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Breeders’ Cup Profile: Is This 3 Year-Old Crop Legendary?
Life Is Good (Credit: NYRA)

Breeders’ Cup Profile: Is This 3 Year-Old Crop Legendary?

An annual tradition in horse racing is debating the strength of the current 3-year-old crop and its placement amongst the best (or worst) in the sport’s history. The performances that we see during the Triple Crown season and throughout the summer shape our opinions and set the stage for who might win year-end Eclipse Awards. These races also shape the future of the breeding industry, the life-blood of the game.

However, as the summer comes to an end, one big challenge still remains: can the 3-year-olds successfully take on the best older horses in the world at the Breeders’ Cup? Nearly all major races used to judge 3-year-olds are restricted to that age group, so the top 3-year-olds facing a new challenge adds to the excitement surrounding the World Championships.

As the 2021 Breeders’ Cup nears, this current crop of 3-year-olds looks stronger than anything else that we’ve seen in years. This group has the opportunity to become legendary.


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Of the 14 total Breeders’ Cup races held this year, 9 can be won by a 3-year-old (the other 5 are restricted to 2-year-olds). A 3-year-old has a solid shot to win 6 of those 9 and will likely be heavily favored in 3 of them.

But how many will this crop win? Let’s examine each race while keeping in mind that the most Breeders’ Cup races won in a single year by American-based 3-year-olds is just 2.


Essential Quality – He’ll be the second choice in the race behind his stablemate Knicks Go. His list of accomplishments is extensive and he’s lost just once in his career (fourth in the Kentucky Derby [G1]). The Classic has produced many 3-year-old winners over the years, including 4 of the past 7. Essential Quality seems the one most likely one to accomplish the feat in 2021, but he’s not the only one with a shot.

Hot Rod Charlie – His confidence grew after winning the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) last time out, though he hasn’t run a poor race all season. With any luck at all earlier in the year, he’d be in the running for an Eclipse Award, but tough beats and disqualifications hurt him. Still, he has the running style, the talent, and the connections to make things very interesting in this race.

Medina Spirit – Don’t forget about him. Even with all the controversy, this guy seems to be running better than ever after an important win against older horses in the Awesome Again Stakes (G1). Important to note: he crossed the wire ahead of both Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and now the Breeders’ Cup is allowing Bob Baffert to run horses in the event. Two big “positives” for him!


Malathaat – The undisputed leader of the sophomore fillies group seems to be getting better with each race, which is what you want to see this time of year. She stubbed her toe at Saratoga 2 races back to suffer her lone defeat, but she returned looking quite sharp in her Alabama Stakes (G1) triumph. She’s probably the best option to defeat the heavy favorite, Letruska.

Clairiere – She finally picked up her first Grade 1 victory last time out, taking him the Cotillion Stakes at Parx in stylish fashion. This filly has battled the top horses in her crop every single time this year, and with the older division looking a little top-heavy, she should fit in well with this group.

Private Mission – This “new shooter” has come on strong in the second half of the year. After a couple of really nice efforts against her own age group, she dominated older horses last time out in the Zenyatta Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita. There is no doubt she is the “hot horse” coming into this event and you can be positive that Baffert will have her ready to run.


Jackie’s Warrior – This horse has been a monster all season long, including 3 straight ultra-impressive wins coming into this event. The older sprinters have not been that great this season, which further strengthens the case for Jackie’s Warrior. His toughest competition may come from his own age group.

Following Sea – After getting dominated in the Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1) by Jackie’s Warrior and Life Is Good, this horse came back to defeat older horses with ease in the Vosburgh Stakes (G2). He has to face Jackie’s Warrior again, which is a problem, but this horse is getting better with each start.

Turf Sprint

Golden Pal – This guy won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1), so he knows how to run on the biggest stage. He also defeated older horses in his last start at Keeneland, fending off competition late to win the Woodford Stakes (G2). It’s rare for an American-based 3-year-old to win this race, but Golden Pal will likely be the big favorite in this spot.

Dirt Mile

Life Is Good – This might be the most talented horse in the country. He’s suffered just 1 defeat, at the hands of Jackie’s Warrior, and there isn’t a horse close to his ability that’s aiming for this race. Life Is Good is likely to be one of the shortest prices of the entire Breeders’ Cup weekend.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Bella Sofia – She’ll have to face the heavily-favored defending champion Gamine, which is positively scary, but this is the horse that could take her down. Her last 2 efforts were insanely good, and last time out, she beat older horses in the Gallant Bloom Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park in solid fashion. If she shows up with that short of effort again, then she can definitely challenge the big favorite.

No Serious Contenders: Turf, Turf Mile, Filly & Mare Turf

With solid chances to win 6 different Breeders’ Cup races, the stage is set for 3-year-olds to have a massive impact at Del Mar in 2 weeks. If they can win half of the races listed above, combined with what they’ve already accomplished this season, then this crop will officially go down as one of the best that we’ve seen in the modern era of racing (remember, 2 victories by American-based 3-year-olds is the “record”).

No matter what happens, this crop has proven their worth this season, but a big-time effort at the Breeders’ Cup can solidify their status as legendary.

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