The stars came out, and delivered, during Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships card at Santa Anita Park.
White Abarrio won the Classic, probably locking up Horse of the Year honors. Irad Ortiz Jr. rode three winners, picking up his fifth Bill Shoemaker Award for the weekend’s leading rider and likely solidifying his fifth Eclipse Award. Leading sire Curlin bagged a trio of winners. The two-day event thankfully resulted in each of the 14 race’s 151 collective starters returning to their stalls without incident on the racetrack.
Those stories, plus others including some serious chops by the Europeans on the grass, all seemed to take a backseat to the day and weekend exploits of Bill Mott.
The Hall of Fame trainer was told at Wednesday night’s 63rd annual National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Awards Dinner – by this writer – that horsemen who show for the event typically do well at the Breeders’ Cup. Good karma if you will.
Like he needed it.
Mott scored bookend victories on the Championship Saturday card at Santa Anita Park, sending out popular defending winners Cody’s Wish in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Elite Power in the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Mott added those two to a victory Friday with Just F Y I in the NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
He now stands at 15 Breeders’ Cup victories for his career, tied for fifth all-time, and Breeders’ Cup purse earnings of more than $26 million, third all-time.
He earned a trip to the NetJets champagne toast, which follows the customary post-race interview, yet still found a way to stay on script to catch the replay of Elite Power before both stops. Mott deflected all the credit for the big weekend.
“I’m really proud of my staff and the riders that ride for us and the grooms and the hotwalkers. They really step up,” he said. “I think I’m fortunate enough to have one of the best crews in the entire country, and I think it pays off.”
Elite Power, a son of Curlin who improved to 4-for-5 this year in the $1.8 million Sprint, gave Juddmonte its second winner of the day after Idiomatic took a star-studded renewal of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Elite Power, under Ortiz, defeated Gunite by 1 1/2 lengths to avenge a loss to that rival in the Grade 1 Forego Aug. 26 at Saratoga Race Course.
The 8-5 favorite in the field of eight for the Sprint – run two races after the Classic – looked like a winner almost every step on the way to his score in 1:08.34.
Ortiz noticed most of the main track race winners were fairly close to the pace throughout and tried to keep Elite Power as close as possible while Speed Boat Beach barreled through quick early splits of :21.99 and :44.35.
“Irad intended to have him a little closer,” Mott said.
Ortiz told Mott as much in the paddock.
“I’m going to warm him up good,” he said. “I’m going to let him break and get away. … I’d like to be a little closer without taking too much out of him.”
Mott agreed and let the 6 furlongs of the Sprint unfold to perfection. The result was Elite Power’s ninth win from 13 starts, a payday of $1,040,000, and no doubt a second Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter.
“He was maybe a little closer than he’s been in some of his races,” Mott said. “It worked out.”
Just like most of the weekend.
Mott also sent out Casa Creed to a third behind talented Europeans Master Of The Seas and Mawj in the $1.84 million FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile. His other two starters were War Like Goddess, seventh in the European-dominated Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf won by Auguste Rodin; and Gala Brand, 13th in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Godolphin’s Cody’s Wish defended his title in the Dirt Mile, surviving a debatable stewards’ inquiry after a nose victory over Preakness winner National Treasure.
Many of the crowd of 66,247, and no doubt thousands more watching from home or via simulcast, let out collective cheer when no change in the result was announced. Cody’s Wish’s victory capped his storybook career, which captivated racing fans around the world for the son of Curlin’s connection to Cody Dorman, who battles the genetic condition Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome.
“If it’s not the best, it’s certainly a dead heat,” Mott said when asked if being a part of such a amazing story topped others in his career. “It’s probably one of the most memorable rides that we’ve all been on, and I think it’s meant so much to so many different people.
“Sometimes it’s a small group that gets to enjoy the win, but I think this one’s been for a lot of people. We’re very thankful for the Make-a-Wish Foundation that brought everything together. Godolphin has been terrific. I mean, the team at Godolphin has been so giving and open, and they were all about it, about this whole story, and they made the story.”
The Breeders’ Cup Classic didn’t deliver a storybook ending but certainly brought clarity to the Horse of the Year discussion.
White Abarrio, who defeated Zandon and Cody’s Wish in the Aug. 5 Whitney, won the Classic by a length over Japan’s Derma Sotogake. The 4-year-old son of Race Day, transferred from Saffie Joseph Jr. to the embattled Rick Dutrow this spring, improved to 3-for-5 on the year.
Dutrow, who served a 10-year ban for numerous medication and administrative violations, added this year’s Classic to his score in 2005 with eventual Horse of the Year Saint Liam.
“I don’t know how I’m feeling right now,” said Dutrow, who returned to training in April. “It’s incredible stuff what I’m going through right now. …It feels unbelievable. Love it.”
Notes: Cheveley Park Stud’s Inspiral kicked off the strong showing for the Europeans Saturday with a victory over Warm Heart in the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf under Frankie Dettori. … First Row Partners’ and Team Hanley’s Goodnight Olive also defended her title from a year ago with a powerful victory in the PNC Bank Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint under Ortiz, giving trainer Chad Brown a second victory on the weekend. … Godolphin scored a 1-2 finish in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile with Master Of The Seas, who topped the 3-year-old filly Mawj by a nose under William Buick. …Juddmonte’s Idiomatic concluded an improbable run to the likely champion older dirt female title with her half-length win over Alabama winner Randomized in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The 4-year-old daughter of Curlin made four consecutive starts on Turfway Park’s synthetic surface in late 2022 and early 2023 before a second in the Grade 2 Ruffian Stakes in early May at Belmont Park. She didn’t lose again in five starts for trainer Brad Cox, taking the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap, Grade 1 Personal Ensign and Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster in her three starts before the Distaff. … Trainer Larry Rivelli, a fixture on the Chicago circuit for years and trainer of Kentucky Derby runner-up Two Phil’s, saddled his first Breeders’ Cup winner when Patricia’s Hope’s Nobals won the Turf Sprint under Gerardo Corrales in his fourth Breeders’ Cup mount.