Breeders’ Cup Champs and Contenders: The Day After

November 8, 2021

Knicks Go/Essential Quality – Trainer Brad Cox extended his Breeders’ Cup streak to four straight years with at least one Breeders’ Cup World Championships win when Knicks Go put an exclamation point on the 2021 event at Del Mar with a 2 ¾-length victory in the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). His stablemate Essential Quality, the post-time favorite, finished third. 

When asked about his thoughts on the race and if he was nervous when he saw the half-mile time of :45, Cox said, “You know, not a whole lot because he wasn’t being pressed. He’d kind of cleared off at that point, and established maybe a two-length lead, so I felt comfortable about that. It’s one thing being pressed. It’s one thing going fast and being pressed, but it’s different when you’re going fast and you’re kind of doing it by yourself. The opening quarter was on a straightaway, so I felt like it was relatively reasonable. I was almost thinking he wasn’t going fast enough. Then I think Joel (Rosario), may have let him out a notch around the turn because like I said, he always runs around turns really well. I felt like he was in pretty good position.

“He had been doing extremely well. Both horses had been doing extremely well. Obviously, I do think the race, as it unfolded, played to Knicks Go’s advantage, just the way the way it unfolded into the first turn. And up the backside, I felt pretty confident that he would have enough to finish with. Obviously, the mile and a quarter is not an issue. I’ve never really thought it would be just based on his mile and an eighth performances this year. Just a huge performance.”

“Essential Quality, I thought he ran huge. I kind of thought we were in a little bit of a tough spot just with the fact that you know there was Knicks Go obviously, then everyone else was battling for position up the backside. The next group of horses were well bunched, and we had some very good horses in front of us and he was able to pass several of them. He ran extremely well. We did a good job of saving ground to stand on the inside. At the three-eighths pole, I really thought he had a shot to winning, but Knicks Go and Medina Spirit just weren’t backing up. I was very proud of what he was able to accomplish over the last year and a half and I’m looking forward to the training his babies.”

Knicks Go, who could make at least one more start in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park, is all but assured himself Champion Older Dirt Male and Horse of the Year honors with his victory in the Classic, but there will likely be a tight race between Classic runner-up Medina Spirit, winner of the Kentucky Derby, and Essential Quality for Champion 3-Year-Old Male honors.

“I think he deserves to be champion 3-year-old,” Cox said. “He has two big Grade 1s, two very prestigious wins in the Belmont and Travers. He was able to have a campaign all year. It started in the Southwest; he ran a big one in the Blue Grass. The Derby obviously didn’t work out quite the way we would have liked, but he was able to follow it up with a spectacular summer at Saratoga. And, then to come in here and I really think he performed very well. I thought about this this morning when I woke up. ‘Is there anything I could have done different with him to prepare for this?’ I wouldn’t have prepared him any different.”

While Knicks Go and Essential Quality remained in California Sunday morning, their stablemate Shedaresthedevil was already en route to Kentucky after her sixth-place finish in the Longines Distaff (G1). She is scheduled to be sold Tuesday night at the Fasig-Tipton sale. 

“I thought she was in a fantastic spot at the half-mile mark,” Cox said. “I thought we looked like a winner, although the fractions were incredibly hot. It was hard to believe that any of those horses could keep going with those fractions. I thought she ran a good race. I guess you could say she ran the best race of the speed horses. She was the one that faltered the least amount. I do feel like she was really ready to run. 

“We’re excited about going to the sale with her. It’s a possibility, you know, someone could purchase her, and she could return to racing. She has no issues and is a very sound filly. We’ll see how it plays out on Tuesday for her.”

On Friday, Juju’s Map finished second in the NetJets Juvenile Fillies (G1) and will now set her sights on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) next May.

“We’re excited about her,” Cox said. “We’ll take her to the Fair Grounds and run in either the Fair Grounds or Oaklawn series for 3-year-old fillies. We’ll probably run where (Juvenile Fillies winner) Echo Zulu doesn’t. But a huge congratulations to her team. They did a fantastic job.”

Breeders’ Cup Classic Replay

Medina Spirit/Gamine – Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina Spirit and Michael Lund Petersen’s once-beaten Gamine emerged from their respective races fine, trainer Bob Baffert reported Sunday morning. 

