December 4, 2020

Previewing principals for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Jackie's Warrior wins the 2020 Hopeful Stakes (Dom Napolitano/Coglianese Photography)

Two contenders to respect by taking time to reflect.

When Keeneland hosted its first Breeders’ Cup in 2015, Nyquist overcame post 12 and a wide trip to comfortably win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). The champion 2-year-old male went on to capture the Kentucky Derby (G1) the following spring.

The Juvenile will return to Keeneland for the second time on Nov. 6. The 1 1/16-mile race carries significance for the Kentucky Derby, and it’s featured a number of stirring victories.

When discussing brilliant performances in Breeders’ Cup history, Juvenile winners Arazi, Uncle Mo, and War Pass immediately come to my mind.

I loved the theater of the 2000 Juvenile, when Macho Uno held off the thrilling late rally of Point Given to prevail by the slimmest of margins.

The Juvenile can also spark bitter disappointment when a seemingly invincible favorite suffers their first loss. Bolt d’Oro and Union Rags are a couple of recent examples, and I was stunned to see Easy Goer finish second in the 1988 Juvenile at odds-on.

Let’s take a look at the two main contenders for the 2020 Juvenile.

Favorite – Jackie’s Warrior

Jackie’s Warrior is the horse to beat. Perfect from four outings, the Steve Asmussen-trained colt had to work before winning his first two starts going away, including the Saratoga Special (G2), but Jackie’s Warrior made it look easy recording sensational tallies in the Champagne (G1) and Hopeful S. (G1).

He controlled the action while stretching out to a one-turn mile in the Oct. 10 Champagne at Belmont Park, being put under wraps by Joel Rosario after accelerating away in upper stretch, and Jackie’s Warrior has been special. Whether his form will translate effectively to two turns in the Juvenile is the biggest question.

By Maclean’s Music, Jackie’s Warrior’s pedigree is slanted towards speed on both sides, but there is a significant difference between 1 1/16 miles this fall and longer distances at age 3. The added distance may prove to be no factor given the manner in which he finished full of run in the Champagne, and Jackie’s Warrior is a threat to simply overpower his rivals on the front end.

His ability to relax under pressure could be tested. The bay Kentucky-bred had everything his own way in the last two starts, but Jackie’s Warrior did track the early pace in his career debut. And it’s fair to question whether any of the Juvenile runners can apply legitimate pressure to Jackie’s Warrior during the early stages.

Jackie's Warrior
Jackie’s Warrior leads the way to win the Champagne Stakes (Coglianese Photos/Dom Napolitano)

Second choice – Essential Quality

Essential Quality is the leading challenger. Trained by Brad Cox, the Godolphin homebred son of Tapit opened his racing career with a sharp win on the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs, and the gray colt exits a 3 1/4-length triumph in the Oct. 3 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland,.

His affinity for the oval will make him an attractive alternative to the favorite, and the potential upside is enormous – Essential Quality ranks first on my Top 10 list at KentuckyDerby.com. His Brisnet Speed ratings will keep increasing, but Essential Quality must run faster after netting a 92 Brisnet Speed rating last time.

Jackie’s Warrior received a 101 Speed figure in the Champagne, seven points faster than any Juvenile rivals.

Essential Quality
Essential Quality wins the Breeders’ Futurity (Coady Photography)