Category Archives: Breeders’ Cup

My Favorite Breeders’ Cup Race

Of all the great champions and incredible upsets the Breeders’ Cup has brought us over the past 27 years, my favorite race was just a few years ago, in 2006.

It isn’t a coincidence that it was my first time at the event, held at Churchill Downs on a bright, crisp Saturday that would turn downright fridgid by the time the Classic rolled around. But my favorite race was the first Breeders’ Cup race of the day.

I was perched atop a bench overlooking the paddock, a spot I had captured as soon as the gates opened at 8am. There were scads of people already crowding the inside of the paddock and encroaching upon my bench even that early in the day, but as long as I could still see over them, it didn’t matter to me. The field for the Juvenile filed into the saddling area to gentle applause from a group in front of me. Todd Pletcher’s Scat Daddy was one of the favorites, as was Circular Quay. There were lots of people around those 2 colts, and the TV crews congregated near them, their white-bridled faces splashed across the big screen that overlooked the paddock.

As I looked down the row of stalls, I noticed the first one was filled with only a dark brown horse, a groom and single other man wearing a long, tan trench coat. I thought the colt might be a schooler, but I did a double-take when I realized it was, in fact, the #1 horse and the trench-coated man was Carl Nafzger. It was Street Sense, the colt who had run 3rd to my pick, Great Hunter, at Keeneland.

Being a fan of Unbridled and Nafzger, I was a little surprised that no one was around the Derby-winning trainer that day. Surely his charge had a chance – he didn’t show up at these big events unless he had a real contender.

The jockeys came out and Calvin Borel walked over to Street Sense and Nafzger, and still no one else approached them. Their stall was an oasis among the roiling sea of people.

Borel and Street Sense would lead the parade of colts out to the track. Less than 10 minutes later, the pair lead the field under the wire by 6 lengths. It was the beginning of the Borel legend, the last-to-first, rail-skimming ride at Churchill Downs. Street Sense became a Derby horse that day, and the subject of a terrible jinx: no BC Juvenile winner had won the Kentucky Derby.

We all know what happened 6 months later – Street Sense, and eventually Hard Spun, Curlin and Rags to Riches, would provide us with the greatest Triple Crown season since Sunday Silence and Easy Goer.

And it all started that chilly day at Churchill, with the dark brown colt and his trench-coated trainer, standing all alone.

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Top 5 Examples of West Coast Equine Domination in East Coast Races

Inspired by this blog post, I thought about the times when West Coast-based horses shipped to the East and totally kicked ass. What’s really weird is that when I tried to come up with instances of East Coast Elites crushing West Coast races, I came up empty. Anyone remember the last time a NY-based horse won the Big Cap? Yeah, me neither.

Anyway, here are my top five races where the East Coast Establishment experienced West Coast Domination!

5. I Want Revenge Annihilates 2009 Wood Memorial

Trainer Jeff Mullins shipped I Want Revenge east after the monster Pioneerof The Nile beat him in the Bob Lewis stakes. I Want Revenge then surprised easterners with a win in the Gotham Stakes. But I Want Revenge truly brought his A Game in the Wood Memorial, where he beat the best in the East & became a top Derby Contender. He broke dead last and had to fight his way back to the front on a messy Aqueduct stretch, but pulled away like he’d never had any trouble. While IWR was mysteriously injured the morning of the Derby and scratched, his rival Pioneerof The Nile was a well-beaten second to another Westerner, Mine That Bird.

4. Sandpit Takes 2 United Nations Handicaps

Sandpit was a champion in Brazil, then shipped to California, where he won the Oak Tree Invitational. When he shipped East he was just as good, winning back-to-back editions of the Ceasars International Handicap, which is now back to its original name, the United Nations. This was the only video of Sandpit I could find, from 1996.

3. In Excess Wins 4 In A Row

What is shameful is that I can’t find any of In Excess’s races on YouTube. In Excess was born in Ireland, won some races there, then was shipped to the US & was based in Cali. He was always hit-or-miss in California, winning the Volante Handicap, San Gabriel, San Fernando, but throwing in clunkers in the Big Cap and Strub. However, when he shipped east, he rattled off victories in the 1991 Met Mile, Suburban, Whitney and Woodward. Total. Domination.

