Breeders’ Cup 2021: Takeways from Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

Chris Adams

Breeders’ Cup 2021 is in the books. The 2 day event was a roller coaster of high and lows. There were historic victories, blunders, and wagering pools. Here are the big takeaways from Del Mar 2021.

1.Knicks Go: Horse of the Year

The biggest race of the year in the Classic division is the Breeders’ Cup Classic. This years’ field looked particularly fun to watch as it featured Pegasus World Cup Champion Knicks Go, Kentucky Derby Winner (for now) Medina Spirit, Belmont Stakes Champion Essential Quality, and late developing Hot Rod Charlie who just 1 year ago was 94-1 in the Juvenile.

The result of the race was a resounding victory for Knicks Go who hasn’t looked back since his romp in the Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows.

A Contentious Pace?

Heading into the race it seemed like a pretty hot pace would develop with Knicks Go, Medina Spirit, and Hot Rod Charlie all having run their best races on the lead.

While Knicks Go was undoubtedly the fastest of these runners, there were serious questions as to whether or not he would be able to get the added distance of the Classic. It was pretty clear early in the race that the other trainers knew they had no shot against the beast and ran a race for 2nd placing.

Knicks Go got out to an early uncontested lead with Hot Rod Charlie and Medina Spirit both content to rate off the leader. The decision to not press the front runner all but handed the victory to the Brad Cox trainee, but seemed to be the only chance the connections felt they had to pick up a sizeable check for taking 2nd or 3rd.

Horse of the Year

With the win Knicks Go put to bed any questions about who will be named horse of the year at the Eclipse Awards which will take place at year’s end.

The victory also bodes well for Brad Cox who will look to secure trainer of the year. If Medina Spirit is eventually disqualified Brad Cox will have trained the winners of the Pegasus World Cup, the Kentucky Derby, The Belmont Stakes, the Traverse Stakes, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic all in the same year.

One More Run

Knicks Go has been confirmed to be training up for a final run. Barring a set back the horse is scheduled to make his final appearance in the Pegasus World Cup in 2022. It was also announced over the weekend that Life is Good is also pointed there following his romp at the Breeders’ Cup.

Both horses have legitimate front end speed and could set up a real epic showdown Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in 2022.

2. The Three Year Old Debate

With Horse of the Year all but decided the attention now turns to the 3 year old horse of the year. Into the race there were four major contenders: Essential Quality, Medina Spirit, Hot Rod Charlie, and Malathaat.

When Malathaat failed to win the distaff, she was essentially eliminated from the running which put a lot of stake in the Classic. Also bowing out was Hot Rod Charlie who needed a victory to compete with the other two at the top of the rankings.

The Debate Rages On

Had Medina Spirit or Essential Quality won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, they would have locked up the award. Many also hypothesizes that Essential Quality finishing ahead of Medina Spirit would also assure him the victory. That did not happen.

A Case for Medina Spirit

  • The horse finished ahead of Essential Quality in the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
  • Medina Spirit’s prep race was a convincing victory over older horses, something that Essential Quality has never done.

A Case for Essential Quality

  • The legitimacy of Medina Spirit’s victory is in question following a positive drug test. The Baseball Hall of Fame has seen players with positive tests struggle to get votes and a similar trend may continue here.
  • In both losses to Medina Spirit the horse was close in beaten margin and took significantly worse trips going widest of all horses at Churchill and running most of the Classic on a dead rail.
  • The horse has more wins and earnings than Medina Spirit.

The X Factor

One sneaky angle in the debate is that a majority of voters within the ranks reside or cover East Coast racing. This may be the thing that gives Essential Quality the edge at the end of the day.

3. Japan makes its mark in the Breeders’ Cup

People often bill the Breeders’ Cup as the Ryder Cup of horse racing pitting the vaunted Europeans against the home team. This year saw history made as the races took on a more Olympics vibe than Ryder Cup.

