The path to the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar on Nov. 5-6 is a road with plenty of ups and downs as talented racehorses vie for a spot in one of 14 championship races and $31 million in purses and awards.
This blog provides a capsule look at three horses who are heating up on the Road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and three horses whose Breeders’ Cup chances are not quite as strong as they were two weeks ago.
Let’s get right to it and take a look at some of the big movers over the past couple of weeks of racing action as the focus of U.S. Thoroughbred racing centers on the 2021 Breeders’ Cup.
1. Dr. Schivel
There is elite top-end talent targeting the Breeders’ Cup Sprint this year, but don’t sleep on 3-year-old Dr. Schivel. After closing out his 2-year-old season with back-to-back dominant wins, including a Grade 1 win in the Runhappy Del Mar Futurity, the Violence colt has focused entirely on sprints this season and improved to a perfect 3-for-3 in 2021 with his second straight win over older males in the Grade 2 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes Oct. 2 at Santa Anita Park. He set the pace and won by 3 ¼ lengths as the 9-5 favorite one race after rallying from sixth in an eight-horse field to win the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes July 31. With one race in June, one in July, and one in October, plus five weeks of rest leading into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, there should be plenty of fuel in the tank as trainer Mark Glatt has handled him very carefully this season. He’s won from on and off the pace and his speed figures are very good: he’s earned a string of 109-103-112 Equibase Speed Figures for his three starts this season, and the 103 Beyer Speed Figure, 104 Brisnet speed rating, and 6 ¼ Ragozin speed figure for the Santa Anita Sprint Championship indicate he should be very competitive in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He’s also 3-for-3 on the main track at Del Mar, host of this year’s World Championships. Sure, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint could be a loaded race with Jackie’s Warrior, C Z Rocket, Firenze Fire, Special Reserve, and possibly lightly raced Baby Yoda among the contenders, but Dr. Schivel looks like a prime win candidate.
The hype machine kicked into second (or third) gear on Oct. 1 when Corniche delivered a dominant 3 ¼-length victory in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita Park to punch his ticket to the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won the Juvenile four times, and in winning both of his starts to date by a combined margin of 7 ½ lengths, Corniche could very well make it five. Speed is always a potent weapon in major 2-year-old races – four of the last 20 Juvenile winners led at the first point of call and six of 20 were pace/press the pace type runners – and Corniche should be able to use that to his advantage. He also has a win on the main track at Del Mar, which hosts the 2021 World Championships, and is well-bred: by top sire Quality Road out of Wasted Tears, a Grade 2 winner at 1 1/8 miles. He earned a 90 Equibase Speed Figure, an 85 Beyer Speed Figure, and a 104 Brisnet speed rating for the American Pharoah victory and surely will be one of the two of three betting favorites Nov. 5.
Hot Rod Charlie has been very good all year in a campaign that includes a win in the $1 million Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, a third-place finish in the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, and an ultra-game second in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. I always respected him as a very good and gutsy racehorse, but beginning with the Belmont Stakes, I believe he has emerged as a real threat to defeat older males and win the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. I wrote an in-depth Getting to Know profile on him Sept. 28. In short, he’s gotten even better after the grind of the Triple Crown, which is pretty rare in recent years. After setting a wicked pace and holding on for second in the Belmont Stakes, Hot Rod Charlie ran a big race in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes and finished first, only to be correctly disqualified for interference in the stretch. He came back Sept. 25 in the Pennsylvania Derby and ran arguably the best race of his career to bank his first Grade 1 win. Hot Rod Charlie improved seven points to a 120 Equibase Speed Figure from his previous top of 113, improved from a 108 Beyer Speed Figure in the Belmont Stakes to a 111, and equaled a career-top 110 Brisnet rating. With six weeks of rest between the Pennsylvania Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hot Rod Charlie should be poised to run another big race, which he will need to do to defeat a very good group of older males and fellow elite 3-year-old Essential Quality.
