By Margaret Ransom
The 39th annual Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland this year, with a couple of notable exceptions, was certainly one for the record books, at least to me. In a time where horse racing is struggling with an image crisis, and therefore dwindling interest, it was fantastic to see so many thrilling moments and special stories come out of the two amazing days of racing.
Juvenile Turf Sprint
Future Stars Friday was warm and lovely and got off to a bang with the first Breeders’ Cup race, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1T), the Charlie Appleby-trained Mischief Magic storming down the lane from the back of the pack early to score a decisive one-length win over 11 rivals under William Buick at odds of more than 6-1. The Godolphin homebred, who is by Exceed and Excel, earned his fourth career win in his sixth start and now boasts earnings of $607,317.
“I have to say I knew they were going to go hard,” Appleby said. “From the gate, William is riding in such great form and has so much confidence in his horses. I can see what he was doing. He was just going to get him on his lead. But he made a lovely run (up the backside) and he was trying to angle out and just got pushed back (inside). He didn’t do the horse any harm as I said to William, the one thing he wants is to give him gaps. Give him daylight and the old bugger just might have a second chance. Fantastic ride by William and great effort by all the team. Great to be back.”
The previously undefeated fan favorite Tyler’s Tribe, who was named for co-owner Tom Lepic’s grandson, Tyler, who was fighting – and has now won – a battle with leukemia, finished last and was pulled up after the wire by jockey Kylee Jordan before being vanned off. The Iowa-bred son of Sharp Azteca was reported to have bled significantly, though the television audience knew and saw the blood coming out of his nostrils in what was his first start without the diuretic Lasix. The whole no Lasix thing is probably a discussion for a different day, but a horse bleeding out of his nostrils on national television probably isn’t a better look than the thought process behind banning Lasix all together.
Darley Alcibiades (G1) winner Wonder Wheel probably secured her connections a 2-year-old Eclipse Award with her three-length score from way back early – something unusual for the filly who normally showed some speed in her previous races – in the Juvenile Fillies (G1), giving jockey Tyler Gaffalione his first score in the Breeders’ Cup. Mark Casse trains the daughter of Into Mischief, who was 6-1 despite her previous win over the track, for owners D J Stable.
“I have to watch the replay,” Casse said. “I was like ‘oh my goodness.’ She’s usually close. I thought ‘I can’t believe she’s not running.’ She’s tough.
“There was lots of doubt (that we would win) probably the entire race given the way she has run in the past (running on or near the lead). She is just a really good horse. She is just special and now she is going to be champion.”
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Champion trainer Aidan O’Brien picked up his 14th Breeders’ Cup win when Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier and Westerberg Limited’s Meditate took the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T) under jockey Ryan Moore. The daughter of No Nay Never left the gate as the favorite at odds of 2-1 and earned herself a first career grade 1. She is now the team’s – and Europe’s — top candidate for next year’s 1,000 Guineas.
“Ryan (Moore) gave her a brilliant ride,” O’Brien said. “Michael (Tabor) was very confident that this was the race for her. It’s incredible. We came to here to see if she would be a filly for the Guineas. And I heard Michael telling Ryan before the race, if she wasn’t going to get the trip here, we might not train her for the Guineas. Obviously, the result was great. Ryan was very patient. He didn’t have an easy draw and said he had to take his time the first half. Delighted for everyone.”
Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Forte secured his Eclipse Award as the country’s top 2-year-old with his impressive victory by 1 ½ lengths at 5-1 over heavily favored Cave Rock in the Juvenile (G1) under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. The Violence colt, who is trained by Todd Pletcher, also won the Hopeful Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1) in his last Breeders’ Cup prep over the Keeneland surface.
“Obviously delighted with everything,” Pletcher said. “He got a beautiful trip. Just kept coming. I think we both got a fair run at it today (referring to being second choice to Cave Rock).”
“He got that two-turn experience (in the Breeders’ Futurity) and it paid off today. He’s much more professional today. We learned a little something (from the Breeders’ Futurity) and we tweaked off the last race and it paid off coming here.”
Forte also earned the distinction of being the early favorite for next year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) and earned 30 points to make the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
As for the previously undefeated Cave Rock, who many handed the win to before the race was even run, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was highly complimentary of the winner and offered few excuses for his Arrogate colt.
