The three events that appeared to be the deepest entering the Breeders’ Cup – the Fillies and Mares Classic, the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Turf Mile – highlighted the 15-race series this weekend in Santa Anita, Calif., near Los Angeles.
The Fillies and Mares Classic, run on Friday evening, was a test between multiple Grade 1 winners, two unbeaten horses and three previous Breeders’ Cup victors. Upward of six horses boasted a legitimate shot to win the race, but when the gates opened, Royal Delta came out fastest (‘I got a flyer,’ according to jockey Mike Smith), and she was never headed.
Royal Delta ended up nothing short of sensational in her destruction of this very deep field. She went fast early, and none of her competitors could get close enough to cause her any concern. Royal Delta will, no doubt, claim an Eclipse Award for her performances this year in her division, including a win in the Delaware Handicap (Grade 2) at Delaware Park in Wilmington. Some will also consider her as a Horse of the Year candidate.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic, the $5 million showcase event, proved to be another deep and wide-open affair. Many expected to see a showdown between the best in the West, Game on Dude, and the East, led by trainer Bill Mott’s trio of To Honor and Serve, Flat Out and Ron the Greek. Instead, young jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. placed Fort Larned on the lead coming out of the gate and never faltered.
Mucho Macho Man hooked up with the winner with about three eighths of a mile to go, and they locked into a terrific battle down the lane. While Mucho Macho Man couldn’t pass Fort Larned, the horse would not give up trying, making for a spectacular finish. The two were wide lengths in front of the remainder of this star-studded field. Fort Larned has been terrific all year, but the possibility exists that he may not earn end-of-year honors. The reason: Wise Dan.
The Turf Mile event featured another deep field of stars. The Europeans entered two key runners, one of which looked to emerge from the shadow of the great Frankel. Boasting a spectacular resume this year, Wise Dan was presumed to be America’s best chance. The race also stood as Fair Hill’s best shot at getting a victory in the series, with Animal Kingdom returning for the first time since February.
Wise Dan placed himself in perfect position throughout the race, and when it came time to run, he did exactly that, closing fast and setting a new course record in his triumph. Despite Wise Dan’s thoroughly convincing performance, no one can deny the terrific effort from Animal Kingdom, who finished a length and a half behind in second place.
Animal Kingdom was boxed in and had nowhere to run coming off the final turn. Once a small gap opened inside the eighth pole, he shot through it for a sensational closing kick. It took a record-setting performance by the likely Horse of the Year to prevent Animal Kingdom from conquering his first start in nearly nine months.
“I was thrilled with the way he ran, but the thrill is tinged with a little frustration that he never got a trip,” Graham Motion said Sunday morning.“He was great this morning, pretty perky. The plan now is to point him to the Dubai World Cup in March. He may run a prep race in Florida or in Dubai.”
Fair Hill’s other two runners, Next Question and Kitten’s Point, both seemed to miss the break in their respective races, which made it very difficult for them. Other big winners on the card included Groupie Doll in the Fillies and Mares Turf Sprint and a gutsy performance by Shanghai Bobby in the Juvenile. Mike Smith established a record for most Breeders’ Cup wins by a jockey in the history of the series with 17, triumphing with Royal Delta and Mizdirection (Turf Sprint).