Photo: Don August
With the dust settled after another Breeders' Cup, we've decided to take a closer look at what we just saw. Below you'll find a recap of all 14 races, where we'll discuss what came of the TimeformUS consensus selection (win or lose) and other noteworthy performances. Keep in mind that Friday was particularly speed-favoring - we even did a blog post about it - while on Saturday the track played more evenly.
The Breeders' Cup kicked off with the sixth edition of the Marathon, a unique race run at the distance of 14 furlongs under our Classic weight conditions, meaning older males must carry 126 pounds.
Since North American dirt horses are so ill-suited to this distance, and most European stayers are ill-suited to a dirt surface, the race is almost certain never to attract a field good enough to merit its Grade 2, $500,000-purse status, let alone its Breeders' Cup title.
It is for these reasons that this race is virtually always mocked by sardonic racing fans and wiseguy horsemen. Indeed, as one trainer said, "The most exciting thing that ever happened in the Marathon was when Borel and Castellano had a fight after it."
The New York-bred European stayer London Bridge won't do much to add luster to this race. The three-year-old had career earnings of less than $33,000 racing in Europe. However, he does have at least a partial dirt pedigree. Sired by Arch (sire of Blame) and out of a second dam who was sired by Easy Goer, there was a chance London Bridge might handle dirt, and if he did, he seemed as good a chance as any to stay the distance, as he was actually cutting back off of a 15-furlong race in France last out, while most of his rivals were stretching way out in distance.
For a moment, it appeared as if the Marathon were a two-horse race, as Blueskiesnrainbows and TimeformUS-selection Worldly battled it out on the far turn. London Bridge had been under a sustained heavy drive by Mike Smith and appeared to be going absolutely nowhere, but the two horses who seemed to have a stranglehold on the race out in front both hit a wall. Blueskiesnrainbows, who faded through the stretch to finish fifth in a small stakes race at Fresno last time out, was able to fend off wide-trip Worldly, but London Bridge wore them both down in the final yards to get the win.
Juvenile Turf: The talented Chad Brown-trained two-year-old Bobby's Kitten was hammered to 6/5 favoritism on the basis of his excellent win in the Pilgrim Stakes in his most recent start. His Pilgrim win earned a speed figure that stood out among the North American horses, but his main danger appeared to be in the form of European raiders Giovanni Boldini and Outstrip.
A headstrong Bobby's Kitten shot to the early lead and set a very strong pace. Giovanni Boldini made an impressive bid on the far turn to confront Bobby's Kitten. Those two hooked up in an exciting duel, but Outstrip was able to get the perfect trip from well behind a hot pace. He wore down both Giovanni Boldini and Bobby's Kitten in deep stretch. This was a race where both Timeform and the betting public got it right, as a box of the top-three selections resulted in a $71.90 trifecta payoff, and the top-three finishers separated themselves from the rest of the pack by almost four lengths.
After the race, Javier Castellano took a lot of criticism for his ride on Bobby's Kitten, and the pace figures suggest that this was deservedly so. However, Bobby's Kitten was very pumped up and appeared to resent the initial restraint of his rider. I'm in the camp that believes Javier did the right thing by avoiding a wrestling match with a keyed-up horse.
Dirt Mile: Many respectable handicappers picked Goldencents to win the Kentucky Derby off of his Santa Anita dirt form, and he reaffirmed his love for Santa Anita in a big way. Breaking from the extreme outside, post position number eleven, Goldencents took no prisoners through a 22.12 opening quarter mile, run partially around a turn, and engaged in a breakaway speed duel with the hard-ridden Broadway Empire through a 44.75 half mile.
Timeform selection Goldencents easily disposed of Broadway Empire and opened a five-length lead at the 1/8th pole as quality tactical speed horses such as Verrazano, Pants on Fire, and Fed Biz were all spent from chasing him. A pair of stretch runners, Golden Ticket and Brujo de Olleros, both closed an exceptional amount of ground to finish second and third behind runaway winner Goldencents.
The performance was so impressive that one has to consider Goldencents to be a huge factor in the Strub series at Santa Anita. He should be very tough if he returns in the Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs on opening day.