“I was really proud of his race,” Baffert said about his Kentucky Derby-winning Medina Spirit, who was runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic behind Knicks Go. “We just got beat by a better horse. We hadn’t planned to be as far back early, but he did kind of a stutter step just after the break and it cost us position. He ended up having a rough, wide trip. That’s horse racing. He tried to make a run at the winner through the stretch, but that’s a really nice horse that beat him

“He was best of all the others and he beat those same 3-year-olds (alluding to both Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality) again by about the same margin.” 

Baffert indicated that while no specific plans had been mapped out for Medina Spirit for 2022, he mentioned that the horse’s owner was keen on potentially running in the Saudi Cup next February. 

No decision has been made about Gamine’s racing future in the wake of a disappointing third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) for which she was the defending champion. The brilliant daughter of Into Mischief suffered only her second career defeat and first around one turn. 

“I probably should have given her a prep race before the Breeders’ Cup. She just got tired.” Baffert said. “We knew there was a lot of speed in the race and we thought about taking her back, but when she broke great, we had no choice.” 

Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint Replay

Hot Rod Charlie – Roadrunner Racing, William Strauss, Boat Racing and Gainesway Stable’s Hot Rod Charlie came out of his fourth-place Classic finish in good order according to trainer Doug O’Neill.

“He came out of the race fine and scoped clean,” said O’Neill, who has no immediate plans for Hot Rod Charlie. “We will sit down and discuss it, but right now nothing is targeted. He’s only 3 and it is very exciting to think about the possibilities for him.”

O’Neill also did not have a target in mind for ERJ Racing, Madaket Stables and Dave Kenney’s Mackinnon, who finished third, beaten less than 2 lengths, in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).

“He’s got a lot of options,” O’Neill said of the three-time winner on grass. “He has shown a lot this year and he will get a little time off.”

Stilleto Boy – Steve Moger’s Stilleto Boy, who finished fifth in the Classic at 51-1 odds, came out of the race well according to trainer Ed Moger Jr.

“Everything is good,” Moger said of the 3-year-old who finished ahead of three Grade 1 winners, earned a $180,000 check Saturday and has made back more than half of his $420,000 purchase price in four starts for the Mogers. “We are pointing for the Malibu (Dec. 26 at Santa Anita).”

Letruska – Though St. George Stable’s 5yo filly ended her outstanding season on a down note as the 8-5 favorite in the Longines Distaff, trainer Fausto Gutierrez said Sunday that she came out of the race fine and will stay in training in 2022. 

After attending a torrid early pace, Letruska ended up 10th of 11 under Irad Ortiz Jr. She was second to Private Mission through opening fractions of :21.84, :44.97 and 1:09.70. 

“That race was very, very fast in the beginning,” Gutierrez said, “and we saw the result. The five horses that were in the back were the five horses that arrived in the front. That’s what happened.”

Letruska won six of eight starts in 2021, four of them Grade 1 races, and is the leading contender for the Older Dirt Female Eclipse Award. Gutierrez said the mare will have some time to recover from her busy campaign and that he will develop a schedule for next year.  

Longines Distaff Replay

Life Is Good/Malathaat – Life Is Good, whose 5 ¾-length victory in the Dirt Mile was the biggest winning margin of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, will get a vacation at WinStar Farm in Kentucky before launching his 4-year-old campaign.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher said the Into Mischief colt was fine Sunday morning and that a start in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park could be on the schedule.

“That’s what we’d spoke about prior to the race that our sort of two-race plan was the mile and then stretch him out further in the Pegasus,” Pletcher said Sunday. “He certainly ran well enough to proceed in that direction if everything goes smoothly, but we haven’t really had any time to really firmly discuss our entire plans yet. I’m sure once everybody gets back to their headquarters, we’ll have that conversation.”

Life is Good came into the Dirt Mile with a big reputation and he delivered a strong performance, leading from gate to wire under Irad Ortiz Jr. He completed the mile in 1:34.12 after opening fractions of :21.66, :44.94 and 1:08.76.

