Will a Sophomore Win the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic?
Photo of Essential Quality courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Courtesy of TVG
Have you ever wondered how well three-year-olds compete against older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic? There have been 37 editions of the race to date, and sophomores have won 13 times. From Sunday Silence to Tiznow, American Pharoah, and most recently Authentic, they are a stellar group who were the best amongst their peers, so good that they could outrun more seasoned rivals.
Will that happen in 2021? Several sophomores will be entered in the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on November 6, including division leader Essential Quality, controversial Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, and the talented Hot Rod Charlie. What do they have in common with their Classic winning counterparts?
Proud Truth was the first three-year-old to win the race in just its second edition. He had previously won a pair of Grade 1 races, including the Florida Derby, but was off from May until October. Despite the layoff, he rode a three-race win streak into his Classic victory.
Hall of Famer Sunday Silence, who can be found in the pedigree of 2021 Breeders’ Cup contender Loves Only You, won four Grade 1 races en route to his Classic score, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Like Sunday Silence, Medina Spirit will try to emulate that feat as he is currently the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner. Where Sunday Silence won the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Medina Spirit finished second in that event, and he has something many horses in the field don’t have: a win over the Del Mar surface.
Unbridled in 1990 also won the Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby, but his record was spotty at best. He was third in the Blue Grass Stakes, second in the Preakness, second in the Super Derby, and fourth in the Belmont Stakes. He won when it truly counted.
Who has had a career similar to A. P. Indy? That Hall of Famer won the Santa Anita Derby and Belmont Stakes at three before his Classic win, and also took the Hollywood Futurity (G1) as a juvenile. Essential Quality also won a top juvenile race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile of 2020, then added the Belmont Stakes this summer. He had a better summer than A. P. Indy did, as Essential Quality added the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, but the Brad Cox trainee now has the chance to put himself among the greats with another Breeders’ Cup win!
Concern in 1994 was a bit of a surprise, as the three-year-old had danced virtually every dance but hadn’t managed to win any of them. After winning the Arkansas Derby (G2), he was second or third in seven straight races leading up to the Classic! His career is a little reminiscent of that of Express Train, a 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic entrant who has been first, second, or third in seven of his last eight starts. Although he is an older horse, Express Train was second in the Grade 1 Malibu, second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, third in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup, and third in the Grade 1 Awesome Again. Like Medina Spirit, he has a coveted victory over the Del Mar surface as he won the San Diego (G2) in July.
Cat Thief was a shocker when he won the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic at odds of 19-1. He had only found the winner’s circle once all year—to be fair, it was the Grade 1 Swaps Stakes—but he had been knocking heads with the best three-year-olds and sophomores of his year. Another horse who has been running against the best his whole career is Max Player, who had run fifth or better in four major races before putting it together last out in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
No horse has yet to match the feats of Tiznow, who first won the Breeders’ Cup Classic as a sophomore in 2000, and then again as an older horse in 2001. Curlin came next in 2007; he had won the Preakness Stakes (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup that season, then went on to earn over $10 million. Raven’s Pass was a European surprise on the synthetic at Santa Anita in 2008; there are no Europeans pre-entered in the Classic this year, although there are many in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
No sophomore won the Classic between 2008 and 2014, when Bayern won it after winning the Pennsylvania Derby. This year’s three-year-old trying to complete that double is Hot Rod Charlie, who had run extremely well to place in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and even won the TVG.com Haskell Stakes before being disqualified for interference. With his speed and courage, Hot Rod Charlie will be one of the top picks in the Classic.
After Bayern, there was a duo of top-class sophomores. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah completed the Grand Slam in 2015 at Keeneland, and Arrogate was in the midst of a brilliant run of wins when he won in 2016. Time will tell if there is an Arrogate in this field!
Authentic won the race in 2020, becoming the 13th three-year-old to win. He won the Kentucky Derby, run over a rescheduled season due to COVID-19, and was retired shortly thereafter. Essential Quality is also scheduled to be retired. Will he be the next sophomore winner? Will Hot Rod Charlie? Medina Spirit? The race is on November 6!
- November 23, 2021
Godolphin Wins Fourth Consecutive John Deere Award as Outstanding Breeder of the 2021 Breeders' Cup World Championships and Challenge Series
Strengthened by victories from homebreds Modern Games (IRE), Space Blues (IRE) and Yibir (GB), for the fourth consecutive year Godolphin has won the John Deere Award, honoring the outstanding breeder of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships and the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
- November 18, 2021
Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Knicks Go departed Taylor Made Farm Nov. 17 for Brad Cox’s barn at Churchill Downs in Louisville to ready for the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park.
- November 6, 2021
Total all-sources common-pool handle for the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club was $182,908,409, a new record for the two-day event.