It’s difficult to remember a more intriguing Breeders’ Cup Classic, and that’s saying something given the season-ending storylines that always seem to emerge when the best-of-the-best gather each November.
There’s clearly a wealth of talent in the field at Del Mar with contenders like Knicks Go and Essential Quality, with nine horses expected to go postward in the 1 1/4-mile test with a $6 million purse.
But there’s also the narrative surrounding trainer Bob Baffert and Medina Spirit, disqualified for failing a post-race drug test after winning the Kentucky Derby in May, the latest black eye for the sport. While Baffert was suspended by Churchill Downs and a protracted legal battle is ongoing, he’s allowed to run at Del Mar and will be able to participate in the Breeders’ Cup races.
Post time for the Classic is set for 8:40 p.m. EDT Saturday at Del Mar. A total of $28 million in purses will be distributed in Breeders’ Cup races Friday and Saturday.
Here are some predictions on how the Breeders’ Cup Classic will play out Saturday. The field:
PP Horse, trainer, jockey, morning line odds
1. Tripoli, John Sadler, Irad Ortiz Jr., 15-1
2. Express Train, John Shirreffs, Victor Espinoza, 20-1
3. Hot Rod Charlie, Doug O’Neill, Flavien Prat, 4-1
4. Essential Quality, Brad Cox, Luis Saez, 3-1
5. Knicks Go, Brad Cox, Joel Rosario, 5-2
6. Art Collector, Bill Mott, Mike Smith, 8-1
7. Stilleto Boy, Ed Moger Jr., Kent Desormeaux, 30-1
8. Medina Spirit, Bob Baffert, John Velazquez, 4-1
9. Max Player, Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr., 8-1
Sean Nolan (15-time National Horseplayers Championship qualifier, 2001 runnerup, four Top 20 finishes)
3. Hot Rod Charlie – Improving with every start and has speed to attend or lay just off the pace setters; gets first run on Essential Quality when they turn for home. Jockey Prat is having a phenomenal year.
4. Essential Quality – Has a rare combination of talent and grit that make him easy to root for. The main rival to ‘Charlie. Concerned he may have leveled off in the development stage but certainly knows where the finish line is.
8. Medina Spirit – Going to push Knicks Go early and should be ready for top effort. Have to respect the Baffert/Johnny V. combo in big races. Expect he may take the lead at the 1/8th pole before succumbing to his 3-year-old rivals.
Sean Nolan’s selections in Saturday’s other Breeders’ Cup races:
FM Sprint: 1) 4- CeCe, 2) 5-Gamine, 3) 6-Bella Sofia
Turf Sprint – 1) 9-Kimari, 2) 10-Gear Jockey, 3) 3-Golden Pal
Dirt Mile – 1) Ginobili, 2) 5-Life is Good, 3) 8-Eight Rings
FM Turf – 1) 12-Audarya, 2) 8-Loves Only You, 3) Love
Sprint – 1) 9-Dr. Schivel, 2) 2-Jackie’s Warrior, 3) 1-Following Sea
Mile – 1) 8-Hit the Road, 2) 10-Blowout, 3) 12-Pearls Galore
Distaff – 1) 8 Shedaresthedevil, 2) 3-Malathaat, 3) 1-Private Mission
Turf -1) 8-Broome, 2) 12-Teona, 3) 9-Sisfahan
Bob Jordan, Asbury Park Press sports editor
6. Art Collector – I haven’t seen a good explanation as to why Art Collector didn’t fire in last year’s Preakness and strung together three consecutive dismal efforts but the bounce-back has been spectacular. We’ve this time seen a string of three consecutive fantastic races, all at a mile and an eighth, around three turns (Moutaineer), two turns (Saratoga) and one turn (Belmont), scoring triple-digit Beyers each time.
3. Hot Rod Charlie – Two straight races, Hot Rod Charlie has drifted severely. Can’t be trusted in the win slot.
4. Essential Quality – Not getting away from the place horse in the Travers may be a sign that a solid 13 months of training and racing is having its toll.
5. Knicks Go – Does have some stamina on the bottom half of his pedigree but does look vulnerable in this spot.
Steve Edelson, sports columnist
5. Knicks Go – This 5-year-old has posted three 108-plus Beyer Speed Figures, the only contender in the field to do it, at three different tracks, and is likely to do it at a fourth track here. Knicks Go runs all out from start to finish, and appears able to carry that speed a distance. He’s going to be hard to catch here.
3. Hot Rod Charlie – Never appears to run a bad race. Doesn’t always run in a straight line, but always runs hard. With a top Beyer of 11 and two 108-plus Beyers, this one has the speed and ability to be there at the finish.
4. Essential Quality – Has been off for 10-plus weeks since winning the Travers, but this is a classy runner whose only loss came at the hands of Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby.
8. Medina Spirit – Does not have a Beyer over 107 this year, and takes a major step up in class from the two prep race wins in California.
9. Max Player – Always running hard at the end, has found his stride at 1 1/4 mile.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Breeders’ Cup Classic 2021: Betting guide, predictions