He will be the favorite next week for the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. But is it too soon to declare Essential Quality the favorite for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic? Not in the dark recesses of offshore futures.
After holding off Hot Rod Charlie in a signature stretch duel to win the Belmont Stakes, Essential Quality burnished his place in Brad Cox’s mind as the best 3-year-old in his barn. That would make him even better than Mandaloun, who seems destined to win his biggest races through stewards’ decisions and medication rulings.
Now, more than three months before the racing year reaches its crescendo at Del Mar, certain bettors seem to agree with Cox. Essential Quality (5-1) is the global favorite at one foreign bookmaker to win America’s richest race.
Horseplayers who scoff and believe 3-year-olds should be long shots to win the Classic have short memories. Authentic did it last year. So did Bayern, American Pharoah and Arrogate in consecutive years from 2014-16. But what do they have in common? Or, more accurately, whom? Bob Baffert trained them all. Since he is under the microscope after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s failed drug test, his status for the Breeders’ Cup might be the stuff of a separate futures market.
Cox has never won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but he could have a multi-barreled chance to change that this fall. He also has second betting choice Knicks Go (8-1), the Pegasus World Cup winner. And there is Mandaloun (12-1), whose asterisked victory in last weekend’s Haskell puts him on the verge of being the first U.S. horse to be elevated to wins in two Grade 1 races in the same year. That presumes the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission ever gets around to disqualifying Medina Spirit.
But back outdoors now, to where horse races should be decided. The global futures for the Classic list 27 horses for the Nov. 6 race in Southern California.
5-1: Essential Quality. He is already a three-time Grade 1 winner for Cox. His only loss was in the Derby.
8-1: Knicks Go. At age 5 he won the Pegasus World Cup for Cox. But he was fourth in the Saudi Cup and Met Mile.
8-1: Maxfield. Since losing the Santa Anita Handicap, the 4-year-old colt has two Grade 2 wins for Brendan Walsh.
8-1: Mystic Guide. After winning the Dubai World Cup, he was second in the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park.
10-1: Life Is Good. Injured on Baffert’s watch, the unbeaten 3-year-old will race at Saratoga for Todd Pletcher.
12-1: Happy Saver. This 4-year-old was 5-for-5 for Pletcher until July 3, when he was third in the Suburban.
12-1: Hot Rod Charlie. The DQ in the Haskell was the right call, but Doug O’Neill’s 3-year-old is better than that.
12-1: Mandaloun. He was lucky to be awarded the Haskell win, but he did not blink against Hot Rod Charlie.
14-1: Max Player. This 4-year-old was an overdue winner for Steve Asmussen, snapping a six-race losing streak.
16-1: Country Grammer. The Hollywood Gold Cup winner is an ex-Baffert that has yet to race for Pletcher.
16-1: Medina Spirit. Oh, the questions have only begun with this guy, last seen finishing third in the Preakness.
16-1: Royal Ship. Richard Mandella trains this 5-year-old gelding, who is only 1-for-7 since moving from Brazil.
16-1: Silver State. Asmussen has this 4-year-old Met Mile winner on a six-race roll. But can he go 1¼ miles?
18-1: Rombauer. Tread lightly. Michael McCarthy is giving the Preakness winner a two-month freshening.
20-1: Express Train. After hitting the board in two Grade 1 losses, he won Saturday’s Grade 2 San Diego Handicap.
20-1: Jackie’s Warrior. Asmussen’s 3-year-old is 5-for-6 at one turn but winless in two tries around two turns.
20-1: Midnight Bourbon. A troubled Haskell aside, he is a worthy competitor but still only 1-for-5 at age 3.
20-1: Rock Your World. He was a good turf-to-dirt story at Santa Anita. Then he was overmatched in two classics.
25-1: Concert Tour. After a 3-for-3 start for Baffert, he did not look right in the Arkansas Derby or the Preakness.
25-1: Fulsome. A Matt Winn victory and a third-place finish in the Indiana Derby will not impress bettors.
25-1: Idol. An unspecified setback has kept the Big ’Cap winner off the work tab for more than four months.
25-1: Tacitus. Bill Mott’s 5-year-old has won just once in his last 12 starts and has been idle since February.
25-1: Dr Post. A pair of Grade 3 wins on either side of a troubled Met Mile defeat make this colt inscrutable.
33-1: Known Agenda. Pletcher’s best hope for the classics seemed to peak beforehand at the Florida Derby.
40-1: Dream Shake. Peter Eurton tried the turf at Del Mar. Pffft. This maiden winner may be best at one turn.
40-1: Jesus’ Team. Second in the Pegasus, he showed nothing at Dubai or this month in a Gulfstream handicap.
50-1: Owendale. Since he offered promise as a 3-year-old in 2019, this 5-year-old has won only 1 of 11.
Among the chalk horses, Essential Quality looks like the goods, regardless of that factoid about Baffert and 3-year-olds in the Classic. Maxfield still warrants the faith that has been shown in him, even when he endured fitness questions as a 2- and 3-year-old.
If I were to take a flier on a futures bet, and I have been known to do so, I would focus on Hot Rod Charlie and Silver State for very different reasons. Hot Rod Charlie feels like an overlay at 12-1, especially since his Belmont Stakes and Haskell may have been the best-looking losses this side of Zenyatta against Blame. Silver State has quietly and literally grown into a force in the handicap division.
The next seven weeks at Saratoga and Del Mar will sort a lot of the wheat from the chaff, but they will also tighten the value for horses that rise in the view of rank-and-file bettors, aka the public.
Look at it this way. The Breeders’ Cup Classic is Nov. 6. That is 108 days away. If these were Kentucky Derby futures, 108 days out would be right around Lecomte Stakes time. That is not too soon to make a futures bet, is it?
In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s episode features a reunion of the 2014 TV series “Horseplayers” with Matt Bernier, Michael Beychok, Lee Davis, Christian Hellmers, Peter Rotondo Jr. and Peter Rotondo Sr. Also, Jockeys’ Guild CEO Terry Meyocks discusses the crop controversy in last weekend’s Haskell Stakes, and DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello handicaps weekend races, including the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.
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