LEXINGTON, Ky., Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Essential Quality, a Kentucky-bred colt owned by the ruler of Dubai, rallied from behind a fast early pace to win Friday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile and automatically assume the favorite's mantle for the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Vequist won the $1 million Juvenile Fillies, jumping to the top of the list for next year's Kentucky Oaks, while a raft of high-quality European invaders had a day of heartbreak with seconds and thirds in the turf races.
Here's how "Future Stars Friday" played out on a beautiful, sunny day at Keeneland, with nine races yet to go Saturday.
The $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and founder and head of Godolphin Racing, has coveted the Kentucky Derby trophy for decades and never really come close to victory. After watching Essential Quality, a colt bred by Godolphin, win the Juvenile, his spirits must be up.
The Tapit colt, with Luis Saez in the irons, raced comfortably behind a blistering early pace. Turning into the Keeneland stretch, he was wide out toward the center of the track with lots left to do.
As the early speed began to tell on the leaders, he gradually made up the difference and won by 3/4 length. Hot Rod Charlie, dispatched at odds of 94-1, just failed to hang on for the win with Keepmeinmind third and the favorite, Jackie's Warrior, a tiring fourth.
Essential Quality is undefeated in three starts, and Saez said he finally seems to have worked out how he is supposed to behave.
"He was very focused today," said Saez, who scored his first Breeders' Cup win. "He just ran by them like nothing."
Trainer Brad Cox acknowledged victory in the Juvenile brings expectations for the following year's Run for the Roses.
"We're going to enjoy this one and that will be our goal moving forward," he said. "This was a tremendous effort by this colt. He overcame a lot today. It's a great win for the whole Godolphin operation. ... We'll make a plan over the winter."
Jackie's Warrior's trainer, Steve Asmussen, said the fast early pace was too much for the previously undefeated colt. "Pace makes the race and things didn't shape up for us today," Assmussen said.
The $2 million Grade I Juvenile Fillies
Vequist squeezed through a hole along the fence at mid-stretch, took the lead and kicked clear of the field to pull off a minor upset in the Juvenile Fillies, immediately becoming an early contender for the 2021 Kentucky Oaks.
The Nyquist filly, with Joel Rosario up, was always prominent, took the inside path and won by 2 lengths over Dayoutoftheoffice. Girl Daddy was up for third and the favorite, previously undefeated Princess Noor, reported fifth after never really hitting her best stride.
Vequist finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.30. She won the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga in her second career outing and then was second behind Dayoutoftheoffice in the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park.
"I've put a lot into this game and, until now, it wasn't going too well," winning owner Gary Barber said. "I want to tell any prospective owner there's nothing like this in any sport. And I'm a huge sports fan. Hopefully we have a champion filly this year."
The $1 million Grade I Juvenile Turf
Fire at Will, a 30-1 chance, easily turned aside a handful of top trans-Atlantic sprinters in the Juvenile Turf. The Declaration of War colt chased the leaders while saving ground, and then came with a late run to win 3 lengths with Ireland-based Battleground edging Outadore by a neck for second at the end of 1 mile.
Two more international runners, Cadillac and Sealiway, finished fourth and fifth. Fire at Will reported in 1:35.81, with Ricardo Santana Jr. riding for trainer Mike Maker.
Fire at Will was making his third start and first outside New York. He won the second time out, taking the With Anticipation Stakes on a sloppy Saratoga dirt track by 1/2 length, and then improving on that with a 2-lengths win in the Grade II Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park Oct. 3.
"It was great to be in this race," owner Kirk Wycoff said, "because Mike Maker wanted to run him in the dirt race." Although Fire at Will has won on the dirt, Wycoff said it's more likely that he will stay on the grass rather than pursuing a path to the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
The $1 million Grade I Juvenile Fillies Turf
Aunt Pearl jumped right to the lead in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and was never headed, winning off by 2 1/2 lengths.
A European raider, Mother Earth, came storming down the stretch, passed most of the field and just got second over Miss Amulet by a neck. The favorite, another European, Campanelle, finished fourth as Aunt Pearl finished the 1 mile in 1:35.71 for jockey Florent Geroux.
Racing on the lead is not the usual plan for winning turf races but Aunt Pearl, an Irish-bred filly by Lope de Vega, now is 3-for-3 and has never trailed at any point in any of those wins.