After going 0-13 in the Breeders’ Cup Marche Lorraine and Loves Only You became the first 2 horses to win Breeders’ Cup races from Japan. Marche Lorraine was a huge upset at 45-1 while Loves only you was among the top 3 choices paying just over $10 to win.

Certainly in 2022 more attention will be paid to the Asian preps in the lead up to the Breeders’ Cup.

4. Breeders’ Cup Prevails as a Great Wagering Opportunity

Despite the egregious mistakes made in the final on Friday, the Breeders’ Cup continues to be the best betting opportunity of the year. With so much money in the pools and large field sizes, bettors are almost assured to get excised value on their wagers. Look no further than getting an easy winner in Knicks Go at 3-1!

The 2021 Breeders’ Cup set the all time handle record with over $150 million dollars wagered on the 14 races over the two day event.

5. Friday Final Exposes Flaw in Racing at Breeders’ Cup

Perhaps the most talked about result from the weekend came in Friday’s final race in which the favorite was incorrectly scratched. After realizing the mistake the horse was reentered, but due to CHRB rule 1974 he could not run as a wagering interest and was in for purse money only. For a full breakdown of the situation, please check out Breeders’ Cup Friday: A Controversial Finish in the Juvenile Turf.

After winning easily handicappers were enraged. In their hands they held tickets with the winning horse, but due to scratch rules had defaulted into the post time favorite.

Confusion is Too Prevalent

For many who were betting on their first horse racing event, the absurdity of the whole situation made no sense. One of the biggest issues in horse racing that keeps it from jumping back into the mainstream is that each jurisdiction is so concerned with keeping its piece of the pie that they refuse to work together.

This means that each jurisdiction has its own rules and regulations about how things work. This includes scratching procedures, crop rules, couple entries, infractions during the race, the list goes on.


The Horse Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) was signed into law by Congress and is supposed to bring clarity, consistency, transparency, and safety to horse racing. The act creates a governing body to oversee all racing jurisdictions, but the actual implementation of that organization have yet to be ironed out.

6. Track Profile Matters at Del Mar

One of the biggest takeaways as a gambler is to understand how a track may alter performance. At any given course configurations, track maintenance, and climate can all have positive or negative impacts on a horse’s natural ability.

Breeder’s Cup Turf Races

One of the real thrills of the weekend was the turf racing. Throughout the weekend the track seemed to play very fair with horses like Pizza Bianca advancing up the rail, while Ivar was able to win from an extremely wide stretch run.

Although most of the winners came from off the pace, this is not uncommon in turf racing and fit the general race shape of most turf races around the world. Almost every result over the course of the 2 days on turf was a product of trip, not track which led to formful results that still produced great payouts.

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Races

Whereas the turf was incredibly fair, Del Mar proved once again to be a bit quirky on the dirt surface. One thing that was blatantly obvious was that the rail was the wrong place to be. This gave a distinct advantage to jockeys who had ridden at Del Mar fairly regularly.

Jockeys like Rosario and Velazquez were consistently looking to keep their horses four or five paths off the rail. Meanwhile Santana Jr. and Saez took suspect rides on horses keeping them inside and often coming up short.

Three heavy favorites were burned by this this as Letruska, Gamine, and Jackie’s Warrior all showed rare speed and fade patterns in their respective races after rolling fast on the inside through the early portions of the race.

Breeders’ Cup Results

Saturday Results

Breeders’ Cup Classic

  • 1st: Knicks Go (Trainer: Brad Cox; Jockey: Joel Rosario)
  • 2nd: Medina Spirit (Trainer: Bob Baffert; Jockey: John Velazquez)
  • 3rd: Essential Quality (Trainer: Brad Cox; Jockey: Luis Saez)

Breeders’ Cup Turf

  • 1st: Yibir (GB) (Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi; Jockey: Oisin Murphy)
  • 2nd: Broome (Trainer: Chad Brown; Jockey: Jose L. Ortiz)
  • 3rd: Teona (IRE) (Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: John R. Velazquez)