Juvenile Fillies Turf: A full field of 14 two-year-old fillies lined up, and, even though 5/2 favorite Vorda was never involved, one has to consider this race to be more glory for Europe, as Chriselliam rallied impressively to win by two and a half lengths. Testa Rossi, a fellow Euro import who won her stateside debut in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo at Belmont Park last time out, checked in second.
Timeform selection My Conquestadory was unable to overcome her extreme outside post position, and had to settle for a non-threatening fourth-place finish. Chriselliam ($15.80) was Timeform's second selection in the race, and she made it three European-based winners out of the first four races.
Distaff: This much-anticipated race turned into an absolute runaway win for Beholder, her fourth Grade 1 victory on the season (all four coming at Santa Anita). This performance was so dominate that it will probably be enough to help her snatch an Eclipse Award away from fan-favorite Princess of Sylmar.
All the credit in the world goes to trainer Dick Mandella, who has done a tremendous job of getting Beholder to relax and use her speed more efficiently. As a two-year-old, Beholder ran an unbelievably fast speed figure sprinting at Santa Anita. Her lifetime-top TimeformUS speed figure is a 123--and it came in that six- furlong allowance race, not in any of her Grade 1 scores over distance.
Beholder is a daughter of the brilliant sprinter Henny Hughes. Beholder's dam, Leslie's Lady, won five races, and at an average distance of 5.70 furlongs. She was on the lead before fading in the stretch in the five and a half furlong Debutante at Churchill at age two. Beholder's 2nd dam, Crystal Lady, had only two wins, and both came going just five furlongs at Fort Erie.
Not only did Dick Mandella do a fantastic job with Beholder, he built on his incredible training record in Breeders' Cup races held at Santa Anita. After Beholder's win, Mandella's record in all Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita improved to 10 wins from 27 starts. Man-O-Mandella, what a stat!
Timeform selection Royal Delta was the disappointment of the race. Once again, she had none of her old sparkle. No visible excuses could be found. Always one to bounce back big from a poor performance, Royal Delta had no response at all, even when ridden, when the much more fleet-footed Beholder attacked down the backstretch. The "three-peat" was not to be.
Stretch-running Princess of Sylmar also possessed none of her usual sparkle. This race was an afterthought by a game owner. The plan was never to run her here. However, she probably never had a chance over Friday's speed-friendly racetrack.
Juvenile Fillies: In one of the most controversial and unfortunate Breeders' Cup races in history, the Juvenile Fillies included a fatal breakdown, a disqualification of the eventual winner, a huge upset win mutuel by the put-up official winner, and a monumental hang job by fourth-place finisher Sweet Reason.
Unfortunately, Secret Compass suffered a fatal breakdown near the five-sixteenths pole. Jockey John Velazquez suffered serious injuries from the fall, resulting in him losing his spleen, and he won't be riding again in 2013.
As for the race, She's A Tiger was aggressively sent to the lead from the extreme outside post position. She opened up a four-length lead on the far turn, but 32/1 longshot Ria Antonia, wearing blinkers for the first time, started to gain ground on the leader steadily.
Meanwhile, Timeform selection Sweet Reason made a sensational move on the turn and was catapulting her way to the leaders as the field turned for home.
A fascinating stretch run saw She's A Tiger veer outward and kiss Ria Antonia with the mildest of bumps, before hanging on to win by a nose.
Meanwhile, Sweet Reason, who was moving like a winner on the turn, dove to the inside under Alex Solis, and then flattened out like a pancake in deep stretch.
As the inquiry sign went up, most bettors I polled agreed that She's A Tiger gained enough of an advantage from the contact she initiated, slight though it was, to warrant a disqualification. Two of the stewards agreed, and by a 2-1 decision, She's A Tiger was indeed disqualified.
For such an important race, I thought it was a ticky-tack disqualification. However, the articulate Gary Stevens was able to sell his version of events to only one of the three stewards. In other sports, the refs "put the whistle away" in the late stages of championship games. In horse racing, you can get away with quite a lot of contact until the 1/4 pole, but the closer the contact is to the wire, the more important it is viewed to be.
