Corniche’s Speed a Matter of Record

With one of the most unusual Breeders’ Cups in memory in the books, it is time forget this year’s rather bizarre and relatively formless event and start looking ahead to the Kentucky Derby trail, as we have already done with our Derby Sleepers series. The one lingering discussion that should create a stir for a while is who should be the 3-year-old male champion, and we’ll get into that as well. But first let’s take an early peek at the Derby trail in regard to the horses we saw in the Juvenile, but only after we give a brief overall look at the event in general. ~ Steve Haskin

Corniche’s Speed a Matter of Record

By Steve Haskin

The 2021 Breeders’ Cup will be remembered for many things, most of them bizarre and even embarrassing. But at least we were able to crown a legitimate Horse of the Year in Knicks Go, who is like a snowball rolling down a mountain, getting bigger and faster the farther it goes until it becomes an unstoppable force. No matter how fast you are, you can’t outrun it and you sure don’t want to get in its path.

In a race where it looked as if a couple of the 3-year-olds, especially Medina Spirit, would at least put pressure on Knicks Go, no jockey made even a feeble attempt at it, as if they conceded that running with him would be suicide, and to do so it would cost them a placing and a possible shot at a 3-year-old Eclipse Award. In short they all seemed afraid to take him on and were content to just finish ahead of the other 3-year-olds. And just for good measure, Joel Rosario, on Knicks Go, came in on his stablemate and main threat Essential Quality at the break, forcing him to drop back to sixth. To Knicks Go’s credit he did run is opening half in an eye-opening :45 4/5, and there isn’t a 3-year-old in the country who can or would dare go that fast and take him on in a mile and a quarter race.

So Knicks Go merely shrugged off the three talented but overmatched and overwhelmed 3-year-olds futilely chasing him down the stretch, as if he were teaching them not to mess with your elders. Like a throwback to a different time, he showed what a horse (not a gelding) can do when given time to reach its peak by competing in three different Breeders’ Cup races, winning two of them and finishing second once, culminating with a Horse of the Year title at the age of 5 after a fairly major injury at 3.

We all saw the bizarre aspect of this year’s Breeders’ Cup with the crazy incidents surrounding the Godolphin horses, which had two of its best horses scratched at the gate after nearly killing themselves only to win with another horse. We won’t get into the embarrassment of the first incident or the thrashing our grass horses received from the Europeans and for the first time from the Japanese, who beat us on grass and dirt. And we won’t get into why our two sprinting superstars, Gamine and Jackie’s Warrior, both laid the proverbial egg at 2-5 and 1-2. We did have two of the tightest finishes in Breeders’ Cup history, one involving a 49-1 Japanese horse coming out on top, with the 8-5 favorite Letruska, a candidate for Horse of the Year, getting beat 32 lengths. And then there were the powerful contingents of Chad Brown and Aidan O’Brien both coming up empty. And Del Mar isn’t a quirky track? It’s time to leave the salty ocean air and get back to Keeneland, where the turf meets the turf.

We also have to mention the number of horses who were scratched the week leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, with Chad Brown losing two likely favorites, one them who would have changed the entire complexion and possibly the result of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The only sense of normalcy was Wesley Ward winning both grass sprints. What was good about this year’s Breeders’ Cup is that it gave the Japanese, the Europeans, and longshots a chance to shine. They just did it at the expense of the Americans and the heavy favorites.

So that wraps up Breeders’ Cup 2021. Now we can settle back and look ahead to next year and the continued exploits of undefeated 2-year-old champions Echo Zulu and Corniche, as the latter hits the Derby trail, bringing with him a pedigree that is unmatched when it comes to speed. Now the big question will be, how far can he carry all that speed?

Corniche’s family rivals Elvis when it comes to number of records. Now it’s just a matter of how he gets to Kentucky with the current ban of his trainer Bob Baffert by Churchill Downs that excludes Baffert’s horses from accumulating Derby points. But that is a topic for another time.

Right now let’s look at Corniche’s amazing pedigree. To begin with, his sire, Quality Road set a new track record of 1:47 2/5 for 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream winning the Donn Handicap, eclipsing his own record of 1:47 3/5 set the year before in the Florida Derby. He also set a new track record of 1:13 3/5 for 6 ½ furlongs at Saratoga that still stands and ran a mile in 1:33 flat in the Metropolitan Handicap. Quality Road’s sire, Elusive Quality, set a new world record of 1:31 3/5 for the mile on the turf at Belmont Park in the Poker Handicap. Elusive Quality’s sire, Gone West, is by Mr. Prospector, who set a new track record of 1:07 3/5 for six furlongs at Gulfstream Park and a new track record of 1:08 3/5 at Monmouth Park. Gone West’s dam, Secrettame, is by Secretariat, and we don’t have to go into all the track, American, and world records Big Red set on dirt and grass. Mr. Propector’s sire, Raise A Native, set a new track record of :57 4/5 for five furlongs at Aqueduct, then equaled it, and a new track record of 1:02 3/5 for 5 ½ furlongs at Aqueduct. Quality Road’s third dam is by Bold Bidder, who ran a mile in 1:32 4/5 at Arlington Park, one-fifth of a second off Buckpasser’s world record.

