In a race that largely decides who will be the leading favorite on next year's Triple Crown trail, 2-year-old Godolphin homebred Essential Quality stamped himself the "One to Watch" when he took a late-running trip down the center of the homestretch to win the $2 million TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance by three-quarters of a length Nov. 6 at Keeneland Race Course.
The Brad Cox-trained son of Tapit earned 20 qualifying points for next year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve with the win, which culminated an exciting Future Stars Friday card of five Breeders’ Cup races at Keeneland to kick off the 37th World Championships.
Guided by Luis Saez, 3.70-1 second betting choice Essential Quality broke slow in Friday's full field and bumped briefly with another runner, a collision which forced the colt to settle just off the pace back in eighth. Longshot Dreamer's Disease set the pace from the front and clicked off fast fractions of :22.58, :45.31, and 1:10.48 through the first six furlongs.
"I was a touch concerned going into the first turn, Luis had asked him to run out there,” said Cox, who hoped Essential Quality would break closer to the lead. “I thought the horses were faster in the early part of the race and it kind of got away from him. He took some dirt going into the turn and up the backside."
Up at the front of the field, Likeable, 9-10 favorite Jackie's Warrior, and Classier vied for second, third, and fourth while they stalked the pace behind Dreamer's Disease. Tipped out three wide by jockey Joel Rosario, Jackie's Warrior forged a path to the outside of the frontrunner exiting the backstretch and managed to eke out a slim, half-length advantage coming off the final turn. By that point, Essential Quality had made his own four-wide advance outside of Jackie's Warrior and took aim at the leaders.
"Once again, he was sitting out wide," said Cox. "I wasn't sure he was really carrying himself into the bridle. I think saw :45 and change for the half-mile and I could see Luis starting to pick up. When he picked up and picked off a couple of horses and once he straightened up ... the horse has a tremendous amount of stamina."
Longshot Hot Rod Charlie – a half brother to champion Mitole – commenced his own rally under jockey Tyler Gaffalione at the furlong pole and began to pose a serious threat to a waning Jackie's Warrior. But Essential Quality had the most momentum and kicked clear of Hot Rod Charlie in the final yards. He finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.09.
Hot Rod Charlie, sent off at odds of 94.40-1, held on to take second followed by late-running Keepmeinmind in third. Jackie's Warrior faded to finish fourth.
"It's so exciting to win any Breeders' Cup race but when you have a 2-year-old colt that is a homebred and again – it's the cherry on top," said Godolphin’s Jimmy Bell. "I was just saying earlier how exciting was that so much of the farm staff was able to come over and watch because this is in our own backyard. That's where the joy is in celebrating with people who put so much time into the behind the scenes of all this. … There is nothing more exciting than a 2-year-old that looks like he might get a little further going two turns."
Essential Quality broke his maiden on debut by four lengths going six furlongs Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs before traveling to Keeneland to contest the Oct. 3 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity, which he won by 3 ¼ lengths. His third victory in the Juvenile pushed his total earnings to $1,335,144.
"He's obviously the best Tapit colt we've ever had and he's obviously been good since Day 1," said Cox. "He has an amazing amount of talent. He's an amazing animal. We ran him three-quarters knowing he was a two-turn horse, but he had shown us enough speed in the mornings to let us know that he would make a good account of himself going shorter. He did that, overcame some traffic troubles, and split horses. That gave us a lot of confidence."
With a Breeders’ Cup win in the bag, both Cox and Bell said it would be hard not to dream of the future and another, more prestigious trip to Churchill Downs with Essential Quality on the first Saturday in May. He currently sits atop Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points leaderboard, with 20 points he earned in the Juvenile added to 10 from the Breeders’ Futurity.
"It's the obvious thought or the dream, as you say, but the Godolphin team – first and foremost – put the horse first," said Cox. "We will see how he comes out of the race and let the dust settle. We will map out a plan this winter, but I'm very excited for this horse and for next year with his 3-year-old campaign." –Meredith Daugherty
Vequist Turns the Tables on Dayoutoftheoffice in Juvenile Fillies
Trainer Butch Reid has noticed that Vequist doesn't mind racing inside, and that affinity proved to be very useful Nov. 6, when the filly found an opening on the inside and powered clear to a two-length victory in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
One start after chasing Dayoutoftheoffice around the track before settling for second to that rival in the Frizette Stakes Oct. 10 at Belmont Park, Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, and breeder Swilcan Stable's Vequist turned the tables in the first try at two turns for both fillies. Reid said while they came up short at Belmont, he was looking forward to stretching out the daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist to two turns.
"The way she finished in the Frizette it absolutely gave me confidence," said Reid, who also won the 2011 Breeders' Cup Marathon with Afleet Again. "To be able to compete against horses of that level made me feel really good."
Under a perfectly timed move by jockey Joel Rosario, Vequist, who tracked from second or third throughout, took command at the sixteenth pole and draw off late. Pacesetting Dayoutoftheoffice could not match strides, but held second by a nose over Girl Daddy. The final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:42.30.
"I tried to save ground. It was hard for her in the turn because I had a horse outside me. But she did great," said Rosario, who posted his 12th Breeders' Cup victory overall and second in the Juvenile Fillies as he also guided Jaywalk to victory in 2018. "I never gave up my position. As soon as I asked her she went on with it. It was a very good performance."
