Breeders’ Cup moments arrive every year. All you have to do is wait and watch. Thoroughbred racing’s championship day celebrated its 35th running at Churchill Downs Friday and Saturday and left nothing on the track.
Here’s a handful (and this is Part 1; for Part 2, click here):
• One race before the Turf, a lone man in a suit and a brown trilby hat walked across the Churchill Downs dirt, ducked under the inside rail, stepped up to the turf course, ducked under another rail and started walking. He paced toward the inside, looked down, made a small circle, walked up the stretch a bit, stomped a foot, looked down some more.
You could almost see the thought bubbles:
“What is this turf like?”
“They have taken some divots out of it.”
“How soft is it?”
“Where is it best?”
“Where is it too cut up?”
“Will my horse like it here? Or there??
What can I tell my jockey?”
In the end there was no reason to worry so much. The man, English trainer John Gosden, was only covering his bases.
His horse, world superstar Enable, charged down that same stretch – for the record, she and jockey Frankie Dettori were pretty wide the whole way – an hour or so later and made history. Owned by Juddmonte Farm, Enable became the first winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France to add a Breeders’ Cup win in the same season. The 4-year-old filly caught Irish-based 3-year-old filly Magical in deep stretch, but left no doubt while winning by three-quarters of a length. Enable earned $2.2 million and pushed her career figure to $10.7 million in 11 starts.
Bred in England by Juddmonte, Enable has won 10 of those 11. Her career began in late November 2016 in a Newcastle maiden on a synthetic surface, her only start of the year. Last season, she won six of seven including Group 1 scores in the Investec Oaks, Irish Oaks, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Yorkshire Oaks and finally the Arc. Her 2018 campaign started late, but has been perhaps even more brilliant with a Group 3 win on synthetic at Kempton in September, a second Arc score in October and the Breeders’ Cup triumph a month later.
She’s the eighth horse to win two Arcs, the first to produce an Arc/Breeders’ Cup double.
• Sadler’s Joy finished third in the Turf, the best finish by a North American-based runner and the best finish by a male runner in the 13-horse field. Proud of her horse, owner/breeder Lauren Woolcott spoke up for the 6-year-old afterward.
“Well, somebody said he was the first colt in the race,” she said with a smile after talking to jockey Javier Castellano. “Don’t the fillies have their own turf race? He ran great, he always tries. We’re thrilled.”
Beaten a bit more than 2 lengths in last year’s Turf, Sadler’s Joy started at 37-1 this year. Last early, he followed Enable around the final turn and passed everyone but the two fillies while beaten almost 10 lengths. The son of Kitten’s Joy placed in four Grade 1 stakes, and won a Grade 2, for trainer Tom Albertrani this year. The Kentucky-bred earned $360,000 to $2.15 million in his career.
• Churchill Downs executive John Asher, who died in August at age 62, would have loved this Breeders’ Cup, and was missed all week. And not just by horsemen and members of the media. Twice, his name – and fond memory – came up in unlikely locations.
Friday, an Uber driver named Terry said it while pulling up to the track. “We miss John Asher. You know, my daughter played volleyball with his daughter. What a person.”
Saturday evening, after a long day at the races, a Churchill Downs employee stopped a group – this writer, his lanky teenage son Nolan, thisishorseracing.com’s Tom Law and BloodHorse’s Frank Angst, leaving the press room in the dark. “Wait a minute, oh wait a minute. Oh my,” she said. “Just now, you came out of there and looked just like John.”
John? John Asher? Really? Here?
We looked around, backed up, made Angst stand still for a beat and nodded. In that light, on that night, in that setting, Angst did indeed look a bit like Asher. Angst was a little taken aback, a lot flattered.
The woman in the Churchill uniform called Asher, “our heart.” We agreed, and said how much he would have loved hosting the racing world at his beloved Churchill, how he might have indeed been walking out of that door at that time and how important he was.
Churchill hosted the Breeders’ Cup, John. It was magnificent. And you were missed.
• The right hat can complete any outfit at the Breeders’ Cup. For women, it’s a fascinator, something with flowers, perhaps some purple and yellow bits. Then there’s the hat Melissa Anthony wore Saturday.
People told her it wouldn’t suit.
“You’re not wearing that hat,” they said.
“Yes I am,” she replied.
“Women don’t wear hats like that to the Breeders’ Cup.”
“This is my Breeders’ Cup hat.”
Anthony’s hat was baseball not bespoke, but it made a point in big letters – FIRST DUDE. And smaller ones – Shamrock Rose, Skye Diamonds, Mom’s On Strike.
Anthony, stallion coordinator at Florida’s Double Diamond Farm, and her hat were in the winner’s circle after Shamrock Rose upset the Filly and Mare Sprint for Conrad Farm and trainer Mark Casse. The 3-year-old daughter of First Dude rallied from last of 14 to reach the lead in the final strides and win a four-way photo with Chalon, Anonymity and Marley’s Freedom.
Bred in Pennsylvania by Lori and Tommy Fackler’s Best A Luck Farm, the winner won her fourth consecutive stakes – a mixed bag of the Malvern Rose for Pennsylvania-breds at Presque Isle Downs in August, the La Lorgnette at Woodbine, the Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland and finally the Breeders’ Cup.
Anthony went along for the ride, and was proud of First Dude.
“First Dude puts such a good mind on a horse,” she said. “They’re well adaptable. He’s a big baby. He’s almost 17 hands and he had so many visitors when he first retired because he was one of the first millionaires in Ocala for a while. I had him hooked on peppermints. He’ll be way down at the end of the paddock and I’ll go ‘Dude!’ and he’ll come running licking his lips. He thinks I’m Peppermint Patty. He’s a sweet horse, a very kind eye, a Seattle Slew eye, and I just love him.”