The Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the ultimate handicapping challenge for horseplayers, returns to Del Mar in Southern California this weekend, with Saturday’s schedule featuring nine championship races, including the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf and $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The latter features an elite field. Seven of the nine horses already have won a Grade 1 race, and six of the nine have earned more than $1 million in their careers. The Brad Cox-trained Knicks Go is the 5-2 morning-line favorite and Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality, who also is trained by Cox, is the 3-1 second choice in the nine-horse field. Other contenders include controversial Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, Art Collector and Hot Rod Charlie.

Below are selections for each race Saturday. These contenders include my top pick to win and other horses that will provide good value in multi-race wagers such as the Daily Double and the Pick 3-4-5-6 rather than exactas, trifectas and superfectas. There will be a new All-Turf Pick 4 on Saturday that will include the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Breeders’ Cup Mile and Breeders’ Cup Turf. There also will be three Pick 5 options. The early Pick 5 will start with Race 1, the middle Pick 5 will start with Race 3 and the late Pick 5 will begin with Race 8.

Odds listed are the morning line set by Del Mar. Contenders are listed in order of post position, not in order of preference. All post times are Eastern. And here are four long shots to consider in Saturday’s races.

Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint

Fourth race, 3:05 p.m. Seven-furlong race for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up.

Pick: No. 6 Bella Sofia (5-2)

It’s hard to look at Gamine’s rèsumè and not figure her as the favorite. She has won six Grade 1 and Grade 2 races, twice as many as the rest of the field, and her speed figures are among the best in this race. However, her trainer, Bob Baffert, has numerous doping-related infractions, and Gamine herself was disqualified from third to last in the Kentucky Oaks after testing positive for betamethasone, a man-made steroid that simulates cortisol, a natural hormone produced by the adrenal gland. She also tested positive for the painkiller lidocaine after a victory at Oaklawn Park a few months later.

Instead, take a stand and go with one of the other short-priced horse, Bella Sofia. The daughter of Awesome Patriot is coming off back-to-back graded stakes races — which she won by a combined 7¾ lengths — and earned the top speed figure in the field (111) in her latest.

Other contender: No. 3 Edgeway (12-1)

Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint

Fifth race, 3:40 p.m. Five-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up; to be run on the turf.

Pick: No. 1 Glass Slippers (6-1)

Glass Slippers has finished third in each of her three starts this year, the exact race schedule that led her to become the first European to claim victory in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, a race we picked correctly a year ago. That’s a potent pattern match for a horse with more Grade 1 and Grade 2 wins than any other runner in the field. Plus, the 101 Brisnet speed figure she earned in that 2020 win is one of the fastest in the field and just one point shy of Fast Boat’s top figure, which was recorded in April.

Other contenders: No. 6 A Case of You (8-1), No. 7 Charmaine’s Mia (30-1) and No. 11 Fast Boat (12-1)

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile

Sixth race, 4:19 p.m. One-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.

Pick: No. 1 Silver State (7-2)

Silver State is a consistently speedy horse. The 4-year-old son of Hard Spun has won seven of his 13 career starts, hitting the board 12 times and earning triple-digit Brisnet speed figures in each of his past four, with two of those performances graded stakes wins: the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and Grade 1 Whitney Stakes. He’s also solid at the one-mile distance, recording two wins and two seconds in four races.

He lost to Mind Control by a head in his last outing but the trip notes observed he broke awkwardly at the start and had to circle the field before getting nipped at the wire. A better trip here could see him bounce back with a win Saturday.

Other contenders: No. 2 Pingxiang (12-1), No. 3 Ginobili (4-1) and No. 5 Life Is Good (4-5)

Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf

Seventh race, 4:59 p.m. 1⅜-mile race for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up; to be run on the turf.

Pick: No. 6 Love (4-1)

The 4-year-old daughter of Galileo has failed to hit the wire first in her past three tries, but she has hit the board, her latest a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Moyglare Jewels Blandford Stakes at Curragh. She does have five Grade 1 and Grade 2 wins, including two at 1½ miles, which is one furlong longer than Saturday’s distance. Plus, trainer Aidan O’Brien has 13 Breeders’ Cup wins.

Other contenders: No. 1 Going to Vegas (12-1), No. 4 Rougir (6-1), No. 7 War Like Goddess (7-2) and No. 8 Loves Only You (4-1)

Breeders’ Cup Sprint

Eighth race, 5:38 p.m. Six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up.

Pick: No. 9 Dr. Schivel (4-1)

Jackie’s Warrior will get a lot of action at the window and deservedly so, but the favorite has won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint only four times in the past 20 years, so it pays to look a little deeper in the field. One horse with a résumé that stands up to scrutiny is Dr. Schivel.