Barber, who joined Adam Wachtel to buy in after Vequist's runner-up debut at Parx Racing, said he talked it over with Wachtel and they decided that because Reid knew her best it was best to leave the filly with him. That decision would pay immediate dividends as she would win the Spinaway Stakes in her next start Sept. 6 at Saratoga Race Course prior to her start in the Frizette.
With her lucrative Juvenile Fillies score, Vequist improved her career record to two wins from four starts with earnings of $1,235,500. –Frank Angst
Fire At Will Posts Upset in Juvenile Turf
A year after settling for second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Santa Anita Park with Chimney Rock, owner Three Diamonds Farm and trainer Mike Maker fared one better Nov. 6 in the 2020 Breeders' Cup. The duo connected with Fire At Will, who upset favorite Battleground and other international and domestic runners in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America.
Although Fire At Will entered off two consecutive stakes victories, the off-the-grass With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga, followed by the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park, bettors paid him scant respect. The 2-year-old son of Declaration of War was dismissed at 30.20-1 odds.
There was no overlooking him in the race itself. Once the gates opened, Fire At Will showed he belonged. He quickly secured a forward position under Ricardo Santana Jr., sitting an inside pocket trip in third as Outadore set the pace.
Angled a few paths off the rail for the stretch, Fire At Will asserted his superiority. He caught Outadore in midstretch and powered away by three lengths, covering the distance in 1:35.81 on good turf, a tenth of a second slower than Aunt Pearl's clocking in the Breeders' Cup Juveniles Fillies Turf about an hour later (see recap below).
"Last year we were unlucky to lose with Chimney Rock, and Fire At Will made us forget all about it," Maker said.
The colt gave his trainer his third Breeders' Cup victory following champion Hansen's front-running score in the 2011 Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Furthest Land's triumph in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
Fire at Will is not a difficult horse to ride, Maker said, and Santana made it look easy.
"I got a beautiful trip. I had plenty of horse in the tank," said the jockey, who notched his second Breeders' Cup win after Mitole's score in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last year.
The 3.80-1 favorite Battleground, bidding to give trainer Aidan O'Brien, jockey Ryan Moore, and his Coolmore-affiliated ownership their fifth Juvenile Turf victory, rallied to grab second, a neck ahead of Outadore.
Fire At Will improved to three wins from four starts and boosted his earnings to $657,932. –Byron King
Aunt Pearl Dominates in Juvenile Fillies Turf
The Brad Cox-trained filly is now 3-for-3 in her career for owners Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, Peter Deutsch, Michael Kisber, The Elkstone Group, and Bethlehem Stables.
Aunt Pearl broke from post 5 under Florent Geroux as the 2.60-1 favorite and opened up by three lengths at the beginning of the one-mile event. She ran a :22.55 quarter-mile before slowing down to a half in :47.30 and three-quarters in 1:12.21 with no pressure from nearest challenger Campanelle.
Undeterred by the field chasing her home, Aunt Pearl maintained her advantage all the way to the wire. The final time on the good turf was 1:35.71.
"That was a devastating performance. She is an amazing filly. Very proud of her," Cox said. "Speed is her weapon and she knows how to use it. I was pretty confident (she would win) when I saw the (half-mile in) :47 and (Geroux) obviously knows her well."
"I know she is extremely fast. I just tried to get away good. She was off to a flying start," Geroux said. "She went pretty quick early on and after that I tried to get her to relax. On the backside she came back to me. When I asked her, she had plenty left. She's extremely talented. I think the sky is the limit for her. Over the winter, hopefully she'll grow a little bit and next year we can do it again."
Aunt Pearl won her debut Sept. 1 at Churchill Downs by five lengths racing at a mile on turf. She then extended out to 1 1/16 miles in the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes Oct. 7 at Keeneland and posted a 2 ½-length victory. All three of her efforts have come on the front end. Aunt Pearl has amassed earnings of $652,784. –Christine Oser
Golden Pal Impresses in Juvenile Turf Sprint Score
Lowe, the owner/breeder of 4-5 favorite Golden Pal, had previously finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint when the World Championships were first held at Keeneland in 2015 with graded stakes winner Lady Shipman, Golden Pal’s dam.
Golden Pal, by Uncle Mo, helped ease that disappointment with a powerful front-running victory for trainer Wesley Ward, who won the Juvenile Turf Sprint last year with Four Wheel Drive. Golden Pal finished three-quarters of a length ahead of a fast-closing Cowan, who was a length in front of longshot European challenger Ubettabelieveit. The final time over a turf course rated good was 1:02.82.
"Wesley has believed in this horse from day one," Lowe said from the winner's circle. "I've have been telling everyone about this horse. It has been a long haul, but we did it."
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. gave all the credit to Golden Pal for doing "the hard job."
"I just sat on him waiting for the time to go. He ran great. He really has a lot of potential," the rider said.
"When he accelerated past the quarter pole, I knew we were okay,” Ward said. “I got a little worried on the last part and was hugging onto my son, but we got there. He's a champion colt. Thank God (Lowe) gave him to me to train. I really appreciate it.”
Golden Pal improved his career record to two wins from four starts with earnings of $593,056. He had finished second in his career debut at Gulfstream Park and then second by a neck in the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot before breaking his maiden in the Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 21.
“(Next year's Breeders' Cup) is where we're heading, but first we're going to Royal Ascot,” Ward said. “Here we come." –Eric Mitchell