“Forte ran a great race and came and got us,” Baffert said. “I knew they went very fast early and I thought Juan (Hernandez, on Cave Rock) did a good job. He stayed away when they were going fast and slowed it down. He didn’t switch leads until way late. He got tired and that other horse came running. He ran a big race. There is a reason why he won three in a row. He’ll get a lot out of it. He’s a big, strong horse. It’s a different kind of surface, but he had every chance to win, even though he was going fast. I noticed today that the track is drying out. It’s not as fast as the old Keeneland-type tracks. They showed up. They ran well.”
The final race on Future Stars Friday produced a second win for the Coolmore and Westerberg, O’Brien and Moore team with the Irish-bred Victoria Road. The narrow win by a nose marked the first grade 1 winner for the Japanese-bred Coolmore stallion Saxon Warrior, who won the 2018 2,000 Guineas (G1T) for the same connections.
It was also a record fifth win in the race for O’Brien and the Coolmore partnership of Michal Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith.
“Ryan said to me after that he thought he was our French Derby horse for next year,” O’Brien said. “So he’s a very exciting horse. He’s not big. He’s well-balanced. Ryan had him in a lovely spot today. Took his time on him, said he was going to produce him late. I didn’t know he was going to produce him that late. But delighted, really.”
Filly & Mare Sprint
First Row Partners and Team Hanley’s Goodnight Olive was the first to strike victory on a warm but blustery Breeders’ Cup Saturday, taking the Filly & Mare Sprint by 2 ½ lengths as the 9-5 favorite. Chad Brown trains the daughter of Ghostzapper, who was ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.
Four-year-old Goodnight Olive was lightly raced heading into the Breeders’ Cup having had just six starts and one stakes win in the Ballerina Handicap (G1) at Saratoga in late August. She is perfect in 2022 with four wins.
“She symbolizes everything that’s good in horse racing,” Brown said. “Being patient, always putting the horse first, bringing together a lot of different people that some didn’t even know each other before they went in on this horse together and large ownership group that is worthy of this win with their patience. A lot memories made today.
“She’s a lot like her father (Ghostzapper). It makes you feel a little old I worked a lot with Ghostzapper with (trainer) Bobby (Frankel) and I always think of him on these big days; everything he taught me. She’s a lot of her Dad – tough as nails and might not run a lot but when she does, she lets everyone know when she does.”
A year ago, the gray mare Caravel was a disappointing 12th and last in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) for celebrity chef Bobby Flay, breeder Elizabeth Merryman and trainer Graham Motion and sold for $500,000 days later at Keeneland to Qatar Racing, Madakat Stables and Mark Detampel before being turned over to the care of trainer Brad Cox for a 2022 campaign. That leap of faith turned highly profitable on Saturday as the Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Mizzen Mast completely reversed her form from a year ago and cruised to an impressive half-length victory at huge odds of 47-1 in wire-to-wire fashion in the Turf Sprint under jockey Tyler Gaffalione.
The mare is set to sell again at Keeneland this week but as as a Breeders’ Cup champion her connections may be rethinking their decision.
“She’s in the sale,” co-owner Sheikh Fahad of Qatar Racing said. “We’ll have to discuss with the partnership and Fergus (bloodstock agent Galvin) and Marc (co-owner Detampel) and Brad (Cox) and we’ll see what’s going on. She’s improving, which is going to make it very tough trying to sell her or keep her. But we’ll see.”
Caravel was originally a $300,000 Wanamaker’s online auction RNA in 2020, consigned by breeder and former co-owner Merryman. She has now earned $1,331,152 with a record of 20-12-0-3.
There wasn’t a dry eye anywhere in horse racing – at home or in living rooms around the world – when the Godolphin homebred and Bill Mott trainee Cody’s Wish stormed to a head victory under jockey Junior Alvarado. He was the 2-1 favorite.
You’d have to have been living under a rock to not know the story about the special horse and the little boy Cody Dorman – now a teenager – and their bond. Dorman born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects his entire body. He experiences frequent seizures, is unable to walk or speak and relies on a tablet to communicate. He’s also had dozens of operations, including open heart surgery.
As part of Keeneland’s help with the Make A Wish Foundation, Cody asked to meet a foal 3 ½ years ago during a trip to Gainsborough Farm. Recognizing foals and wheelchairs don’t always go together, the farm introduced Cody to a special, then 6-month-old son of Curlin. It was in those magical few moments that the colt earned his name and it was in the spirit of love conquering all that pushed the colt past the wire in front on Racing’s Championship Day.
