JONATHAN QUAYLE HIGGINS ON THURSDAYS

With some form research, two dozen race replays, published interviews and track whispers behind me this week, here is a preview of the two 2021 Breeders’ Cup race days at Del Mar, San Diego, this weekend:

SATURDAY

There will be nine championship races on the card as some of the world’s top horses will square off in the quest to be called a Breeders’ Cup champion. The headline event, as usual, is the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. That race will wrap up the evening and has major Horse of the Year implications.

FILLY & MARE SPRINT, G1, 7f

The conversation in the Filly and Mare Sprint begins, continues, and ends with Bob Baffert’s Gamine. She’s won five races in a row, including all four of her starts this year. She won this race last year by 6 ¼ lengths, and she’s won all of her starts this year by at least 1 ½ lengths. Her presence has scared away most of the competition, and she’ll be hard to beat.

ONE TO WATCH: GAMINE (3-5)

 

TURF SPRINT, G1, 5f

Wesley Ward’s Golden Pal proved his Nunthorpe effort all wrong with a striking victory at Keeneland last month and has been all the rage for this since. He’s priced at a generous 7-2, but there will be several others with chances, including European raiders Glass Slippers and A Case Of You. Ryan Moore’s Mount Extravagant Kid was second to Golden Pal at Keeneland and presents good place value art 12-1, but the Ward runner looks hard to peg back at best.

ONE TO WATCH: GOLDEN PAL (7-2)


BIG ASS FANS DIRT MILE, G1, 1 mile

The Dirt Mile is a race for three-year-olds and older and will be run around two turns on the main track. It either tends to attract route horses not quite good enough to race in the Classic or sprinters who find the six furlongs of the Sprint to be too short. Former KY Derby contender Life Is Good was injured after winning the San Felipe Stakes. He returned with a second place and then won the Kelso Handicap by 5 ½ lengths. He has big gate speed and can do it from gun to tape. Interestingly, a pair of Japanese horses are entered as that country sends over their biggest Breeders’ Cup contingent yet. Jasper Prince was last in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last year, but comes into the race on winning form. Pingxiang won his last two starts, the Kamakura Stakes and the Tempozan Stakes. Both horses were bred in Kentucky and are trained by Hideyuki Mori. The Baffert-trained Eight Rings had a big reputation as a younger horse and he looks back to form, and there was plenty to like about Del Mar specialist Ginobilli last two wins. He’s strong from on the pace too.

ONE TO WATCH: GINOBILI (4-1)

MAKER’S MARK FILLY & MARE TURF, G1 1 3/8 miles

This is a race in which British or Irish runners have emerged on top in four of the last five years. It’s an event that has been tweaked quite markedly from venue to venue and even the last time Del Mar hosted, the race was run over just nine furlongs – two furlongs shorter than this year’s edition. The longer trip, coupled with her stablemates lining up for a berth in the Turf, has clearly tempted team Ballydoyle into aiming Love here and she may have an edge over last year’s winner Audarya. Chad Brown has won this race a record four times. He’ll send out two horses in his bid to win a fifth edition, Pocket Square and My Sister Nat, but watch out for Bill Mott, who hasn’t won it yet and saddled strong contender War Like Goddess, a winner of four graded stakes races this year alone. She comes from off them, has excellent late turn of foot, the race will suit.

ONE TO WATCH: WAR LIKE GODDESS (4-1)

QATAR RACING SPRINT, G1, 6f on dirt

Steve Asmussen’s Jackie’s Warrior is all the rage for this race. He’s thrived following a below-par spell, winning four stakes from five starts this year and was a head defeat away from touting five consecutive stakes wins. He was the 1-20 favorite in the Gallant Bob Stakes at Parx last out and won by 6 ¾ lengths without ever being seriously asked. He’s going to be tough to beat if he runs his best race.

ONE TO WATCH: JACKIE’S WARRIOR (6-5)

THE FANDUEL MILE, G1, 1 mile

The world’s best grass milers compete in this race around two turns on the turf course for horses three-years-old and older. Charlie Appleby has had plenty of success with his shippers to North America this year and is represented here by Craven Stakes winner Two Thousand Guineas runner-up Master of the Seas and William Buick’s mount, Space Blues. Let’s go for a UK win in an open race.

ONE TO WATCH: SPACE BLUES (7-2)

LONGINES DISTAFF, G1 1 1/8 miles

It seems all over bar the shouting for Irad Ortiz’s mount Letruska, who has posted six stakes wins from seven starts this year. She’s a powerful and commanding front-runner, will go straight to the lead and may prove hard to reel in. She’s a Horse of the Year contender in the USA, the real deal.

ONE TO WATCH: LETRUSKA (8/5)

LONGINES TURF, G1 1 ½ miles

Tarnawa is going to be a pretty short price here, but with only High Chaparral and Conduit able to go back-to-back in the Turf since its inception (1984), and a wide draw to contend with, you’ll have a chance playing against her. Appleby’s Walton Street could be the one to side with from a better post position in seven. He travels well, and looked in top shape when hammering Desert Encounter by almost six lengths in the Canadian International when last sighted. Crucially, he likes to race on or just off the speed and could hold a massive positional advantage at the business end. Domestic Spending is the USA’s best hope. He won the Old Forester Turf Classic and the Resorts World Casino Manhattan Stakes earlier in the year and was second in the Mr. D. Stakes at Arlington International last out. The son of Kingman has won six of eight starts, including three successive G1’S, and the formidable Chad Brown will put his saddle on.

