Arguably the two highest-profile dirt horses in America are primed for battle in the second running of the Saudi Cup in Riyadh.
The eyes of a large part of the racing world will be on the Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan and Brad Cox’s Knicks Go at the King Adbulaziz Racetrack on Saturday, as they clash in a must-see running of the $20million showpiece.
Charlatan was considered a leading Kentucky Derby contender last year, before a setback brought his season to a premature halt, while Knicks Go has been a revelation since joining the Cox barn – winning the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup.
Knicks Go answered stamina questions in tremendous style in the Pegasus – while Baffert’s charge returned to action over Christmas, winning the Malibu Stakes in exhilarating fashion.
Baffert is not in Saudi this year, but sent out Mucho Gusto to be fourth to Maximum Security 12 months ago and enjoyed the experience.
The Hall of Fame trainer said: “It was exciting last year, it was different. The facilities were really great. It was a great experience – it went pretty smoothly, and there was a great atmosphere.
“We just made it off his lay-off in time to run in the Malibu in December – and after that race we were thinking about the Pegasus, but it was coming back a little bit too quick. I really had to rush him into the Malibu.
“I think the Saudi Cup is perfect timing for him. It’s $20million, one-turn mile and an eighth – and I think coming off a seven-eighths race, the way he did it, it’s a perfect distance for him.
“He’s got a great mind on him and he’s a good gate horse. It’s challenging to go to Saudi or Dubai or wherever. You need a horse who has a really great mind – and he’s got a great mind.”
The son of Speightstown has run only four times, but Baffert is not fazed at the task in hand for Mike Smith’s mount.
He said: “I think his talent makes up for his (lack of) experience and I think he has enough experience – he doesn’t know what it’s like to lose, and I think that’s a good trait.
“I think the race fits the bill perfectly for him. To win these races you need to be way the best. I’ve won the Dubai World Cup, because I had way the best horse. You have to have way the best horse when you are travelling that far.”
On facing Knicks Go and the threat his speed poses, Baffert said: “They’re sort of the same type of horse – Knicks Go, I think two turns he likes better because he can get away from his competition. Speed horses like that are so dangerous going two turns – going one turn a mile and an eighth is a different story.
“I think to put the horse where he is more comfortable (is best), don’t chase. I think when you chase, those speed horses beat you if you chase them, because you get tired. The break is so important. Charlatan was chasing a pretty fast horse (Nashville) last time – and he got to him pretty easily.
“Charlatan is a really talented horse and he’s just maturing and getting really good now.”
Cox could hardly be happier with Knicks Go, who won a Grade One as a juvenile and is now fulfilling all his potential at the age of five. He is on a four-race winning streak for his new stable and could even go on to the Dubai World Cup, should all go well.
Cox said: “He’s continued since the Pegasus to show us what he showed us prior to the Pegasus and prior to the Breeders’ Cup. This race is back a little quick, but one thing that gives us confidence is that he won the Pegasus without Lasix, and this race is without Lasix too.
“Another thing is this is five weeks from the Pegasus, and it was five weeks between his allowance win where he broke the track record at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup.
“He had a little bit of a freshening of a couple easy weeks after the Breeders’ Cup and before the Pegasus, so this is sort of a second race off a lay-off for him. Hopefully, after the race, he gives us confidence that he can travel internationally and compete.”
He added: “Right now we’re treating him as if this is his time to shine. If he’s able to do well in the Saudi Cup and then do well in Dubai, that would be very special. If he were able to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Pegasus, Saudi Cup and Dubai, it would be very similar to what Arrogate did with the Travers, the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic, Pegasus and Dubai.
“If he were able to do something like that, it would go down as one of the great streaks in racing history.
“It seems like two of the better horses obviously have a lot of speed and will make this a very good race.”
“We would try to get through these two and then ship him back to the States and work our way back from the Breeders’ Cup after this. Whether that’s the Dirt Mile or the Classic, his runs in Saudi Arabia and Dubai will tell us which one, so it’s one race at a time.”
Drawn in five, Knicks Go will not have to look far to see Charlatan (nine) when the stalls open.
Cox said: “He doesn’t have to have the lead, he’s just a really honest horse who likes to be forwardly placed. When the gate comes open, we’ll let the jock (Joel Rosario) play the break and place him accordingly.
“The post will be important, obviously. I watched the race last year several times, and it’s hard to get a read on it because the horse on the lead (Mucho Gusto, fourth) was so far off the rail and then (Midnight Bisou, second) was actually glued to the rail – so it’s hard to know how the track plays. It seems like two of the better horses obviously have a lot of speed and will make this a very good race.”
British hopes are led by the John Gosden-trained Mishriff (David Egan), who ran a fine race when second in the Saudi Derby last year on his way to winning the French Derby.
Connections are happy to have been handed a wide draw.
“John Gosden said all along he wanted a wide draw to stay out of the way of the kickback and the speed at the beginning from the American horses. With stall 12, he probably got his wishes there,” said Ted Voute, racing manager to owner Prince Faisal.
“I hope we’re good enough to beat the American horses. It would be wonderful if a European horse could. It’s what dreams are made of.”
Mishriff is joined by stablemate Global Giant (Frankie Dettori) – while Hollie Doyle partners Extra Elusive for Roger Charlton, and Andrew Balding runs smart all-weather performer Bangkok (Ryan Moore).
Balding is concerned with Bangkok’s low draw.
“Whether he’s streetwise enough for a draw like that (stall two) we’ll find out, but I don’t know until it plays out,” said the Kingsclere handler.
“Hopefully he can run with credit.”
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Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Authentic has been retired to stand at Spendthrift Farm.
Owned in a partnership by the farm which included the MyRacehorse syndicate, the Into Mischief colt also won the Grade One Haskell Invitational and finished a narrow second in the Preakness Stakes.
Authentic made all in Saturday’s Classic at Keeneland, beating his Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Improbable by two and a quarter lengths in the hands of John Velazquez.
He will stand for a fee of $75,000.
“Authentic is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse, and Mr. (B. Wayne) Hughes (Spendthrift owner) is very proud that we are able to share him with 5,300-plus MyRacehorse owners through what has been an incredible run,” said Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthrift, in a statement.
