Most owners, trainers, and racing fans were tricked by the Halloween deluge in Louisville, Ky., that dumped several inches of rain on the main track and turf course at Churchill Downs. However, the sport sure got a treat once the horses hit the track for the Nov. 2-3 Breeders’ Cup.
The main track dried out under a wind-whipped autumn day, and the turf course was optimistically labeled “good” for the World Championships opener. Big-day Saturday dawned beautifully, offering high-end racing under azure skies, with a turf course that appeared to favor the European runners…that, or the European contingent this year was just that strong.
Juddmonte Farms did the most sporting of gestures, bringing Europe’s best runner to the U.S. to tackle the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T). The 4-year-old filly Enable, the horse most everyone wanted to see, delivered in every way, pulling off a dramatic win while running closer to the stands side than the hedge in the stretch.
In delivering the first Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe/Breeders’ Cup Turf double dip, she squashed the “Curse of Dancing Brave.” Juddmonte’s Dancing Brave was the first to attempt the transatlantic double at Santa Anita Park in 1986, but had melted in the Southern California sun, finishing fourth at 1-2.
Few have embraced the Breeders’ Cup concept more than Juddmonte owner Prince Khalid Abdullah. A strong supporter of the series from the beginning—his Alphabatim ran fifth in the inaugural Turf in 1984—Juddmonte’s pair of scores Nov. 3 (homebred Expert Eye landed the Mile, G1T, as well) brought Juddmonte’s win total to six as breeder and seven overall.
That is in sharp contrast to Mike Abraham, the breeder of Accelerate, winner of the day’s biggest prize, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
A month before the main event, BloodHorse’s racing editor Alicia Wincze Hughes’ story on Abraham’s breeding of Accelerate on Bloodhorse.com told a different tale from the multi-generational grooming of families at Juddmonte.
At the 2011 Keeneland November sale Abraham ran across Issues, a daughter of Awesome Again, selling in foal to a rising stallion named Scat Daddy.
“I like Awesome Again mares, and she was young at the time and in foal to Scat Daddy, who I liked but who hadn’t really hit yet,” Abraham told Wincze Hughes. “To be honest with you, I hadn’t even looked at her, but I was looking at the pedigrees the night before, and when she went through the ring, I thought, if she doesn’t bring too much, I’m going to buy her. I didn’t even really look at her. I was up in the pavilion, but the price was certainly right. And the rest is certainly history.”
He paid $25,000 for her.
The following year he attempted to return Issues to Scat Daddy, but the Ashford Stud team wasn’t sure she’d be able to get into his book, so Abraham scoured the Ashford line up and landed on second-year stallion Lookin At Lucky.
A straight line isn’t always the path to glory.
The rest of the story can be found in Wincze Hughes’ Classic recap.
Let’s not read too much into the fact overall handle was down slightly at this year’s Breeders’ Cup compared to 2017. While Enable was a true draw to Thoroughbred diehards, the Classic lacked the Gun Runner vs. Arrogate angle from a year ago. The retirement of the Triple Crown winner Justify didn’t help the gate or handle either.
The “Future Stars Friday” format was new for 2018, adding a new race—the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint—to the mix. With an additional race, handle was off slightly from a year ago.
Juvenile form, especially with three races over a waterlogged turf course, might not be what hard-core bettors are willing to sink their teeth into.
Breeders’ Cup will likely give this format time to grow, but a suggestion might be to add some older-horse races to the Friday program. How about a “Fast and Furious Friday” that features the sprint-centric races of the Breeders’ Cup? The Sprint (G1), Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), Turf Sprint (G1T), Juvenile Turf Sprint, and Dirt Mile (G1) would make for a quick pick.