We’re still attempting to digest the bizarre fare that was fed us at the Nov. 4 and 5 Breeders’ Cup smorgasbord that left so many people hungrier than when they went in. Here are a few of the leftovers or random thoughts and questions.
BELMONT BOOM – Could it be that stamina finally is making its way back into the Sport of Kings at the top level? Consider this: the first three finishers of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) – Drosselmeyer, Game On Dude, and Ruler On Ice -- all ran in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), with Drosselmeyer and Ruler On Ice both victorious in the “Test of the Champion” and Game On Dude a close fourth. Also, this year’s Belmont third-place finisher, Brilliant Speed, finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT), the best performance by an American-trained horse, and this year’s fifth-place Belmont finisher, Shackleford, finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).
Finally, Belmont Stakes starter Stately Victor finished a respectable fifth in the BC Turf, beaten only five lengths, and two other Belmont starters – Stay Thirsty and Ice Box – both competed in the Classic. So, the Classic alone was represented by five horses who started in the Belmont Stakes.
We should also note that two Breeders' Cup winners -- Royal Delta and Afleet Again -- were sired by Belmont winners (Empire Maker and Afleet Alex, respectively), and two others -- Secret Circle and Court Vision -- were sired by horses who ran in the Belmont (Eddington and Gulch).
Another mile and a half stakes, the Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II), played a significant role in the Breeders’ Cup, with Classic winner Drosselmeyer and the first two finishers of the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, Afleet Again and Birdrun, all having run in this year’s Brooklyn. And Birdrun and Drosselmeyer finished one-two in the Brooklyn, giving the race even more credibility.
Adding to the stamina factor, three Breeders' Cup winners were sired by three different sons of Sadler's Wells (St Nicholas Abbey, by Montjeu; Wrote, by High Chaparral; and Perfect Shirl, by Perfect Soul). Also, Stephanie's Kitten was sired by Sadler's Wells' grandson Kitten's Joy, by El Prado.
SPEAKING OF PREPS – The last three winners of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) all ran in the Presque Isle Masters (gr. II) at Presque Isle Downs, with Informed Decision (2009) and Musical Romance (2011) both winning the Masters in photos and Dubai Majesty (2010) losing in a photo.
The last two winners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic – Drosselemeyer and Blame – both came off a second-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), in which they were closing fast, while the winners were out of the money in the Classic.
HORSE OF THE YEAR and 3-YEAR-OLD MALE TITLES -- The discussion regarding both awards became hot and heavy literally minutes after the Classic was run, but it’s too early to form any concrete opinions with the Clark Handicap still to be run. Among those possible for the grade I stakes are Game On Dude, Flat Out, and Ruler on Ice. The first two would have a legitimate claim at Horse of the Year should either win, and the last named would have a legitimate claim at the 3-year-old championship, considering he lost a shoe in his third-place finish in the Classic and also lost a shoe in his fourth-place finish in the Travers (gr. I). If he should defeat top-class older horses in the Clark to go along with his Belmont Stakes (gr. I) score he would have to be seriously considered, having finished on the board in stakes at Sunland Park, Pimlico, Belmont, Monmouth, Saratoga, Philadelphia Park, and Churchill Downs.
As of now, it appears that Havre de Grace, Game On Dude, and Acclamation are the most serious candidates for Horse of the Year, with Tizway possibly having an outside chance. And let’s not forget, we also still have the Cigar Mile (gr. I) to be run. Although a victory by Caleb’s Posse in that race could have assured him the 3-year-old championship and even put him in the running for Horse of the Year, he is done for the year, having won graded stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs, seven furlongs, one mile, and 1 1/16 miles, demolishing older horses in the BC Dirt Mile and 3-year-olds in the Amsterdam, and beating Uncle Mo in the grade I King’s Bishop. He also has won five stakes from January to November and placed in a pair of grade II stakes. Right now, he definitely has to be considered for 3-year-old honors, along with several others, in a year where no horse has stepped up to claim the title, at least in the conventional manner.
If there is one factor other than defeating colts in the Woodward (gr. I) that should boost Havre de Grace’s chances it is destroying Royal Delta in Beldame (gr. I) and then having her come back and dominate the Ladies Classic (gr. I).
BIG DAY FOR AN OLD FRIEND – Our hats off to 27-year-old pensioner Gulch, who resides at Old Friends, for siring the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT), Court Vision. Gulch, still feisty as ever, continues to pass on that toughness and resilience to his offspring, even at his age.
AFLEET’S FEAT -- Although Chuck Zacney and Cash is King Stable sold Afleet Again earlier this year, Zacney was overjoyed with the 4-year-old’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. What’s good for their pride and joy, Afleet Alex, is good for them, as indicated by Cash is King partner Joe Lero joining in the winner’s circle photo after last year’s Travers (gr. I) win by Afleet Express, owned by Gainesway Farm, even though his own horse, Afleet Again, had just finished a well-beaten fourth. Zacney also was happy for trainer Butch Reid, who has worked long and hard trying to get a performance like this out of the nearly white Jekyll and Hyde colt, who hadn’t won a race since taking the grade III Withers Stakes back in April of 2010.
Not only did Afleet Alex sire a Breeders’ Cup winner, so did his sire, Northern Afleet, who had the BC Sprint (gr. I) winner Amazombie. That pretty much explains why Afleet Alex was one of the most versatile horses in recent years, becoming the only horse in memory to win the Belmont Stakes and a six-furlong stakes in the same year. Now here he is siring the winner of a 1 ¾-mile Breeders’ Cup race the same day his sire sires the winner of a six-furlong Breeders’ Cup race.
CHURCHILL ALL WET – It would be nice to know why Churchill Downs, which has always had the fastest drying track in the country, was still wet and heavy on Saturday following a day and a half of bright sunshine, with standing water still noticeable in several spots in the stretch? It’s just something we’re not used to seeing at Churchill, which in the past has dried out from substantial rain in a matter of hours. Just curious.
RIDERS ON THE STORM -- What was Joel Rosario doing sending Pleasant Prince, who had never been on the lead in his life, to the front in the 1 ¾-mile Marathon and running the first three-quarters in 1:12 3/5, which was a fifth faster than they went in the Breeders’ Cup Classic? He still was able to finish fourth.
Also, why did Ryan Moore have So You Think so close in third, only two lengths off the lead, and stuck on the rail, when the colt’s strength seems to be wearing horses down in the stretch? He wound up in tight along the inside down the stretch, stuck on his left lead. He still ran big to be beaten only 2 3/4 lengths.
OH! BRIENS -- How ironic that after 27 years the Breeders’ Cup decided to relegate the BC Turf to a lower position, dropping it two spots in order to showcase Goldikova in the Mile and it winds up with the best story of the entire Breeders’ Cup. Aidan O’Brien winning the 1 ½-mile race with a horse ridden by his 18-year-old son Joseph had to be one of the great moments in Breeders’ Cup history, especially considering American racing fans had watched Joseph and his two brothers and sister grow up at the Breeders’ Cup each year.
Below are five photos capturing the moment, as a jubilant O’Brien watches his son ride to victory, with Coolmore partner Derrick Smith cheering him on, and then greeting him following the race.
All Photos by Steve Haskin and property of Steve Haskin/Blood-Horse Publications.