The Breeders’ Cup is a great opportunity for Thoroughbreds to gain glory.  Runners from across the globe will descend on Del Mar for the 2021 edition with eyes on the prize. One thing to remember in this instance…If you are shooting for the stars…be an Astronaut!

  The $4 million Turf is traditionally one of the toughest races on the card. Contested at a mile and a half, European invaders have been difficult to defeat in this World Championship race. Since 2010, only three North American-based horses have won. Although he will likely be a longshot, there is one California-based runner who is ready to blast off.

Astronaut strides into the starting gates as one of the Win and You’re in entrants for the Turf. Having pulled off the upset in the Del Mar Handicap on August 21, this John Shirreffs trained four-year old punched his ticket over the very turf this year’s Cup will be contested upon. Under the excellent handling of jockey Victor Espinoza, Astronaut made a big move in the home stretch and rocketed to the finish.

“The trip Victor orchestrated in the race at Del Mar tells us exactly why he is in the hall of fame”, says Shirreffs. “It was a great tactical ride and we are very excited to have him back aboard for the Breeders’ Cup. He has lots of experience on these big stages and is a major plus for our team.”

Astronaut has not visited the launching pad since winning the Del Mar ‘Cap at odds of 24-1. Choosing not to race again before this big blast off, the man who guided Zenyatta to Breeders’ Cup wins in both 2008 and 2009 has a plan.

“We think it is more important to come in with a high energy level for the Breeders’ Cup”, says Shirreffs. “His fitness is not a concern here. He has shown us he likes distance with a good second in the San Juan Capistrano and that strong performance in his last race. With that in mind, we decided it was better to rest and come in fresh.”

To provide the integers for the Shirreffs formula, his last two races were contested at a mile and three quarters and a mile and three eighths. Thus far in 2021, Astronaut has recorded two wins and four second place finishes in six starts.

“Astronaut has been very consistent this year”, says his crafty conditioner. “When you see horses that are able to repeat solid efforts and even improve on what they have been doing right it is encouraging. We certainly think he has been getting better and deserves a shot here.”

Having beaten a very solid group in the Del Mar Handicap, this son of Quality Road will be tested when he runs on this turf again. Some of the same faces may be in as well with horses like United and Master Piece likely, but the European invaders will be strong including defending Cup champion Tarnawa.

“The Breeders’ Cup is always a special time of year” says Shirreffs, who has won three Cup races overall. “It’s a traditional coming together of great horse people from all over the world. It’s a very exciting time and we have a horse that has a great turn of foot like good turf horses do. He’s very comfortable at Del Mar and that’s always good when you don’t have to worry about unfamiliar surroundings.”

Astronaut may not be one of the favorites in the Turf when the gates open on November 6, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be shooting for the stars.

John M.B. O’Connor’s Astronaut and jockey Victor Espinoza (pink silks) win the Grade II Del Mar Handicap Saturday, August 21, 2021 at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Del Mar, CA. Benoit Photo