The Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6, 2021 at Del Mar is shaping up as a very competitive race.  The two likely favorites, Essential Quality and Knicks Go, have the same trainer, Brad Cox, although have different owners.  Following are the major contenders a little over five weeks from the race.

Essential Quality, owned by Godolphin, has won eight of nine races, with his only blemish coming in the 2021 Kentucky Derby in which he ran fourth after having a wide trip from post position 14.  He has earned $4.2 million.  His most notable wins were the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Belmont, Jim Dandy, and Travers in 2021.

Knicks Go, stablemate to Essential Quality, has earned $5.4 million from 22 starts, with eight wins, three seconds, and a third.  Owned by Korean Racing Authority, the 5-year-old won the 2020 Breeders’ Cup (dirt) Mile, the 2021 Whitney, and holds the Keeneland record for 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

Maxfield is a 4-year old owned by Godolphin, with earnings of $1.5 million from nine starts.  His record is seven wins, a place, and a show.  As a 2-year-old, he won a Grade 1 sprint.  Injury kept him out of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2020 Kentucky Derby.  Since his return to racing, he has won several Grade 2 and Grade 3 races.

Hot Rod Charlie most recently won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.  In that race, he survived not being disqualified after a bumping incident with Midnight Bourbon.  In August, Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified from his win in the Haskell for an incident that unseated Midnight Bourbon’s jockey. Hot Rod Charlie was second to Essential Quality in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, third in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, and second in the Belmont.  His record is three wins, two seconds, and a third in eleven starts.  His trainer, Doug O’Neill, said that he will put blinkers on the colt to try to correct his habit of not running in a straight line.

Medina Spirit won the 2021 Kentucky Derby, was third in the Preakness, and second in the Santa Anita Derby.  He tested positive for a banned substance in the Kentucky Derby and, once legal proceedings are finished, will likely be disqualified.  Overall, he has a record of four wins, three seconds, and a third from eight starts, with earnings of $2.4 million (subject to change, depending on the conclusive Kentucky Derby ruling.)  At this writing, the Breeders’ Cup board is determining whether to permit Medina Spirit’s trainer, Bob Baffert, to run horses in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup, so whether Medina Spirit will be entered is presently unknown. (If Baffert is banned, the colt could conceivably be moved to another trainer and run.)

Max Player won the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Suburban.  Owned by George Hall, he has a record of four wins, a second, and two thirds from eleven starts and earnings of $1.3 million.

Midnight Bourbon has been very competitive in 2021.  After finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby, he was second in the Preakness and second in the Travers.  He might have won the Haskell had not his jockey been unseated by clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie.  Midnight Bourbon has earned $1.1 million from two wins, three seconds, and three thirds in twelve starts.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic winner could come from a long-shot contender like King Fury or a European entrant.  At the moment, however, trainer Brad Cox holds the strongest hand with Essential Quality and Knicks Go.

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