Trainer Todd Pletcher dismisses the notion Quality Road can’t win at 1 1/4 miles. And he points to this year’s Donn Handicap (gr. I) as evidence.
Edward Evans’ Quality Road stalked a fast early pace in the Feb. 6 Donn, took over on the final turn, and sailed home to win by 12 3/4 lengths in 1:47.49 for 1 1/8 miles. It was the 4-year-old Elusive Quality colt’s second race of the year.
“If the Donn was a mile and a quarter, I think he would have won by 25 lengths,” Pletcher said Oct. 31 after his Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup World Championships starters worked. “I think it was the best race run this year.”
Quality Road will be one of the favorites in a $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) loaded with possibilities. But he and a few others may get lost in the shuffle as the 6-year-old mare Zenyatta attempts to end her career 20-for-20.
Quality Road, never worse than third with eight wins in 12 starts, owes no apologies. He has won four of five starts this year, his only loss a second-place finish at the hands of Classic starter Blame by a neck in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga.
Quality Road will make his first Churchill start in the Classic. Blame has three wins in four starts at Churchill, including the grade I Stephen Foster Handicap June 12.
As a 3-year-old last year, Quality Road lost back-to-back races at 1 1/4 miles: the Travers Stakes (third) at Saratoga and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (second) at Belmont Park (both gr. I). Both were run on sloppy tracks; every other start by Quality Road came on a fast track, which is the forecast for Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.
Pletcher was confident after Quality Road worked a half-mile in :48 3/5 at Churchill Oct. 31. He said he likes the fact the Classic is on dirt this year, and that “on paper,” it appears no horse will have an excuse.
“I think he’d be hard to write off,” Pletcher said of Quality Road. “If he were to win Saturday, I doubt there would be many surprised people. With Zenyatta 19-for-19 going into the race, I don’t see how it can get any better than this.”
Pletcher has 11 horses pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup. He called them a “diversified, solid group” that would seem to fit the Churchill conditions.
“I’d be thankful to win one (Breeders’ Cup race) and start from there,” Pletcher said. “The races are so good and so deep. They’re difficult to win.”
Quality Road, bred by Evans in Virginia, has earned $2,232,830. He is a three-time grade I winner this year. Since his last race, the Sept. 4 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, which he won, the colt has worked on the Belmont Park training track like clockwork with a work every seven days.