“That alone made this decision different and very difficult. Ultimately, we just felt there wasn’t a lot more to accomplish for a Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, so we have made the decision to retire Authentic to stand alongside his champion sire Into Mischief.
“We believe in the sire line and feel Authentic is a big part of its future. It is very rare that you come across a three-year-old as well-bred, talented and accomplished as Authentic.
“We cannot wait to see his contributions to the breed, and we’re thrilled to continue his journey with all of the 5,300 MyRacehorse owners from the racetrack to the breeding shed.”
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Kentucky Derby hero Authentic gave Bob Baffert a fourth Breeders’ Cup Classic success at Keeneland.
The three-year-old made virtually all the running and dug deep when needed to hold his year-older stablemate Improbable in the closing stages.
John Velazquez – celebrating his first win in the Classic – soon had Authentic in pole position, but he was shadowed by another stablemate, Maximum Security, with his old adversary Tiz The Law not far behind.
There was all to play for at the top of the straight, where Authentic pulled out more when challenged by Improbable and would not be denied. Global Campaign was third.
Baffert – recording his 17th career Breeders’ Cup victory – said: “It was really disappointing about the Preakness (second to Swiss Skydiver), he’s a quirky individual but Johnny knows him so well and the horse is getting better and better. He’d been working unbelievable and Johnny knows him well and got him in a rhythm.
“After two races, the Santa Anita Derby and the Preakness, he came back blowing, and I didn’t have him as sharp as he should have been and we needed to tighten the screws. I was proud of my horses in the race and it was a good run from Improbable, but I think you saw the best Authentic today.
“I told Johnny ‘that is the horse you rode in the Derby’ – he’s spring-loaded and you can ride him with confidence and be aggressive. He’s getting better and better. He’s caught up with the older horses.
“I knew I had him right back to his best, as he’d matured and was making right, but for some reason when I looked at the Tote board he was showing 5-1.
“He’s just an unbelievable horse and I’m so happy for the connections, especially Wayne Hughes. Those are his colours. We were hoping those colours would be in the Kentucky Derby, but it’s great the way it’s ended. We would have loved a one-two-three.
“I was proud of my horses and what a way to end after what I’ve gone through this year. I love this sport and it’s just a great day.”
Asked about the future for Authentic, Baffert said: “I would love to have the horse back in the barn, but unfortunately I don’t get a vote on that one. Whatever happens he has been a saviour.”
Velazquez said: “We talked about tactics and agreed to take advantage and get him to the rail in front. After that he did everything I wanted him to do.
“I didn’t think there was too much speed in the race and once I got him running past the wire for the first time it was looking good for us. The horse came back (from the Preakness) and sealed the deal – he was the best horse in America today.
“I’ve been chasing this race for quite a while and to have the opportunity to do it and to win it is incredible. What a feeling.”
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Bob Baffert will play a particularly strong hand in pursuit of a fourth Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Saturday.
The Hall of Fame trainer has three victories in the $6million spectacular to his name – dominating from 2014 to 2016 with Bayern, American Pharoah and Arrogate.
All eyes will be on his team this year in a high-class renewal – with the betting headed by Improbable, who will be joined by Maximum Security and Authentic.
Improbable lowered the colours of Maximum Security in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita in September, while Kentucky Derby hero Authentic was last seen going down by a neck to top-notch filly Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness Stakes.
Baffert said of Improbable, who will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr: “He always showed a lot of talent as a three-year old, but, you know, he wasn’t really mentally mature, physically mature. We always refer to him as a ‘Little Justify’ because he’s a beautiful mover – (his) athleticism is just, the way he goes over the ground and his mechanics, but what a difference a year makes.
“He’s just really finally put it all together and I’m just happy they kept him in training an extra year and dealing with Elliott Walden and WinStar Farm – we set up a little schedule for him and it’s worked out perfectly.”
Authentic quashed any stamina concerns when digging deep to repel Belmont winner Tiz The Law in the Kentucky Derby, and while he could not quite edge past Swiss Skydiver, Baffert feels there could still be more to come from John Velazquez’s mount.
He said: “He actually came out of it (Preakness) really well. He was a late foal and he would make a wonderful four-year-old, but you never know what’s going to happen.
“I was disappointed in his Preakness run. I think he’s a horse that’s still a little bit green and he can be tough to ride sometimes – like sending him to the Derby, he got behind there a little bit and then wouldn’t engage in it. He’ll do that. He did that at the Haskell where he was running really well – he shuts himself down.
“It’s hard to get him going again and so I think he ran a good race, but the mare, she got the first move on him and he just couldn’t get by her. So he’s going to have to improve and I think he will, but he needs to be ridden aggressively away from the gate.”
Luis Saez was reunited with Maximum Security last time out, having been his regular partner in finishing first past the post in last year’s Kentucky Derby, only to be disqualified for interference, and winning the Saudi Cup in Riyadh in February.
Baffert, who took charge of Maximum Security following the Saudi success, said: “I think last time we were sort of chasing some speed that we knew was not really solid and I think post position and the break is going – that’ll tell the story. These riders are going to be on their own. They know their horses well.
“Saez knows Maximum Security better than anybody and he told me when he rode him last time, he was chasing and struggling, and if it could have been over, we would have just taken it back a little bit.
“It was a crazy pace and Improbable you know, Drayden (Van Dyke) saw what was happening, he just let them go, and then he came and got him. So I think it’s going to be these jockeys, they know their horse and they’re going to ride the way they feel, play the break.”
Tiz The Law has been one of the standout three-year-olds in America this year and looked to be doing everything right under Manny Franco in the Derby, looming alongside Authentic seemingly full of running – but the Baffert runner refused to buckle.
Jack Knowlton, operating manager of owners Sackatoga Stable, said of Barclay Tagg’s colt: “We’re obviously thrilled to have a horse of Tiz’s stature and accomplished what he’s accomplished. There are some other horses in there that you look, like Tom’s d’Etat, that you know are outstanding horses as well.
