Wrapping up the Breeders Cup (part 1)
Real Writing on Racing 💯
The sobering news that Cody Dorman had passed away on the return trip home from the Breeders Cup was once again a stark reminder about keeping one’s priorities in the proper order. The stricken young boy, whose bond with his equine namesake had been one of the few feel-good stories emanating out of racing circles recently, and his family getting to spend his last days at Santa Anita with Cody’s Wish, including posing in the winner's circle one final time, just seems as fitting as it does sad. I was in Club 1863 on Whitney Day when the room gave the 17 year old Cody a standing ovation as he was being wheeled out to the paddock before a rare Cody’s Wish loss and will admit that there had been a cynical thought or two that crossed my mind wondering if we weren’t crossing the blurry line when a human-interest story becomes exploitative. Yet when you consider the amazing number of different twists of fate that wrote this story, it all still seems a bit surreal that it even happened. From the family's decision to go on a farm tour to the baby Cody’s Wish happening to be at the right place at the right time; to the good fortune for the son of Curlin to land in the barn of a master horseman that patiently waited for the late bloomer to blossom; to the rare combination of sheer will and talent of a horse that kept getting the job done; to jockey Junior Alvarado’s perfect Breeders Cup rides… that last winners circle picture…to Monday’s melancholy news…
It was storybook ride that concluded in a grievous fashion…a grim lesson that fairness and feelings always lose out to fate, and that enjoying life in the moment surely makes the memories more memorable.
Day One – Future Stars Friday Recap
Juvenile Turf Sprint:
Friday morning, when the excitement of the weekend was supposed to be setting in, was marred by controversy when it was reported that several European horses had been prevented from racing by the Breeders Cup regulatory team in conjunction with HISA, CHRB and 1/ST veterinarians. One of those scratched was Givemethebeatboys (Ire) who had the look of a fringe contender but the Euro’s still ruled the day with Big Evs (Ire) under an aggressive ride by rising UK star jockey, Tom Marquand holding off a fierce late charge by fellow Brit, William Buick and Valiant Nature. Starlust (Ire) and Frankie Dettori weaved through traffic to grab the show spot, capping an all-European trifecta as the top US finisher was beaten favorite, No Nay Mets (Ire) who settled for 4th. Crimson Advocate hadn’t been seen since her upset in the Queen Mary (Gr 1) at Royal Ascot back in June and had changed ownership for a reported $2.5 million dollars (!) set a blazing pace from the rail (20.7) but was tiring already hitting the half mile marker in 43.65 as Marquand moved Big Evs (Ire) past at that point and the son of Blue Point for trainer Michael Appleby (not Chuck), did the rest. As usual this race has little bearing in year-end awards but it was an exciting event with the top 10 finishers all within 4 lengths at the wire.
One of the headliners in a relatively ‘star-less’ Breeders Cup was two-year-old filly Tamara, a daughter of Hall of Famer and Southern California legend, Beholder. The Bolt D’Oro filly had been on the radar of most race watchers since she was foaled and when Richard Mandella unveiled her this summer at Del Mar, she actually seemed to live up to expectations when rallying after a tardy start to break her maiden on first asking. Any questions about her talent were put to rest after start number two when she dusted the competition in the Del Mar Debutante (Gr 1), winning by 6 of the easiest lengths that you’ve ever seen. Yet Mandella opting not to prep Tamara in the Chandelier at Santa Anita meant she’d be coming into the Juvenile Fillies without a race longer than 7 furlongs and with no two-turn experience. When multiple clocker reports suggested that her recent morning work wasn’t up to par, the red flags seemed to be waving all over the place, especially as she was going to be a heavy favorite over a relatively soft field by historical standards. Candied, a Candy Ride filly from the Pletcher army, was a logical second choice after her score in the Alcibiades (Gr 1) at Keeneland, earning a solid speed figure to go along with the big fig she received when breaking her maiden at Saratoga. Her flaw was the draw as she doesn’t possess much natural early speed and in both of her prior races it took jockey Luis Saez until about mid-stretch to wind up her strong late rally, meaning traffic was her enemy. It turned out that the reports about Tamara were accurate as she showed good speed while aggressively handled by Mike Smith early, setting solid fractions of 22.47 and 46.60, shadowed by Frizette (Gr 1) winner Just FYI and longshot Jody’s Pride before capitulating turning for home and fading to be 7th. Just FYI under a hustling Junior Alvarado set up shop right off of the flank of Tamara heading into the first turn, sat there patiently till asking her for more about midway on the final turn. Meanwhile Jody’s Pride was sitting a perfect pocket trip on the rail behind the two leaders in third while Saez was trying to extract Candied from the inside heading down the backside. As the field swung into the stretch, Just FYI put some distance between her and the field but looked to tire about 75 yards from the wire as Jody’s Pride was gamely cutting into the margin and after angling very wide leaving the turn, Candied was gaining momentum while still on her left lead as usual. Just FYI just lasted over Jody’s Pride by a neck with Candied another neck behind and Life Talk, who had a wide journey checked in 4th, beaten 3 ½ lengths with early season division leader Brightwork a non-factor beaten almost 7 lengths in 6th. The final time was not fast, the last 5/16th in a pokey 33.63 (the Juvenile by comparison came home in 31.04) but to the victor go the spoils and trainer Bill Mott, Alvarado and breeder/owner George Krikorian will be accepting an Eclipse award trophy for Just FYI as the Justify filly is a cinch to be named champion two year old filly for 2023.