“It was everything that we were hoping for and then maybe even more,” Pletcher said. “The horse had trained spectacularly coming into the race and I felt like he was sitting on a big race. When he broke cleanly, you could tell they were going quickly and there was some other horses trying to be involved. My first concern was just, hopefully, he hadn’t gone too fast, but it seemed like he was relaxed and settled. In spite of the fact that he was rolling right along, he was doing it comfortably. I think that’s kind of what we’ve come to expect from him. It’s one of those horses that’s extremely fast, has a very high cruising speed and the ability to continue doing it. What was even more impressive to me than, than the :21 and four and 44 and change and 1:08 and change, is that he essentially won geared down. Then Irad had to reach up and grab a hold of him in the middle of the turn. Galloping out, he was still full of horse. I don’t think he could have been any more impressive.”

Pletcher said that Shadwell Stable’s 3-year-old filly Malathaat came out of her third-place finish in the Distaff in good order and will continue racing in 2022. The winner of the Ashland, Kentucky Oaks and Alabama is a top contender for the Eclipse Award.

Malathaat, was a half-length back at the wire of the Distaff, which had extremely fast early factions of :21.84 and :44.97 that ultimately melted the speed horses.

“I thought she ran a great race,” Pletcher said. “She, unfortunately, didn’t come out on the winning side, which is frustrating when you have one as talented as she is, and you’re not able to win. It was really a strangely run race. There was such a blazing opening quarter and half and things got kind of tricky for the closers in the far turn, because the pack was coming back so rapidly as the closers were starting to build up momentum.”

Malathaat, the 7-2 second choice in the wagering, was well off the pace early, and rallied with the other closers.

“Being on the inside, she kind of had to encounter some traffic there and got in some tight quarters, turning for home” Pletcher said. “She bumped with the runner-up (Dunbar Road) a little bit. And then finally regained some momentum late and was only beaten a nose and a half a length. Maybe with a slightly different trip, it could have altered the outcome. As always, she showed up and ran a big race and I think proved that she’s the best 3-year-old filly in her crop.”

Pletcher said that Malathaat will ship to Shadwell Farm in Kentucky for a rest and rejoin his stable in Florida this winter.

Spendthrift Farm’s homebred Following Sea emerged from this third-place finish in the Sprint under John Velazquez in good order, Pletcher said, and will ship back to Belmont Park this week. 

Pletcher said the Cigar Mile and the Malibu are being considered for the son of Runhappy. 

“I thought he ran a terrific race,” Pletcher said. “Drawing the rail in the Sprint you’re always concerned, and I think that that ended up perhaps costing us the race. He was making a really good move at the top of the stretch and for a brief moment, there was a hole open that closed before he could get there. He had to check lost all of this momentum and then re-rallied to be third. Johnny (Velazquez) felt pretty strongly that if he had gotten through, when that gap was open, that he could have won. A little frustrating with the outcome, but very, very pleased with his performance. I think we made the right decision to bring him because, he ran a winning race. We just didn’t quite get the job done, but he proved that he belongs with that group.”

Pletcher said that his two Juvenile runners, Commandperformance, who was fourth, and Double Trouble, who was eighth, will be prepared for their 3-year-old seasons.

Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile Replay

CeCe/Smooth Like Straight – Bo Hirsch’s Ce Ce and Cannon Thoroughbreds’ Smooth Like Strait, who combined to give trainer Michael McCarthy a memorable Breeders’ Cup Championship afternoon, were vanned back to the McCarthy’s main stable operation at Santa Anita Saturday night. Ce Ce was the upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, while her barnmate Smooth Like Strait was a strong runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Mile five races later. For CeCe, a daughter of Elusive Quality, the victory marked her fourth in six starts and third stakes triumph this year. Smooth Like Strait has been a gem of consistency, finishing first or second in five consecutive graded turf stakes races.

Breeders’ Cup Mile Replay

Aloha West – Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Qatar Racing Sprint (G1) winner Aloha West exited his 11-1 victory in fine order, per trainer Wayne Catalano.

“He looks great to me,” Catalano said Sunday morning. “He’s some horse. He’s a monster. We’ll chill out for a little bit after this and get him back to Lexington. We’ll put him in the hyperbaric chamber for a few days and then I’ll talk to Aron Wellman and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and make a plan for him for next year.

