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Led by a pair of undefeated colts from high profile barns on opposite coasts, the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile will likely decide who will be the champion 2-year-old of 2021, as well, who will be the early favorite for the 2022 Kentucky Derby.
The East Coast’s Jack Christopher, an impressive winner of both a maiden at Saratoga and the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, could be a slight favorite over his California counterpart. Trained by Chad Brown, the chestnut son of Munnings has won his two starts by a combined 11 ½ lengths while earning strong speed figures in both.
Meanwhile, Corniche has looked like the fastest colt on the West Coast, with wire-to-wire victories at Del Mar and Santa Anita for trainer Bob Baffert. In both a 5 ½ furlong maiden race in September and the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes in October, the Quality Road colt went right out to the lead and coasted to an easy victory.
Let’s take a closer look at the top two and the rest of the top contenders for the Grade 1 race on November 5 at Del Mar.
Trainer Chad Brown earned his first and only victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile four years ago at Del Mar with a lightly raced colt coming out of the Champagne named Good Magic. With a very similar racing schedule under his belt, the unbeaten and untested Jack Christopher will look to turn the trick again for his 4-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer. A son of Munnings, Jack Christopher debuted in August at Saratoga and absolutely ran away from his competition going six furlongs. A month later he was made the favorite in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park and more than ran to his odds with another impressive victory at a flat mile. He’ll need to head west to Del Mar for his biggest assignment yet, and prove he can handle two turns, but he is a deserving favorite.
If Jack Christopher has been the most impressive juvenile in the nation, then Corniche is not far behind. A bay son of Quality Road, he impressed as a 2-year-old in training in April at Ocala, ultimately dropping the gavel at $1.5 million. To date, he looks worth the large investment. Sent off at 1/2 for his debut in a 5 ½ furlong race at Del Mar, he sprinted around the seaside oval to win by more than four lengths in racehorse time. He followed up that September 4 debut 27 days later as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita and ran to his odds. Dominating from the start, he made it look rather easy, coasting home by better than three lengths. The competition will be tougher at the Breeders’ Cup, and he might find more early pressure, but so far, his speed has been unstoppable.
While the top two favorites have dusted their competition in all starts so far, this Kenny McPeek-trainee has taken a little more time to get going. Actually, he did look good in his debut at Churchill Downs, but was too far back early and could only rally for third behind future Grade 1 winner Gunite. After bolting on the turn and being pulled up in his second career start, he finally found the winner’s circle next time out with a nice rallying win in a Churchill Downs maiden race. He made it two in a row last time when he circled the field and rolled to victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. While he may lack the brilliance of Jack Christopher and Corniche, he has shown a strong stretch kick and has already won twice at the distance. A strong early pace on November 5 would not hurt his chances.
Like the top two on the list, this son of Twirling Candy is perfect in only two career starts. A $385,000 auction purchase as a yearling, he won his debut for trainer Bob Baffert going 5 furlongs at Del Mar on August 1 as a 17/10 favorite. Although he only won by a half-length, the runner-up was way ahead of the rest and came back to win a listed stakes race next out at Los Alamitos. Let go at 4/1 odds for his next start in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, Pinehurst looked good in going gate to wire for an easy 4 ½ length score going 7 furlongs. Although he has only sprinted to date, he has solid distance pedigree with Giant’s Causeway as his broodmare sire. He has not been quite as fast as Jack Christopher and Corniche in his first two, but he could still be any kind.
Although still a maiden, the son of Union Rags has shown plenty of promise for trainer Todd Pletcher. In his debut, he got off to a terrible start before rallying strongly to finish second in a sharp sprint at Saratoga. Off that, he came back in the Champagne and again made a prolonged rally to get up nicely for the place behind Jack Christopher. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile will be his first try around two turns, but his pedigree on both sides suggest he will only get better as the distances increase. His sire was a Belmont winner, and his dam won at a route of ground at 2 and is by the Belmont Stakes sire Tapit. Like Rattle N Roll, he should start picking up the leaders on the Del Mar far turn. Commandperformance looks like a very intriguing long shot option on November 5.
Although he has been beaten by Pinehurst and Corniche in his last two, this son of Gun Runner deserves another chance against the Baffert pair. A Florida-bred trained by Mark Casse, he won at first asking, going 5 furlongs at Gulfstream back in May. From there, his Hall of Fame trainer plotted a course to the Breeders’ Cup. The plan got off to a successful start, easily winning the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar to remain undefeated. In both the Del Mar Futurity and American Pharoah, though, he was not in the best of positions early in the race and could not threaten the winners. Still, he ran on well in each. Given a better trip over a track he knows well, he could improve next time. Whether that will be good enough to turn the tables, remains to be seen.
A Virginia-bred son of Bernardini, this Keith Desormeaux-trained runner has so far only won once in four starts. After a nondescript debut on the turf, he came back to run well in his next two on the main track at Del Mar, including an impressive maiden victory, overcoming trouble to win going away in his third career start. Off that, he was entered for his stakes debut in the American Pharoah at Santa Anita. The $60,000 yearling purchase toiled well behind the field for much of the race, but was able to uncork a solid rally down the stretch. He finished third and never threatened Corniche, but he did make up quite a bit of ground to be beaten less than four lengths. He still looked a little green down the stretch, so if he can continue to develop, he could be an interesting, late running presence in the Breeders’ Cup at very attractive odds.
The most experienced colt on the list, this winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful was unable to handle the burst of Jack Christopher last time in the Champagne. A son of top first-crop sire Gun Runner, he has run six times already and had never failed to hit the board, before fading to fifth last time. After breaking his maiden nicely in his third start at Churchill Downs, the Steve Asmussen-trained colt ventured east to Saratoga. He followed up a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, with a big win in the Hopeful, in which he romped home by nearly six lengths. The Champagne result was a disappointment, but being pressured on a strong early pace likely did him in. If he can relax more early, he still may be a colt who can contend with any horse in the crop.
A good rallying second in the Grade 3 Iroquois in his most recent start, this son of Speightster has earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Trained by Christopher Davis, he began his career with two starts over the all-weather track at Arlington Park. A well-beaten second in a very fast maiden in his debut, he won his second career start going 5 furlongs. Next he tried dirt for the first time and powered by his competition for an easy allowance victory at Indiana Grand. Still, he was shown little respect in a 10-horse field for his graded stakes debut, but almost won it, finishing second by a neck behind a game Major General. He will once again be a long shot at Del Mar, but he seems to be one of those horses who runs his race every time, and is a possible board hitter at big odds.
We really don’t have too much to go on with this one coming from Japan, but he did look very good in his career debut. Bred in Kentucky, the gray son of Arrogate was a $200,000 yearling purchase at Fasig-Tipton and sent to the barn of trainer Hideyuki Mori. Bred for two turns on both sides of his pedigree, he did not make his debut until October 9 at Hanshin. Running on the dirt there, he dominated throughout on the left-handed course and was far ahead of his competition at the wire. It will be a big step up for him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but one of four coming over for Mori, he looks like a colt with real ability.
Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
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