The 3-year-old colt rallied from sixth to win the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at this track and distance in July and went wire-to-wire in the Grade 2 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes, his final prep before Saturday’s big race. He has won five straight races and is 4 for 4 at the distance and 3 for 3 lifetime at Del Mar. Plus, he has shown he can either set the pace or hang back and stalk the first flight of horses before making his move. Both traits will serve him well against this field.

Other contenders: No. 1 Following Sea (6-1), No. 2 Jackie’s Warrior (6-5) and No. 6 Firenze Fire (10-1)

Breeders’ Cup Mile

Ninth race, 6:20 p.m. One-mile race for 3-year-olds and up; to be run on the turf.

Pick: No. 2 Smooth Like Strait (10-1)

Of course Space Blues, the 3-1 favorite, is a strong contender, but there is reason to like Smooth Like Strait, especially as an alternative choice in horizontal wagers such as the Pick 5 and Pick 6. Smooth Like Strait has run the mile distance nine times in his career and finishing second four times. His most recent effort at the distance was a 1½-length wire-to-wire victory in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile Stakes at Santa Anita. His best speed figure, 100, also came at a mile during his narrow loss to Mo Forza in October’s Grade 2 City of Hope Mile stakes.

Michael McCarthy’s brown colt also loves this surface, having raced at Del Mar five times with two wins and three seconds.

Other contenders: No. 3 Space Blues (3-1), No. 6 Mo Forza (5-1), No. 8 Hit the Road (15-1) and No. 10 Blowout (8-1)

Breeders’ Cup Distaff

10th race, 7 p.m. 1⅛-mile race for fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up.

Pick: No. 8 Shedaresthedevil (4-1)

Shedaresthedevil, winner of the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, has been sensational in 2021. The Daredevil daughter earned four victories in five starts this year, including the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes, the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes and Del Mar’s Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes. Her only loss this year came in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park, where she finished third to Letruska, the probable favorite in this race. And Shedaresthedevil defeated Letruska in the Azeri Stakes in March.

The filly is also 4 for 4 in two-turn races this year, and her trainer, Brad Cox, has trained seven Breeders’ Cup winners, including four in 2020. Cox also has returned a flat-bet profit in graded stakes races in 2021, winning 25 percent of graded stakes entered. He has won 28 percent of the races with a horse coming off a win.

Other contenders: No. 3 Malathaat (4-1) and No. 6 Letruska (8-5)

Breeders’ Cup Turf

11th race, 7:40 p.m. 1½-mile race for 3-year-olds and up; to be run on the turf.

Pick: No. 1 Rockemperor (15-1)

Rockemperor spent most of the past two years off form, winning just two of 11 races over that span, but his latest win in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park in October — his first race without blinkers since May — gives reason for optimism. Chad Brown’s charge rallied from seventh, five lengths back, and won by two lengths at the same distance he will be asked to go Saturday. More importantly, his speed over the last quarter-mile was a sparkling 57 feet per second, significantly higher than the elite benchmark of 55 feet per second found in most star turf horses.

Blinkers will be off again Saturday.

Other contender: No. 11 Gufo (8-1)

Breeders’ Cup Classic

12th race, 8:40 p.m. 1¼-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.

Pick: No. 4 Essential Quality (3-1)

The horse you want to bet on in the Classic must have a few characteristics that are nonnegotiable. The horse must have won two or more Grade 1 or Grade 2 races this year with speed figures that are at or close to par (102 to 105 for this race). If the horse is a 3-year-old, then it must have either won one of the stakes restricted to its age group at the classic distance of 1¼ miles or defeated older horses at other distances. At the very least, the horse must be competitive at the classic distance. There are a few horses that meet or exceed those guidelines in this race but none more so than Essential Quality.

The talented gray has won two Grade 1 races and two Grade 2 races this year, plus enters the Classic off a narrow victory in the Travers Stakes at 1¼ miles; his 108 speed figure there was more than enough to get the job done Saturday. His biggest asset is his stalking running style, which allows him to stay close to the first flight of horses before springing into action at the three-quarters-of-a-mile mark, also known as the second call in route races. His connections are superb, and trainer Brad Cox, as mentioned above, is winning 25 percent of graded stakes events this year while returning a flat-bet profit, a healthy investment by any standard.

You won’t get a big price on Essential Quality this time around, but the talent is just too good to ignore.

Other contenders: No. 3 Hot Rod Charlie (4-1) and No. 6 Art Collector (8-1)