“So I think on paper, and obviously we don’t run the races on paper, but on paper, I think it looks like a tremendous race. Given the circumstances, the pandemic and all that, for the 35 partners and Tiz the Law and Barclay Tagg and his team, it’s been a rewarding year to have the horse.
“It’s been an incredible year and we’ve got one more race that we’re looking forward to.”
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Bob Baffert believes Kentucky Derby winner Authentic is in similar form heading into the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Saturday as he was before his victory at Churchill Downs.
The Into Mischief colt dug deep to beat odds-on favourite Tiz The Law at Churchill Downs, and in this strangest of years now bids for another leg of the Triple Crown.
Whereas in normal years the races come thick and fast for the Classic generation, Baffert feels the longer gap between the Derby and Preakness can only benefit his charge, who will again be ridden by John Velazquez and is drawn in stall nine.
“Authentic has breezed really well. He’s coming into this race as good as he was going into the Derby. I think the break is going to be very important on Saturday,” said the Hall of Fame trainer.
“He’s a very energetic horse, he always wants to do a little bit more, so breezing by himself he’s more controllable. He wants to get out there and be very aggressive.”
Baffert also runs Thousand Words, who was denied his Derby chance when rearing over in the paddock before the September 5 showpiece, leading to long-time assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes suffering a broken hand.
“Thousand Words had a mind-burst last time and now he’s doing well again. In any case, no one would’ve beaten Authentic that day,” said Baffert.
“I don’t think the distance will be a problem for him and I expect him to run a good race.
“I enjoy Baltimore, unfortunately there are no fans (this year), so you don’t feel it so much. But once the gate comes open, I’ll feel it.”
Kenny McPeek has opted to run the high-class filly Swiss Skydiver, who was second in the Kentucky Oaks last time out and earlier in the season had been considered for an ambitious trip to Britain for the 1000 Guineas.
The daughter of Daredevil will become the 55th female to run in the Preakness, with the most recent of the five winners being the brilliant Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
Naturally, a key victory against the boys would greatly enhance Swiss Skydiver’s quest for year-end honours. In her first attempt against males, McPeek’s charge was second to fellow Preakness hope Art Collector in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
She will be ridden by veteran jockey Robby Albarado, who won the Preakness in 2007 aboard future Hall of Famer Curlin.
“I know she will make the distance without any problem,” said McPeek, whose stable star will break from gate four.
“I think she will like that racetrack. Of course, she has raced everywhere. Whatever racetrack she has raced over she has handled great. It was a tough call between racing against straight three-year-olds or older fillies and mares or turf, which was briefly thought about. I think she will handle it fine.
“There are no three-year-old filly Grade Ones. She gets a little bit of weight off and she’s continuing to do good.
“I think if she wins a race like this, you’ve got to include her as a possible Horse of the Year, she’s danced every dance and she’s been hickory – and she has entertained the fan base like probably no filly in years.
“I think it’s a chance to make history.”
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Kentucky Derby winner Authentic has been allotted stall nine of the 11 runners for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
The Bob Baffert-trained colt, ridden by John Velazquez, will bid to follow up his Churchill Downs success – having lowered the colours of Belmont Stakes scorer Tiz The Law there.
Authentic pleased connections in his final serious exercise at Churchill Downs on Monday morning, with jockey Martin Garcia aboard. He worked four furlongs in 47.60 seconds, and completed the six-furlong gallop in one minute 13.40 seconds.
“He’s such an amazing horse,” said Garcia.
“He worked awesome. I’ve worked a lot of nice horses for trainer Bob Baffert in California, and this horse is just as special. He’s doing amazing for the Preakness.”
Authentic is scheduled to fly from Louisville to Baltimore on Tuesday, along with other Preakness contenders.
Baffert also has Thousand Words, who was a late withdrawal from the Kentucky Derby. He will be in gate five on Saturday.
Also among Authentic’s rivals are Bret Calhoun’s Mr Big News, who was beaten three and a quarter lengths in third place in the Kentucky Derby. He has drawn gate two.
Art Collector, trained by Thomas Drury Jnr, has gate three. He missed the Kentucky Derby because of a foot problem.
Belmont Stakes third and Kentucky Derby fifth Max Player, trained by Steve Asmussen, is in gate eight – while stablemate Pneumatic, who was fourth in the Belmont, is in 10.
The filly Swiss Skydiver, trained by Kenneth McPeek, will start from stall four.
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It’s been a topsy-turvy world for everyone this year, writes Tony Stafford. I bet the connections of Tiz The Law, 7-10 favourite for Saturday night’s re-scheduled Kentucky Derby, run in 2020 as the second rather than first leg of the Triple Crown, wished the race had simply been erased from the schedules. Instead it took place in September rather than the first Saturday in May and the Bob Baffert-trained Authentic outstayed the favourite for a memorable sixth win in the race for his silver-haired trainer.
The Americans have not found it within their powers to re-write the programme books as their European counterparts did to keep their Classic races, if not to the normal schedule, certainly in the prescribed order.
The Stateside authorities changed the distance and position of the Belmont Stakes, but kept it in June, racing having resumed over there a good deal earlier in some jurisdictions than others and well before France, the UK and Ireland in that order.
The Belmont, normally the last leg and over a mile and a half of the biggest oval in North America was reduced in distance to nine furlongs. The Barclay Tagg-trained Tiz The Law was untroubled to beat nine rivals there and extend his career stats to five wins in six starts. He embellished it further with a facile win in the Travers Stakes – normally the August date which identifies the summer champion among the three-year-old colts – two months and more after the Belmont.
By the time the three-race, five-week war of attrition is concluded on that June afternoon in New York, normally most of the Classic generation that managed to keep all three dates are on their knees. It takes a good one to survive it.
Two years ago, Justify was Baffert’s fifth winner of the race and his second to complete the generally-elusive Triple Crown. The Belmont, following the Preakness two weeks after the Derby and then the race in New York three weeks further on, proved to be within Justify’s capabilities, but no more. His career came to a full stop after a training injury soon after, but at least he could be retired as an unbeaten winner of the Triple Crown with six out of six on his scorecard.
