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Bernier's Best

Recapping the 2021 Breeders' Cup World Championships

by Matt Bernier
Updated On: November 8, 2021, 3:48 pm ET

A mix of dazzling performances and epic blunders at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club over the weekend will cement the 2021 Breeders’ Cup as one that will be discussed for many years to come.

Below you will find takeaways from this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

- KNICKS GO cemented his status as 2021 Horse of the Year with a dominant performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, winning by nearly three-lengths and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 112. Contrary to widespread belief, the pace of this year’s Classic was on the more moderate side based on the times Del Mar’s dirt track was yielding on Saturday, making Knicks Go’s clear lead that much more perplexing. The moment jockey Joel Rosario was able to clear to the front aboard the Brad Cox trainee, the race was all but over.

- MEDINA SPIRIT delivered an impressive performance in defeat; however, the fact of the matter remains: the colt trained by Bob Baffert has never won a race (aside from his career debut) when he has not been able to control the pace early. He may have been a beat slow away from the gate on Saturday, but the moment he conceded the lead to Knicks Go was the moment the race was decided.

- YIBIR took advantage of a wicked pace scenario en route to a Breeders’ Cup Turf victory, rallying from second-to-last in a field of fourteen. A three-year-old gelding, Yibir was an average runner in Europe before trainer Charlie Appleby sent him to the United States. The son of Dubawi has won both starts stateside, earning Beyer Speed Figures of 94 and 105, respectively.

- Speaking of wicked pace scenarios, the field of fillies and mares made sure there would be no free rides for LETRUSKA in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. To put things into perspective, the opening quarter mile of the Distaff was run nearly six-lengths faster than the opening quarter mile of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, making it impossible for any of the fillies or mares – Letruska included – to have anything left when the field turned for home.

- MARCHE LORRAINE was the upset of the weekend, bringing home the second win for Japan in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. At odds of nearly 50/1, Marche Lorraine had never competed in a Grade 1 or Group 1 race in her native Japan, making Saturday’s performance more stunning.

- SPACE BLUES delivered as the 2/1 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Mile for Godolphin / Charlie Appleby / William Buick, as his wicked turn of foot was simply too much to overcome in a race that featured a tepid pace scenario.

- JACKIE’S WARRIOR disappointed as the 2/5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, fading to finish sixth in a field of nine runners for trainer Steve Asmussen. Jackie’s Warrior was positioned toward the inside of the main track at Del Mar, an area that did not seem favorable throughout the weekend. Nonetheless, this represented the worst performance of the brilliant colt’s career, by far. ALOHA WEST was able to take advantage of swift interior fractions, rolling down the center of the racetrack for trainer Wayne Catalano en route to an upset victory.

- LOVES ONLY YOU got the party started for the Japanese contingent, as she split rivals in deep stretch to prevail in the Filly & Mare Turf by a mere half-length. It was a terrific performance from the mare who has taken on some of the better competition internationally in her career and found a spot here that suited her perfectly.

- LIFE IS GOOD won with devastating ease in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, emphasizing just how talented the Todd Pletcher trainee is. The Beyer Speed Figure of 109 he earned Saturday represents a new career best for the three-year-old colt, potentially setting the stage for a showdown between he and Knicks Go in January’s Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.

- GOLDEN PAL demonstrated brilliant speed away from the gate en route to victory in the Turf Sprint, giving trainer Wesley Ward another massive victory in this type of race. Ward has a knack for getting turf sprinters to break with alacrity, making him the best trainer of turf sprinters in the world.

- CE CE rallied impressively from off the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint to upset the top two choices in the wagering, Gamine and Bella Sofia. The victory is a deserved one for trainer Michael McCarthy, who may be the most underrated trainer in the United States given his resume.

- The MODERN GAMES debacle in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf continues to show how little respect the wagering public receives from the racing industry. There is no denying that the owners (Godolphin) deserve to see their horse run if he is deemed fit and healthy, however the premature scratch of the two-year-old star left bettors to get the short end of the stick. Because of the way multi-race wagers work, many gamblers were stuck taking a horse they had no interest in having in the payoff leg of their tickets – only to see Modern Games, the horse they wanted, romp to an emphatic victory. The horse racing industry needs to wake up and realize that without the bettors, the entire ecosystem would collapse. It is about time the bettors get the respect they deserve.

- CORNICHE was the biggest beneficiary of the Jack Christopher scratch in Friday’s Juvenile, as he was able to clear to the front and never look back, winning by nearly two-lengths. The question now boils down to whether the son of Quality Road will be transferred away from the care of Bob Baffert, as Baffert is currently barred from Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby.

- PIZZA BIANCA received a brilliant ride from jockey Jose Ortiz en route to a flying victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf for owner Bobby Flay and trainer Christophe Clement. Clement had been winless in the Breeders’ Cup prior to Pizza Bianca’s victory, ending a streak akin to Phil Mickelson’s major drought prior to his Masters victory in 2004.

- The pace she set may have been on the pedestrian side, but ECHO ZULU has the look of a superstar. Winner of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, the Steve Asmussen trainee is a perfect 4-for-4 to begin her career and is without question the current favorite for next May’s Kentucky Oaks.

- TWILIGHT GLEAMING is just another example of Wesley Ward’s prowess with turf sprinters, as the two-year-old shot clear and posted an impressive score in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.

Matt Bernier

Matt Bernier is a betting analyst for NBC Sports and host of "The Matt Bernier Show" podcast. His work has been showcased in the Daily Racing Form, on ESPN, as well as on TVG. Matt can be followed on Twitter @bernier_matt.