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As usual, Horse of the Year is on the line at the Breeders’ Cup

(Breeders' Cup)
Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 6:19 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - As is typically the case, thoroughbred racing’s coveted title of Horse of the Year will be up for grabs at this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar. There’s an excellent chance the Breeders’ Cup Classic will  dicate which runner will come away with the sport’s ultimate annual award.

But a female is also very much in the mix in the big chase for Horse of the Year.  If the fabulous mare, Letruska, puts together a strong victory in the Distaff, she might win  that precious crown. For her to move to the top , there would probably have to be an upset in the Classic, meaning that Knicks Go, Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie and Medina Spirit would all lose in Saturday’s finale.

Let’s state the case for Horse of the Year for Letruska. She’s had a stellar 2021 campaign, posting four Grade One victories at four different tracks around the country.  She has  defeated many of the nation’s top distaffers and she’ll be one of the top favorites on Saturday’s nine-race card.

In many years, a female might need to notch a win over the boys at some point to become a Horse of the Year candidate. But Letruska has been such a spectacular performer this year that she may not need a triumph over males.

As for the males, if either Knicks Go or Essential Quality take the Classic, then it’s really a Horse of the Year slam dunk for that winner. Each of these Brad Cox runners owns an outstanding 2021 resume heading into the Classic.

Knicks Go captured the prestigious Pegasus Invitational back in January.  Then the 5-year-old hit a two-racing losing streak with fourth place efforts in the Saudi Cup and the Met Mile.  But Knicks Go got it going again as he reeled off a 10-length win in the Cornhusker, a 4 1/2 - length victory in the Whitney, and a 4 - length triumph in the Lukas Classic. He’ll bring a dazzling winning streak into the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Now to Essential Quality, whose year has been nothing short of spectacular. The colt hit the Kentucky Derby trail with strong wins in the Southwest Stakes and in the Blue Grass Stakes.   On the First Saturday in May, Essential Quality tasted defeat for the only time in his career as he finished fourth in the Derby, beaten just a length.  Then he owned the summer spotlight, posting victories in the Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy Stakes, and in the Travers.

What about Hot Rod Charlie’s Horse of the Year chances?    A win in the Classic would steer Hot Rod right into the conversation.  He began his campaign with a third place run in the Lewis Stakes, but then bounced back to take the Louisiana Derby. The colt then was a credible third in the Kentucky Derby.  Next up in the Belmont Stakes, he ran perhaps the best race of his career yet finished second to Essential Quality.

Hot Rod Charlie seemed to redeem himself at  the Haskell, finishing first under the wire.  But he was disqualified for drifting during the stretch.  Then in September, he put together a terrific effort  in capturing the Pennsylvania Derby.

So with a sort of roller coaster campaign, he’ll likely need a “wow” performance in the Classic to sway the Horse of the Year voters in his direction.

What if Medina Spirit wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic?  The Kentucky Derby winner ( at least for now ) is a gusty horse who likes to lay it down in the stretch like he did at Churchill Downs.  He certainly has the tools to take the Classic, and a victory on Saturday would give the Bob Baffert colt quite a combo, resume-wise.  Wins in the Derby and in the Classic would have to boost Medina Spirit’s Horse of the Year chances. He’s a likely longshot though for this honor as that Derby DQ could be looming large.

You can watch the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at 8:00 P.M. on WAVE 3 News and NBC Sports.

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