2. John Henry In The Inaugural Arlington Million

It was the first Million-Dollar race, and John Henry was the best horse in the US, let alone the West Coast. In the 1981 Million, Euro horse The Bart stayed up on the pace set by Key To Content. John Henry was stuck in a pack of top classic turf horses from all over the US and abroad. He looked hopelessly beaten, but in the stretch, the Old Man showed just how good he was- he burst through and headed for the lead, closing the gap with every stride. He bore down on The Bart and won the race by a flare of a nostril.

1. TIZNOW CRUSHES TWO CLASSICS

Tiznow  shipped East four times and won three. He was victorious in the Super Derby, and then defeated a foreign invader in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Twice. To this day he is the only horse to win the BC Classic two times, and though the BC races are not coast-specific, Tiznow won his at the home bases of Eastern racing, Churchill and Belmont. He dominated his American rivals in the 2000 Classic, finding his toughest challenger in Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway. The two battled down the Churchill stretch, and Tiznow prevailed by a head. In 2001, Tiznow had a tough year, suffering a back injury and then running 3rd in his two Classic preps. But when it counted the most, the colt was all heart. He stayed up near the pace the whole way around, and at the top of the stretch, he made a move for the lead. At the same time, Godolphin’s Sakhee took the lead. Tiznow was game, but he looked beaten. As they raced for home, he found a new gear and matched strides with Sakhee, who refused to relent. But Tiznow would not be denied –  in the shadow of the wire, it was the Cal-bred, West Coast phenom with his valiant head in front.

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Now THAT’S A TRUE FAN!

A juror in Sen. Ted Stevens’s corruption trial lied about her dying father and skipped town so she could attend the Breeders’ Cup!!

Marian Hinnant, YOU’RE a TRUE FAN!  I honestly don’t blame her for ditching deliberations to see Zenyatta live.  She was replaced by an alternate juror after not returning court phone calls, but by the sound of it she agreed with the final verdict. 

I wonder if the lady reads this blog.

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The Aftermath–What About Raven’s Pass?!

The Synthetic Track proved to be a great equalizer for the European contingent, but the American runners were not shamed by any means at Breeders’ Cup 25. 

Raven’s Pass ran a brilliant final furlong under Frankie Dettori, passing defending champ Curlin, rallying Henrythenavigator, and synthetic specialist Go Between.  The 3yo miler by Elusive Quality had spent the year battling New Approach in Europe, and carried his form well over to the opposite side of the world(and 2 extra furlongs).

As for Curlin, the Golden Warrior looked like a winner going into the final turn, but he just couldn’t sustain his drive.  Whether it was the surface or simply not his day, only the horse knows.  Tiago closed ferociously for 3rd, which would suggest Curlin didn’t like the track so much (the closest Tiago got to Curlin before Saturday was a 3rd in the ’07 Belmont).

The Classic results also give us a better idea of how good the ’08 3yo crop actually is.  It’s not flattering, at least for the US-based horses.  Colonel John was our best 3yo finisher, coming in 6th and Smooth Air followed in 7th.  Casino Drive set the early pace but faded badly to last.  These are horses who have been running lights out against their own generation, but were unable to threaten in open company.  It is a shame that Big Brown was injured, because he would have totally changed the dynamic of the race and also had the opportunity to convince his remaining critics.  Brown will most likely get the Eclipse for champion 3yo, but not without a few votes for Raven’s Pass.

And what about Raven’s Pass?  I hope that Princess Haya keeps him in training.  He has proven he can run 10 furlongs, which just happens to be the same distance as a little race in Dubai.  He would make the ’09 handicap season more interesting here in the states as well – a triple threat on turf, poly and perhaps dirt?  His sire also gave us Smarty Jones, so it’s not out of the question.

