Essential Quality charges late to win Breeders' Cup Juvenile

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Jockey Ricardo Santana rode 30-1 longshot Fire at Will to victory on Friday at the Juvenile Turf at the Breeders' Cup
Jockey Ricardo Santana rode 30-1 longshot Fire at Will to victory on Friday at the Juvenile Turf at the Breeders' Cup

Essential Quality seized control in the middle of the final stretch Friday to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and give trainer Brad Cox his second winner of the day at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky.

With Luis Saez aboard, Essential Quality powered past 94-1 shot Hot Rod Charlie and 4-5 favorite Jackie's Warrior -- who dueled for the lead through the final turn.

The unheralded Hot Rod Charlie hung on to finish second ahead of the late-charging Keepmeinmind with Jackie's Warrior relegated to fourth.

"It was a tremendous effort by this horse, and Luis just stayed after him the whole way," Cox said. "He overcame a lot today."

Jackie's Warrior trainer Steve Asmussen said a blistering early pace was "too much, too soon" for the favorite.

"Pace makes the race, and it did not set up well for us today," a dejected Asmussen said.

The victory in the $2 million, 1 1/16th-mile race came after Cox's Aunt Pearl bolted to an early lead then cruised to a 2 1/2 length victory in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Ridden by US-based French jockey Florent Geroux, Aunt Pearl surged out of the gate and to the front, turning back a challenge from Campanelle.

With plenty in reserve, Aunt Pearl crossed the line comfortably in front of the Aidan O'Brien-trained Mother Earth with another European raider, the Ken Condon-trained Miss Amulet, third under Julien Leparoux.

Campanelle, a two-time winner in Europe this year, was fourth with Frankie Dettori aboard.

More than a dozen European hopefuls came up empty on the Breeders' Cup opening day dubbed "Future Stars Friday" and featuring five races for two-year-olds.

Fire At Will shot down overseas hopes with an upset triumph in the $1 million Juvenile Turf as the opening day of the Breeders' Cup showcased a wealth of two-year-old talent.

- 'Beautiful trip' -

With Ricardo Santana in the irons, the 30-1 longshot gave trainer Michael Maker the victory, tucking in behind early leaders Outadore and Gretzky the Great and gliding through a gap on the final bend to power to a three-length victory over Irish raider Battleground, trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore.

"I got a beautiful trip," Santana said. "I had plenty of horse in the tank. He put me where he wanted to be and that's why we won."

Outadore, ridden by Jose Ortiz, settled for third ahead of Irish trainer Jessica Harrington's Cadillac, who had to have a shoe tightened in the paddock and then balked at the starting gate before producing a steady effort under Shane Foley.

Friday's action was the curtain-raiser to Saturday's nine-race slate, highlighted by the $6 million Classic and the $4 million Turf.

Saturday will also see Cox's Monomoy Girl, winner of the 2018 Distaff, going for a second title in the same race against Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver.

No fans were in attendance at Keeneland and amid that and other Covid-19 precautions, the pandemic struck home with a positive test for France-based Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon, who went into isolation and lost scheduled mounts in the Turf and the Mile.

Golden Pal kicked off the action with a convincing victory in the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint.

Breaking from the 14th post under jockey Irad Ortiz, Golden Pal surged to the lead, lost a little ground as he battled Ortiz's efforts to slow the pace, then kicked it into high gear when given the go-ahead to win the 5 1/2-furlong race by 3/4 of a length over fast-closing Cowan -- trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Ricardo Santana.

Ubettabelieveit, trained in England by Breeders' Cup newcomer Nigel Tinkler, was third with jockey Rowan Scott aboard.

"I got a little worried on the back side," admitted Golden Pal trainer Wesley Ward, who notched his second straight win in the event after Four Wheel Drive's victory at Santa Anita in California last year. "When he accelerated past the quarter-pole, I knew we were OK."

Vequist, trained by Robert "Butch" Reid and ridden by Joel Rosario, won the $2 million Juvenile Fillies -- five years after her sire Nyquist won the Juvenile at Keeneland before going on to win the Kentucky Derby in 2016.