Initially out of the picture, Essential Quality regrouped for a signature win that may set him up for a big 2021.

Essential Quality took charge in the stretch to overtake 94-1 long shot Hot Rod Charlie and win Friday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by three-quarters of a length on the first day of the season-ending world championships at Keeneland.

Hot Rod Charlie and 4-5 favorite Jackie’s Warrior dueled through the final turn before Essential Quality, initially off the pace after an early bump, recovered and emerged from a four-wide pack.

Saturday's Breeders' Cup post positions and odds

The colt held on at the wire as Keepmeinmind, a 30-1 long shot, made a late charge. Essential Quality improved to 3-0 and established himself as a possible contender in next year’s Kentucky Derby.

Jockey Luis Saez earned his first Breeders’ Cup win. “To be here and to have it with this horse, it’s very special,” he said. “First time that I ride him, I knew he was going to be a super horse.”

Three horses with Canterbury Park connections had mixed results.

Canterbury trainer Robertino Diodoro saddled Keepmeinmind to a third-place finish in the Juvenile.

Bodenheimer, who won his first career race last summer at Canterbury Park, finished eighth in the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint.

The colt, trained by Valorie Lund, bobbled at the start and was fourth in the early going before fading down the stretch in the 5½-furlong race.

Amy’s Challenge, the 2017 Canterbury horse of the year, won a race on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. The Mac Robertson trainee, owned by Joe Novogratz of Eden Prairie, captured the $150,000 McConnell Springs Stakes by 2¼ lengths as the favorite.

As for Essential Quality, who won the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity at Keeneland last month, he could be in the discussion as the top 2-year-old colt.

Trainer Brad Cox, a Louisville native, wasn’t ready to look ahead to next May but didn’t dismiss the thought, either.

“Well, sure. It’s the obviously thought or dream, I guess you would say,” said.Cox, who also won the preceding Juvenile Fillies Turf with Aunt Pearl. “Let the dust settle, see how he comes out of the race. We’ll map out a plan this winter. But, very excited about this horse next year, his 3-year-old campaign.”

Essential Quality covered 1-1/16 miles in 1:42.09 and paid $9.40, $6.20 and $4.40.

Hot Rod Charlie returned $51.60 and $24 while Keepmeinmind paid $11.20 to show.

Two races earlier, Vequist made her case as a Kentucky Oaks contender with a two-length victory in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies.

With Joel Rosario aboard, the daughter of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ Nyquist surged past pacesetting Dayoutoftheoffice in the stretch and rode the rail to her second win. It marked the third consecutive year a horse from the Parx racetrack/casino outside Philadelphia won a Breeders’ Cup race.

“To be able to compete against those kind of horses is really a good thing and felt really good,” trainer Butch Reid said.

The races highlighted the first of two days of the $31 million event at Keeneland, which is hosting the Breeders Cup for the second time and first since 2015. It’s being held without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Saturday’s stakes card features nine races. The last of those races is the marquee Classic, which has a 10-horse field including Authentic and Tiz the Law, the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont, respectively.

Other Cup stakes results Friday:

• Aunt Pearl went wire to wire from the No. 5 post to win the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf by 2½ lengths over Mother Earth. She won last month’s Grade 2 Jessamine at Keeneland.

• Fire At Will, a 30-1 long shot, surged past pacesetter Outadore in the stretch to win the 1-mile Juvenile Turf by three lengths.

Staff writer Rachel Blount, from Minnesota, contributed to this article.