ZENYATTA kept her perfect record at 9 wins, and did it with ease.  It is so much fun watching her run.  She does that funny “spanish walk” when she goes to the post.  She always breaks slowly, and the makes a huuge run at the end, passing everybody else like they were hitchhikers on I-40.  SHe has beaten everybody, former BC distaff champ, quality speed horses, talented 3yo divas, on poly and dirt (at my home track of Oaklawn, no less).  It would have been awesome if Zenyatta had the chance to face Zarkava, the filly Arc winner.  If I had a vote for Eclipses, Zenyatta would be my HOTY.  Hey Jerry Moss & John SHeriffs, BRING ZENYATTA BACK TO OAKLAWN!!!

Others:

Muhannak won the Marathon…I should have bet that race; I would have been set for the rest of the day…

Euros run 1-2 in the Juvy turf, with Donativum getting the better of Westphalia…should see those 2 duking it out in the Darby next year…

GOLDIKOVA, the “dainty filly” slices through a microscopic hole and accelerates like a fine motor car o win the Mile.  Kip Deville, last year’s mile winner, runs 2nd.  The Dutrow trainee now knows what it is like to get “beat by a girl”.

MIDNIGHT LUTE made BC history by winning the SPrint for the 2nd time in a row.  Lute battled back from a nasty quarter crack and a horrible finish in his prep race to win the Sprint by a length, in a final time of 1:07.08.  Lute is the only 2-time winner of the Sprint.  Trainer Bob Baffert says Midnight Lute is the best he has ever trained, and that’s a strong comment from the man who trained 3 Derby winners, including Real Quiet, the horse who has come closest to winning the TC in 30 years.  Real Quiet is the sire of Midnight Lute.

Conduit won the Turf…Albertus MAximus won the dirt mile…Midshipman won the Juvy…Indian Blessing got beat by a scintillating Ventura in the F/M Sprint…

BC handle was up 5% from last year…people will bet regardless of the surface of the ridiculous name of the “ladies’ classic”…NO HORSES SUFFERED LIFE-THREATENING INJURIES!!

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Filed under Breeders' Cup, curlin, polytrack, RAven's Pass, results, Santa Anita, zenyatta

FAVORITE BC RACE #2: LIKE A ROCK – or a DOME

Domedriver turned in one of the biggest upsets in BC Mile history when he defeated Rock of Gibraltar in 2002.  Today, he lives in luxury at a stud in France.

Domedriver turned in one of the biggest upsets in BC Mile history when he defeated Rock of Gibraltar in 2002. Today, he lives in luxury at a stud in France.

There’s just something about those big Breeders’ Cup upsets!  Volponi, Arcangues, Adoration…but my 2nd favorite Breeders’ Cup race is once again a Europe vs America mile on turf.  The 2002 BC was held at Arlington Park that year, and the talk of the track was Rock of Gibraltar, the top miler in Europe, winner of 7 Group 1s in a row & undefeated in 2002.  The Breeders’ Cup Mile was to be his coronation and farewell race. 

Thirteen other top milers lined up to challenge him, including Landseer, Beat Hollow, Forbidden Apple and Aldebaran (stretching out from 7f to 8).  At the start, Boston Common set a speedy pace on the yielding turf.  The rest of the field followed close behind, with The Rock in dead last. 

Boston Common gave way after 5f and was passed by Good Journey, but The Rock was still way back.  In the final turn, Landseer tragically took a bad step and broke down, sending the field swerving to avoid the stricken horse.  Rock had to check, as well as several others. 

In the stretch, Good Journey looked to have the whole thing in the bag, but Rock of Gibraltar had regained his momentum and was barreling down the center of the track.  On the rail, Domedriver had found his stride as well, and he slid up beside Good Journey, who battled fiercely to maintain his lead.  In the final strides, Domedriver got ahead of Good Journey, but The Rock was still coming on like a freight train…and just couldn’t make it! 

Domedriver dove under the wire a length and a half in front.  The Rock was defeated! 

