Veteran Turf Writers Ehalt and Pedulla Evaluate the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic

Essential Quality, shown training at Del Mar on Nov. 3, is the top win selection for Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic for both Tom Pedulla and Bob Ehalt. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Bob Ehalt and Tom Pedulla became fast friends when they met on their first day at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1970. Bob soon introduced Tom to the joys of Thoroughbred racing.

They have endured some rough moments at the track, with Tom taking exception when Bob repeatedly smacks him on the back with a program as one of their horses launches an all-out drive. Much to Tom’s chagrin and the amusement of onlookers, Bob has been known to call for security as he proceeds to cash a $27 triple.

They have owned a number of horses together and were part of the group that owned 1998 Whitney runner-up Tale of the Cat. They are often seen carrying on as if they never left their teenage years.

Here is their take on the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic set for Nov. 6 at Del Mar:

PEDULLA: Bob, you will recall that I correctly predicted Essential Quality would win the Belmont. He has only enhanced my opinion of him since then with victories in the Jim Dandy and the Travers to make him 8 for 9 lifetime. He emphatically answered any questions about distance in the Belmont and I think he will benefit from a great set-up here. Look for him to sit off the pace while either Medina Spirit or Hot Rod Charlie put the heat on dedicated front-runner Knicks Go, who has never gone this far. When Luis Saez calls, count on Essential Quality to answer as he has so often before.

Television schedule

Friday, Nov. 5: 12:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. on FS2; 5 p.m.-9 p.m. on NBCSN; post time varies on TVG

Saturday, Nov. 6: 12 p.m.-5:30 p.m. on FS2; 2:30 p.m.-8 p.m. on NBCSN; 8 p.m.-9 p.m. on NBC; post time varies on TVG

Sunday, Nov. 7: 11:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. on FS2; 3:30 p.m.-6 p.m. on FS1; post time varies on TVG

EHALT: Yes, great minds think alike. Now we just have to find some great minds. Totally agree with Essential Quality. Brad Cox has handled him perfectly and has him in peak form heading into the Classic. The pace sets up great for him, he should handle the distance, and he has a great rider. It’s his race to lose.

PEDULLA: We had the pleasure of sitting together when Knicks Go dusted his competition in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney, dispatching Maxfield by 4 ½ lengths. I see this competition as much stiffer and I cannot imagine that he will be allowed an uncontested lead as he was in the Whitney. As much as speed must be respected, particularly at Del Mar, I see him weakening in that testing final furlong to be second to a stablemate bred for Classic glory.

EHALT: We disagree here. More than Knicks Go, the Spa horse that impressed me was Max Player. He was a surprising winner over Mystic Guide in the Suburban at Belmont Park, then proved it was no fluke at Saratoga by winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He’s in great hands with Steve Asmussen and with two months off, he seems ready for another big effort.

PEDULLA: How can I not have much respect for Medina Spirit? However he is to be remembered for a controversial Kentucky Derby, it is indisputable that he possesses legitimate speed, responds beautifully for heady Hall of Famer John Velazquez and shows up every time. I am sure that his embattled trainer, Bob Baffert, still has a knack for having elite horses ready for big spots. Medina Spirit has to be viewed as a major player here.

Hot Rod Charlie trains. (Eclipse Sportswire)

EHALT: This is really a superb crop of 3-year-olds and if Essential Quality is No. 1, then Hot Rod Charlie is No 2. It’s amazing that they were 1-2 in the Juvenile last year and still sit atop the crop. Hot Rod Charlie enters in great form and it would be no surprise if he emerges victorious. He’s that good.

PEDULLA: Hot Rod Charlie is yet another ultra-consistent 3-year-old that lays it on the line every time. It helps that he does not have to have the lead to get the job done, but I think my top three choices are just a bit better than the Pennsylvania Derby victor in what will be a formful Classic.

EHALT: For me, Knicks Go and Medina Spirit are destined to battling on the front end from the start and that diminishes my belief in both of them. Yet given all that has happened this year, would there be something anything more fitting than Bob Baffert winning the Classic? I’m not banking on that, but, like you, Thomas, I’m not tossing out Medina Spirit, though it’s the bottom of the superfecta for him.

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