Filly and Mare Turf: More glory for Europe! Timeform selection Dank stalked an easy pace and prevailed as the 3/2 post time favorite. Romantica, a daughter of Banks Hill (who was sensational while winning this race in her US debut back in 2001), was aggressively ridden from the gate and finished second to her fellow European raider.
The third-place finisher, three-year-old filly Alterite, was another import, but at least she had two races under her stateside for Chad Brown.
Emollient benefited from a brilliant ride by Mike Smith and set a slow pace on an uncontested early lead. She finished in fourth place, a nose short of third.
When this race came up void of any pace on paper, it seemed inevitable that the European horses would hold an edge, and that is exactly what happened.
Filly and Mare Sprint: The Breeders' Cup is an exciting time for bettors, and it's not easy to pay attention to televised broadcasts when so many of your betting friends are around, even when excellent commentators like Andy Serling and Jeff Siegel are among those yapping away in the telecast. Still, the right questions were asked when Groupie Doll's trainer, Buff Bradley, was interviewed, and his stern and almost defiant reply that "Groupie Doll is better this year than she was last year" was, for myself and those around me, the most attention-grabbing moment of the entire telecast.
Immediately, cries such as "Is he out of his mind?" and "If that's true, she'll friggen gallop" went up. Groupie Doll was sensational in 2012, and the opposition she was about to face in the 2013 Filly and Mare Sprint was no better than the group she embarrassed in this race last year.
Buff Bradley's comments didn't exactly prove true, but they proved a winner for all bettors whom he convinced. Groupie Doll gamely withstood serious bids from Judy the Beauty and Dance Card and defended her championship in courageous fashion. Amazingly, it was the fifth straight year in which the winner prepped in both the Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes and the Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland in her final two starts, before winning the Filly and Mare Sprint.
Groupie Doll is the presumptive champion female sprinter of this year, and on Tuesday, she sold for $3.1 million. She will be retired as a broodmare prospect. $3.1 million is a remarkable sum for a daughter of Bowman's Band out of a mare named Deputy Doll, who raced primarily at Mountaineer Park, and without much success.
The Timeform selection, Dance to Bristol, always raced in mid-pack and made no impression.
Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint: Another race, another repeat winner. Five-year-old mare Mizdirection defended her crown in this race by wearing down the pacesetter, Timeform selection Reneesgotzip, in the late stages.
While accepting the trophy, famous radio broadcaster Jim Rome said "This does not suck!" -- apparently, he was not referring to the final time of 1:12.25 for the six and a half furlongs down the hill.
Earlier in the day, the 3-year-old filly Pontchatrain won the Grade 3 Senator Ken Maddy in the identical final time. Also, two-year-old filly Richies Party Girl was only 0.11 seconds slower over the same course and distance as she impressively won the opener. Not only was the final time in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint disappointing, but the field was awfully bunched at the wire, even for a turf sprint. Indeed, the 10th-place finisher was beaten only four lengths. The horse who finished last of 13 was beaten only six lengths.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile: Somewhere along the line, the brilliant trainer Todd Pletcher determined that Havana sulks from the whip. The undefeated Havana is a horse who responded to severe whipping prior to the start of his under-tack drill at Barretts March: working a furlong in 9.60 seconds. It was a sensational display of raw speed and led to him becoming one of the year's most successful pinhooks.
Even though Todd Pletcher suffered through an 0-for-8 Breeders' Cup, with multiple last-place finishes, his shrewdness should never be questioned.
Indeed, Havana appeared to have this field completely put away on the far turn, but pick-up jockey Gary Stevens followed instructions and never even pulled the whip out on Havana, who dramatically wilted under a hand ride in the late stages. He was fortunate to hold second over Strong Mandate, a horse Havana put away with disdainful ease on the far turn.
The eventual winner of the race, New Year's Day, was a last-out maiden winner at Del Mar for trainer Bob Baffert. He had defeated subsequent Grade 1 stakes winner Bond Holder in that maiden race, and certainly benefited from an extremely hot pace up front.