His jockey, Mick Kinane, took a lot of flack for waiting so long and for dropping so far back in this race, but Landseer’s breakdown happened in The Rock’s direct path to glory.  Any lesser horse would not have been able to recover from such a sharp check let alone finish second driving.  Domedriver ran a helluva race, though.  He stayed on the rail the whole time and took advantage of a tiny opening.  It was an incredible upset, and one of my favorite BC races, despite Landseer.

Domedriver paid $54.00 to win, making him one of the biggest longshots in the Mile.

Today, he resides in France, at Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard.  Judging by his conformation photo, he looks like he’s enjoying life.

The Rock is at stud in Ireland at Coolmore.  He sired Eagle Mountain, who will race in the BC Turf on Saturday.

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FAVORITE BC RACE #3: JINX-BREAKER

Street Sense wins the BC Juvenile in 2006.  Meanwhile, I was freezing my butt off in the paddock watching it on a realy big TV.

Street Sense wins the BC Juvenile in 2006. Meanwhile, I was freezing my butt off in the paddock watching it on a realy big TV.

My favorite BC Juvenile is the one I actually got to see in person.  Or close to it.  I attended the 2006 BC at Churchill Downs, where it was cold but sunny, and Bernardini got his ass handed to him by INVASOR.  In true Infield fashion (or close to it, since the actual Infield was not open on BC day), I got up at the crack of dawn and stood in line an hour to snag a prime spot on the rail of the paddock.  I even got a bench!  Wooot!  All day long, I stood on the bench, leaned on the back of it, even balanced precipitously on its very top to take slightly blurry photos of the contenders as they walked around the ring. 

Before the 2nd race, I spied Carl Nafzger in the paddock, waayy over to the side in the #1 saddling box.  I snapped a quick picture of him getting Street Sense ready and then turned my attention to Great Hunter, who I was rooting for after his win in the Keeneland Lane’s End Futurity.  Somewhere in all my scads of pictures I have the one of Carl. 

I stood on the bench as the horses went to post, and watched (the paddock jumbotron)  with glee as the horse from the #1 hole galloped away with the whole thing.  Street Sense had won so easily, Calvin Borel loved him so much, I just fell in love with the colt, too!  Great Hunter remained a favorite of mine, despite his 3rd place finish, but I vowed to return to Churchill the next spring to watch Street Sense try and break the Juvy Jinx.

I kept my promise, and 6 months after his rail-skimming Juvy victory, Street Sense repeated that trip in the Kentucky Derby, in front of 150,000+ people, me in the infield, and the Queen in the grandstand.  It was awesome.  I cashed a nice ticket with him, too.

Street Sense tried to break another jinx as well, the BC Juvy-BC Classic jinx, but he faltered last fall, running 4th to Curlin in the slop at Monmouth.  He now resides at Darley in Lexington KY.  One of these days I’ll get around to see him again, and tell him I was there for his 2 best trips around Churchill Downs!

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Saturday Breeders’ Cup Selections

I haven’t had a selections post since SAUHBR ended.  It sucks sometimes to have a normal job and not be a professional handicapper 24/7.  Totally missed Ladies’ Day picks, but I think my only exacta picks would have been Stardom Bound and Zenyatta.  But I’ll discuss the racing action further in another post.  This one’s for the BC Boys Races!

BC MARATHON:

1)MUHANNAK (IRE)
2)Sixties Icon (GB)
3)Big Booster

BC DIRT MILE

1)WELL ARMED
2)Mast Track
3)Two Step Salsa

BC SPRINT

1)STREET BOSS
2)Cost of Freedom
3)Midnight Lute

BC TURF SPRINT

1)DIABOLICAL
2)Only Answer
3)Mr. Nightlinger

BC MILE

1)GOLDIKOVA
2)Kip Deville
3)Thorn Song

BC JUVY TURF

1)BITTEL ROAD
2)City Style
3)Vaquero

BC JUVENILE

1)STREET HERO
2)Terrain
3)Midshipman

BC TURF

1)SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
2)Winchester
3)Eagle Mountain

BC CLASSIC

1)CURLIN
2)Go Between
3)Duke of Marmalade

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