2021 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic Quick Sheet: Get to Know the Horses

Knicks Go, Essential Quality, and Hot Rod Charlie (left to right) headline a highly competitive 2021 edition of the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic, set for Nov. 6 at Del Mar. (Coady Photography/Eclipse Sportswire/Eclipse Sportswire)

The 38th running of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, set for Nov. 6 at Del Mar, is horse racing’s championship event and serves as the unofficial finale of the 2021 season before attention shifts to preparing for the 2022 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve during the late fall, early winter, and into next spring.

The Longines Classic has a rich history going back to the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984, and this year’s renewal drew a stellar field that includes accomplished older horses such as Knicks Go, Art Collector, and Max Player as well as representatives of an unusually strong 3-year-old contingent: Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie, and Medina Spirit. In most years, the outcome of the Longines Classic is a determining factor in swaying the final Horse of the Year votes at the Eclipse Awards, and that will certainly be the case for 2021.

The Longines Classic will be broadcast live on NBC and will be the last of 12 races – and nine World Championship races – scheduled on Breeders’ Cup Saturday at picturesque Del Mar. It has a scheduled post time of 8:40 p.m. ET.

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Read on to learn about all of the Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders.

Eclipse Sportswire

1. Tripoli (15-1)

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Trainer: John Sadler

Owner: Hronis Racing

Career record: 15 starts – 4 wins – 3 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $829,960

Earnings per start: $55,331

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: Kitten’s Joy – Love Train, by Tapit

Age: 4

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Tripoli jumped on the Longines Classic trail with a sharp 1 ¼-length win in the 1 ¼-mile TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 21, a breakthrough effort after he had won three times in 13 prior starts, largely competing against allowance company. In his Pacific Classic win, Tripoli saved ground while stalking front-running Tizamagician and moved adroitly on the rail to scoot clear in early stretch en route to an easy victory. Following that score, however, Tripoli regressed when fourth by 8 ¼ lengths to Medina Spirit in the Awesome Again Stakes on Oct. 2 at Santa Anita Park, where he stalked in midpack behind the pacesetting winner, moved into a striking position coming out of the far turn, and then faded. On the positive side, Tripoli has boosted his form in his 4-year-old season, earning three consecutive triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures prior to the Awesome Again. Getting reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to ride is another plus. Overall, though this son of Kitten’s Joy has assembled a solid career record without ever really establishing himself as a Grade 1-caliber racehorse, and despite his top-level win in Del Mar’s signature race he still takes a back seat to most of the other starters in this year’s Longines Classic. Ortiz won the 2019 Classic aboard Vino Rosso and finished second in both 2018 (Gunnevera) and 2020 (Improbable). Trainer John Sadler and owner Hronis Racing teamed up to win the 2018 Classic with Accelerate and finished third in 2019 with Higher Power.

Bet Tripoli in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

BENOIT photo

2. Express Train (SCRATCHED)

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

Trainer: John Shirreffs

Owner: C R K Stable

Career record: 14 starts – 4 wins – 4 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $695,800

Earnings per start: $49,700

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Pedigree: Union Rags – I’m a Flake, by Mineshaft

Age: 4

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Locally-based Express Train will be a longshot in the Longines Classic as he seeks to recapture his early 2021 form following two consecutive subpar efforts. Through the first five starts of a busy 4-year-old season, this Union Rags colt won the 1 1/8-mile San Pasqual Stakes and the 1 1/16-mile San Diego Handicap and hit the board in his other three races, including a half-length loss to Idol in the 1 ¼-mile Santa Anita Handicap back in March. But since winning the San Diego in July, Express Train has disappointed, finishing sixth by 10 ¾ lengths in the TVG Pacific Classic as the 2.40-1 favorite and then third by seven lengths to runaway winner Medina Spirit in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 2. He’s 3-for-5 at Del Mar for his career, including the San Diego score, so that’s a positive, and prior to his recent slump he was very consistent in terms of speed figures. If he can regain that early 2021 form, his stalking running style could prove beneficial in the Classic and enable him to pick off a few tiring horses and fill out the trifecta or superfecta. Overall, however, his form looks suspect when compared with formidable East Coast invaders Knicks Go, Essential Quality, and Art Collector as well as fellow SoCal-based contenders Hot Rod Charlie and Medina Spirit. Trainer John Shirreffs has had prior success in the Classic, winning the race with Hall of Famer Zenyatta in 2009 and then running a heart-pounding second with the mare a year later, which ended her unbeaten streak. He’s also finished second with Bertrando in 1993 (behind massive longshot Arcangues) and third with Tiago in 2008. Jockey Victor Espinoza will ride Express Train for the first time in the Classic; he won the race in 2015 aboard Horse of the Year American Pharoah and also finished second in 2016 and third in 2014 on California Chrome

