Five weeks out from the Nov. 6-7 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland, the fields for the five juvenile events are slowly crystallizing.
Highlighting Key Breeders’ Cup contenders
Let’s highlight two key contenders from each division, focusing on runners based in North America:
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Essential Quality: You can bet this undefeated Godolphin homebred will receive plenty of support in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). After rallying through traffic to win his debut at Churchill Downs, the son of Tapit employed pace-tracking tactics to secure an eye-catching 3 1/4-length win in Keeneland’s 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity (G1).
Nabbing a Grade 1 win over the same track and distance as the Juvenile is a big positive, though Essential Quality did race a bit greenly down the homestretch, and he appears to paddle significantly with his left front leg. Those are two key factors handicappers will have to consider when analyzing his chances in the Breeders’ Cup.
Jackie’s Warrior: After winning his first three starts by daylight margins, including the Saratoga Special (G2) and Hopeful (G1), it’s safe to say Jackie’s Warrior is the most accomplished 2-year-old male in training. His Hopeful effort was breathtaking, as Jackie’s Warrior opened up a clear lead through fast fractions of :22.56, :44.83, and 1:08.33 before cruising home in the stakes-record time of 1:21.29.
It’s unclear yet whether Jackie’s Warior has the stamina to handle 1 1/16 miles. His lead in the Hopeful actually shrank from five lengths at the eighth pole to 2 1/4 lengths at the wire, though Jackie’s Warrior was wrapped up late. We’ll get a clearer idea of his distance proclivities when the Steve Asmussen trainee lines up in Saturday’s one-mile Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park.
Princess Noor: No 2-year-old filly has been as visually breathtaking this season as Princess Noor. Sold for $1.35 million and trained by Bob Baffert, Princess Noor is undefeated and completely unchallenged in three starts, dominating the Del Mar Debutante (G1) and Chandelier (G2) while barely getting out of a gallop.
But Princess Noor hasn’t defeated the toughest competition, and her winning times haven’t been especially quick. Given how easily she’s been winning, it’s possible Princess Noor has multiple faster gears in reserve. But until she displays them, we can’t know for sure.
Simply Ravishing: Like Princess Noor, Simply Ravishing is undefeated in three starts, and she arguably has fewer questions to answer from a speed and class perspective. The Kenny McPeek trainee has scored blowout victories in the P.G. Johnson S. and Alcibiades (G1), winning the latter by 6 1/4 lengths over the same track and 1 1/16-mile distance as the Juvenile Fillies (G1).
In the Alcibiades, Simply Ravishing led all the way to defeat a deep field including stakes winners Crazy Beautiful and Thoughtfully. Her final time of 1:43.58 was fast, suggesting Simply Ravising will be a formidable contender in the Breeders’ Cup.
Gretzky the Great: Speed is clearly Gretzky the Great’s forte, though he’s far from a one-dimensional need-the-lead type. The son of 2016 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist has rattled off three straight victories since finishing second in his debut, including stakes triumphs in the Soaring Free S. and Summer (G1) over the Woodbine turf course.
Gretzky the Great was particularly impressive in the Summer. After settling a couple lengths off the lead in second place, Gretzky the Great rallied past stakes winner Ready to Repeat and drew off for a 3 1/4-length triumph. By sprinting the final quarter-mile in an excellent :23 2/5, Gretzky the Great reach the finish line in a solid 1:34.53. European shippers are typically formidable in the Juvenile Turf (G1), but Gretzky the Great looms as a live contender for the home team.
Mutasaabeq: Although this Todd Pletcher trainee displayed early potential sprinting on dirt, breaking his maiden and finishing third in the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, the son of Into Mischief took a huge step forward when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles and transitioning to turf for the Bourbon (G2) at Keeneland.
Favored at 2-1, Mutasaabeq broke slowly and trailed the field for 6 furlongs, then unleashed a jaw-dropping turn-of-foot on the extreme outside to gain seven lengths and win going away. Mutasaabeq crossed the finish line 2 1/4 lengths clear in 1:43.13 and appeared to be just getting started, suggesting this talented Shadwell Stable runner has a serious engine under the hood.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Campanelle: Just how brilliant is Campanelle? Well, the Wesley Ward-trained filly is undefeated in three starts across three countries, using a runaway debut win at Gulfstream Park as a springboard to victories in the Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot and the Prix Morny (G1) at Deauville.
Campanelle is bred like a sprinter and has never run farther than 6 furlongs, but with her excellent early speed, she’ll be a dangerous front-running threat in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). She’s won over firm, good, and soft courses, so whatever conditions happen to arise at Keeneland should be suitable for Campanelle. Plus, Ward managed to train 2014 Prix Morny winner Hootenanny to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in his first start beyond 6 furlongs, so there’s hope for Campanelle achieving a similar feat.
Plum Ali: The fact that two lengths has been Plum Ali’s smallest margin of victory from three starts is a testament to the talent of this impressive chestnut filly. Under the care of Christophe Clement, Plum Ali has parlayed a sharp debut win at Saratoga into confident stretch-running victories in the Juvenile Fillies S. at Kentucky Downs and the Miss Grillo (G2) at Belmont Park.
In the Miss Grillo (which has produced three Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winners since 2014), Plum Ali rallied smoothly to score by 2 1/4 lengths over impressive maiden winner Caldee. If Campanelle falters while stretching out in distance at Keeneland, Plum Ali is more than capable of picking up the pieces.
Juvenile Turf Sprint
Golden Pal: Although Golden Pal was defeated in his first two starts, no one will claim he didn’t run well under challenging circumstances. After finishing a close second in his debut on dirt (not his preferred surface), Golden Pal ran a huge race to finish second over soft turf in the Norfolk (G2) at Royal Ascot, beaten only a neck.
Golden Pal subsequently fired off a huge effort in the 5 1/2-furlong Skidmore S. on firm turf at Saratoga, carving out the pace before blazing the fifth furlong in :10.75 and the final sixteenth in :05.76 to win by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:00.88, just 0.67 off the course record. Produced by the high-class 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) runner-up Lady Shipman, Golden Pal is trained by Ward, a master at conditioning 2-year-old sprinters. Based off his romp in the Skidmore, you can bet Golden Pal will be favored to win the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2).
Tobys Heart: Golden Pal’s most significant opposition might come from a filly. Tobys Heart trounced her debut over the Churchill Downs turf course, overcoming a slow start to explode clear by 6 3/4 lengths, and she was just as impressive in the 5 1/2-furlong Bolton Landing S. at Saratoga, unleashing a fast finish over a good course to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
With her proven ability to excel over both firm and damp turf, Tobys Heart should be capable of handling any conditions at Keeneland. She’ll be one of the main threats from off the pace.