Juvenile Fillies Turf:
Going into the race, the feeling among many grizzled racing veterans was that this was the most closely matched group of the two days with most of the field having at least a fair shot at getting a nice share of the $1,000,000 purse. With 14 filling the starting gate, post positions, troubled trips and traffic issues were guaranteed to affect the results, spelling doom for those with misfortune and assisting those for whom it worked out. Post-race that is clearly how the race played out with many tough trips littered among the unplaced, yet it was a clever ride by Flavian Prat that tipped the scales in Hard to Justify’s favor when ultimately getting to the wire first. The Justify filly, trained by Chad Brown, had showed grit when winning her debut at the Spa, overcoming trouble to get up at the wire. She then displayed more early speed, stalking the pace in second when the winning the Miss Grillo (Gr II) at Aqueduct last month, a much faster race than her debut. Prat sent aggressively from post 12 and took up that same stalking position on Friday, content to let longshot Dreamfyre dictate the early tempo. Meanwhile, race favorite off of a giant effort in the Natalma (Gr I) at Woodbine, She Feels Pretty doesn’t have that same natural early speed and Johnny Velazquez was forced to make do going into that first turn but still getting caught 4 wide, while remaining on the outside down the backside and around the far turn. Going past the three eighths post, Prat asked Hard to Justify to go after Dreamfrye and they tried to accelerate as the field started to make up some ground on the dueling leaders, most notably Porta Fortuna (Ire), who advanced to be within striking distance on the inside as they made their way down the home stretch. Hard to Justify finally put away Dreamfyre with about 125 yards to go and had to stave off Porta Fortuna (Ire) on her inside and the persistent She Feels Pretty on her outside, finally hitting the finishline a half-length in front. The photo gave the place nod to the European invader and She Feels Pretty was left with the show money and the dubious moral victory of most observers feeling that she was best considering the extensive ground loss. Irish filly Content (Ire) rallied from way back to be a solid 4th, Kentucky shipper Buchu got a ground saving trip but wasn’t good enough, UK filly Carla’s Way (Ire) found lots of traffic trouble, Laulne (Fr) got stopped early and pulled to no avail and French filly Les Pavots (Fr) had a tardy start and wide journey. We have no Eclipse awards for turf two-year-olds (nor should we) and as such this race won’t have much bearing on year-end awards.
If a little over a month ago, before the running of the Champagne (Gr 1) over a rain-soaked sloppy track in Ozone Park, NY, someone had suggested that Fierceness would win the Juvenile by open lengths in the most impressive stakes performance by a two-year-old this season, no one would have batted an eye. Yet if you had added that he would do so with a rider other than Irad Ortiz and at the outsiders price of 16-1, I’m not sure that anyone would have believed you. Yet that was exactly the scenario that played out as the City of Light colt, under John Velazquez, took over turning for home and powered away from all the other leading two-year-old colts to score an emphatic 6 ¼ length win in a time that was roughly 2 ½ second faster than the filly version (1:41.90 vs. 1:44.58). Muth ran a representative race, chasing while being a path wider than the winner both turns and Noted put in a nice rally in the stretch to grab the show spot, the only horse in the field of 9 to make up any ground at all. Timberlake, 3rd choice at 3-1 never really got untracked as he continues his erratic pattern of a good race followed by a not-so-good race and Speightstown colts, Prince of Monaco and General Partner both ran like Speightstown colts often do when asked to go around that second bend on the dirt, tiring late after good trips. Have to think that Fierceness will be a one stakes win Eclipse award winner as the rest of 2023 only sees three grade 2 races remaining, the results of those would be unlikely to sway voters.
The finale of Future Stars Friday is the Juvenile Turf which had been thrown into upheaval on Friday morning when favorite River Tivor (Ire) was scratched by the Breeders Cup veterinarian team, much to the chagrin of trainer Aidan O’Brien. He still had two major bullets to fire in Unquestionable(Fr) and Mountain Bear (Ire), the only foreign entrants in a race that has been won 12 times by European connections, 6 by O’Brien and Ryan Moore, in its 17 year history. It was easy money for the Irishmen once again as Unquestionable (Fr) and Moore worked out a great trip and drove clear late to win the $520,000 winners share, easily holding off stablemate Mountain Bear (Ire) who rallied from far back after a slow start. The son of Wooten Basset had been keeping top company across the pond but the Juvenile Turf was his first stakes victory and the runner up exited a listed synthetic track stakes win at Dundalk, showing the wide gap that exists between the two year old grass form in North America and the European continent. Canadian shipper My Boy Prince prompted the pace and held well to be third and Can Group out-finished Agate Road for the 4th spot. The west coast’s best hope, Endlessly was wide throughout and faltered in the lane. Mountain Bear (Ire) was vanned off after jockey Dylan McMonagle felt him stumble while galloping out, the injury was later found to be relatively minor enough that it won’t require surgery. As in most years, the Eclipse awards won’t be effected by this race and if the powers that be ever do establish two year old turf champions, they probably should make the trophy in the form of an airplane as the Euros will be taking it home more often than not.
A nice day where a couple of relatively unlikely champions were crowned, the races were mostly smoothly run with little controversy and logical winners. The undercard was underwhelming and there is no doubt that quality west coast racing is struggling as not a single California based horse, outside of Muth running second in the Juvenile, was remotely close.
(The Saturday recap will be up in a day or two)