Two days filled with 15 races in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs produced results, and mutuel prices, that produced gasps and double-takes.
The races stirred up so much dust that the Eclipse Award pictures are obscured in by clouds that make the haboubs that have enveloped Phoenix several times this year look like simple dust devils on a hot day.
But Eclipse Awards are a discussion for another time. It has long been the opinion in this corner that too much emphasis has been placed on Breeders’ Cup results in recent years. The championship process should reflect work over the arc of a calendar year, not a weekend in early November when big races like the Grade I Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare at Churchill Downs, the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct and a flurry of good races for 2-year-olds and grass horses that are yet to be run.
In the days following Breeders’ Cup 2011 at Churchill Downs, let’s hail the top stars of the second consecutive stop by the year-end extravaganza in Louisville. And many of those stars had strong Churchill Downs and Kentucky ties.
Top Performance (equine): My Miss Aurelia dominates the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies – George Bolton and Stonecrest Farm’s homebred filly has been the apple of the eyes of everyone connected to her since the daughter of Smart Strike hit the ground. Now the world knows why. She won by an easy three lengths for trainer Steve Asmussen and looms as a huge favorite to win the 2012 Kentucky Oaks.
Runners-up (tie): Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Caleb’s Posse and Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta – Caleb’s Posse thoroughly dominated a very good field at Churchill Downs’ demanding one-turn mile. Donnie K. Von Hemel’s star is a master at one of racing’s most difficult distances.
Top Performance (human): Trainer Bill Mott – Just after celebrating his 650th career win at Churchill Downs, the track’s all-time leading trainer saddled Royal Delta to win the Ladies’ Classic and capped Saturday with Drosselmeyer’s upset win in the $5 million Classic. He also saddled Birdrun to finish second in the Marathon.
Runners-up: Churchill Downs-based Steve Asmussen – He saddled two winners in My Miss Aurelia and Turf Sprint winner Regally Ready, and jockey Corey Nakatani continued his career resurgence aboard both of Asmussen’s winners
Breakthrough (human): Irish training king Aidan O’Brien – He provided Europe with its only winners in St. Nicholas Abbey (Turf) and Wrote (Juvenile Turf). Bad luck could have cost him a third when Misty for Me went to her nose at the break of the Filly & Mare Turf, then finished a flying third to long shot winner Perfect Shirl.
Upset: Court Vision in the Mile – This old pro, now in the barn of Louisville-born and based Dale Romans has enjoyed many good moments on both turf and dirt in a career in which had won nearly $2.7 million, but he had not won in a year and broke from the gate at odds of 64-1. Court Vision not only ran past all-time great Goldikova to end her bid for three consecutive Mile wins, but had enough to allow jockey Robby Albarado to beat the fast-closing Turallure and Julien Leparoux by a head-bobbing nose.
Court Vision had been beaten only three lengths by Turallure in the Woodbine Mile in his previous start – a race that looks much more impressive now than a week ago. The Kentucky exacta of the Romans-trained Court Vision and Turallure, a rising star trained by Lexington-based Charles Lopresti, paid $1,979.60.
I’m not greedy. I would have settled for the $131.60 return on a $2 win mutuel.
Best story: Jockey Joseph O’Brien’s Turf win aboard St. Nicholas Abbey, trained by his father. We probably witnessed the greatest moment of a brief riding career for the 18-year-old O’Brien when he guided father Aiden’s star to victory.
I ran into the younger O’Brien moments after the race and was amazed to look him right in the eye. He’s 5’11” and growing so quickly he could be 6’9”, and nature seems destined to end his career on the flat – but perhaps not over the jumps – very soon. But young Joseph turned in a perfect ride beneath the world famous Twin Spires on America’s brightest racing stage, and shared that dizzying moment with his mother and father looking one.
There’s a word for something like that: magic. I cannot wait until this kid starts training. He’s probably had his hands on more good horses than anyone in the world to this point is his young life, and there are few mentors in the sport that could begin to rival his father.
Joseph O’Brien is a marvelous work in progress. What a joy it was to witness this early chapter in his life.
Impact on Kentucky Derby 138: The 1-2 Juvenile finishers – The front-running Kentucky-based winner Hansen and favored runner-up Union Rags are automatically the early favorites for the 2012 Derby. One had to admire Hansen’s brave effort in the stretch, along with Union Rags’ narrow miss despite a wide trip.
Remember that Juvenile winners are 1-for-27 in the Kentucky Derby, so give the early edge between those two to the runner-up.
Juvenile also-rans who performed well enough to spark much hope for Derby 138 include California-based third-place finisher Creative Cause, who lost by just a length; Dullahan, the half-brother to 2009 Derby shocker Mine That Bird who continues to look like a horse that will be tough when he figures things out for Romans; and trainer Patrick Byrne’s Take Charge Indy, hampered by an inside post and traffic problems. I will not be a bit surprised if the talented Byrne develops him into a major Derby contender in the six months remaining before Saturday, May 5.
Salutes to other local Breeders’ Cup heroes: trainer Mike Maker, who got his first Cup win with Hansen; Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who bred and own Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Stephanie’s Kitten; and Louisville’s Klein Family and trainer Steve Margolis, who finished second in the Turf Sprint with 33-1 shot Country Day.
pictures by JACOB ZIMMER and BILL WINE
Category: Cover Stories