Three years earlier Baffert was immediately denied an unbeaten campaign for American Pharoah once he was beaten on debut in a maiden the previous autumn. But by the time he’d won his Triple Crown, his tally was seven for eight, with all bar one of the wins in Grade 1 company – the exception a first-time three-year-old cruise in a Grade 2 to get the competitive juices flowing again.
He was tough, too. He won the Haskell Invitational in early August at Monmouth Park, but then as so many before him, got beat in the Travers at Saratoga, for good reason known as the Graveyard race for Triple Crown race winners or Horse of the Year candidates. He bounced back after a sensible break with an impressive win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic before drawing stumps and preceding his younger fellow TC hero into stud duties at Ashford Farm.
I was on hand – for the only time - to see Baffert’s third Kentucky Derby win in 2002 with War Emblem in the green and white stripes of Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation. That 20-1 chance made all the running. Baffert had already sent out Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet the following year to score. I’ve no doubt that having put away Tiz The Law in a thrilling set-to up the Churchill Downs home straight, many would have been hoping to see them do battle again at Pimlico racecourse in Baltimore for the Preakness, but immediate post-race reaction suggested one or even both might miss the final leg.
That race, normally run two weeks after the Derby but this year four, unlike the Belmont but in common with the Derby, has retained its traditional distance of one mile and three-sixteenths. This was the course and distance over which California-based Seabiscuit memorably beat the East Coast champion War Admiral, the 1937 Kentucky Derby winner, in that famed match race. This of course was made doubly treasured by Laura Hillenbrand’s book and the film in which Tobey Maguire and Gary Stevens – as good and natural an actor as he has been for so many years an outstanding jockey – played the roles as the great underdog’s jockeys.
As they turned for home in that 1938 race, the big favourite War Emblem had drawn upsides and most of the massive crowd expected him to pull away. Instead it was Seabiscuit, who had become a much-loved symbol of the American working class in those Depression years, who gained the upper hand: courage and toughness outpointing class and evidently superior breeding.
Saturday’s Classic was virtually a re-make of the Seabiscuit film. Two horses came around the long turn between the back stretch and the home run with the favourite poised on the outside and the rest clearly irrelevant. Authentic had moved quickly from an ordinary start into an early lead from his wide position, so it was reasonable watching live to think he could be swamped when Tiz The Law, always well placed, came with his customary wide run to take his rightful place at the top of the podium.
But as with Seabiscuit, this relative underdog, third favourite at a shade over 8-1, kept going much the better for a length and a quarter success.
Going into the race, Authentic, like the favourite, had suffered only a single reverse, in his case behind Honor A P in the Santa Anita Derby, turning over an earlier result between the pair. Understandably, Honor A P edged him for second best in the Derby market, but there can be no doubting the pecking order now, as Honor A P finished five lengths behind the winner in fourth.
A smaller-than-usual field contested the race this year. Normally it’s a bun-fight to qualify for one of the 20 available stalls. This time, only 15 turned up, reflecting that there are fewer untested dreams at this stage of the season from later-developing horses than is customary. What I did notice, possibly because of the smaller field and the fact that the runners have had more racing experience than is customary, hard-luck stories seemed minimal.
Also it was one of the fastest-ever Kentucky Derbys, the winner clocking 2 minutes 0.61 seconds. Secretariat in 1973 still holds the all-time best with 1 minute 59.4 seconds in his Triple Crown year. Monarchos in 2001 has the fastest electronic time, while in 1964 Northern Dancer, the ultimate sire of sires, most significantly the direct line, from his son Sadler’s Wells through to Galileo and then Frankel and the rest, clocked an even 2 minutes.
Other fast times were Spend A Buck, 2.00.2 in 1985 and Decidedly 2.00.4 in 1962. Authentic, with only five faster than him is right up there in historical terms, certainly in front of Baffert’s previous quintet, the less attritional, more even-tempo nature of the race – on a track that was riding fast – doubtless contributing.
Many times, beaten Kentucky Derby runners avoid the Preakness entirely. This year, of the nine horses beaten by Tiz The Law in the first leg of the Triple Crown, only two – neither in the shake-up on Saturday – tried again.
It would be eminently understandable should either or both the big two miss the Preakness in four weeks’ time. A great shame too as if they did clash they would surely provide another proper shoot-out. Considering, though, how much money is on offer for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the autumn and how easily future stallion fees can be affected by reverses, maybe it’s more likely that we’ll have to wait for a definitive verdict of the Horse of the Year - Covid19 edition!
While the Kentucky Derby was taking all the attention over the water, Enable was fulfilling presumably her last public duties in the UK (she still has entries on British Champions’ Day – here’s hoping) before embarking on her final act of an epic career when easily landing the odds (1-14 are hardly odds!) in the September Stakes at Kempton Park.
She was quickly into the lead under Frankie Dettori and won easily from Kirstenbosch, owned by Luca Cumani’s Fittocks Stud. Lightly-raced and on the comeback trail after an interrupted career, Kirstenbosch looks sure to win more races for the James Fanshawe stable.
Meanwhile Enable will be preparing for her ultimate quest, aiming to add a third Arc win after last year’s agonising second to Waldgeist, interestingly on the same weekend as the Preakness. Dettori has been a fitting co-respondent in the mare’s final glorious chapter along with trainer John Gosden. How typical in sport that a younger rival has come along from out of nowhere – well, Ballydoyle! - to make this possibly the toughest of all her four challenges for the famed French race that has become the true European championship.
Love stands in her way, gloriously after three authoritative and sometimes wide margin wins at Group 1 level in the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks. I suppose there will be other challengers, but nobody loves a two-man (or woman) sporting tussle more than the viewing public. I’d love Enable to win but I don’t think Love will enable her to do so. If you see what I mean!
On an otherwise quiet weekend domestically, Haydock Park’s Group 1 race, the Betfair Sprint Cup, developed into a battle of the six-year-old geldings. The 5-2 favourite Dream Of Dreams, ridden by Oisin Murphy for the Sir Michael Stoute stable, got up in the closing stages to beat the Archie Watson-trained and Hollie Doyle-ridden 25-1 chance Glen Shiel, the pair leaving the three-year-olds Golden Horde, Art Power and Lope Y Fernandez well behind. The same went for two previous winners, The Tin Man and Hello Youmzain.
