Breeders’ Cup Notebook 2: Prize Fight

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The moments are everywhere at the Breeders’ Cup. They come in high fives, furrowed brows, tears of joy, tears of sadness, tossed flower petals and loud screams. The 35th Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs saw more than its share of the awesome and the memorable Friday and Saturday.

Here’s a handful of some more (and if you missed Notebook 1, click here):

• One by one the members of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff field filed past the entrance to the tunnel leading to the paddock, flanked by groups small and large, most looking bright eyed and hopeful in the late afternoon sun.

The last to make her way was Monomoy Girl, winner of this year’s Kentucky Oaks and the favorite for the third to last heat on the Breeders’ Cup card.

Trainer Brad Cox and his crew walked alongside, looking like the handlers of a prizefighter about to step into the ring at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for a heavyweight title fight. Cox treated the Distaff like that type of bout and it essentially looked like one, with Monomoy Girl taking on last year’s Oaks winner and defending 3-year-old filly champion Abel Tasman and a deep field that included Grade 1 winners Midnight Bisou, Wow Cat, Blue Prize and Vale Dori in addition to Monomoy Girl.

The winner would emerge as a divisional champion.

Monomoy Girl left no doubt about the country’s best 3-year-old filly – or female racehorse at 9 furlongs or so on the dirt – at the end of the Distaff. The daughter of Tapizar did what she’s done all season, crossed the finish in front and looking like there was more in reserve if jockey Florent Geroux needed it. The Distaff joined the Rachel Alexandra, Ashland, Kentucky Oaks, Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks in Monomoy Girl’s quiver for 2018. She didn’t cross the finish line behind another horse all year – with only a disqualification in the Cotillion in September spoiling a perfect record.

Cox, making his way to the paddock after the winner’s circle presentations to saddle a Arklow in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, summed up the race in simple terms.

“Was that was her best race? Yes,” he said at the edge of the tunnel. “She sure trained going into it like she was going to run her best race.”

Monomoy Girl won by a length from Beldame winner Wow Cat with Midnight Bisou third and Blue Prize fourth. Abel Tasman never fired, finishing last of 11 in her final  start.

“Honestly I’m not shocked she ran as well as she did,” Cox said. “She was training so so well for this race. She was vey aggressive in the mornings and wanted to do more. She got her opportunity this morning and didn’t let us down. She went straight today. More focused. The most focus she’s had in her last few races. Phenomenal effort. She’s an unbelievable filly.”

• Bulletin showed up in Saratoga in early July, off spring and summer training at WinStar Farm in Kentucky that included one breeze, and Todd Pletcher hoped to run the son of City Zip at the upstate New York meeting.

Bulletin breezed seven times, including twice over the Oklahoma Training Track grass course, but didn’t make the meet. Pletcher went to Plan B, sent the colt to his South Florida base at Palm Beach Downs and looked for a 5-furlong turf maiden. He found one, then it didn’t fill. Then another, and that didn’t fill. Finally another, and that too didn’t go. Out of options, Pletcher took a call from Gulfstream Park racing secretary Chris Camac pitching an idea.

“I can’t get this maiden race to go, do you want to take a shot in the stake?” Camac asked.

“Let me take a look at it, we’ll see,” Pletcher said.

The lone first-time starter in the $82,500 Hollywood Beach Stakes going 5 furlongs on the grass Sept. 29, Bulletin helped make the race go and put it on the map as the one and only prep for the inaugural winner of Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. Bulletin won the Hollywood Beach by an eye-catching 7 lengths then came back less than five weeks later to win the Juvenile Turf Sprint by 2 3/4 lengths from the front end.

“You don’t see horses win any 5-furlong turf race by 7 lengths, let alone a stake,” Pletcher said after the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint. “We thought it was impressive enough to take a shot here, we just needed to get in. We were glad he got in.”

Bulletin did make the main portion of the field at pre-entry time, despite being one of 30 2-year-olds entered. He also wound up being the only member of the field with just one prior start, even if it came in stakes company.