Bet Express Train in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Eclipse Sportswire

3. Hot Rod Charlie (4-1)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Doug O’Neill

Owners: Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable, Roadrunner Racing, and William Strauss

Career record: 11 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $2,171,200

Earnings per start: $197,382

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 120

Pedigree: Oxbow – Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie

Age: 3

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After several close-but-not-quite attempts at landing a Grade 1 win, fan favorite Hot Rod Charlie broke through with a 2 ¼-length score in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing on Sept. 25 and rolls into the Longines Classic in the best form of his career. Jockey Flavien Prat took the initiative in the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby and set the pace from the outset, and despite drifting out in the stretch, “Chuck,” as he’s called by his owners and some of his fans, had more than enough stamina to draw clear of runner-up Midnight Bourbon in the late stages. Hot Rod Charlie earned a measure of redemption with that win, coming after he was disqualified from a victory in the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park in July for interfering with Midnight Bourbon and causing that rival to clip heels and unseat his jockey. Earlier in 2021, Hot Rod Charlie won the 1 3/16-mile Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on the front end and finished a very good third in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve off of a stalking trip, He then ran an even better second (to Essential Quality) in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets after setting a fast and pressured pace. This son of Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow is versatile and proven at the Classic distance, and he has paired well with Flavien Prat over his past four starts. Look for Prat to get Hot Rod Charlie involved early, perhaps sitting just off of Knicks Go, Medina Spirit, and Art Collector through the backstretch, and then urge him to make a bid for the lead on the far turn. If “Chuck” can replicate his efforts in the Haskell (113 Equibase Speed Figure) and the Pennsylvania Derby (120 figure), he stands a good chance of scoring a career-defining win and setting off a raucous celebration in the Del Mar winner’s circle among his ownership group. Prat finished third in the 2019 Classic aboard Higher Power.

Bet Hot Rod Charlie in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Chris Rahayel/NYRA Photo

4. Essential Quality (3-1)

Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owner: Godolphin

Career record: 9 starts – 8 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $4,215,144

Earnings per start: $468,349

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality

Age: 3

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Essential Quality has already amassed a fantastic résumé through nine career starts, earning champion 2-year-old male honors with an undefeated 2020 season and winning the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and the Runhappy Travers Stakes this year along with three other graded stakes. He also finished a good fourth, beaten by a length, when suffering his only loss in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. If he can take the next step and defeat older horses in his final career start in the Longines Classic, he’ll join 3-year-old Classic winners from recent history such as Curlin, American Pharoah, Arrogate, and Authentic as leading Horse of the Year candidates (only Arrogate didn’t win HOY from that group). Essential Quality is remarkably consistent in terms of speed figures, running style, and how he wins: time and time again he has displayed grit and stamina to rally into contention from a stalking position and outfinish his opponents for close victories. He did just that in both the Belmont Stakes at 1 ½ miles, defeating Hot Rod Charlie by 1 ¼ lengths after a prolonged stretch duel, and his most recent start in the 1 ¼-mile Travers, nipping Midnight Bourbon by a neck. With several speed horses entered in the Longines Classic, look for regular rider Luis Saez to keep Essential Quality in midpack through the backstretch and then angle him three- or four-wide on the far turn for his customary grinding stretch run. If the early pace indeed turns out to be swift, everything could fall into place for Essential Quality on Nov. 6 to help elevate his status as one of the best 3-year-olds in the 21st Century. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum finished second in the 2006 Classic with Bernardini, racing under his Darley Stable banner. He also took second as Godolphin Stable with Sakhee in 2001 (losing to Tiznow in a memorable race) and third in 1998 with Swain. Luis Saez almost won the Classic aboard Will Take Charge in his very first start in the event, finishing second by a nose back in 2013 to Mucho Macho Man.

