An intriguing field of nine line up in Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), the last of 14 championship races coming up at Del Mar.
A solid group of three-year-olds that include Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Essential Quality and Kentucky Derby (G1) “winner” Medina Spirit take on the best of the handicap division that include Knicks Go, Max Player and Art Collector.
Six of the nine in the field are coming off victories, four off wins in Grade 1 company.
The Brad Cox trained Knicks Go is the 5-2 morning line favorite. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner has won his last three starts including the Whitney (G1) in August at Saratoga. Joel Rosario has the return call for Cox, who won four Breeders’ Cup races at Keeneland last year.
Cox will also saddle Essential Quality, the second choice on the morning line at 3-1. The three-year-old has won eight of his nine career starts and makes his first start since winning the Travers (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 28.
“I can’t separate them,” Cox said. “But, I’m excited about being in this position with both horses. I think it does set up well for (Essential Quality). I think Luis (Saez) obviously does knows him extremely well, and I’m putting him in a good position. That’s the one great thing about Essential Quality. He’s able to adjust to the pace and that’s, that what makes him so dangerous each and every run. We’re probably getting a pace similar or maybe even hotter than it was in the Kentucky Derby.”
Essential Quality Wins Travers
Baffert Saddles Medina Spirit
Embattled trainer Bob Baffert sends out Medina Spirit (4-1) who took the field gate to wire in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita in his final prep. The colt has plenty of early zip and breaks to the outside of Knicks Go, the likely pacesetter.
“I really can’t do anything about the draw,” Baffert said. “The break is always important, so that might help determine how the races shapes up. He likes this track and is training really well coming up to the race.”
Art Collector comes into the Classic flying a bit under the radar for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who has saddled the Classic winner twice, with Cigar in 1995 and Drosselmeyer in 2011.
The colt earned a career top speed figure wiring the field in the Woodward (G1) at Belmont Park in his last outing. He gets a new rider in Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
Art Collector Wins Woodward
Hot Rod Charlie (4-1) adds blinkers and just shows up for every dance. The Doug O’Neill trainee won the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) last out after getting disqualified from the win in the Haskell Invitational (G1) two back at Monmouth Park.
“His Pennsylvania Derby was a big confidence booster,” O’Neill said. “His spacing has been really strong all throughout the year, so I’m really happy about that, as well. He’s put in some really good works since the Pennsylvania Derby, so I am optimistic we are going to see a big effort from him.”
Max Player Looks for Third Win in Row
Max Player (8-1) comes into the Classic off the best two efforts of his career. Sitting closer to the pace, he won the Suburban (G2) in the slop at Belmont Park and then won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) last out at Saratoga, both of those outings coming at 1 ¼ miles.
His trainer Steve Asmussen is coming off a chilly meeting at Keeneland where he won just one race from 57 starters. His main jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. went 0 for 81 at Keeneland. Santana has picked up one win from six mounts over the first two days of the Del Mar meet.
“The horse has matured as expected pedigree wise, and he has stayed extremely sound,” Asmussen said. “He’s very good. And, I think things have lined up with where he is with the draw (post nine), the way the racetrack’s playing, and how he’s doing right now. We expect him to show who he is Saturday.”
Completing the field are longshots Tripoli (15-1), Express Train (20-1) and Stiletto Boy (30-1).
Let’s head out to Del Mar for Saturday’s featured race of the day:
Del Mar Race 12 The Breeders’ Cup Classic G1 (5:40 PT)
#6 Art Collector 8-1
#4 Essential Quality 3-1
#5 Knicks Go 5-2
#3 Hot Rod Charlie 4-1
#9 Max Player 8-1
This colt has really stepped up his game since landing in the Bill Mott barn, winning three in a row. Last out Saez jumped out to the lead and was able to control the pace in the Woodward (G1), the colt taking the field gate to wire. he is not quick enough to be on the lead here but the connections know that and Smith is the perfect jock to rate this guy off what could be a lively early pace. He handled an extra turn at Charles Town two back and looks as if he is going to be able to handle the 1 1/4 miles. Mott has a couple of Classic wins under his belt and this colt is going to end up a decent price in this spot.
The Cox trainee has won 8 of his 9 career starts, the lone loss coming in the Kentucky Derby (G1) where he was fourth, beaten a length. He returns off a 70 day break here which is not ideal but Arrogate did it and both American Pharoah and Gun Runner (at Del Mar) won the Classic off 63-day breaks. There are no doubts this guy and get 1 1/4 miles and he is going to get a good pace set up. Saez is off our top pick to sticks with this colt. The colt has worked well since his last outing and has made a good impression here at Del Mar.
The likely short priced favorite prepped by wiring the field in the Lukas Classic (G3), not exactly a traditional prep for the Classic. The runner up Independence Hall came back to win the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland in the slop in his next outing by 7 1/4 lengths earning a 105 Beyer. The Cox trainee won the Cornhusker (G3) and Whitney (G1) two and three back with his two best career speed figs. It is no secret he is going to the lead and there are a couple of foes in here that can make things tough for him early including Medina Spirit and Hot Rod Charlie. The extra ground here is a question mark as is his price which may end up lighter than his 5-2 morning line.
I really thought I was going to end up on Max Player, who has really looked good in his last two starts and may offer some value here. His Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) was solid but he really beat a weak field. Four he beat have come back to run with a fourth by Night Ops in the Fayette the best finish. Asmussen and Santana sure come in here chilly as well.
WIN: Art Collector to win at 6-1 or better.
EXACTA: 6 / 3,4,5,9 and 4,6 / 4,5,6