By Richard Rosenblatt
Essential Quality delivered a breakthrough performance for owner, trainer, and jockey with a thrilling stretch run and three-quarter length victory over 94-1 long shot Hot Rod Charlie in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) on Future Stars Friday at Keeneland Race Course.
Not only did unbeaten Essential Quality ($9.40 on a $2 win bet) state his case as the early favorite for the 2021 Kentucky Derby (G1), the win gave trainer Brad Cox a second Breeders’ Cup win on the day and his fifth overall since 2018.
Luis Saez, the classy young jockey who rides star-crossed Maximum Security, won his first Breeders’ Cup race a day before he tries to win several more, including the $6 million Classic aboard “Max.”
For owner Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin, it gives the Dubai-based operation perhaps its best chance to fulfill a longtime goal of winning the Derby.
The opening day of the Breeders’ Cup had a little for everyone: five different jockeys won, and four different trainers winning races. A 30-1 long-shot winner, and several favorites going down to defeat.
Nine Breeders’ Cup races are on tap Saturday.
The 1 1/16-mile Juvenile was the main event Friday, and unbeaten Essential Quality (7-2) put on a terrific show – even though no fans were permitted at the track (COVID-19 pandemic restrictions), there seemed to be three-to-four deep around the paddock, with owners and essential racing personnel in attendance.
With Jackie’s Warrior the prohibitive 4-5 favorite and 4-0 coming in, a blazing early pace was too much for the Steve Asmussen-trained colt to overcome.
Dreamer’s Disease, 41-1, set fractions of 22.58 seconds for the first quarter mile, 45.31 for the half, and 1:10.48 for three-quarters,
From there, with Essential Quality lurking mid-pack and Jackie’s Warrior briefly taking the lead heading around the final turn, 94-1 long shot Hot Rod Charlie loomed up to challenge. But under the well-timed ride by Saez, Essential Quality wore down the front-runners and won in a time of 1:42.09.
“A tremendous effort by the horse and Luis to stay after him the whole way,’’ Cox said. “ He overcame a lot today. He’s a nice colt and distance is no issue with him. He’ll run all day. He’s a spectacular colt. I’m proud of him and happy for the Godolphin organization. What a horse.”
For Jackie’s Warrior, racing around two turns for the first time, the pace was just too fast.
“Forty-five and one, 1:10 and 2 was too much too soon,’’ Asmussen said. “He’s accomplished a lot coming in here. We planned on winning and ended up fourth, But pace makes race and it did not set up well for us.”
For the record, only two winners of the Juvenile have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby – cin 2007 and Nyquist in 2015.
Saez, of course, was the rider aboard Maximum Security when he finished first in the 2019 Derby but was disqualified to 17th for interference.
Keepmeinmind was third, followed by Jackie’s Warrior, Rombauer, Dreamer’s Disease, King Fury, Classier, Sittin on Go, Reinvestment Risk, Calibrate, Camp Hope, Likeable, and Next.
In the four Breeders’ Cup races preceding the Juvenile, the winners were Golden Pal in the Juvenile Sprint, Fire at Will in the Juvenile Turf, Vequist in the Juvenile Fillies and Aunt Pearl in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Golden Pal rocketed out of the starting gate, was checked briefly by jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., then turned on the speed and outclassed the field in a three-quarter-length victory over Cowan.
Sent off as the 4-5 favorite in a full field of 14, Golden Pal ($3.60) was nearly two lengths ahead in the opening strides. The son of Uncle Mo was so aggressive, Ortiz pulled the reins slightly to slow him down. The colt responded well, and then got into a running rhythm that shoed he was clearly the deserving favorite.
Winning time was 1:02.82 over a turf surface rated good.
The win gave trainer Wesley Ward and Ortiz back-to-back wins in this race. Last year, the two won with Four Wheel Drive.
“I knew he had the potential last time,’’ said Ortiz, referring to Golden Pal’s 3 ½-length win in the Skidmore at Saratoga on Aug. 21. “He ran so fast (at the start), but I didn’t want him to go that fast. I got him to turn his head a little, and then he came back to win.”
Ward said he hoped to return to Royal Ascot and give Golden Pal a chance to avenge a narrow defeat to The Lir Jet in the Norfolk Stakes (G2) on June 19.
“He’s just amazing,’’ Ward said. “I got a little worried on the backside. Irad kind of lost a little momentum there and took a pretty good hold of him, but then he just accelerated down the lane. When he accelerated past the quarter-pole, I knew we were OK.”
Fire at Will swept past pace-setter Outadore in the stretch and beat closer Battleground by three lengths to win at odds of 30-1.
Dismissed as one of the longest shots in the field, Fire at Will ($62.40) broke well from post 7 in a full field of 14, found room along the rail and jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., timed his move to mid-track perfectly to give trainer Mike Maker his first BC victory in nine years and third overall.
Gretzky the Great, a popular choice who went off at 7-1, was in contention early, but wound up sixth. Outadore finished third, a neck behind Battleground.
Winning time for the mile was 1:35.81.
“I got a beautiful trip. I had plenty of horse in the tank,’’ Santana said. “Thank God everything played out perfect. He put me where he wanted to be and that’s why we won.”
Fire at Will has won 3-of-4 starts, among them the off-the-turf With Anticipation and the Pilgrim.
“I tell you we have been high on him since day one and with each race he’s got better,’’ Maker said. “It’s very satisfying to get [owners] Three Diamonds Farm their very first Breeders’ Cup win.”
Gaining ground along the rail, Vequist ($15.20) outran pace-setter Dayoutoftheoffice in the stretch and won by two lengths with Baffert’s unbeaten 9-5 favorite Princess Noor fifth of seven after tiring in the stretch.
Sent off at 6-1 and facing four previously unbeaten fillies, Vequist turned the tables on Dayoutoftheoffice, who beat her in the Frizette (G1) at Belmont on Oct. 10.
Vequist, a daughter of 2015 BC Juvenile winner and 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, improved to 4-2-2-0 and boosted her earnings to $1,295,500.
“She really thrived on this air and the weather. She looked great coming in,’’ trainer Butch Reid said. “I knew we would be laying up close. She’s a sharp filly. She doesn’t mind the inside obviously. I don’t know that you ever have that kind of feeling but we knew she was doing very well and we know she’s a very talented filly.”
Joel Rosario, aboard the Vequist or the first time, won his 12th Breeders’ Cup race. Rosario also won this race in 2018 aboard Jaywalk.
“I tried to save ground. It was hard for her in the turn because I had a horse outside me,’’ Rosario said. “But she did great. I never gave up my position. As soon as I asked her she went on with it. It was a very good performance.”
Winning time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:42.30.
It’s not often a 2-year-old filly can go gate-to-wire in this race, but happened on this day as favorite Aunt Pearl ($7.20) dusted 13 rivals with a dominating 2 1/2-length victory over Mother Earth.
Ireland breds were the top four finishers, with Miss Amulet third and Campenelle fourth.
Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, Aunt Pearl improved to 3-0 and became the second winner of this race (13th edition) to lead from the get-go. Newspaperofrecord, who won in 2018, was the first.
Winning time for the mile was 1:35.71.
|2||Tiz the Law||Manuel Franco||3-1|
|3||By My Standards||Gabriel Saez||10-1|
|4||Tom’s d’Etat||Joel Rosario||6-1|
|5||Title Ready||Corey Lanerie||30-1|
|6||Higher Power||Flavien Prat||20-1|
|7||Global Campaign||Javier Castellano||20-1|
|8||Improbable||Irad Ortiz Jr||5-2|
|10||Maximum Security||Luis Saez||7-2|
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.