It was the story racing needed during a particularly tough and dark couple of years.
“I’ve been hearing the stories about (Cody),” Alvarado said after his first Breeders’ Cup victory. “First time I got to meet him was at Churchill when I won with him, and I remember going into the winner’s circle and all (the horse) wanted to do was walk forward to where Cody was. We tried to get the winner’s circle photo and he was getting upset until Cody got into the photo. They have an unbelievable bond.”
Filly and Mare Turf
Returning on Saturday where they left off on Friday was the Westerberg, Magnier, Tabor and Smith partnership, with Aidan O’Brien at the helm and Ryan Moore in the irons, for the victory with the homebred sophomore filly Tuesday in the Filly and Mare Turf. The daughter of the late, great Galileo, who won the Cazoo (Epsom) Oaks (G1T) earlier this year was victorious by a length at odds of 4-1 and gave O’Brien his 15th career Breeders’ Cup score.
“It’s incredible for everyone that’s involved in the whole place,” O’Brien said. “She’s a filly that won the (Epsom) Oaks when she was barely 3 and we were conscious of that and we let her dally through the rest of the year. We had our eye on this race for her. She’s an amazing filly from an unbelievable pedigree as well. Totally 100 percent homebred which makes this incredible and a privilege for us. Ryan (Moore) gave her a stunning ride.
(On running his horses in the Breeders’ Cup) “This is a very special place and this is the top of the world here. All of the top horses from around the world meet here. It’s the best races and no one gives an inch. Every single race means so much. Only the very special horses make it here.”
As I watched the horses in the paddock before the Sprint, I commented to a friend that Elite Power looked like he was ready for a nap. Now that’s not to say I didn’t think he looked good or that he couldn’t win, I just noticed how relaxed he was – no lip shank and an easy hold — in a field of sprinters, just about all of whom were jumping around on their toes.
And with a handy ride from Irad Ortiz Jr., the flashy chestnut son of Curlin rocketed home from mid-pack early to score a decisive win by 1 ¼ lengths over ten rivals. At odds of more than 5-1, the Bill Mott trainee, who won the seven-furlong Vosburgh Stakes (G1) a month ago, provided a second win on the day for Mott and a third win in this year’s Breeders’ Cup for Ortiz.
Heavily favored Jackie’s Warrior was third at odds of 3-5.
“He’s done nothing wrong this year,” Mott said. “He was late coming. He had a couple of races as a 3-year-old and since we brought him back, he got beat the first time and has been perfect since. He has improved and won at a variety of distances. The cut back (in distance) today was always a little concerning when you are running against a horse as good as Jackie’s Warrior but hey, he come down in the middle of the racetrack and ran them all down.”
Godolphin’s homebred Modern Games returned to the Breeders’ Cup exactly where he left off a year ago after winning the Juvenile Turf, back in the winner’s circle but this time collecting the trophy as the hero of the Mile. Charlie Appleby trains the son of Dubawi, who was ridden by regular rider William Buick. The sophomore was the near 7-5 post time favorite.
The difference this year for Modern Games is that he actually ran as part of the betting field. A year ago at Del Mar, in case anyone might need a reminder, he ran for purse money only after accidentally being scratched when he broke through the gate before the start. The crowd wasn’t happy and despite winning, he wasn’t celebrated as he should have been following such a monumental victory.
“I’m delighted,” Appleby said. “He is what he is. He’s ultra-professional and runs with his heart on his sleeve every time. He’s one horse, as Rishi (Persad) said earlier in the week, you’d love to play poker with him, because he shows his hand every time. He’s just done it again, there. Fantastic ride by William (Buick). Great for the team, great for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and great for Godolphin.
“Next year, the Queen Anne is the obvious target. He’s getting a fanfare around world and it was great to see him applauded this year not like last year which was no fault of his own. We’ll look to bring him back here next year. From this July onward he really changed physically and got stronger in all the right places. I thought he looked a picture in the paddock today and I was always quite confident when I saw him look that well.”
The Chad Brown-trained Domestic Spending, who was pulled up heading into the backstretch, reportedly suffered a fractured pelvis and is currently receiving treatment at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital.
