This past Friday and Saturday, the Thoroughbred racing world focused its attention on Keeneland Race Course for the annual meeting of the Breeders’ Cup. Even though fans could not be present, that did not mean internationally that tracks, betting shops and pods online were not churning with excitement.
Full fields comprised 14 races that were loaded with talent. Despite a COVID year, the industry did not let that dampen spirits for what became a virtual festival. Here are some of the top stories that came out of Central Kentucky over the weekend…
Throughout the weekend after the BC Sprint, you heard many ascribe the moniker “good guy” to trainer Ron Moquett, whose 7-yr-old stalwart, Whitmore, blew away the field at the Breeders’ Cup. The Arkansas-based trainer is more than that though; he is a symbol of what this industry should aspire to--professionalism. After all, that is the difference between aspirations and ambitions. Architect Moquett exemplifies truth and what can be in this sport. He uses the most advanced training techniques to get the very best from his runners, but he also runs a barn by feel, which reminds us of the “olde” ways of doing things. One of his greatest projects has been the talented Whitmore, owned partly by Moquett himself, and Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners LLC. No one gave him much of chance against younger dirt sprinters, and it was surmised that this could be his final race. Bettors were equally disdainful, letting his odds slip to just over 18/1, despite getting accomplished Eclipse Award-winning jockey, Irad Ortiz, to ride.
It is funny to go look back at a horse that you know has won and watch the replay. Right before he went in the gate, Whitmore was feisty and seemed agitated. He kicked furiously, and it took the Keeneland Staff (and Ortiz) a few attempts to settle him down once he got into the starting gate. When a horse bucks and is full of vigor, that usually translates to one of two things: either they do not want to be there and are not up for running that day, or it means that they are a loaded gun, ready for action. Luckily for Team Moquett, it was the latter. Ortiz did a magnificent job of settling Whitmore mid-pack, cut him into the rail near the first turn, and then burst through a gap into the 3-path for a magnificent stretch run—winning by a convincing 3 ¼ lengths. All of us watched in awe because it was his 4th try at the BC Sprint, and it was a memorable one. Will Whitmore be coming back next year for his 39th start? Why not! Leave it to the professional, Ron Moquett, he knows.
No. 4 Saturday’s European Turf Hegemony
There is never any doubt when you compare the talent and history of turf running in the United States to that of Europe, they do not exactly align—advantage, Old World. It does not mean that American Thoroughbreds are deficient; it just means that in England, Ireland, and in France, along with some other spots, Europe continues to dominate. They proved it again on Saturday in the Breeders’ Cup, when they swept every grass event, including the elusive Turf Sprint. They had never scored in that one before, but Glass Slippers (GB), a Kevin Ryan-trained speedster laid that to rest, rewarding backers $22.40 for the win. Europe did not stop there. They made a powerful statement in the Filly and Mare Turf against 4 Chad Brown stablemates. There, the French horse Audarya (FR), ridden by Pierre Boudot and trained by James Fanshawe was triumphant (first, BC win for both). Handicappers did not think much of the filly since most marked her as preferring softer ground. She proved them incorrect. Odds of 18/1 at post presented a juicy opportunity when she turned for home, winning by a neck over Brown’s Rushing Fall (3/1) on the Haggin Course.
It did not get any better at the Mile as Aidan O’Brien entered 3 in this race. No one thought they were the best from his stable back in Ireland, but considering his training pedigree you never know. He swept the Trifecta with Order of Australia (IRE) at 73-1 with Pierre Boudot once again aboard the winner, scoring the victory. Since some of the European riders tested positive for COVID-19, Boudot was the beneficiary hopping aboard in a pinch. Circus Maximus (IRE), 11/1, and Lope Y Fernandez (IRE), 18/1, rounded out the board for O’Brien. It was a clean sweep. In their signature event, the BC Turf, Dermot Weld with Colin Keane in the saddle, sent the accomplished Tarnawa to compete against the best the Americans had to offer. She did not disappoint. Even though she lost her footing, her European late-running gait won the day over Aidan O’Brien’s Magical, securing the Exacta. What can be surmised from this set of victories, was that Europe was well-prepared to meet United States runners on their own good ground. Though they missed on Friday in the Juvenile grass events, they rebounded soundly securing hegemonic control over the green high ground.
