By Margaret Ransom
The main event for 2-year-olds every year is also a good predictor of who will be crowned champion and honored with a year-end Eclipse Award.
Among the leading contenders in the $2 million Juvenile on Friday at Del Mar is 9-5 morning-line favorite Jack Christopher from the East and 5-2 second choice Corniche from the West.
A little Juvenile history
Chief’s Crown won the inaugural Juvenile at Hollywood Park under jockey Don MacBeth and went on to become the champion 2-year-old. Since then, the connections of 28 more also earned an Eclipse Award including last year’s winner, Essential Quality, who starts as one of the favorites in the Classic.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas holds the record for number of winners trained with five – (1986, Capote; 1987, Success Express; 1988, Is It True; 1994, Timber Country; and 1996, Boston Harbor). Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Baffert sits second with four winners (2002, Vindication; 2008, Midshipman; 2013, New Year’s Day; and 2018, Game Winner).
Retired jockeys Laffit Pincay Jr. and Jerry Bailey claim three winners apiece. Favorite Trick, who won the 1997 Juvenile at Hollywood Park, is the last 2-year-old to be voted Horse of the Year and first since Secretariat in 1972.Allen Paulson’s champion Arazi still owns the most memorable performance in Breeders’ Cup history. The son of Blushing Groom logged an impressive last-to-first move at Churchill Downs under jockey Patrick Valenzuela to win by five lengths, a performance that is still considered by many to be the Juvenile gold standard. Arazi lived to age 32 and passed away in July at Shockwell Thoroughbreds in Victoria, Australia.
Only two Juvenile winners went on to win the Derby — Street Sense and Nyquist. (2006, 2007) and Nyquist (2014, 2015) though Timber Country.
Full field of 12
A full field of 12 will head to the gate. Undefeated Champagne (G1) winner Jack Christopher will lead the field to post under Jose Ortiz. Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown trains the son of Munnings for the partnership of Coolmore Stud, Jim Bakke and Gerald Ibister. He’s talented and has some good numbers but faces a stiff test from the locals who also have have good numbers, experience over the surface and better post positions. He’s good enough for the win, for sure, but he will have to earn it.
Undefeated Corniche is coming off a nice win in the American Pharoah (G1) for Baffert and jockey Mike Smith, who won this race for the trainer aboard Vindication in 2002. The outside post position isn’t great for this son of Quality Road so for sure Smith will be gunning for the lead right at the break. This colt has numbers, connections and pedigree to suggest a win is achievable with a clean trip.
Jasper Great is a talented American-bred, Japan-trained son of Arrogate who broke his maiden by a whopping 10 lengths in his debut at 9 furlongs at Hanshin a month ago. It’s hard to gauge how that performance stacks up against the better runners of his class from the U.S., but he looks like the real deal in replays of the race and seems to have acclimated in his time at Del Mar.
Pinehurst, also trained by Baffert, has won his only two starts, including the Del Mar Futurity (G1) last out on Labor Day. The son of Twirling Candy hasn’t raced in two months, but he hasn’t missed a beat or a work since and should be fit enough to get the win, though he will have a ton of company on the lead where he wants to be. Baffert’s latest go-to rider, John Velazquez, will be aboard this colt, who has the numbers to be one of the top selections here. Velazquez was aboard Uncle Mo for his only win in 2010.
Pappacap won the Best Pal (G3) over this track in August, then was a somewhat troubled fourth in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) but rebounded for a decent runner-up finish in the American Pharoah (G1) last out. Trainer Mark Casse saddled champion Classic Empire to the win here in 2016 and jockey Joe Bravo seeks his initial win in this event.
Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ Sapling Stakes winner Double Thunder seeks to give his Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher a third win in this race (Uncle Mo, 2010; Shanghai Bobby, 2012) and Flavien Prat seeks a second winner overall (he won his first with longshot Storm the Court in 2019). This son of Derby winner Super Saver, coming off a second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), has the connections and talent and as a later runner will most certainly benefit from a likely hot early pace, and though he’s improving he’d need to show a lot more to run with the top contenders here.
Barossa is an improving son of Into Mischief for Baffert. He broke his maiden in his third start last out three weeks after some solid defeats in his first two starts and while this $775,000 yearling has a ton of upside, his first start here against seasoned winners is a lot to ask.
Pletcher’s other runner is the maiden Commandperformance, who is 5-1 on the morning line despite only earning a pair of seconds in his two starts, including in the Champagne last out. This Union Rags colt has some big numbers to go along with a good closing style that will be set up perfectly by the speed in front of him. It would be nice if this colt had a win, but he’s talented and certainly deserves a longer look for all exotic wagering opportunities. Irad Ortiz, Jr., rides.
The rest of the field
American Sanctuary had a nice maiden win in July at Prairie Meadows but has faltered a bit in three stakes starts since. He seems to be in a bit over his head for trainer Chris Davis in his first Breeders’ Cup.
Giant Game has a stiff hill to climb for trainer Dale Romans in his first start against winners after breaking his maiden in his second out at Keeneland a month ago; Oviatt Class was third last out in the American Pharoah after breaking his maiden at a mile over this Del Mar surface back in August; Tough To Tame is Davis’ other runner coming off a nice second in the Iroquois (G3) last out.