Sky Sports Racing’s Barry Faulkner casts his eye over all nine hopefuls in Saturday night’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The 2020 renewal was won by Authentic and trainer Bob Baffert has a live chance again this year with Medina Spirit.
Other notable contenders include Essential Quality, Knicks Go and Tripoli – here’s Barry’s expert analysis on every runner.
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1 – Tripoli (Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr; Trainer John Sadler)
He put up a cracking effort to win the Pacific Classic, over this course and distance in August. He was not suited by the run of the race, back at nine furlongs, in the Awesome Again last month, when fourth behind Medina Spirit, Stiletto Boy and Express Train.
He gets the trip well and looks sure to have a strong pace to run at, which would suit him perfectly. Sadler was successful with Accelerate in 2018 for this lad’s owners and he has snapped up Irad Ortiz for the ride on this live longshot.
2 – Express Train (V Espinoza; J Shirreffs)
Express Train has won a couple of races this year, with his victory in the San Pasqual at Santa Anita in January, being supplemented by his success in the San Diego Handicap in July.
On the back of that success, he was made favourite for the Pacific Classic but, after getting tightened up at the start, he was unable to get involved.
Trouble in running affected him in the Awesome Again last month but it would still be a surprise to see him prevail for Zenyatta’s trainer John Shireffs.
Audarya, near side, wins the Filly and Mare Turf at last year’s Breeders’ Cup
3 – Hot Rod Charlie (F Prat; D O’Neill)
After winning the Louisiana Derby in March, Hot Rod Charlie was sent to post as third favourite for the Kentucky Derby G1, and that was his finishing position behind Medina Spirit but just ahead of Essential Quality.
Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie skipped the Preakness but clashed again, going a mile and a half, in the Belmont G1, where Essential Quality took the winner’s share of the purse, with Hot Rod Charlie behind in second.
He then ran in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and, in a ding-dong battle, he got home by a nose, from Kentucky Derby runner up Mandaloun.
But there was a sting in the tail. He was disqualified and placed last after badly impeding Midnight Bourbon. He was to get his revenge on that rival, and his first top-grade success, when taking the Pennsylvania Derby at the end of September.
4 – Essential Quality (L Saez; B Cox)
The only defeat in last year’s Juvenile winner Essential Quality’s nine-race career was his fourth place, in a tight finish in the Kentucky Derby in May. He wasn’t suited by the way the race unfolded that day, after getting a decent bump at the break, before being ridden into contention when the field reached the wire first time round.
However, he was unable to get to grips with the speed controlling winner. He skipped the Preakness but got his Triple Crown win, outbattling, and outstaying, Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont at the beginning of June.
He was given a break after that but came back at the end of July to win the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, as 2-5 favourite. That is the traditional prep for the Midsummer Derby at the Spa, the Travers and in that contest he got home by a hard-fought neck, from Midnight Bourbon.
He is a grinder who relishes a battle and should be suited by the scrap on Saturday.
Tarnawa wins at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup
5 – Knicks Go (J Rosario; B Cox)
Knicks Go has had a career of two halves. He started out in the care of trainer Ben Colebrook and had a pretty good juvenile year in 2018, winning the Stanford at Saratoga, the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland – at 70-1 and finishing runner up in the Juvenile, to the even-money favourite Game Winner, when a 40-1 shot.
Unfortunately, the wheels didn’t spin anywhere near so impressively in his three-year-old season, with just two second placings from eight starts. Switched to the barn of Brad Cox for 2020, he won a couple of widely spaced Allowances, one in February, the other in October.
He earned an eye-catching speed figure for the second of them and lined up as 9-5 favourite locally for the Dirt Mile, despite arriving off just one prep run. In the race, he gave his supporters not one moment of doubt, easing home after setting scintillating sectionals.
It was a similar story in the Pegasus World Cup, going nine furlongs in January this year. There was a bump in the road when he could only finish fourth to Mishriff in the Saudi Cup in February, followed by a disappointing fourth in the Met Mile in June.
Order of Australia won the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2020 for Aidan O’Brien
6 – Art Collector (M Smith; W Mott)
Since switching to the barn of trainer Bill Mott, in the middle of this year, he has developed into a pretty useful racehorse.
His three runs in the care of the man who won the Classic in 1995 with the great Cigar, have seen him win a Listed contest at Saratoga, the Charles Town Classic and Woodward at Belmont at the beginning of last month.
They were all at nine furlongs and he is another who is an unknown quantity at this trip. His speed figure from that last run, when he beat a useful sort in Maxfield, was pretty strong and his late pace ‘number’ provides plenty of encouragement.
7 – Stiletto Boy (K Desormeaux Jr; E Moger)
Hopefully the Moger’s will have an enjoyable day at Del Mar, because their representative, Stilleto Boy, will have to show something that has been hitherto hidden to take this. He is 66-1 with bookies over here for a reason.
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8 – Medina Spirit (J Velazquez; B Baffert)
Medina Spirit went into the Kentucky Derby after a couple of second-place finishes in the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby.
In the race itself, he soon established himself in a comfortable rhythm as the controlling speed and lasted to win by 1/2 a length from Mandaloun, absent here, with Hot Rod Charlie the same distance back in third, a head in front of Essential Quality in fourth.
He emerged with the Blanket of Roses but, subsequently, a less welcome positive drug test. That matter is still going through the legal process but he was unable to follow up in the Preakness, finishing third, and was then was barred from running in the Belmont.
After that, he was given time off before returning in a particularly strong Listed contest in August, where he won, despite not looking back to his best.
Then, at the beginning of last month, he took on his elders for the first time in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita, going nine furlongs.
He put up a visually impressive performance that day to win by five lengths and up, from Stiletto Boy, Express Train and Tripoli, when again setting his own, comfortable fractions. He is unlikely to have the luxury of being the controlling speed here and that could compromise his chances.
9 – Max Player (R Santana; S Asmussen)
Trainer Steve Asmussen, who trained the winner of this event with Gun Runner the last time it was held here, brings Max Player to the party in 2021.
The colt started 2021 with a trip to Saudi Cup, where he was never a factor behind Mishriff. He then disappointed in the Pimlico Special in May but has won twice since.
He got home by a neck in the Suburban at Belmont in July and improved on that when winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup, at Saratoga in early September.
Both those victories came at this trip but, although ten furlongs may not be an issue for him, a few of his rivals may be.
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Barry Faulkner’s Verdict
Although the younger generation are likely to present a strong challenge, KNICKS GO has developed into a very speedy, and very classy runner.
His sectionals in last year’s Dirt Mile were inconceivably quick and he has looked comfortable stretching out to nine furlongs in 2021.
I think he will get this trip and can set the sort of pace that all of his rivals will find taxing, on the way to victory. TRIPOLI is the sort to pick up the pieces in the closing stages.