Breeders’ Cup Distaff

  • 1st: Marche Lorraine (JPN) (Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi; Jockey: Oisin Murphy)
  • 2nd: Dunbar Road (Trainer: Chad Brown; Jockey: Jose L. Ortiz)
  • 3rd: Malathaat (Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: John R. Velazquez)

Breeders’ Cup Mile

  • 1st: Space Blues (IRE) (Trainer: Charles Appleby; Jockey: William Buick)
  • 2nd: Smooth like Strait (Trainer: Michael McCarthy; Jockey: Umberto Rispoli)
  • 3rd: Ivar (BRZ) (Trainer: Paulo Lobo; Jockey: Joseph Talamo)

Breeders’ Cup Sprint

  • 1st: Aloha West (Trainer: Wayne Catalano; Jockey: Jose Ortiz)
  • 2nd: Dr. Schivel (Trainer: Mark Glatt; Jockey: Flavien Prat)
  • 3rd: Following Sea (Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: John R. Velazquez)

Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf

  • 1st: Loves Only You (JPN) (Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi; Jockey: Yuga Kawada)
  • 2nd: My Sister Nat (Trainer: Chad Brown; Jockey: Jose Ortiz)
  • 3rd: War Like Goddess (Trainer: William Mott; Jockey: Julien Leparoux)

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile

  • 1st: Life Is Good (Trainer: Todd Pletcher; Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.)
  • 2nd: Ginobili (Trainer: Drayden Van Dyke; Jockey: Richard Baltas)
  • 3rd: Restrainedvengence (Trainer: Val Brinkerhoff; Jockey: Edwin Maldonado)

Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint

  • 1st: Golden Pal (Trainer: Wesley Ward; Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.)
  • 2nd: Lieutenant Dan (Trainer: Steven Miyadi; Jockey: Geovanni Franco)
  • 3rd: Charmaine’s Mia (Trainer: Philip D’Amato; Jockey: Flavien Prat)

Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint

  • 1st: Ce Ce (Trainer: Michael McCarthy; Jockey: Victor Espinoza)
  • 2nd: Edgeway (Trainer: John Sadler; Jockey: Joel Rosario)
  • 3rd: Gamine (Trainer: Bob Baffert; Jockey: John Velazquez)

Results from Friday, November 5

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf

  • 1st: Modern Games (IRE) (Trainer: Charlie Appleby; Jockey: William Buick)
  • 2nd: Tiz the Bomb (Trainer: Kenneth McPeek; Jockey: Ryan Moore)
  • 3rd: Mackinnon (Trainer: Doug O’Neill; Jockey: Juan Hernandez)

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

  • 1st: Corniche (Trainer: Bob Baffert; Jockey: Mike Smith)
  • 2nd: Pappacap (Trainer: Mark Casse; Jockey: Joe Bravo)
  • 3rd: Giant Game (Trainer: Dale Romans; Jockey: Joseph Talamo)

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf

  • 1st: Pizza Bianca (Trainer: Christophe Clement; Jockey: Jose Ortiz)
  • 2nd: Malavath (IRE) (Trainer: Frances Henri Graffard; Jockey: Ryan Moore)
  • 3rd: Haughty (Trainer: Chad Brown; Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione)

Breeders’ CupJuvenile Fillies

  • 1st: Echo Zulu (Trainer: Steven Asmussen; Jockey: Joel Rosario)
  • 2nd: Juju’s Map (Trainer: Brad Cox; Jockey: Florent Geroux)
  • 3rd: Tarabi (Trainer: Cherie DeVaux; Jockey: Javier Castellano)

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint

  • 1st: Twilight Gleaming (IRE) (Trainer: Wesley Ward; Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.)
  • 2nd: Go Bears Go (IRE) (Trainer: David Loughnane; Jockey: John Velazquez)
  • 3rd: Kaufymaker (Trainer: Wesley Ward; Jockey: Jose Ortiz)

Full charts and payouts for each race can be found on on the DRF website.

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