A race with rather more significance for the future was Yesterday’s Prix du Moulin de Longchamp on the first weekend since the racing roadshow decamped back from Deauville and its chewed-up terrain to the capital. Only six turned out, but it was a high-class affair. The Andre Fabre-trained Persian King (by Kingman) turned away Pinatubo by just over a length, with Circus Maximus a long way back in third but still ahead of Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Siskin who seems a shadow of the early-season version.
Persian King had been three lengths in arrears to Circus Maximus when they were third and fourth behind unbeaten Palace Pier in the Prix Jacques le Marois (also Group 1) three weeks earlier over the same trip at Deauville. This performance requires some re-alignment among the division, but it is clear that Palace Pier stands alone at the top of the mile rankings. Those three Irish fillies, Fancy Blue, Alpine Star and Peaceful, who dominated the finish of the Prix de Diane over the extended mile and a quarter at Chantilly, might prove more of a test to Palace Pier than any of yesterday’s Moulin contestants should they be given the opportunity to tackle him.
Breeders' Cup XXXII, hosted for the first time by Keeneland racecourse, in Lexington, Kentucky, was billed as a homecoming for the franchise. As the birthplace of so many champions - Kentucky can boast to have bred 78% of all US-bred Breeders' Cup winners, and 64% of all winners since inception - this was a venue as fitting as any to host the end of season 'World Thoroughbred Championships'.
Romance and appropriateness aside, questions had been murmured regarding Keeneland's ability to accommodate such a vast jamboree. After all, this is no Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby annually welcomes 170,000 racegoers and revellers; nor is it Santa Anita, host six times since 2008 and nine in all, thus possessing a bombproof blueprint for staging the event.
Moreover, the last time the Cup was hosted outside of those two venues, at Monmouth Park in 2007, it was something of a disaster with rain and logistics making that year memorable for all the wrong reasons. It is surely more than coincidence that it took another eight years for a new venue to be chanced.
The main risks were perceived as the weather - as Bayern was winning the 2014 Classic in sunny Santa Anita, snow was falling in Keeneland - and those pesky logistics: could a track unaccustomed to 50,000+ crowds cope with such a phalanx of fans? As time soon told, there was little about which to fret.
One of the great things about racing, and about Breeders' Cup week in particular, is that horses are largely trained under public scrutiny on the track. What makes Cup week so special is that global equine superstars congregate in a single place, allowing aficionados unprecedented access to their horsey heroes.
So it was that this week, as well as the likes of Golden Horn and Gleneagles, familiar friends of European track dwellers, the best of the rest also strut their thang for all to see. Best of the best is a chap called American Pharoah, a home bred born and raised in the state of Kentucky - where else?
American Pharoah completes his final workout
Winner of the Triple Crown in America, the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 (and only the fourth since 1948), this fine fellow has enjoyed a special year, and was already assured Hall of Fame status courtesy of that terrific treble in the early part of the season.
A few moments before AP graced the training track, his main rival, a five-year-old mare called Beholder, also cantered a couple of circuits. Sadly, her interrupted preparation - she spiked a temperature during transit from California - caught up with her and she was withdrawn from the field.
If there were a few initial clouds of doubt regarding the venue for 2015 Breeders' Cup, there were no such reservations about the quality of the participants. The brain fails when trying to recall a deeper entry, as the winners of the Derby, Arc (Golden Horn both), 1000 Guineas (Legatissimo), and English, Irish (Gleneagles both) and French 2000 Guineas (Make Believe) all flew in to represent the European Classic generation.
A robust older, and younger, Euro contingent supplemented the established stars, and they in turn joined the biggest names on the US scene this year: Liam's Map, Private Zone, Runhappy, among many others.
The stage was thus set for what is a slightly lop-sided two day extravaganza, with four races on Friday little more than an amuse bouche ahead of Saturday's vast a la carte selection [personal preference would be for one further race - the Turf Sprint perhaps - to move to Friday making a slightly less unbalanced 5-8 split].
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
First up, the Juvenile Turf, and the word in McCarthy's, Lexington's obligatory Irish home from home, was that Hit It A Bomb could not get beaten. Strange then, in the face of such confidence, that he was sent off at 7.2/1 against 9/2 in the early running here in Blighty. The reasons for his market uneasiness were threefold: inexperience off just two lifetime starts, lack of Group race form, and a "parking lot" draw.
As it transpired, Hit It A Bomb had three things in his favour: a rapid early pace which strung the field out; Ryan Moore riding a perfect race (again); and his own incredible talent enabling him to surge to the lead in the last few yards having spotted a dozen rivals distance turning in.
1-0 to Europe and, with so many top-notch turfers still to come, hope swelled for a strong European weekend.
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
Little Euro interest in race two, the 'Dirty Mile', as the shortest priced favourite of the entire weekend, four-year-old Liam's Map, was 'expected'. And for good reason. Liam's Map had charted a course to five wins in a very light seven race career, including by a wide margin and with a career best Beyer speed figure in Grade 1 company on his most recent start.
Generally a need the lead type, the question here was that if he was taken on early how would he react? Missing the break was an unfortunate beginning, and then when forced to check numerous times on heels behind the pace-pushing pair of Mr. Z and Bradester it looked as though the shallow odds were in deep water.
Shuffled back to a boxed in seventh, albeit only two lengths off the lead, rounding the far turn, Todd Pletcher's grey colt showed all his class when the gap finally came, ceding first run but not first past the post to a game and clear second best, Lea.
In the circumstances, this was an effort that could be marked up and marked up again. Sadly, that will be for academic purposes only, as Liam's Map now travels the ten miles from Keeneland to Lane's End Farm's breeding sheds to begin his new career.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
The second of the two juvenile turf heats, this time for the girls, and with Alice Springs, Nemoralia and Illuminate in the field, Team GB/Ire looked promising. In the event, the raiding party again failed to deliver as it has done in all bar two of the eight renewals. It may be no coincidence that the two victories came in the two 'Lasix off in juvenile races' years (Lasix being an almost ubiquitously applied elixir in American racing to restrict horses' bleeding) of 2012 and 2013.