ONE TO WATCH: DOMESTIC SPENDING (4-1)

 

LONGINES BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC, G1 1 ¼ miles

Godolphin’s Essential Quality will be the horse that we’ll all most want to see go up against Bob Baffert’s ace Medina Spirit. “EQ” as he’s commonly called trackside, has been as expected quite dominant, he’s been training well, and as we know from his cruise to beat Hot Rod Charlie to win the Belmont Stakes, and perhaps even more impressively, his gritty outside run from the 14-hole, no less, to take fourth in the Kentucky Derby. EQ is a champion, he’s proven he’s got tactical speed and Brad Cox will have him spot-on. Bob Baffert is no slouch at taking the winner’s share of the purse in any Breeders’ race, but especially in the Classic, and Medina Spirit is trying to become the fifth horse to win the Derby and the Classic in the same year, joining Ferdinand in 1987, Sunday Silence in 1989, American Pharoah in 2015, and Authentic in 2020. He’s a brilliant horse that likes to win, and he can do it again at a decent price of about 4-1. First in the Pegasus and first in his last three races, including the Whitney Stakes in Saratoga in August, Knicks Go is a threat to Medina Spirit and Essential Quality. He has come into himself as an athlete and trainer Cox says he’s as good as he’s ever been. It’s a top race!

ONE TO WATCH: MEDINA SPIRIT (4-1)

(FRIDAY BELOW)

The action kicks off Friday with “Future Stars Friday.” All five Breeders’ Cup races are restricted to two-year-olds. The two most prominent races are the NetJets Juvenile Fillies and the TVG Juvenile. Both races are at 1 1/16 miles (app 1700m) on the dirt. The winner of those races almost always wins the Eclipse Award as champion of their respective division. The Friday card also features three races on grass: the Juvenile Turf Sprint, the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and the finale of the day, the Juvenile Turf.

JUVENILE TURF SPRINT, G2, 5f

Wesley Ward, who has dominated the race recently, will have two chances at a third strike. Averly Jane is a perfect 4-for-4 in her career and is already a three-time stakes winner. Twilight Gleaming was second in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot in June and recently won a listed stakes in France. A third entrant for Ward, Kaufymaker, is currently on the also-eligible list. Christophe Clement also has two serious contenders for this race. Derrynane won the Woodbine Cares Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths last out as the favourite, but despite winning over 2,000 races with earnings of more than $146 million, Clement has never won a Breeders’ Cup race. There’s always a first time, however, and Joel Rosario is booked.

ONE TO WATCH: DERRYNANE (12-1)

NETJETS JUVENILE FILLIES, G1, 1 1/16 miles

Echo Zulu is the overwhelming favourite in this year’s Juvenile Fillies. She’s unbeaten in three starts and has won all of her races by at least four lengths. She’s very likely to go off deep in the red. In fact, she may challenge the record for lowest-priced favourite in Juvenile Fillies history, held by 1-5 Meadow Star in 1990. Her presence scared away most of the competition; only eight other fillies were pre-entered the Juvenile Fillies. For better value, you’ll have to look to Brad Cox’a Juju’s Map, a fluent G1 winner last time and highly rated by Cox and jockey Florent Geroux.

ONE TO WATCH: JUJU’S MAP (5-2)

BREEDERS CUP JUVENILE FILLIES TURF, G1, 1 mile

The inclination would suggest British and Irish runners should do well in this spot but the roll of honour doesn’t show it, the home runners winning the past seven, and 11 of the 13 renewals to date. Still, the Juvenile Fillies Turf looks wide open. Best may be Bubble Rock, as Brad Cox seeks his second consecutive win in this race. She most recently won the Matron Stakes at Belmont Park by half a length, rallying to take command in the last few strides. But this will be her first start beyond six furlongs. Kent Desormeaux’s mount Cairo Memories, the course specialist for trainer Bob Hess, is a perfect 2-for-2 lifetime with both her wins coming at a mile. There are five Europeans in the 14-horse field. Two of them are Group 2 winners: Hello You, who won the Unibet Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket last out, and Malavath, who took the Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte Stakes at Chantilly most recently.

ONE TO WATCH: CAIRO MEMORIES (12-1)

THE TVG JUVENILE, G1, 1 1/16 miles

The biggest race of the afternoon, the Juvenile features the top 2-year-old colts and geldings in the country. Most of its winners, including Essential Quality who won last year, go on to win the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. Jack Christopher (Chad Brown) and Corniche (Bob Baffert) are likely to take the bulk of the betting action. Command Performance stayed on well in the G1 Champagne, in second to Jack Christopher, and with improvement to come he could be the joker in the pack.

ONE TO WATCH: COMMANDPERFORMANCE (6-1)

BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENLE TURF, G1, 1 mile

A much better record for the Europeans here, with wins in eight previous renewals. The race has a reputation for producing top-class three-year-olds in Europe, Masar, Anthony Van Dyck and Sealiway having all learnt a huge amount from the experience after being well beaten here in recent seasons. Charlie Appleby has won this race twice, and has been dominant with his North American shippers this year. He’ll send out the likely favourite in Albahr, who has won four races in a row and was an impressive winner of the Summer Stakes last out at Woodbine. Appleby is also represented by Group 3 winner Modern Games, to be ridden by Frankie Dettori, who himself has won this race three times. Dubawi Legend presents a chance for Hugo Palmer, following his second behind Native Trail in the G1 Dewhurst at Newmarket.

ONE TO WATCH: DUBAWI LEGEND (5-1)

 

 

MR PALMER GOES WEST: Dubawi Legend has a big shout in Juvenile Turf.

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