Day 1 of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships wrapped with a stellar performance by Beholder that threw the championship chase in the 3-year-old filly division up in the air and the Europeans delivered as they so often do on an American stage Friday at Santa Anita Park.
The European contingent, who many believed were stronger in Saturday’s races compared to the five appetizer heats served up Friday, won three of the first four races as London Bridge took the Marathon, Outstrip won the Juvenile Turf and Chriselliam scored in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Goldencents, who overcame a tough No. 11 post, scored gate-to-wire in the Dirt Mile and Beholder dominated the Distaff to win for the “home” team.
Owner B. Wayne Hughes and trainer Richard Mandella acknowledged the sporting gestures by the connections of Royal Delta, the two-time winner of the Distaff, and Princess of Sylmar, at the time the leader of the 3-year-old filly division, after Beholder crushed those two and the other three entrants in the Distaff. The Henny Hughes filly won by 4 1/4 lengths over Close Hatches, adding the Distaff to her win in last year’s Juvenile Fillies. Royal Delta finished fourth, with Princess of Sylmar last of six.
Beholder became the first filly to win both the Juvenile Fillies and Distaff. She’s also in line for the Eclipse Award, with four Grade 1 wins this season, including back-to-back scores over older females.
Mandella was pressed after the race about the “championship implications” of the race and he offered a typical, straightforward, deadpan response.
“What is the name of this game? The Breeders’ Cup Championships? Did I misread that?”
Gary Stevens rode Beholder, continuing his improbable and amazing comeback.
“I won’t say that I expected to be on this stage 11 months ago,” Stevens said in the press conference after the day’s races were complete “But I was willing to accept it if the opportunity came, and I knew I was going to have to capitalize if these kind of horses came around.
“Fortunately, for me, Beholder and a few other special ones have come along. I’ve always said that you only get so many opportunities in this game, and I’ve been blessed to get a lot of these opportunities. But I’ve always known that I’ve had to capitalize and use those opportunities. I had a crew and a horse that gave me that opportunity.”
Mike Smith was extremely excited for his opportunity to ride his first Breeders’ Cup race for the Maktoum family’s Godolphin Racing operation. He said so much in the fifth edition of the Xpressbet Jockey Journal, as he outlined each of his Breeders’ Cup mounts in detail.
Outstrip was Godolphin’s representative and the 2-year-old Exceed and Excel colt led a 1-2 finish for the Europeans with Giovanni Boldini second. If Outstrip wasn’t familiar to U.S. racing fans at least his dam, 2006 Juddmonte Spinster winner Asi Siempre, should be.
Smith, the all-time Breeders’ Cup leading jockey by purses and wins, was a little more uncertain about London Bridge’s changes in the 1 3/4-mile Marathon.
“They decided to go to the Marathon because he’s every bit a marathon-type kind horse,” Smith said of the 3-year-old New York-bred colt by Arch. “He’s trying the dirt for the first time. With him, it’s just a matter of how he’ll take the dirt and the kickback. He’ll get the distance, that shouldn’t be a problem and he’s talented. He’s not without a chance. If he handles it alright I wouldn’t be shocked if he ran well.”
London Bridge stormed down the stretch to catch top local threat Blueskiesnrainbows and Worldly inside the final sixteenth to win by a length.
So Stevens and Smith, dubbed the “Geritol Jockeys” by trainer Bob Baffert, won three of the five Breeders’ Cup races Friday.
“At the end of the day, we’re just two old athletes that are still applying our trade pretty good,” Stevens said. “All this talk of our age, yeah, it’s all right to talk about our age. But we’re going out there, and I’m so proud of Mike, of what he did earlier today. Even if he did shut me off in one of those races, it’s fun to watch.
“We root for each other when the other guy can’t win. We’re fierce competitors when we’re out there together as we always are. Just before we walked out of the jocks room, we met and it was sincere, he looked at me and said, ‘good luck, man.’ I said, ‘let’s be safe and may the best horse win.’
“It’s fun and exciting to go out there. I guess with the age thing, we feel like maybe we have something to prove. I really don’t, and I know Mike doesn’t. He’s applying his trade as good as anybody in the game, and I feel like I am too as long as I’ve got the ammunition underneath me like Beholder was today. It makes my job pretty easy.”
Chriselliam, an Irish-bred filly by Iffraaj co-owned by former top European jockey Willie Carson, turned in an ultra-professional performance winning the Juvenile Fillies Turf. She and jockey Richard Hughes flew home the final furlong in :11.70 to run past My Conquestadory and others to win the 1-mile event in 1:33.72. That time was only slightly slower than Outstrip’s win in 1:33.20.
Check out what John Velazquez thinks of his Breeders’ Cup Saturday mounts.
Read about Beholder before this year’s Kentucky Oaks.