That was supposed to lead to a wider ban on the drug at Breeders' Cup but, instead - and perhaps partially as a result of Europe sweeping the board in the juvie turf events at those two Santa Anita meetings, the US horsemen revolted and the Breeders' Cup Committee reneged.
Still, before we get too morally pugnacious, it should be noted that most of the European team - including both of its winners - were deploying raceday medication. So was main Euro hope, Alice Springs, here. She ran a great race in second, possibly squeezed a little in the straight, behind by Canadian-based Mark Casse's maiden Breeders' Cup winner, Catch A Glimpse, and in front of Jeremy Noseda's all-too-late runner, Nemoralia. It was to be a great weekend for Casse.
Breeders' Cup Distaff
With Beholder's defection to the Classic, and latterly her defection from the meeting, the Distaff looked wide open and lacking in star quality. Five year old Wedding Toast was favoured, but she ran a lacklustre race having used plenty of petrol trying to secure her preferred front rank berth.
In the end it was a dirt double for Todd Pletcher, as he welcomed Stopchargingmaria into the winners' circle. She'd run a flat fourth last time out and had failed to better a 95 Beyer in 15 career starts. In beating Stellar Wind, a progressive three-year-old but one which had also failed to surpass 95 Beyer, this looked a moderate renewal. Indeed, every previous winner since 2005 had recorded at least 100 on that speed scale.
For the record, here's the tape.
A crowd of 45,000 watched the Friday action and, as one of them, I felt the track handled the numbers well. Queues for wagering, drinks, food and toilets were all shorter than at big UK race days, and there was the usual relaxed Breeders' Cup crowd vibe throughout. The sun even poured a beautiful sunset over Keeneland on Friday evening as a portent of what was to follow during its next arc.
The sun sets on Day One of Keeneland's Breeders' Cup
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies
A bigger crowd of just north of 50,000 were in attendance on Saturday, though many of them were yet to arrive as the young ladies prepared for the first of nine Cup races on Saturday, a nonet culminating with American Pharoah's bid for pole position in the pantheon of American racehorses.
Songbird, a winner of three, including two consecutive Grade 1's in dominant fashion, shipped east from California. Her form was in a league of its own, her speed figures were in a league of their own, she looked set to have her own way on the front again, and she traded commensurately short at 3/5.
As the gates opened, she catapulted to the front and never saw a rival, easing off to a near six length verdict over the pick of the East Coast entries, impeccably bred Rachel's Valentina (by Bernardini out of Rachel Alexandra). Songbird is the best winner of this I can remember. So, while Beholder (2012) went on to great things including beating the boys up this year before injury intervened ahead of the Classic, this filly could take on the lads much earlier, perhaps even having a tilt at the Kentucky Derby.
Her time here compared favourably with the Juvenile winner though, as we'll see, that one didn't have quite such a straightforward trip.
This is one to enjoy, as have all her races been, three of them Grade 1, which she's now won by a combined 22 lengths, for an average 5 1/2 length winning margin. She's a fleet-footed filly. Fact.
Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint
Next up, the Turf Sprint. Run for the eighth time, but the first time at the intermediate distance of five and a half furlongs, that proved to be the key to unlocking a big-priced winner. Mongolian Saturday was his name, and his beautifully swathed connections were a treat for thousands of appreciative spectators, many obliged in their search for selfies.
The perfect Mongolian Saturday... in Kentucky
Running free of Lasix, the son of Any Given Saturday was to kick off a noteworthy 'clean' Sprint double, the only runners in their respective races not on the 'juice'.
He'd been a tremendous servant to connections all season running some competitive speed figures and finishing in the frame in his previous ten races.
But back to that aforementioned distance key. Mongolian Saturday had won his only five and a half furlong turf race; and second placed Lady Shipman had won four of five turf starts at the trip. They were two of only four in the field with a strong record at the precise range which, in races decided by fine margins, may have tilted the scales in their favour.
Specifically in relation to the winner, he's run a sensational race, having been drawn on the wide outside, been gunned to contest a 22 second flat opening quarter, and hung tough in the straight to win by the proverbial fag paper. This was Florent Geroux's second Cup win of the weekend and his third in all after Work All Week's Sprint triumph last year. He's a name to note.
Mongolian Saturday was a 15.9/1 chance on the tote board, having been 25/1 here.
Here's the race: heart-breaking if you backed Lady Shipman, heart-warming if you were a North American racing fan based in Ulaanbataar!
Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint
Now eight years old, the Filly and Mare Sprint has still to welcome its first three-year-old winner, but that didn't stop Cavorting being sent off the warm 3.4/1 favourite. She ran pretty well in truth, eventually finishing fourth having been held up from her outside draw, but she was no match for Wavell Avenue.
That one, giving Chad Brown his first dirt winner at the Breeders' Cup and his sixth Cup win overall, reversed the form with La Verdad from Belmont's Gallant Bloom Handicap. If this race had been the same distance as that one - six and a half furlongs - the result would have been the same. But this was seven furlongs, and the visual impression of Belmont was confirmed at Keeneland, as La Verdad's stamina gave best to Wavell Avenue's late run.
La Verdad and Wavell Avenue ran the same races for 6.5f
Taris looked the unlucky filly, caught on heels for much of the home straight, and Simon Callaghan's Coolmore four-year-old can be marked up on this effort. This viewer thought Taris's jockey, Gary Stevens, was a tad lily-livered about making something happen and probably should have been at least second if he'd switched to the three path about a furlong and a half out. Uncharitably, Stevens blamed La Verdad for checking his run up the rail, but he was looking for a miracle gap and it was a poor ride, plain and simple.
Anyway, don't take my work for it. Judge for yourself...
Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf
Run for the first time over nine and a half furlongs, the shortest distance in the race's 17 year history, Europe had a very strong hand. Legatissimo has carried all before her on our side of the pond this year, winning the 1000 Guineas, the Nassau and the Matron Stakes, and running close seconds in the Oaks and Pretty Polly, all Group 1's.