She came into the Breeders' Cup from a victory over the same course in the Grade II Jessamine Stakes. Mother Earth and Miss Amulet both hit the board in Group 1 events in their last races.
Juvenile winner Cox also trains Aunt Pearl and co-owner Michael Dubb said Cox "was exuding Monomoy Girl-type confidence before this race [referring to one of the favorites in Saturday' Breeders' Cup Distaff]. I couldn't believe that this could happen twice. She's in a league of her own."
Cox said he had faith throughout the race that Aunt Pearl would have enough left to hold on to the win in the late going. "When you dig into her pedigree, she might even go beyond a mile and an eighth," he said.
The $1 million Grade II Juvenile Turf Sprint
There wasn't much to the Juvenile Turf Sprint, the most recent addition to the Breeders' Cup program. Golden Pal, already an international star for trainer Wesley Ward, went to the post as the odds-on favorite, shot to the lead, turned back a brief challenge and ran on to win by 3/4 length.
The lead was shortening at the end as Cowan came in second and English invader Ubettabelieveit was third. With Irad Ortiz Jr. riding, Golden Pal finished 5 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.82.
The Uncle Mo colt began his career in April at Gulfstream Park, finishing second. He made his next appearance at Royal Ascot, where he was overtaken in the final strides of the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes by The Lir Jet, finishing second by a neck. He returned to win the Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga by 3 1/2 lengths.
Owner-breeder Randy Lowe said he was a bit concerned when Ortiz pulled the colt back from the early lead. "I thought, 'What is he doing?' But we've been teaching him to rate and then he let out a notch and everything was OK."
Ward said Golden Pal will get a rest, return in the spring at Keeneland and then target a return to Royal Ascot - probably for the 5-furlongs King's Stand -- and to the 2021 Breeders' Cup at Del Mar.
There were some really nice races on the undercard for Future Stars Friday, too:
Highly Motivated saved ground into the stretch in the $125,000 Nyquist Stakes, came out around the embattled leaders to take the lead at the furlong pole and drew off to win by 4 1/4 lengths.
Quick Tempo set the early pace and held on for second with Roderick, his early competition, third. The 6 1/2 furlongs went in 1:14.99 with Javier Castellano riding the winner for trainer Chad Brown. Highly Motivated, an Into Mischief colt, made it two straight wins after just missing in his first race.
Joy's Rocket led the way under pressure in the $125,000 Songbird Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, was never headed and drew off to win by 3 lengths.
Farsighted, the early challenger, held second while not able to keep up with the winner and Roc's Princess finished third. Joy's Rocket, a daughter of Anthony's Cross, finished in 1:16.18 with Ricardo Santana Jr. up for trainer Steve Asmussen. She was coming off a fading fourth-place finish in the Grade I Frizette at 1 mile at Belmont Park on Oct. 10.
Ever Dangerous drew into the $150,000 Bryan Station Stakes for 3-year-olds, got a wide trip from the No. 14 gate and still managed to get up in the final yards to win by 1/2 length at odds of 74-1.
Fancy Liquor, the early leader, held second, just in front of a wall of horses and it took a long look at the photo to place Bye Bye Melvin third.
Ever Dangerous, a Kitten's Joy colt, finished in the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:48.74 with Javier Castellano up. He probably didn't deserve the 74-1 odds after winning a rich allowance event at Belmont Park in his previous start.
Amy's Challenge was away a step slowly in the $150,000 McConnell Springs for fillies and mares, quickly rushed up to take the lead and wasn't bothered thereafter, winning by 2 1/2 lengths.
Unique Factor came from the clouds to finish second, a head in front of Wildwood's Beauty. Amy's Challenge, a 5-year-old Artie Schiller mare, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.17 for jockey Jose Lezcano and now has two wins and two seconds from six starts this year.
The $200,000 Grade II Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes at 1 5/8 miles was this year's stand-in for the long-abandoned Breeders' Cup Marathon.
Rocketry lived up to his name in the stretch run, racing by outside the leaders to win by 1 length while finishing in 2:42.57 under Irad Ortiz Jr. Mirinaque was second and Dack Janiel's finished third. Rocketry, a 6-year-old son of Hard Spun, specializes in the longer-distance events but hadn't won in a while.