“Everybody keeps bringing up that I got a good Breeders’ Cup record, but all I know is I’ve won four,” he continued. “We have been fortunate enough to have some runners who could get the job done. It really is satisfying to win with an older horse. With the younger horses, they come along and do their thing and the other horses aren’t quite caught up to them. That’s the way that works. But, I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to develop this horse and run in and win another Breeders’ Cup race. It’s unbelievable.”

The dark bay 4yo colt became the sixth Maryland-bred to win a Breeders’ Cup race, joining Cigar, Safely Kept, Knicks Go, Concern and Sharing. Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go would go on to add a seventh trophy to the Free State mantle when taking the Classic later Saturday afternoon.

“My assistant trainer Lacy Pierce got on him when he first came to us off the farm and she said, ‘this is a runner.’ She really liked him immediately,” Catalano continued. “He kept getting better. The other day after his breeze for the race when he came home in 22 and change and came back like he had a morning jog, I told Aron (Wellman, principal of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners) that this horse was training unbelievable and just might be the best horse I’ve ever had my hands on. He was blown away by it. This horse should have won the Phoenix but was slammed out of the gate and went wide around.

“Yesterday, when he started down the backside and passed a couple of horses, I thought ‘OK he’s putting in his run and we might have a chance,’ and then I thought as he’s coming down the lane that he could maybe get there, but at the wire, I wasn’t too sure. Then they showed (the finish replay) three times – the first time I thought we didn’t get there; second time I wasn’t sure; third time I thought ‘maybe I got there!’

“He was closing so fast, and Jose (Ortiz) rode a great race. He did the job you’re supposed to do. Once he leveled off, it was ‘Katy bar the door.’ I was not worried about the race until they hit the wire. At my age, having to sweat those things out, that was a little hard – but we got the nod. Obviously, we all knew how good Jackie’s Warrior and the others were, but like I say, they don’t give you these races. They line them up in the gate and you have to go get them.”

Aloha West is the second Breeders’ Cup winner for Darley stallion and 2007 Classic runner-up Hard Spun, following 2019 Dirt Mile winner Spun to Run, and improved Catalano’s record to four wins from 15 starters, amassing just short of $4 million in prize money. Aloha West improved his own record to 9-5-2-0 with a career bankroll of $1,311,068 and won his first graded stakes in his second try, following a runner-up effort in October’s Phoenix Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. He is Catalano’s first older horse to win a Breeders’ Cup, as his previous three were in 2-year-old races.

“We have wound it down a bit with my barn, but I’m hoping I get another couple of horses like him and win a couple more Breeders’ Cups – but this is the one right now,” Catalano concluded. “I’m looking to have some good ones and enjoy my family and my grandkids – three boys and one baby girl on the way. Life is shorter than you think.” 

Golden Pal – On Sunday morning, Wesley Ward was pleased with how star pupil Golden Pal exited his second Breeders’ Cup victory. Last year’s Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) winner doubled up by taking the Turf Sprint (G1) in brilliant gate-to-wire style under Irad Ortiz Jr. Ward confirmed that the Coolmore-owned 3yo colt will ship out late Monday night and focus on two major goals in 2022, Royal Ascot and a Breeders’ Cup return.

“He’s great. He’s ready to go home,” Ward said. “I’m feeling good. I’m happy this horse won. I’ve been singing his praises for a long time and he’s the best one we had running. I’m excited to run him in the Breeders’ Cup next year at Keeneland. He’s going to be a four-year-old and faster. We’ll point to Royal Ascot with him and the (Group 1) King’s Stand (Stakes) and prep at Keeneland in April in the Shakertown. If he can win in England, he can really stamp himself as a stallion, hopefully.

“He’s a lot like (former trainee and current Coolmore stallion) No Nay Never, who would have won (the Turf Sprint) if it were a five-furlong race, instead of down the hill,” Ward continued. “They’re both mentally so composed and never turn a hair. Yesterday, you could see him in the paddock just getting himself prepared mentally and getting focused.”

