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Zipse At The Track

Churchill Downs cements spot in Breeders' Cup rotation

The Breeders' Cup returned to Churchill Downs for the first time in seven years, and it was a rousing success by many measures, with handle and attendance ranking among the best in the championships' history, and memorable performances to boot.

America's most famous racetrack played host to the stars of racing and offered up a wonderful two days of pure spectacle. Despite massive amounts of rain on the days leading up, the main track was worked into marvelous condition, providing both speed and closers alike an equal chance at victory. Race days were cool but comfortable, but really these two autumn afternoons were all about the horses. Champions, or soon-to-be champions, with very few exceptions, ran their race, and the show was on.

Let's begin with the star of stars,
Enable. The European super horse was the one filly everyone wanted to see. Bringing over an impeccable record from Europe, the daughter of Nathaniel exuded class in the mornings as fawning fans snapped as many photos as time would allow. With Juddmonte Farm, John Gosden, and Frankie Dettori providing a right proper entourage, the stunning 4-year-old filly had it all, including back-to-back wins in Arc. But no horse had ever won at the Breeders' Cup only weeks removed from victory in the big one in France.

Enable was the perfect horse to put an end to the jinx. Despite the aptly named Magical running the race of her life, Enable was able to power her way to victory in what has to be one of the most popular international victories in Breeders' Cup history. We can now only hope that she returns to the U.S. again next year, in what could be an unprecedented Arc-Breeders' Cup Turf parlay.

One race following Enable's run to history in the Turf,
Accelerate put an exclamation point on a fantastic season. For whatever reason, the best older horse in America never quite captured the imagination of the majority of race fans, but on the biggest stage of all, he delivered. Breaking from the far outside post, and masterfully piloted by Joel Rosario, Accelerate left no doubt in this Breeders' Cup Classic. Capping a near perfect season off in style, he had plenty left in the stretch after a precision move to the lead to hold off the gallant late charge of Gunnevera.

Let the Horse of the Year debate begin: Justify or Accelerate? Either way there can be no doubting the excellence put forth by the 5-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky from start to finish in 2018. Much like Gun Runner, the champion will make his swan song in January's rich
Pegasus World Cup.

Of course, the win also gave John Sadler his first victory in the Breeders' Cup in 45 tries. Clearly 44 starters without a single victory had passed the point of frustration, but the 62-year-old conditioner had to have found great satisfaction in finally breaking through in the big one, and with his big horse. It was a classic way to halt a losing streak that needed to end.

Sadler was not the only trainer basking in the Breeders' Cup glow. Several conditioners had the time of their lives in Louisville, perhaps none more notable than Peter Miller. The California-based trainer won a pair of races at the championships last year at Del Mar with Roy H and Stormy Liberal, and this year, far removed from the sunny clime of Southern California, Miller repeated the feat with the same two horses. In consecutive years, the former groom for the legendary Charlie Whittingham remarkably had his classy, veteran sprinters primed for their absolute best on the first Saturday of November.

And what of the only horse to defeat Accelerate on the track in 2018? City of Light stepped out of the shadows with a monster performance in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Showing speed from the rail while being hounded by a host of challengers through fast fractions, the son of Quality Road demonstrated what a top horse he is with a dominating run down the lane to win in style. He's never run a poor race, and he's never been better than he was on Saturday at Churchill Downs. City of Light should be a top contender in a few months down in Florida for the Pegasus.

Enable may have been the brightest light, but this Breeders' Cup had no shortage of fantastic filly performances. What else can we say that has not already been said about
Monomoy Girl? The girl knows how to win. In fact, with a little racing luck, and a kinder ruling from the stewards, the chestnut daughter of Tapizar could easily be 11-for-11 lifetime. Returning to the scene of her previous biggest win, the Brad Cox trainee shined once again a wonderful combination of tactical speed and will to win. She's danced every dance, and now she's toppled older mares. What's next for the Breeders' Cup Distaff winner? Perhaps a date with the boys in the Pegasus. Wouldn't that be intriguing?

Other female stars included Sistercharlie, who posed an interesting question to Enable for the Eclipse Award for Turf Female with a sensational late charge in the Filly & Mare Turf. Meanwhile, Jaywalk was much the best in the Juvenile Fillies, but perhaps it is the Chad Brown-trained 2-year-old filly, Newspaperofrecord who has the most potential of all. She was scintillating for the third time in three starts, rolling over her competition Friday in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. There could well be an important trip to Europe in this one's future.

Then there was Joel Rosario. Without the notoriety of some, he is one of America's top riders. He proved it at the Breeders' Cup with a career defining kind of weekend. He already had six wins in the Breeders' Cup coming in, and he now has nine. Guiding Jaywalk to victory in the Juvenile Fillies seemed rather straightforward, but his rides aboard both Accelerate, and the Juvenile winner, Game Winner, were things of beauty. Both horses could have easily found trouble from their outside posts, but Rosario rode them perfectly as they patiently moved up from the outside, with plenty left in the tank for the final furlong.

The Breeders' Cup rolled the dice with a new format for its return to Churchill Downs, and the "Future Stars Friday" turned out to be a nice complement to the main course on Saturday. As host to the
Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, it was fitting to see the 2-year-olds have their own day under the Twin Spires. Will this all translate to glory in early May? 

Game Winner
certainly threw his hat into the ring as a big contender for the roses with his fourth professional and decisive victory in as many starts. Like Accelerate, he may not be the type to leave us gasping, but the son of Candy Ride gives every indication of being the real deal as we start to look forward to America's most prestigious race.

Sunny and warm, California will forever be a popular place for the Breeders' Cup, but once again, Churchill Downs proved why it should always be on the regular rotation. For numerous reasons, such as the location, its ability to draw internationally, a fair racing surface, and the majestic gaze down from the iconic Twin Spires, it will always be a fantastic host for the Breeders' Cup.


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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