A total of 93 Kentucky-breds were entered in the 38th Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club Nov. 5-6, headlined by Essential Quality in the $6 million Classic (G1) and Letruska in the $2 million Distaff (G1). The highly anticipated two days of racing features 14 races with purses of more than $31 million and Kentucky-breds will attempt to add to their 228 Breeders’ Cup victories, more than any other state or province.
The climactic event of the weekend will be the 1 ¼-mile Classic on Nov. 6. With Horse of the Year implications on the line in the Classic—on 14 occasions, the winner of the Classic has been named Horse of the Year—five of the Top 15 horses on the World’s Best Racehorses rankings will meet in Saturday’s marquee race.
Seven Kentucky-breds will contest the Classic, topped by 3-year-old Essential Quality, last year’s 2-Year-Old Champion and winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland. Essential Quality has won 5-of-6 starts this season and has banked $2.88 million thus far in 2021.
A Godolphin homebred, Essential Quality has lost just one race, finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1). He rebounded to win the Belmont Stakes (G1) in June and Saratoga’s Travers Stakes (G1) in his most recent outing. Essential Quality is trained by Brad Cox, who also sends out morning-line favorite Knicks Go.
“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 Louis (Saez) obviously does know 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 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.”
Kentucky-bred Hot Rod Charlie is another 3-year-old taking on older horses in the Classic. Owned by Roadrunner Racing, William Strauss, Boat Racing, and Gainesway Stable, Hot Rod Charlie finished second to Essential Quality in last year’s Juvenile. This year, the Doug O’Neill trainee finished second to Essential Quality in the Belmont Stakes and then crossed the wire first in the Haskell Stakes (G1) but was disqualified for interference. He captured the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) in his most recent start.
“His gallop this morning gave me goosebumps,” said co-owner William Strauss on Wednesday. “We are feeling really well. It seems like the race should shape up well for him. There’s a lot of speed in the race and he’s very tactical. We’ve got to get a good break, a good trip, and hope the racing gods are smiling on us. We know he is going to run a big race—he always does. That’s really what it all comes down to. It’ll be a really great jockeys’ race and that’s what it’ll come down to. It’s going to be fun.”
Kentucky-bred Letruska, a dominant older female in 2021, appears to be an imposing favorite in a competitive renewal of the Distaff (G1). The St. George Stable’s homebred, who is trained by Fausto Gutierrez, has won six of seven starts this year, four of those being Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races, winning the Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont Park, the Fleur de Lis (G2) at Churchill Downs, the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga, and the Spinster (G1) at Keeneland. She also annexed the Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn earlier in the year.
Expected to be among her chief rivals is fellow Kentucky-bred Malathaat who will be facing older horses for the first time in the Distaff. Owned by Shadwell and trained by Todd Pletcher, Malathaat won the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and the Alabama Stakes (G1).
“She’s a very special filly,” said Pletcher of the $1,050,000 Keeneland Yearling Sale graduate. “Part of it if that we trained the dam (Dreaming of Julia). Secondly, she has a tremendous personality. A very kind filly. Very professional. She is a pleasure to have in the barn.”