Strong Mandate might be the horse out of this race who has the best future in distance races. He has a true distance pedigree, and he was very impressive considering the pre-mature move he made into a hot early pace.
Breeders' Cup Turf: More glory for Europe! The only two European raiders in the race, Magician and The Fugue, got the job done and completed yet another all-Euro exacta on the lawn. The Richard Mandella- trained Indy Point completed the trifecta.
The Fugue was probably best in this race. She made a pre-mature wide move on the far turn, and confronted pace-setter Little Mike much earlier than expected. She put him away, but was unable to hold off a brilliantly timed ride by Ryan Moore on Magician.
Point of Entry was a very gallant fourth in his first start off of the long layoff. I happen to believe that he's the best American-based mile and a half turf horse since Kitten's Joy, and it's a shame he wasn't able to stay healthy this year. His performance was truly another feather in his cap considering all the adversity.
Breeders' Cup Sprint: I suppose you can consider Secret Circle a two-time Breeders' Cup winner. In 2011, he won the now-defunct Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint in ultra-game fashion. After dueling with Trinniberg through an eye-popping 20.96 first quarter, Secret Circle put that one away, and withstood the late challenge of Shumoos to survive heroically.
After a somewhat successful fling with the Triple Crown Trail, Secret Circle was sidelined with injuries for over a year after finishing second to Bodemeister in the 2012 Arkansas Derby.
While not quite engineering "the greatest comeback since Lazarus," Bob Baffert did an excellent training job to have Secret Circle in form good enough to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint off of a single prep race, at the Allowance level, in over a year and a half. Laugh Track and Gentleman's Bet completed the trifecta. Timeform selection Justin Phillip was last with two furlongs to go, but closed extremely well before getting shut off in mid-stretch while finishing 5th.
Breeders' Cup Mile: With John Velazquez hospitalized, Wise Dan ended up in the able hands of Jose Lezcano. Overcoming a stumble out of the gate, Lezcano did a fantastic job of getting Wise Dan to settle in mid-pack behind a very hot early pace.
In an excellent display of sheer class, Wise Dan determinedly drove his way to victory. It was far more workmanlike than brilliant, but the six-year-old gelding secured the seasonal goal of his connections and got the job done.
No glory for Europe this time. Wise Dan was the strong selection of Timeform, as all of our European experts totally dismissed the chances of Olympic Glory, citing their belief that he would be very poorly suited to this type of race at Santa Anita. Right they were. He managed to beat home only a single horse.
Still, it was a banner Breeders' Cup for Europeans. They won four of the six turf races, and made up at least three exactas in the process, even all four if you still consider Testa Rossi a Euro. However, Europe had zero representation in the Turf Sprint, and, perhaps out of fear of Wise Dan, they had poor representation in this race.
It's obviously not an easy task for European horses to ship halfway across the world. Look how poorly New York horses have faired. But Euros are on an entirely different level when it comes to turf racing.
Breeders' Cup Classic: No one wanted to see Game On Dude win with vengeance and deliver an excellent performance more than I did. Unfortunately, he flopped miserably on the biggest day again this year, and he did it without any visible excuses.
Sure, Mike Smith's ride was surprisingly passive, and he stalked a slow pace from a wide position, but Game On Dude had no spark at all. His detractors will immediately point out that he's faced much weaker fields and much less quality in terms of rivals with tactical speed. They'll say he's bullied fields with mediocre pace-pressing types, and wilted on Saturday because of the presence of quality speed horses, and they can say it as loud as they want now.
Mucho Macho Man prevailed in a blanket finish over Will Take Charge and Europe's Declaration of War. It was fantastic to see Kathy Ritvo get a Breeders' Cup Classic win as a trainer, giving her one more than Pletcher and Baffert combined.
Mucho Macho Man was a fantastic second in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, coming up only a half-length short to a loose lead Fort Larned. He reaffirmed his love for this track with a dominant win in the local prep, the Awesome Again Stakes. His excellent Santa Anita dirt form continued, in what was by far the biggest win of his career. If you draw a line through all of his wet-track clunkers, Mucho Macho Man is an admirably consistent horse and would have a compelling case for champion older male.