The weather certainly felt like Southern California for early November, but the flavor of the day trended East Coast and European as the Breeders’ Cup World Championships kicked off with Future Stars Friday at Santa Anita Park.
New York-based runners swept the main track Breeders Cup races – Just F Y I in the Juvenile Fillies and Fierceness in the Juvenile, along with a victory in the Juvenile Fillies Turf with Hard To Justify – and Europeans came away with a pair of victories in the Juvenile Turf with Unquestionable and in the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
A sun-splashed crowd of 43,377 took in the day, which started with a 1-2-3 sweep by the Europeans in the Turf Sprint as Big Evs scored by a half-length over Valiant Force with Starlust third and ended with a 1-2 sweep in the Juvenile Turf as Unquestionable defeated stablemate Mountain Bear by 1 1/2 lengths.
The other three races were as New York as it comes, with Saratoga debut winners Just F Y I, Hard To Justify and Fierceness delivering upset victories.
Repole Stable’s homebred Fierceness delivered with biggest shock of the day, running back to that flashy maiden score with a 6 1/4-length win under John Velazquez in the $1.82 million Juvenile. Velazquez, who rode his first Breeders’ Cup winner in 1998 aboard Da Hoss in his memorable score in the Mile at Churchill Downs, delivered a textbook ride on the son of City Of Light.
“I worked him in the morning and was very impressed,” said Velazquez, who hadn’t ridden Fierceness before the Juvenile. “I was hoping he would put the same work in the afternoon.”
Fierceness was part of a team of Todd Pletcher-trained runners that spent the immediate weeks after the Saratoga Race Course meeting in upstate New York before venturing south to Keeneland Race Course to finish their preparations. He came into the Juvenile off a disastrous seventh-place finish, beaten 20 1/4 lengths by eventual Juvenile second choice Timberlake, in the Grade 1 Champagne.
That result didn’t deter the always game Mike Repole, who bred the colt out of the Stay Thirsty mare Nonna Bella that he named after his grandmother. Repole led a raucous celebration – surprise, surprise – after Fierceness won at 16-1. American Pharoah Stakes winner Muth finished second with 2-1 favorite Locked, Fierceness’ stablemate and Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity winner Locked, third.
“Sometimes you got to take some chances,” Repole said. “He’s had one bad training day, which was the Champagne, and this is how he’s been performing since he got to Todd in May. Special, special horse.”
“Fourteen years ago I had a horse put me on the map called Uncle Mo. Todd, Johnny and I won that race in our 30s. I still look like I’m in my 30s. They look like they’re in their 50s and 60s. To win that race again with Johnny, that was really, really special. … He’s still one of the great jockeys. Todd is Todd. To win that 14 years later with Johnny was very special.”
George Krikorian’s homebred Justify filly Just F Y I also prepped in Saratoga for her Breeders’ Cup victory. Trained by Bill Mott, Just F Y I broke her maiden Aug. 26 – Travers Day – going 6furlongs then stretch out to win the 1-mile Grade 1 Frizette Stakes Oct. 7.
The 7-1 third choice in the field of 12 behind 4-5 favorite Tamara – a daughter of three-time Breeders’ Cup winner and Hall of Famer Beholder – and eventual third-place finisher Candied, Just F Y I won by a neck over fellow New York-based filly and 17-1 longshot Jody’s Pride, who won her debut Aug. 9 at Saratoga for trainer Jorge Abreu.
Mott collected his 13th Breeders’ Cup victory with Just F Y I and his first in one of the event’s 2-year-old races.
Justify, winner of the Triple Crown in 2018 and the sire of just two crops of racing age, picked up a second Breeders’ Cup winner in the subsequent race when Hard To Justify won at 9-1. The fifth choice in the field of 14 under Flavien Prat, Hard To Justify gave trainer Chad Brown his sixth victory in the Juvenile Fillies Turf since winning the inaugural in 2008 at Santa Anita.
NOTES: The announced attendance for Friday increased from the 41,243 on hand the last time the Breeders’ Cup was run at Santa Anita, in 2019. … All-sources handle for the 10-race card was $61,747,341, the third consecutive year the Friday handle topped $60 million.