Bet Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Coady Photography

5. Knicks Go (5-2)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owner: Korea Racing Authority

Career record: 23 starts – 9 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $5,553,135

Earnings per start: $241,441

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 118

Pedigree: Paynter – Kosmo’s Buddy, by Outflanker

Age: 5

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Speed, speed, speed. That’s been the calling card for Knicks Go ever since he moved to the barn of 2020 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox in early 2020, and it’s helped this horse achieve star status. Over the past 16 months, Knicks Go has won seven of nine starts, including five graded stakes, and earned over $4.8 million. In all those wins, he’s led at every point of call and never finished less than 2 ¾ lengths in front of his closest challenger at the wire – and they’ve all come around two turns (his two losses earlier this year were around one turn in the Saudi Cup overseas and at Belmont Park in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Met Mile, a pair of fourth-place finishes). He’s tallied victories in such prestigious races as the 2020 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland, the 2021 1 1/8-mile Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park, and the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Stakes at Saratoga back in August, and he tuned up for his bid in the Longines Classic with a “paid workout” four-length romp in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Lukas Classic at his home base of Churchill Downs on Oct. 2 that earned a 115 Equibase Speed Figure. Despite all of these credentials, warning signs loom in what will be the toughest test of Knicks Go’s career on Nov. 6. He’s never attempted 1 ¼ miles, nor has he raced at Del Mar. What’s more, in the Longines Classic Knicks Go figures to finally square off against a field that includes other horses possessing elite speed, especially Medina Spirit, Art Collector, and Hot Rod Charlie. Jockey Joel Rosario won’t have nearly as easy of a time getting his mount to the front and then controlling matters thereafter, and the in-race jockey strategizing between Rosario and his fellow pace riders should be fascinating to watch. Even with these concerns, Knicks Go deserves to be one of the favorites for the Longines Classic, and if he can outrun his foes once again at a distance he’s never tried, he’ll be a shoo-in for Horse of the Year. Rosario won the 2019 Longines Classic on Accelerate and finished second aboard McKinzie in 2019 and third on Flat Out in 2012.

Bet Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Joe Labozzetta/NYRA Photo

6. Art Collector (8-1)

Jockey: Mike Smith

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owner: Bruce Lunsford

Career record: 15 starts – 8 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,535,305

Earnings per start: $102,354

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 120

Pedigree: Bernardini – Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor

Age: 4

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Art Collector rolls into the Longines Classic on a three-race winning streak and in peak form. After a promising 3-year-old season that ended in disappointment when he was unplaced in both the Preakness Stakes and the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, he returned in June and ran sixth in a seven-furlong stakes at Churchill Downs … and hasn’t lost since. Stretched out in distance by trainer Bill Mott – who took over management of this talented colt after his 2021 debut at Churchill – Art Collector won the 1 1/8-mile Alydar Stakes around two turns at Saratoga, the 1 1/8-mile Charles Town Classic around three turns, and then the 1 1/8-mile Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park around one turn on Oct. 2. His Woodward win was the most impressive of his career, as he easily defeated runner-up and multiple graded stakes winner Maxfield by 1 ½ lengths with fellow multiple graded stakes winners Dr Post and Code of Honor farther back. The big question for Art Collector is the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Longines Classic, which he’s never tried before. He’ll also be picking up a new jockey in Hall of Famer Mike Smith, as Luis Saez, who’s been aboard Art Collector for his three wins this year, will ride Essential Quality. This son of Bernardini would have been one of the favorites for the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile along with Life Is Good but owner-breeder Bruce Lunsford is pointing him for the Longines Classic, where he profiles as a second-tier player who should offer good odds to those who think he can pull off the upset. He should also be a contributor to what shapes up to be a brisk pace, joining Knicks Go, Medina Spirit, and possibly Hot Rod Charlie among the front rank of horses early on. Hall of Famer Mott has had 18 prior starters in the Classic, winning the race with the legendary Cigar in 1995 and Drosselmeyer in 2011 and also finishing third three times. Getting Smith to ride for the Classic is an asset. “Big Money Mike” leads all jockeys in Breeders’ Cup wins with 26, and four of those have come in the Classic: Skip Away (1997); Zenyatta (2009); Drosselmeyer (2011); and Arrogate (2016). Smith has also finished second three times and third twice in the Classic.

Bet Art Collector in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Coady Photography

7. Stilleto Boy (30-1)

Jockey: Kent Desormeaux

Trainer: Ed Moger Jr.

