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Breeders’ Cup Classic: Knicks Go, Essential Quality the picks

Breeders’ Cup Classic: Knicks Go, Essential Quality the
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Brad Cox became a force to reckon with when he trained a record-tying four winners in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. Those two days almost exactly a year ago burnished his first Eclipse Award as the country’s top trainer. There is no reason to think it will be his last.

He arrived at the 2021 Breeders’ Cup with six horses, including two of the three leading candidates to be Horse of the Year. Knicks Go (5-2) and Essential Quality (3-1) carry the two shortest prices on the morning line and in futures betting for Saturday’s $6 million Classic.

Since Cox took over training Knicks Go at the start of last year, the now 5-year-old horse sired by Paynter is 7-for-7 going around two turns. But he has never raced as far as the Classic’s 1¼ miles. He is trying to become the first horse in 12 years to win his 10-furlong debut, in America’s biggest race.

“His gallop-out in his races have been pretty impressive,” Cox said on Friday’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod. “He certainly can handle a mile-and-an-eighth awful well. I can’t see a reason why he would not get a mile-and-a-quarter. To look at his pedigree and think that he couldn’t get a mile-and-a-quarter, I don’t know why people wouldn’t think he would.”

Where Knicks Go might try to lead from gate to wire, Essential Quality is likely to stalk the pace. The winner of the Belmont Stakes and the Grade 1 Travers could become the 14th 3-year-old to win in the 38 runnings of the Classic, although he has been on the bench for 10 weeks.

“I feel like he’s run enough,” Cox said. “We’ve got a fit horse. He’s developed physically since the Travers. He has just expanded. He looks the part, and he’s training the part. I can tell that he has definitely gotten sharper and more aggressive in his training just since the cool weather took over the last two or three weeks.”

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Cox also has a live chance in the $2 million Distaff on Saturday with Shedaresthedevil (4-1), who has done something few horses have accomplished all year. She defeated division leader and Distaff favorite Letruska. That happened in the two-turn Azeri Stakes last winter at Oaklawn Park. Three months later, Letruska got even by beating Shedaresthedevil in the one-turn Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.

“We did defeat Letruska around two turns, and we’re running around two turns,” Cox said. “I know that we can beat her. We’ve just got to have some racing luck and a good setup. I mean it’s been done.”

Brent Musburger’s BC Classic selections

Knicks Go (post 5) is the best horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but I am picking Essential Quality (4) to take him down in the stretch. Knicks Go loves to control the pace under jockey Joel Rosario, but he has never gone 1¹/₄ miles. I believe he will hold off Medina Spirit (8) in the first half-mile, but Essential Quality will track him into the stretch and win the race. Hot Rod Charlie (3) is always a contender and should finish in the trifecta or superfecta, and I will go with Art Collector (6), who is capable of an upset, to finish fourth.

$100 betting strategy: $50 Exacta box 4-5.

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