The 2021 Breeders’ Cup comes around on November 5 and 6, with no less than 14 top-class races run over Friday and Saturday. This year, horse racing’s World Championships are back at Del Mar in Southern California, the racecourse labelled by Bing Crosby as where ‘the turf meets the surf’, having hosted the meet only once previously, in 2017. There is a possibility of a home-field advantage, with runners based in California and/or with previous experience at Del Mar having a slight edge, although that wasn’t evident four years ago. Trainers from the other big racing states of Kentucky and New York had plenty of winners, so too did the English, Irish and French based runners.
Unless there is some freakish weather, the dirt track will be fast, and the turf course firm, and that may be a key point for the races on the grass. Although officially listed as ‘firm’ at Keeneland last year, the going may be a lot quicker than the likes of defending champions Tarnawa and Glass Slippers encountered in Kentucky.
The pre-entries for the Breeders’ Cup were made on Wednesday, which means the fields are more or less known. However, some runners are double-entered and others are waiting their chance on the reserve list. Here is a quick overview of the main contenders in the top races.
With globetrotter Mishriff missing the race, defending champion Tarnawa will go off a clear-cut favourite. Dermot Weld’s mare has looked as good as ever this term. She gave St Mark's Basilica a fright in the Champion Stakes at Leopardstown and looked a tad unlucky in The Arc. The fact that she is proven at The Big Show Stateside and on a tight turf track is a massive positive. A slight word of caution is that the going may be quicker than it was at Keeneland last November.
It will be interesting to see which Love turns up at Del Mar, as she’s not looked at her 2020 best in a quartet of starts this year. She missed Longchamp on account of the heavy ground, but there will be no such problem at Del Mar. On the contrary, Aidan O’Brien may be worried about it being too firm for her. That won’t be an issue for American based Domestic Spending, who was on a Grade 1 four timer when narrowly beaten at Arlington last time out in August. His trainer, Chad Brown, has freshened him up for this race, but he’s never been further than a mile and a quarter. That’s not the case with Charlie Appleby’s Yibir, the Great Voltigeur winner scoring nicely in a $1,000,000 stake at Belmont on his Stateside debut last month.
Teona is a fast-improving three-year-old filly. The Aidan O’Brien-trained pair she beat in France, including Snowfall last month, did nothing for the form next time. That wasn’t the case for the placed runners when she won at Windsor in August, as they have both ran well subsequently.
Space Blues will be a clear-cut favourite. He is a very progressive five-year-old who comes off a victory in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret over seven furlongs at Longchamp, and his fine turn of foot will be a big asset on this turf course. He should be effective over a mile but has not tried further than seven furlongs in anything but ordinary company, which makes odds of 5/2 in a full field borderline acceptable. His trainer, Charlie Appleby, is having a super season in Europe and has been a killer with the runners he’s sent to North America this year.
Mo Forza is trained by Peter Miller, who’s had plenty of recent success at the Breeders’ Cup. He had the Sprint winner and the one-two in the Turf Sprint the last time this meet was held at Del Mar and has been making hay in graded stakes in California, including two wins over course and distance. He has to be respected with his course form but he’ll be meeting a horse of a different colour in the big race. At a bigger price, Got Stormy makes more appeal. She ran in the Turf Sprint in 2020 and was second in this very race in 2019.
Defending champion Order Of Australia has now been retired after recently sustaining an injury, but Aidan O’Brien still has an interesting runner in Mother Earth. She ran second to a talented juvenile filly on her one start Stateside. She was far from disgraced in a stellar running of the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. Master of The Seas finished behind her that day and may be better on fast ground.
Last year’s winner Glass Slippers is back to defend her crown. She is winless in a light campaign this term but has run well in all three starts. Whether she and the improving filly A Case Of You, who beat her last time at Longchamp, will beat an on-song Golden Pal is another matter. Take out a modest run at York and Wes Ward’s three-year-old colt has fired every time, including in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint last November. He got back on track, easily beating a decent field of locals at Keeneland early this month, and the chances are he makes the lead on his own. Under that scenario, he probably wires this field, it’s just that speed and fade job in the Nunthorpe Stakes that makes me hesitate to press the trigger at about 7/4.
As well as Golden Pal and Glass Slippers, trainers Wes Ward and Kevin Ryan have Kimari and Emaraaty Ana respectively entered. The former has run some big races in rare starts on the turf, while Emaraaty Ana has been kept fresh for this race after winning the Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock in early September.
Those shopping around for a price should give a long look to Lieutenant Dan. He’s two for two over course and distance. Admittedly he meets far tougher rivals in Golden Pal and the European sprinters, but he’s literally earned his place in this lineup. His owner-breeder has stumped up $100,000 to supplement him, which has to say something, while his trainer Steve ‘Magic Man’ Miyadi can perform equine miracles.
Betfred's ante-post favourite Knicks Go was successful at last year’s Breeders’ Cup but in the Dirt Mile. He tries 10 furlongs for the first time in the Classic. After a couple of defeats in February and May, trainer Brad Cox has got him back on his game, winning his last three starts albeit two of them against overmatched competition. Not so when he went wire-to-wire to beat Maxfield by open lengths in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga. There is a question of his suspect stamina, but if he makes the lead on his own, he may not see another rival.
One of the reasons Maxfield is not running is that his owners Godolphin have Essential Quality in this lineup. He’s not looked back since being a tad unlucky in the Kentucky Derby. Unlike Knicks Go, he is proven over the distance and further. In June he won the Belmont Stakes over a mile-and-a-half. Over this trip in late August he beat another top class three-year-old in the Grade 1 Travers. He’s been freshened up with this race in mind.
The Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit brings talent and controversy in equal measure to the party. The first past the post in the Kentucky Derby won a Grade 1 prep for this race at Santa Anita at the start of the month having been afforded an easy lead, but with the speedy Knicks Go in this field those tactics are unlikely to be repeated. Unlike the pair that are shorter than him in the betting, he has form over the Del Mar track. In addition, he did ‘beat’ Essential Quality in the first leg of the Triple Crown. For those who think there is no justice in racing, he’s your hero!
Hot Rod Charlie is closely matched with Medina Spirit and Essential Quality from the Kentucky Derby and has run big in all three subsequent starts. He’s not out of this at a price, and the same goes for a couple of others. Max Player used to get behind early and stay on late but has shown better form and improved tactical speed this year, with a trainer change to Steve Asmussen possibly behind the upturn. Likewise, Art Collector, since moving to Bill Mott, having beaten Maxfield in a Grade 1 at Belmont last month even if not as convincingly as Knicks Go did the time before. Still, he earned his chance in here all the same, though the downside with him is the distance, at least the way this race is likely to be run. In my opinion, he would have done better in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. That said, Bill Mott didn’t get elected to Racing’s Hall of Fame by running horses over the wrong distance.