Owner: Steve Moger

Career record: 10 starts – 2 wins – 3 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $324,675

Earnings per start: $32,468

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Pedigree: Shackleford – Rosie’s Ransom, by Marquetry

Age: 3

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: In a race loaded with graded stakes winners, Stilleto Boy should be the longest shot in the Classic field. He’s assembled a solid but far-from-spectacular career record through 10 races, breaking his maiden in his fifth career start last spring at Oaklawn Park and two races later scoring a 16.70-1 upset in the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. After that victory in early July, Stilleto Boy was bought by Steve Moger at the Fasig-Tipton July sale of horses of racing age and transferred to brother Ed Moger’s stable in California. Since then, he’s run respectably in three straight stakes races, finishing fifth in a turf stakes at Del Mar, third behind Medina Spirit and Rock Your World in the Shared Belief Stakes on Del Mar’s dirt main track, and then second by five lengths to Medina Spirit in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 2 at odds of 54.80-1. Given the amount of quality lined up in this year’s Classic, Stilleto Boy will probably once again be dismissed by the betting public, and in a best-case scenario he could muster a decent stretch rally and pass some tired horses to spice up the exotics considering that he has hit the board in eight out of his 10 starts. Anything more than that would be a major surprise. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux has been aboard all three of Stilleto Boy’s West Coast starts. His best Breeders’ Cup Classic finish came back in 1999 when third on Golden Missile. Desormeaux has also finished fourth six times.

Bet Stilleto Boy in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Eclipse Sportswire

8. Medina Spirit (4-1)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Zedan Racing Stables

Career record: 9 starts – 5 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $2,525,200

Earnings per start: $280,578

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Pedigree: Protonico – Mongolian Changa, by Brilliant Speed

Age: 3

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Medina Spirit is arguably the X-factor contender in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. He, along with Art Collector, should provide a serious pace challenge to Knicks Go and ensure that that front-running rival does not go unchallenged in the early stages. Unlike Art Collector, Medina Spirit has victories at a mile and a quarter and also on Del Mar’s dirt surface. In four out of this colt’s five career wins, he has led at every point of call, and that includes his first-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve that is currently under investigation after he tested positive for a banned race-day medication. Since the Derby, Medina Spirit finished third in the Preakness Stakes off of two weeks’ rest but then improved considerably with extra breaks between starts, winning the one-mile Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar in late August by 1 ¼ lengths and then romping by five lengths in the 1 1/8-mile Awesome Again Stakes over Stilleto Boy and Express Train at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 2. He’s put in a couple of good workouts since the Awesome Again for Bob Baffert and appears to be ready for another top effort in the Longines Classic. This modestly-bred $35,000 purchase for Amir Zedan gets Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez back aboard for the seventh straight race – another positive. Medina Spirit is a viable win candidate in a loaded Classic field who will make an impact on the outcome one way or another by using his speed. Baffert has won the Classic four times: Bayern in 2014; Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015; Arrogate in 2016; and Authentic in 2020. He’s also finished second five times and third twice. Velazquez rode Authentic to victory for Baffert last year, his first win in the Classic. He’s finished second three times. 

Bet Medina Spirit in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

Eclipse Sportswire

9. Max Player (8-1)

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owners: George Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds

Career record: 11 starts – 4 wins – 1 second – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $1,252,500

Earnings per start: $113,864

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113

Pedigree: Honor Code – Fools in Love, by Not For Love

Age: 4

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Honor Code colt has found a new and financially rewarding dimension in 2021 by changing his running style. Formerly a one-dimensional closer who finished third in both the 2020 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and the Runhappy Travers Stakes at age 3, Max Player raced much closer to the pace in his third start this year, the 1 ¼-mile Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park in July, and outfought Dubai World Cup Presented by Emirates Airline winner Mystic Guide to win by a neck. His subsequent start was even better, as he once again tracked the pace and then powered clear to score by four lengths in the 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 4. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen decided to forego a final prep for the Longines Classic and instead has kept Max Player on a steady worktab at Santa Anita Park. He should be well-rested and ready to put forth another solid effort at a distance that clearly suits him, and his Equibase Speed Figures from the Suburban and Jockey Club Gold Cup make him a threat to hit the board in a competitive Classic, if not post the upset. Both he and Essential Quality stand to benefit the most if the early pace in the Classic taxes Knicks Go and the other front-runners – and Max Player should carry much more enticing post-time odds than the Belmont and Travers winner. Asmussen won the 2007 Classic with Curlin, a Hall of Famer, and in 2017 with Gun Runner, a soon-to-be Hall of Famer. Co-owner George Hall finished third in the 2011 Classic with Ruler On Ice.

Bet Max Player in the Breeders’ Cup Classic

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