On the female side, Corniche’s dam Wasted Tears set a new course record of 1:32 4/5 for a mile on the grass at Lone Star Park that still stands. Wasted Tears is by Najran, who equaled Dr. Fager’s coveted 35-year-old world record of 1:32 1/5 for a mile, winning the Westchester Handicap at Belmont Park. That record has not been equaled on dirt since. Wasted Tears’ dam is by Greinton, who set a new track record of 1:32 3/5 for a mile at Hollywood Park and a new track record of 1:58 2/5 for 1 ¼ miles at Hollywood Park. Wasted Tears’ second dam is by Beau’s Eagle, who set a new track record of 1:40 3/5 for 1 1/16 miles at Golden Gate. Wasted Tears’ third dam is by Raise A Cup, who set a new track record of 1:03 for 5 ½ furlongs at Belmont Park. Also in Corniche’s female family is Conquistador Cielo, who set a new stakes record of 1:33 flat in the Met Mile.

So, in Corniche’s pedigree, you have horses who have run a mile in 1:31 3/5, 1:32 1/5, 1:32 3/5, 1:32 4/5 twice, and 1:33 flat twice. Now it is up to Corniche to show he can carry that speed a mile and a quarter. We just have to see what the future holds for him as he embarks on the Derby trail.

So who is the 3-Year-old Champion?

We will lay this out in very simple terms and you and the Eclipse voters can take it from there, whatever your thought process may be.

Knicks Go has in a way exposed all of the 3-year-olds, but mainly Essential Quality and Medina Spirit as Horse of the Year candidates. But believe me there is nothing to be ashamed of getting beat in a two-turn race by a brute and a speed freak like Knicks Go, who destroys his competition with his ability to accelerate on the first turn, take a little breather, and then accelerate on the second turn before pouring it on again in the stretch. That is why he is a far different horse in two-turn races than one-turn races.

But enough of Knicks Go. What about the 3-year-old championship that at one point looked like a virtual lock for Essential Quality with victories in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Belmont Stakes at Belmont, and Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes at Saratoga. But Medina Spirit returned to win the Shared Belief Stakes and easily defeat older horses in the Awesome Again Stakes to go along with his victories in the Robert Lewis in January and the Kentucky Derby that for now he still owns.

After the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which Medina Spirit finished second and Essential Quality third, do you look at Essential Quality’s impressive body of work running all over the country or the fact that Medina Spirit has finished ahead of Essential Quality the only two times they met? If you are more impressed with the latter, then you have to at least give a second thought to Life is Good, who defeated Medina Spirit the two times they met in the Sham Stakes and San Felipe Stakes early in the year and then closed out the year with victories in the one-mile Kelso Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, which he won for fun by almost six lengths. But the fact that Life is Good won only one Grade 1 stakes and never ran farther than 1 1/16 miles likely will prevent him from challenging the top two, especially with the BC Dirt Mile having arguably the weakest field in the Breeders’ Cup with only eight starters and very little depth to it.

Whatever slim chance Hot Rod Charlie may have had for an Eclipse Award disappeared when he finished fourth in the Classic. But he is still to be admired for his toughness, consistency, and ability to turn in powerful performances all year, racing seven times at seven different tracks.

So, let the discussion begin. I still have to ponder the situation more carefully, especially with the Derby result still up in the air. But after watching Medina Spirit demolish older horses in the Awesome Again and then run a bang-up second in the Classic coming from several lengths off the pace, you have to believe his Kentucky Derby victory was well earned. But you also have to consider that Essential Quality was basically taken out of his game plan in the Classic by his stablemate and was forced to come from seventh, closing well to finish three-quarters of a length behind Medina Spirit, who to his credit had a much wider trip. So you have to decide who ran the better race, and in the long run, who deserves the 3-year-old championship based on their accomplishments over the course of the year. I admire both horses and what they have achieved in the biggest races of the year, but right now, only a day after the Breeders’ Cup, I’m still befuddled and will let everything sink in before making a commitment. Oh, wait, I don’t vote any longer, so what I think doesn’t matter.

Photo courtesy of Washington Newsday


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