Bulletin broke like a bottle rocket leaving a teenager’s hand on the 4th of July, so much so he surprised Javier Castellano. Pletcher watched the race from his usual spot in the paddock and saw it unfold.

“I told Javier to help him out a bit and he almost left Javier behind at the break,” Pletcher said. “He lost his stirrup there for a second. I could see he was scrambling to get his foot in the iron. It worked out well.”

Castellano recovered and Bulletin zipped the opening quarter-mile over the boggy turf in :23.19, fending off eventual runner-up Chelsea Cloisters every step around the far turn before drawing away in the stretch. They won in 1:05.54 over the yielding ground.

“He broke like a shot and put me in a real good position,” Castellano said. “We were in good shape the whole way. I’m very impressed.”

Bulletin, a $250,000 buy at last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale, raced in the white and green colors of WinStar Farm. He’s owned in partnership by WinStar, China Horse Club and SF Racing. The chestnut son of City Zip and the Woodman mare Sue’s Good News was bred in Kentucky by CresRan.

• The weather didn’t feel like Del Mar – temperatures Saturday hovered in the 60-degree range under sunny skies – but the outcome of two races did as Stormy Liberal and Roy H defended their titles from a year ago.

Stormy Liberal struck first, winning a slugfest with World Of Trouble in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at 7-1. Three races later Roy H defended his title in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with a 3 1/4-length win over Whitmore at 5-2. Peter Miller trains both geldings for Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen.

Miller became the first trainer to win the same two races in consecutive years with the same horses. The victories also marked the first victories for jockeys Drayden Van Dyke (Stormy Liberal) and Paco Lopez (Roy H).

Four trainers won their first Breeders’ Cup races – John Servis (Juvenile Fillies with Jaywalk), Michael McCarthy (Dirt Mile with City Of Light), Brad Cox (Distaff with Monomoy Girl) and John Sadler (Classic with Accelerate).

• Irad Ortiz Jr., who rode Newspaperofrecord to win the Juvenile Fillies Turf and Shamrock Rose to victory in the Filly and Mare Sprint, narrowly edged Joel Rosario and Javier Castellano to win the 16th Bill Shoemaker Award for outstanding jockey at the Breeders’ Cup.

Based on a scoring of 10-4-2-1 points for first through fourth, Ortiz finished with 35 points. Rosario, who won three races over the two days, finished with 32 and Castellano collected 30.


By the Numbers
Career victories in the Breeders’ Cup by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. He didn’t win any in 2018 and Bob Baffert cut into his lead with a win by Game Winner to give him 15.

26: Breeders’ Cup wins for Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, most all time and 10 ahead of John Velazquez.

70,423: Attendance for Breeders’ Cup Saturday, up significantly from the 37,500 last year when the crowd was capped.

112,672: Total attendance for the two days.

$28,761,000: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s Breeders’ Cup earnings, most all time. He added to that mark with a victory by Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

$35,930,605: Smith’s career Breeders’ Cup earnings, tops among all riders.

$157,445,841: Total handle for the two-day event, fifth largest since the switch to multiple days in 2007.

13,706: Steps taken by TIHR’s Joe Clancy at the Breeders’ Cup Saturday. 


Handicapper’s Report Card
Sean Clancy took home top honors as This Is Horse Racing’s top Breeders’ Cup handicapper with six winners from the 14 races, including four Saturday. Sean tabbed Dirt Mile winner City Of Light ($7.20), Filly and Mare Turf winner Sistercharlie ($8.60), Mile winner Expert Eye ($13.80) and Turf winner Enable ($3.60). Tom Law finished second with five winners, including three Saturday. He also picked City Of Light, Sistercharlie and Expert Eye. Ben Gowans and John Shapazian were next with four. Ben followed up his three-win day Friday with Enable Saturday, while John tabbed Distaff winner Monomoy Girl ($5.60) and Enable. Joe Clancy picked Classic winner Accelerate ($7.40) and finished with three while Donald Phillips trailed with one winner.