Here she was sent off the 9/10 jolly, with a trio of further solid European Group 1 performers in Miss France, Secret Gesture and Queen's Jewel in support. The worry for Legatissimo, long season aside, is that she tends to take a while to hit her stride, something inconducive with the inside turf oval at Keeneland.
Concerns proved well founded, as Moore's firm rousting took a furlong to elicit the desired response, during which time Stephanie's Kitten had kicked in her more instant turbo and burned through a dream split between the fading trailblazers to put the race to bed.
This was a second Breeders' Cup success for six-year-old Stephanie's Kitten, who won the Juvenile Fillies Turf back in 2011; and she'd also run a game second in this race last year. Her 2015 victory took place just six miles from where young Stephanie was born and raised as a kitten, and it is to there that she will now be retired to the paddocks. This was a seventh BC triumph for Chad Brown, hard on the heels of his sixth in the previous race.
Queen's Jewel, with Lasix aiding her constitution for the first time, was hampered in the initial furlongs and ran home best of all in third. But it would be ambitious to suggest the early impediment was the difference between victory and defeat. It was not.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., architect of Secret Gesture's "taking down" in the Beverley D. had a dream trip through a packing field here to prove the scourge of Europe once again. He's surely used up two of his nine Kitten's lives in recent weeks.
Breeders' Cup Sprint
This looked a great race in prospect, and it was the fairy story of the weekend, though with a Roald Dahl (or Edgar Allan Poe if you prefer) ending. Trainer Maria Borell had been successfully tilting at windmills all season with her gorgeous three-year-old Super Saver colt, Runhappy. This young chap, and his young trainer, are very hard not to love. Both go about their business with passion and talent, and both wear their hearts on their sleeve.
Here, Runhappy was up against a much more battle-hardened foe in the shape of Private Zone, a six-year-old veteran of 30 races, against Runhappy's six prior outings. Private Zone had been invincible this season at seven furlongs, but was dropping back an eighth here, against a progressive long-striding six furlong specialist.
The fractions were ridiculous, Private Zone dashing out from stall 13 to share the lead through the first quarter in 22.05, and the half mile in 44.31. What a huge race he ran in defeat eventually yielding to Runhappy late in the last furlong in a finishing time of 68.58 seconds. That's an average seconds per furlong of 11.43. Whoosh! Track record.
Runhappy had a wide trip in the three path around the turn so he too can be marked up on what is already a phenomenal run. Moreover, this was the first time he'd sat off the lead, rating in third. It caused him little or no inconvenience as he bounded up the home stretch to win going away. He'll get seven easily, and may stretch out to a mile if that rating style can be harnessed.
There was to be the ultimate sting in the tail, however, as Borell learned the morning after "the best day of my life" that she would no longer be training the horse. This staggering bombshell was delivered as it emerged that there was a conflict of opinion between the trainer and the owner's racing manager about Runhappy shipping west to continue his racing career.
For a young trainer who has done nothing wrong - and a heck of a lot right, regardless of the raw ability of her horse - that must be so hard to take. Horse racing is a cruel sport at the best of times, but decisions like this beggar belief, and I trust the owner, a mattress salesman, continues to sleep soundly at night. I'm confident I wouldn't be able to.
Here's the unbridled majesty of Runhappy gunning down a gladiator...
Breeders' Cup Mile
The Mile has been about France and America since Ridgewood Pearl last claimed the prize for Britain or Ireland in 1995. That was 20 years and 50 runners ago, and that sequence extended to 52 runners here.
In truth, before the race it looked like one for the French, who had a fearsome line up of G1 scorers in Make Believe, Impassable, Esoterique and Karakontie. But, for whatever reason, they all misfired and misfired badly, running no better than fifth between them.
The winner, Tepin, had been clear pick of the domestic squad coming in to the Mile, having blitzed a massive seven length Grade 1 victory over course and distance (soft turf) four weeks earlier. She proved that career best to be no fluke, stalking obvious pace angle, Obviously (!), before finding herself five clear with a sixteenth to go.
As is often the case in the Mile, regardless of the host track, there was scrimmaging on the inside rail, the Gallics clambering all over each other. Mondialiste, held up as usual, saw daylight too late but flew home for a clear second for Danny Tudhope and trainer David O'Meara. Clearly my Friday night pep talk with the cuprous conjuror had worked its magic!
Tepin, 4.9/1 at the off but available at 14's just a few days ago in Britain, had the perfect position off a steady pace, and gave her trainer, Mark Casse, his second win of the meeting, and jockey Julien Leparoux his sixth Breeders' Cup win overall.
Here's the race again:
Breeders' Cup Juvenile
The antepenultimate Cup race of 2015, the Juvenile, looked a touch sub-standard on paper, and so it proved. Nyquist, one of only two unbeaten colts in the race, and one of only two unbeaten on dirt, had a tough post in 13 to overcome.
Things looked insurmountable as jockey Mario Gutierrez was forced six wide around the first turn. But that was down to three wide into the second turn, and Nyquist's stamina kicked in to forge the pairing into a three length lead in the straight. By the line, he was all out to hold another wide-drawn wide-tripper, Swipe, but hold him he did to reward backers at odds of 4.7/1.
The pair pulled more than two lengths clear of their field and, though it was probably a moderate field, this duo can be rated slightly higher than the finishing time for their efforts.
In what looks a wide open Durrrby year in 2016, both deserve their places near the head of the market, albeit at prices (20/1 Nyquist, 33/1 Swipe) that reflect the openness of the heat. Brody's Cause also had a shocker of a run, finishing caked in filth for a staying on third, and his 33/1 quote is moderately attractive too, this first loss on dirt perhaps down to inexperience as much as anything.
Songbird is the 16/1 favourite with British books, and there are surely worse 16/1 shots than her, notwithstanding that she may not take in the Kentucky Derby, and that it is very, very hard to win that race with her run style (only War Emblem, 2002, has led gate to wire since 1988).
A lot will change between now and the 'run for the roses' in the first weekend in May but, for now at least, this may be the best trial there has been so far.
