Photo: Don August
Please enjoy the fifth installment of my “2013 Breeders’ Cup
Highlights” series, which features the greatest personal moments of my Breeders’ Cup experience.
Highlight Five: Secret Circle
The heat was blistering, but the air conditioning and
shelter of the house offered relief from the scorching July sun. I focused my
eyes on the television screen, which displayed TVG’s coverage of the third race
at Del Mar on Saturday, July 23, 2011 – a maiden special weight for
two-year-olds going five and one-half furlongs. As soon as the juveniles broke
from the gate, my eyes focused on an eye-catching bay colt carrying the famous
red and yellow silks of Mike Pegram and partners. As soon as Trevor Denman
called out the colt’s name – Secret Circle – I knew I would not soon forget it.
Trained by Bob Baffert, the son of
Eddington won that race – his racing debut – by 7 ¼ lengths. An easy stakes win
at Santa Anita next out served as a stepping stone for the inaugural running of
the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs.
On the first day of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, I focused my eyes upon the
brilliant juvenile. The November sun was deceiving; it was a cold day at
Churchill Downs. But my lack of warmth was forgotten as I stood along the rail
near the finish line, watching the same bay colt from that summer power down
the stretch of the Louisville track as he coasted to victory in the inaugural
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.
As is often the case with a talented, newly-turned three-year-old, Secret
Circle was placed on the Triple Crown trail. Competing in four graded stakes
events during the spring of 2012, Secret Circle finished second in two of those
starts and won the other two. Those pair of victories came in the Southwest
Stakes (gr. III) and Rebel Stakes (gr. II).
A sesamoid injury suffered after finishing second to stablemate Bodemeister in
the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) not only forced Secret Circle off the Triple Crown
trail, but kept him away from the races for eighteen months. He returned in an
allowance optional claiming event at Santa Anita on October 14, capturing the
contest with ease in preparation for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I).
Although undefeated at the six-furlong distance of the Sprint, competing in the
Breeders’ Cup in only his second start off a lengthy layoff would be no easy
task. But Secret Circle was out to prove just how special he truly was.
The sun was warm on my back as I watched Secret Circle stroll around the
paddock prior to the Sprint at Santa Anita, but as I stood by the rail for the
race, the shadow of the grandstand was cast over the track apron and homestretch,
with a beam of sunlight fittingly shining across the finish line.
Sent off as the favorite in a field of twelve, Secret Circle raced down the
center of the track off the leaders as the horses galloped down the
backstretch. Allowing a handful of horses to race ahead of him as the field
entered the far turn, Secret Circle was guided to the far outside by Martin Garcia
as the Thoroughbreds approached the quarter pole. Charging down the center of
the track, Secret Circle wore down his rivals, holding off Laugh Track to score
by a neck.
I have always wanted to “discover” a Kentucky Derby winner in the early stages
of its career, but having followed Secret Circle since the beginning has been
just as rewarding. To have witnessed both of his Breeders’ Cup victories is
simply icing on the cake. His Sprint triumph was only further validation of his
class and talent, which will hopefully continue to be proven throughout the
remainder of this special horse’s career.