A son of 2010 Juvenile (G1) winner Uncle Mo and 2015 Turf Sprint runner-up Lady Shipman, Golden Pal earned a third Breeders’ Cup trophy for his sire, who also begat 2015 Juvenile winner Nyquist. Ward earned his sixth Breeders’ Cup trophy and second of the weekend, following his third consecutive Juvenile Turf Sprint victory with Twilight Gleaming (IRE). It was his first win in the Turf Sprint after 11 losses. 

Juvenile Turf Sprint Replay

Yibir (GB) and his connections in the Breeders’ Cup Turf winner’s circle for the trophy presentation. (Bill Denver/Breeders’ Cup/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

Foreign Horse Report

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships lived up to its name with a phenomenal weekend of racing. Japan and England led the way for the international challengers.

Trainer Charlie Appleby, jockey William Buick and owners Godolphin were the stars of the show over the weekend recording three wins.

Space Blues (IRE) (Mile) won in impressive fashion and will now finish his career on a high and be retired to stud.

Yibir (GB) (Turf) completed a hat trick of winners for team Appleby after Modern Games’ (IRE) (Juvenile Turf) big win Friday.

Yibir stayed on strongest to hit the wire hard and win by half a length. He will now have a break before connections map out a campaign for next year.

Loves Only You (JPN) (Filly & Mare Turf) recorded a win for Japan in the hands of Yuga Kawada. Marche Lorraine (JPN) (Distaff) completed the Japanese double on the day when causing a shock for U.K. champion jockey Oisin Murphy. Future plans for both horses are yet to be decided, but a trip to Keeneland next year for Breeders’ Cup looks high on the agenda.

Arguably the most impressive winner of the day was Golden Pal (Turf Sprint) who showed electric speed from the gates. In behind were Emaraaty Ana (GB) and who were the nearest international challengers finishing fourth and fifth A Case of You (IRE). Emaraaty Ana is finished for the season, but connections of A Case of You are considering a trip to Hong Kong in December for the Hong Kong Sprint. Trainer Adrian McGuinness stated he would see how A Case of You travels home before firming up a trip to Sha Tin.

Teona (IRE) (Turf) ran a huge race to finish third for trainer Roger Varian and jockey David Egan who was having his first Breeders’ Cup ride. She will now have a break and be aimed at the major races in Europe next season before a possible return to the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Aidan O’Brien drew a blank this year, but hit the cross bar with Broome (IRE) (Turf) finishing second. He has been invited to run in the Hong Kong Vase and that trip looks to be a big possibility after yesterday’s big run.

Plans for Tarnawa (IRE) (Turf) who was disappointing are still not confirmed. Irish champion jockey Colin Keane reported she ran flat with her previous run in the Prix de l’Arc Triomphe taking its toll.

It was also a good day Saturday morning at Del Mar for international runners the day after Modern Games (IRE) led the way by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Albahr (GB) was scratched after going to the ground in the gates but he was fine Saturday morning. Both horses will have a break now with big plans ahead of next season. 

Go Bears Go (IRE) who finished a gallant second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) also has come out of his race well according to trainer David Loughnane, 

“It’s a dream come true even though we didn’t win,” Loughnane said. “To have a horse perform like that in a race as big as Friday is just amazing. He’s a real star who has a huge heart and he’ll be back next year when we’ll have big plans. Hopefully he travels home well.”

Malavath (IRE) second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) also came out of her race well. Trainer Francis-Henri Graffard said, “All is good. I’m very proud of her performance and it’s exciting times ahead.” 

Cachet (IRE) who led most of the way in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf looked the winner for a long time but couldn’t quite last home. Trainer George Boughey said, “She ran a massive race. She did us all proud. She’s as tough as they come and has a big future. The Saudi Derby could be her next target in February.”

All international horses seem to have come out of their races in good shape before they embark on their journeys back to England, France, Germany, Ireland and Japan.

Breeders’ Cup Press Release

Top Photo: First, second and third place Breeders’ Cup Classic finishers, #6Knicks Go, #8 Medina Spirit and #4 Essential Quality, respectively. (Alex Evers/Breeders’ Cup/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

@jonathanstettin as always, great read! you are the the best!!!

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