Breeders' Cup Turf
The last of the six grass races is the immaculately-named Turf, a mile and a half contest. It has been an awful race for favourites down the years with highly-touted 'obvious' Europeans routinely beaten. Against that backdrop, Golden Horn - winner of the Arc and Derby this season, as well as the Coral-Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes - attempted to buck the trend.
In opposition was a solitary further Euro, Found, a filly who has a propensity for close up defeat and who ran an unlucky five lengths ninth in the Arc in her only try at the distance. It was her general malady of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory rather than that Arc run which put this scribe off the 'wrong' Euro in a race I traditionally call wrong, and from which I am now considering self-exclusion.
Suffice it to say that, in the face of an ordinary enough challenge from Team USA and the presence of an only remotely interesting South American challenger, Ordak Dan, I wagered heftily on Golden Horn at what turned out to be a too good to be true local quote of 4/5. Way to return significant profits from whence they came!
In the race itself, Goldie Hawn looked to have few problems with his trip, likewise Found. Indeed, likewise all, so the result has to be seen as fair if not necessarily representative. After all, whilst Found over Golden Horn is credible, that the pair were no more than a length or so in front of Big Blue Kitten and, more notably, Slumber, implies one or both of the shippers ran some way below their best.
Maybe it was their long seasons, maybe the travel, more likely a combination of both. But the differential between Derby/Arc-winning form has to be more than a length superior to the pick of the local crowd, doesn't it? What is worth taking away is that both third and fourth were trained by Chad Brown, comfortably the best American trainer of Breeders' Cup turf runners, and a man to keep well onside going forwards.
For those who didn't back Golden Horn - especially if you did take some of the incredibly-generous-and-not too-good-to-be-true 6.4/1 on Found (exacta paid a whopping 20/1) - here is the re-run.
Breeders' Cup Classic
Despite a dozen races having been confined to the record, those Breeders' Cup propagandists had it bang on the money: "The Best Is Yet To Come".
The best was yet to come. Not the best race, you understand. That was probably Runhappy's cold-blooded assassination of the ageing warrior, Private Zone. But the best racehorse. A fellow by the name of American Pharoah.
The 'Pharoah' was a champion coming into the race, having won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes - the Triple Crown. He was the first since 1978 to achieve this mythical feat and he did it at a time when American racing was pleading for a shot in the arm of his ilk.
Since the Belmont in early June, AP had raced twice: first he confirmed superiority over his age group in the Haskell, but then... he... was... beaten. Gasp.
Just as tactics got the better of Golden Horn in mid-season, so the Pharoah was tactically mastered in the Travers. Not by a single horse, but rather a 'double teaming' whereby Frosted - a rival here - buttered him up on the speed before Keen Ice - another rival here - ran by in the lane. Not. In. The. Script.
But if gamblers love a golden child, they love a story of loss and redemption more. In truth, there was little to redeem, AP losing nothing in defeat due to his valiant efforts in the face of tough breaks. He was akin to a Tour de France champion being mastered by team tactics on an Alpine stage, but with General Classement victory assured.
Here, his task was simplified considerably by the late defection of Beholder. The clear main danger had not been herself since travelling to Kentucky, and she succumbed to the almost inevitable in scratching. Her absence made Pharoah's task easier than merely having one less horse to beat.
No, Beholder was a key facet of the tactical shape of the race, having been expected to ride on the shoulder of AP from half a mile and more out. In her, and also the bulky hard-to-keep-sound Smooth Roller's absence, there looked to be no pace contention for Bob Baffert's world beater, whose metier is to turn the screw from the front. To use the cycling analogy once more, AP is happiest when in solo time trial mode.
Here, off a steady first quarter mile, he led all the way, gradually increasing his cadence as his rivals wilted in behind, eventually running away from them by six and a half lengths in a time of 2:00:07. Two minutes and seven hundredths of a second. But for some supreme saddle posturing by jockey Victor Espinoza in the shadow of the post, American Pharoah would surely have ducked under the two minute barrier.
Still, as you can see, it was a GREAT photo opportunity, very well taken, and an image which looks sure to endure for generations to come.
Victor with a grin for the ages... (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
The race itself was without other incident, and it was without the need for other incident too, this being a glorious equine monologue, the final procession of a Pharoah: the American Pharoah.
The crowd had come to watch him strut his stuff and, in the face of no adversity, he did just that. His welcome was rapturous and, over the course of the season, wholly deserved.
Once the dust had settled, I snuck away from the madding throng to wave cheerio to, as NBC's fantastic race caller put it, "the horse of a lifetime", as he was led away from a race track for the final time.
Keeneland 2015 was one of the great Breeders' Cups. Perhaps the greatest of all Breeders' Cups. Certainly the best of the thirteen Breeders' Cups since 2001 that I've been lucky enough to attend.
Fears about the ability of Keeneland, and Lexington in general, to cope with the legion of racegoers were unfounded. The track and the town handled the influx comfortably. The weather was cool - sure, it's November, right? - and, for the most part over Cup weekend, dry. On another weekend it could have rained, and on another one still it might have snowed. But racing isn't always in sunshine, and not all horses train under nature's lights, so I say fair enough.
More importantly, for the Breeders' Cup itself, it basked in its own sunshine by bringing the American Pharoah out for one last glorious hoorah. From a selfish perspective, I hope this signals the start of a new confidence in pushing the boundaries of Breeders' Cup locations.
Keeneland, in Lexington, in Kentucky, is more than just a spiritual home for US racing. It is the epicentre of the breeding business, itself the lifeblood of the sport. After a Breeders' Cup where eleven of thirteen winners - 85% - were bred in the state of Kentucky, this truly was a homecoming for the ages.
p.s. the Breeders' Cup Compendium, which can be downloaded here, made a clear profit of over 21 points on stakes of just 16 points. It flagged winners at 25/1, 14/1 and 12/1 as well as a number of others at shorter prices; and it made for a very fun evening for subscribers 🙂
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/americanpharoahvictorespinoza.jpg6801020Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2015-11-03 14:38:052016-09-20 08:54:48Breeders’ Cup 2015: A Homecoming for the Ages
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