli in Greece. "We didn't know if he could go a mile and a quarter, but today we found out."
The victory also answered any questions about Tripoli's ability to compete at the elite level. He flashed plenty of potential as an untapped talent when he was sold for $450,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale, but finished last in his career debut May 23, 2020 in a turf sprint going 5 ½ furlongs at Santa Anita. He made amends a month later over the same course and distance with a narrow triumph as a 46-1 longshot.
As a son of 2004 Champion Turf Horse and Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) runner-up Kitten's Joy and the mare Love Train, a two-time winner on turf, it was logical to keep Tripoli on that surface. But, he went winless in eight consecutive races for nearly a year after his original score. His connections then opted for dirt and Tripoli responded with an allowance triumph, the runner-up spot in Del Mar's San Diego Handicap (G2) in July and his Pacific Classic tally.
In his most recent start, Tripoli finished fourth in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita on Oct. 2.
Tripoli is trained by Southern California-based John Sadler, a former show jumping rider, who teamed up with the Hronis family to win the 2018 Breeders' Cup Classic with Accelerate, the champion older dirt male for the season. Hronis Racing was honored with the Eclipse Award as outstanding owner that year. The family owns and operates an 8,000-acre grape and citrus farm in Delano, California, in the middle of the state.
Express Train may be on track for the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1).
The 4-year-old finished in the top three in his first five races in 2021, including wins in the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita and the San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar. His win in the San Diego, in a stalking trip, was his third at Del Mar, the host track of the 2021 Breeders' Cup. He has only finished worse than fourth twice in his 12-race career, once when tried competing on turf, and when he finished sixth in the TVG Pacific Classic.
Trainer John Shirreffs is best known for conditioning Hall of Famer and Breeders' Cup Classic-winner Zenyatta, the only female to win the race. He also saddled longshot Giacomo to win the 2005 Kentucky Derby (G1). Shirreffs grew up in Port Washington on Long Island, New York, and spent time around horses on his family's farm in New Hampshire. He is a Vietnam War veteran, and he has been training since 1978.
The bay colt is the son of Union Rags, who won the 2012 Belmont Stakes (G1) and finished second in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).
Lee and Susan Searing's C R K Stable purchased Express Train for $500,000. The Searings are from Arcadia, California, and they were high school sweethearts who have been married for more than 40 years. Their stable name comes from their three children's initials: Christina, Richard and Katherine. C R K Stable has won multiple graded stakes and campaigned Switch, who placed in two Breeders' Cup races.
Art Collector returns to Breeders' Cup World Championships after finishing a disappointing eighth in last year's Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1). He is currently on a three-race winning streak capped by the Woodward Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park Oct. 2 to remain perfect for trainer Bill Mott, a 10-time Breeders' Cup race winner. Art Collector was transferred to Mott after spending the middle part of his career with Tom Drury Jr.
"The fact that I was in New York and he was in Kentucky, I think that's why (owner-breeder Bruce Lunsford) wanted him here," Mott said. "He (Drury) did a great job with this horse and we're reaping some of the benefits. I would say he beat the best group of horses (in the Woodward) that he's beaten so far. They were the most established group."
Following his 2-year-old season, Art Collector was sent to Drury who specializes in preparing runners for others. Art Collector was scheduled to transfer to a track-based trainer, but the plan was delayed when racing came to a near standstill in 2020 because of the pandemic. As Art Collector neared his return, Lunsford opted to keep him with Drury.
The colt gave Drury his first stakes victory when he captured the 2020 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. He then won the Runhappy Ellis Park Derby (Listed). Those triumphs made Art Collector an early favorite for that year's rescheduled Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), but he was not entered. Five days before the race, Art Collector incurred a minor injury when he stepped on himself while galloping. He rebounded to be fourth as the second choice in the Preakness Stakes (G1) a month later.
Lunsford is a successful businessman, major player in Kentucky politics and prominent Thoroughbred owner and breeder. He raced Art Collector's dam (Distorted Legacy) and his maternal granddam (Bunting).
Owner Steve Moger took a fairly expensive gamble when he bid $420,000 to purchase Stilleto Boy 10 days after the gelding upset the field at odds of 16-1 in the July 2 Iowa Derby (Listed). In his three starts for his new connections, the son of Shackleford has made that move look like a shrewd decision.
While all eyes were on Medina Spirit when the Kentucky Derby (G1) first-place finisher handily won the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park Oct. 2, Stilleto Boy managed to thrust himself into the Breeders' Cup picture when he finished a clear second that day, far outrunning his 54-1 odds. That outing marked the first time the 3-year-old had raced in a top-level contest and was a step forward from his third-place finish to Medina Spirit in the Aug. 29 Shared Belief Stakes (Listed).
Prior to being purchased by Moger out of the Fasig-Tipton July Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale, Stilleto Boy has won two of seven starts under the care of Doug Anderson while primarily being based in the Midwest. He broke his maiden in his fifth try, scoring a gate-to-wire win at Oaklawn Park going 1 1/16 miles April 17, and defeated a field that included 2021 Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Super Stock when he led every point of call in the Iowa Derby.
Stilleto Boy is trained by Ed Moger Jr., brother of Steve. The siblings previously teamed up to campaign and condition Stormy Lucy, winner of the 2015 Matriarch Stakes (G1).
Ed Moger Jr. is based in Northern California and has saddled the earners of more than $34 million in his career.
|Breeders' Cup Race||Grade||Purse||Date|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint||II||$1,000,000||November 5|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf||I||$1,000,000||November 5|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies||I||$2,000,000||November 5|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf||I||$1,000,000||November 5|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile||I||$2,000,000||November 5|
|Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint||I||$1,000,000||November 6|
|Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint||I||$1,000,000||November 6|
|Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile||I||$1,000,000||November 6|
|Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf||I||$2,000,000||November 6|
|Breeders' Cup Sprint||I||$2,000,000||November 6|
|Breeders' Cup Mile||I||$2,000,000||November 6|
|Breeders' Cup Distaff||I||$2,000,000||November 6|
|Breeders' Cup Turf||I||$4,000,000||November 6|
|Breeders' Cup Classic||I||$6,000,000||November 6|
|Race Tracks||Time (EST)|