Also-Eligibles: The last spot above was very difficult to choose between Hot Rod Charlie and Space Blues, a very talented 5-year-old Godolphin homebred who flashed his absolutely explosive turn of foot in winning the Group 1 Qatar Prix de la Foret Oct. 2 on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe undercard at Longchamp. I’m skeptical how much most of the runners coming out of those races on the boggy, rain-soaked Longchamp turf will factor at Del Mar, but not so much with Space Blues. The Dubawi horse has run very well on good to firm turf throughout a career in which he’s won 10 of 18 races, and he really is something to watch when he unleashes his turf of foot. His connections are considering the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PDJF Nov. 6 for the final start of his career and he would be a leading contender. However, European sprinters stretching out to a mile for this race have not been nearly as effective as true milers. That was why Hot Rod Charlie got the slight nod for the third spot. … I’m not sure Echo Zulu necessarily raised her stock a tremendous amount in winning the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes Oct. 3 at Belmont Park as much as she confirmed her status as an elite 2-year-old filly and top contender for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Nov. 5. … Bella Sofia is very similar to Dr. Schivel, above, in that she has been consistently excellent all year (four wins and one second in five starts) and also in that both are 3-year-olds who would be facing older runners in a sprint race at the World Championships. But the Filly and Mare Sprint is only under consideration right now for Bella Sofia, who is not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup but would be a logical top contender with a string of 112-113-115 Equibase Speed Figures in her last three starts, the last being a 3 1/2-length romp in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap Sept. 26 at Belmont. … Bob Baffert won the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic with 3-year-old Kentucky Derby winner Authentic and could match that feat in 2021 with Medina Spirit. The subject of immense scrutiny after failing a post-Derby drug test, Medina Spirit has run very well in two starts since finishing third in the Preakness Stakes. He won the Shared Belief Stakes in August at Del Mar and handled older males in a five-length runaway in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes Oct. 2 at Santa Anita Park. His speed figures for the Awesome Again (110 Equibase, 107 Beyer, 105 Brisnet) peg him as a viable win contender in the Longines Classic. … There were too many quality performances from 2-year-old to mention all of them here, but one I did want to highlight was Grade 2 Pilgrim Stakes winner Annapolis, who improved to 2-for-2 with a victory in his stakes debut Oct. 3 at Belmont Park. He was extremely determined to get past game runner-up Portfolio Company. By elite turf sire War Front out of 2014 Longines Kentucky Oaks runner-up My Miss Sophia, Annapolis earned a 94 Equibase Speed Figure and an 89 Beyer Speed Figure for the win and it should set him up well for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on Nov. 5.
1. Grace Adler
Rarely am I shocked by a result in a 2-year-old race, but that was absolutely the case with Grace Adler’s fifth-place finish, beaten by 13 ¾ lengths as the 9-10 favorite in the Grade 2 Chandelier Stakes Oct. 1 at Santa Anita Park. Unbeaten in two starts coming into the race with a significant class test passed when she won the Grade 1 TVG Del Mar Debutante, the talented filly looked like a prime contender for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Nov. 5 at Del Mar. A filly by two-time Horse of the Year and proven stamina influence Curlin, Grace Adler appeared very capable of stretching out in distance from seven-eighths of a mile to 1 1/16 miles for the Chandelier. In was not to be, however, as she regressed from a 93 Equibase Speed Figure to a 64. I find 2-year-old fillies to be especially volatile in late summer and early fall, so perhaps Grace Adler’s disappointing Chandelier should not have come as a such a surprise.
After switching from turf to dirt, Tripoli emerged this summer as a Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic contender with a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap followed by a 1 ¼-length win in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes Aug. 21, both at Del Mar. With a 106 Equibase Speed Figure for the San Diego and a 109 for the Pacific Classic, Tripoli appeared headed in the right direction for trainer John Sadler and owner Hronis Racing. In his final prep for the $6 million Classic, the Kitten’s Joy colt took a significant step backward when fourth, 8 ¼ lengths behind winner Medina Spirit, in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes Oct. 2 at Santa Anita Park. The 98 Equibase Speed Figure was 11 points off the career-best mark he had twice recorded on dirt earlier this season. While he clearly likes the main track at Del Mar, it’s tough to blame the surface in this case – he posted a 109 Equibase Speed Figure in a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Santa Anita back in June. It’s challenging to go into a race like the Breeders’ Cup Classic off of a disappointing race like the Awesome Again and feel confident about Tripoli’s win chances. While I don’t think we saw the best version of Tripoli in the Awesome Again, it is also hard to imagine that race would be a springboard back to peak form to face the best 1 ¼-mile dirt horses in the world in five weeks.
Gunite was mentioned in the Heating Up also-eligibles section of the Sept. 8 edition of this blog. The promising Gun Runner colt had just won the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes by 5 ¾ lengths at double-digit odds after previously running second in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes Presented by Miller Lite. He looked like a 2-year-old on the rise with a nice combination of speed, experience, and precociousness. The Grade 1 Champagne Stakes on Oct. 2 was only an extra eighth of a mile and the race was around one turn like each of his previous five starts, so there was plenty of reason to expect a strong performance. But after he was passed on the final turn by eventual winner Jack Christopher, Gunite faded badly and finished fifth, beaten by 14 ½ lengths. He’d be hard to endorse in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance off of that performance, but I still think he’s a very nice prospect long-term.
Of note: Since the last edition of this blog, two-time champion Monomoy Girl was retired after she was injured in training. The 2018 and 2020 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner did not need surgery but it ended a remarkable career that included 14 wins and three seconds in 17 career starts and more than $4.7 million in earnings. Monomoy Girl is a no-doubt Hall of Famer. … Breeders’ Cup Sprint contender Yaupon also was injured in training and subsequently was retired. The Grade 1 winner prevailed in six of eight career starts and will embark upon a career as a stallion in 2022. … Midnight Bourbon – second in the Preakness Stakes, Runhappy Travers Stakes and, most recently, the Pennsylvania Derby, all Grade 1s – will bypass the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic in favor of the Grade 1 Clark Handicap in late November or an extended rest before a 4-year-old campaign.