A dramatic Breeders’ Cup 2016 came to a thrilling conclusion, when Arrogate landed the Classic, giving Bob Baffert his third straight success in the race.
California Chrome had been sent-off favourite for the showpiece, and turning for home appeared to have his young rival on the ropes. But under a power-packed drive from the all-time leading Breeders' Cup rider Mike Smith, the giant striding colt devoured the Santa Anita dirt, and gradually gathered in the favourite, getting his head in front as the line approached. It was a fabulous performance from a horse that had announced himself as a potential star when winning the Travers Stakes in record time at the end of August.
“Deep down, I really wasn't sure if we could beat California Chrome, because I still have total respect for the horse. He's a great horse,” said an elated Baffert. “Turning for home, I thought I was going to run second, but there's nothing wrong with that, because Chrome is a really good horse, and running second to him is no bad thing. I never thought he would be able to catch him.”
Smith was winning his 25th Breeders’ Cup race, but could barely believe he had captured this one, when saying: “You just don't see things like this from a young three-year-old. He literally was prancing after the race was over. He's so talented and has amazing stamina. He could have gone around again. He's incredible.”
Art Sherman accepted defeat gracefully, the trainer appreciating the magnitude of the winning performance, when saying: “I didn't really know where I stood, because he's a three-year-old against Chrome. Sometimes they're not that strong against older horses. But this is a good horse that beat him, a very good horse.”
Arrogate’s victory capped an enthralling Breeders’ Cup, which saw so many outstanding performances.
On Friday evening, the previously undefeated three-year-old Songbird, could not withstand a relentless challenge from one of the great mare’s, Beholder. In one of the most pulsating Breeders’ Cup battles, the pair fought hammer and tongs over the last quarter mile of the Distaff. At the post a mere flared nostril separated the heroic duo.
On this occasion the outstanding pilot, Mike Smith, became the vanquished, with the equally sensational Gary Stevens the victor. At 51 and 53, these pair are ‘Jedi Knights’ of the saddle. And they certainly used ‘the force’ with barely a lightsaber in sight. Hands and heals for practically the length of the straight, we witnessed true masters of their trade, rolling back the years. The Distaff had it all. This was likely the last dance for Beholder, but for Songbird the sweet sound of success will surely be heard on countless more occasions.
After the epic race, Mike Smith summed up the performance of both fillies: “She ran incredible and I’m so proud of her. The real Beholder showed up today. That was probably the best race she has run in her life. My filly made her reach down as deep as she has. In losing, I feel like we won. We got beat a short nose. Beholder is retiring, but my filly will get bigger and stronger next year as they all do when they get older. She’s a true champion.”
With two American equine heroes somewhat stealing the show, it was terrific to see two more familiar names raising the spirits of the ‘home team’.
Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien can always be relied upon, and they once again struck gold whilst others left disappointed. Queen’s Trust found the lightning quick conditions to her liking, and under another masterly ride, this time from Frankie Dettori, came with a withering run to nail Lady Eli in the shadow of the post, and lift the Filly & Mare Turf. It was a thrilling victory for a filly that has performed exceptionally well at Group 1 level throughout the summer.
O’Brien saddled two of the top three in the betting for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. And yet again, the man-on-top proved key to success. Seamie Heffernan put in an inspired performance from the front. Setting even fractions for the bulk of the race, he pulled several lengths clear aboard Highland Reel, before sending the colt for home with around half a track remaining. The field failed to cover the move, and victory was secured. Flintshire finished best of the rest, with the wonderful Found staying on powerfully for third.
“He's the type of horse that's brave in front,” said Heffernan. “And when he wants to go, you let him go and he turns it on. I thought there were a few horses that were going to come from the back and come quick. So if I was going, I wanted to go early.”
“We know he gets a mile and a half very well,” O'Brien said of the winner. “We know that he handles fast ground. He doesn't mind dictating. He doesn't mind sitting in. So it was straightforward, really. But Seamus executed it brilliant. He was very happy to make the run, and when he did, he controlled the race perfectly.”
The Heffernan masterclass was mirrored by so many outstanding jockeys throughout the meeting. A wonderful Breeders’ Cup, where we witnessed so many dazzling performances, both equine and human. It proved a fitting conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable Flat racing campaign.