Shadwell’s Malathaat sealed her fate as the Eclipse Award winner for older female with her hard-fought nose victory over both longshot Blue Stripe and Clariere in a blanket wire finish in the Distaff. The daughter of Curlin – a third Breeders’ Cup winner for the Hill ‘n’ Dale stallion – was ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
The Todd Pletcher trainee is out of the grade 1 winner Dreaming of Julia (by A.P. Indy) and therefore a granddaughter of grade 1 winner Dream Rush (by Wild Rush). Shadwell paid $1.05 million for Malathaat as a Keeneland September yearling.
“I wasn’t surprised (I won),” Velazquez said. “I thought I got the bob and then I wasn’t sure. When you got that much trust from a guy like Todd Pletcher and gives me the opportunity to ride these good horses, it makes it easy when you have to make adjustments during the race.”
“Every race she runs, she shows up. She is a tough mare and will miss her if they retire her.”
Me too, John. Me too.
The Europeans – specifically trainer Charlie Appleby and Godolphin – struck again in the Turf as the Godolphin-bred and owned gelding Rebel’s Romance cruised to a 2 ¼-length victory at 5-1 under jockey James Doyle in what was the jockey’s first Breeders’ Cup score. The ultra-consistent 4-year-old son of Dubawi is now five-for-seven this year and nine-for-12 overall for earnings of $2,934,610. He owns two group 1 wins in Germany and is probably best known as last year’s U.A.E. Derby (G1) winner.
“I am delighted to finish the meeting off with a winner,” Appleby said. “From the whole team’s point of view, it’s great to have James get first Breeders’ Cup win and I’m delighted for him. Over the moon for him. It’s been a great meeting. The horse has turned himself around, to be fair. You may think it was the switch to the turf, but I watched him train on the dirt here and I almost wished I was running him on the dirt here. Physically, you can just see that time has helped him. I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but it’s another son of Dubawi—what more can I say. I’m privileged to be associated with them.”
I’m not sure I can say more about Flightline than what’s already been said, but you’d have to have been made of stone to not get goosebumps watching his record-setting 8 ¼-length victory in the Classic under Flavien Prat in what was his final race of an all-too-brief career.
I am not one of those people who decides what’s best for other people’s horses. I think Flightline’s connections knew what was best for him and chose to campaign him the way they did for reasons I don’t think any of us outsiders are entitled to know. What I do know is that if he was ever not 100 percent he’d not have even run, so when he made it to the starting gate I knew in my soul a tremendous performance was going to take place.
I also don’t think the status of horse racing as a whole hangs on whether or not a good horse retires too early. Sure I like to see my favorites at the track, but for every one that goes off to stud a new one to get excited about bursts onto the scene. Racing wasn’t any less exciting for me when my favorites – specifically the late, great Arrogate – retired to stud. I just found new ones to fall in love with, like Flightline.
Racing has bigger worries than if a horse retires too soon for some folks’ liking, like the disaster that is HISA and horses bleeding through Lasix on national television and so much more. To say Flightline and his people didn’t do a lot for racing over the last year is short-sighted and selfish at best.
Flightline’s ownership group – the Hronis brothers, West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farms, Summer Wind Racing and Woodford Racing like to see their horses race. I’ll say it again, they like to see their horses race. But they also treat the industry like a business and like in any business, money talks. And in this case it was yelling loudly to send Flightline to stud. The good news is we can all go see him when we like, Lane’s End is friendly to visitors with an appointment. And we can see him a lot in a few years with every special baby of his hitting the track.
Nobody said it better than trainer John Sadler when the dust settled after the Classic.
“Well, I mean, this is just — I mean, how do you describe greatness?” Sadler said. “This is a rare horse. It happens every 20 or 30 years. One of the best American racehorses we’ve seen in a long, long time. And I’m talking back to Secretariat, Seattle Slew. You go through the list.
“What I’ve tried to be is a good steward to him, be fair with him. And if you’re good with your horses, they’re good with you.”
Flightline’s career stands at six wins from six starts and a bankroll of $4,515,800.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter, who jockey Joel Rosario pulled up on the backstretch, suffered a lateral condylar fracture of his right front leg and underwent successful surgery on Sunday morning to repair it, surgeons inserting two screws into the injury. He is up and recovering, his career over but a bright stallion future ahead for the son of Not This Time. The Travers Stakes (G1) winner has earned $2,940,639.