No. 3 The Stable Power of Brad Cox
Brad Cox will retain Monomoy Girl…
It was a massive BC Weekend for trainer Cox, as he won race after race, tying Richard Mandella’s mark of 4. Cox proved that no matter the surface he could flexibly respond to challenges. Not only did he have back-to-back winners in the Juvenile Fillies Turf—Aunt Pearl (IRE) and the Juvenile—Essential Quality, but Knicks Go won the Dirt Mile and Monomoy Girl conquered the Distaff. It was a banner set of days for the Louisville-based conditioner, proving that his first win in the Breeders’ Cup 2 years ago (Monomoy Girl) was no fluke. He is here to stay, especially when it comes to expanding his grass starts in markets like NYRA, FG, and of course, along with Kentucky Circuit. Once the news came out that the Preakness winner, Swiss Skydiver, would not be headed to the Classic, all eyes turned to the Distaff where Monomoy Girl would be taking on the upstart Kenny McPeek filly.
Anticipation built right before the start, but it appeared to evaporate when Swiss Skydiver stumbled out of the gate at the start. That miscue would cost her the race; no moves for Robby Alvarado to make but ride. In the meantime, Monomoy Girl would also not have it easy, as she raced wide throughout. Jockey Florent Geroux did not panic because he knew he had an afterburner ready and waiting. Once he flipped the switch in the stretch, Cox’s charge did just that—winning in convincing fashion. Afterwards, Cox was visibly emotional considering that he knew the next day might bring the departure of his prized runner. She was due to be sold in the Fasig-Tipton Sale. Luckily for Cox, she was purchased for $9.5 million by Spendthrift Farms and B. Wayne Hughes. It was reported not long after that Cox would remain as trainer and Monomoy Girl would be headed back to the track for her 4-yr-old campaign. Oh, and so will Swiss Skydiver. They are not done yet with one another…
No. 2 Horse Host with the Most
Keeneland did everything humanly and equinely possible to put forward an amazing Breeders’ Cup. Was it easier without fans or more difficult because of COVID-19? That is a question we may not be able to answer yet. My sense is that it was way more difficult because of the Pandemic. An international affair like this one that hit economies hard, cast a major shadow. Keeneland knows how to tackle any situation with aplomb. All indications were that they worked diligently to follow protocols and those decisions kept everyone as safe as possible. If you were going to choose an American racetrack to host an event such as this, during these times, you would want the Keeneland Association defending the faith. Look no further for evidence of this, than in Keeneland’s own President-elect, Shannon Arvin. She is poised to replace the steady Bill Thomason, as this changing of the guard reflects the times. Keeneland, in Arvin’s capable hands, has much to look forward to under her purview.
Besides these moves behind the scenes, what was most exciting was to watch during the Breeders’ Cup were the utter destruction of track records. Gamine and Knicks Go in particular, put flames down en route to their individual victories. It was a sight to behold. As for the wagering, that did not have the benefit of major trackside attendance, the $160,472,894 handle this year was not much of a dip compared to previous years. Last year, Santa Anita Park – Attendance: 109,054, Handle: $174,000,574; 2018, Churchill Downs – Attendance: 112,672, Handle: $157,445,841; and 2017, Del Mar – Attendance: 70,420, $166,077,486. As you can see, fans were non-existent, but money still supported one of the most-lucrative events on the calendar for the sport of horse racing. Likewise, NBC Coverage under Rob Hyland’s production sought to bring new angles, and perspectives concerning the horses and their connections. I thought the Swiss Skydiver piece was exceptionally good, and trackside analysis by Donna Brothers, never disappoints.
Look forward to Del Mar, next year! And fans will hope to return to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup in 2022.
No. 1 Authentic and His Shareholders Roll
I remember the first time I heard about MyRaceHorse. It was at the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, and NBC reporter Britney Eurton was talking about a new venture where if you wanted to invest in a possible Kentucky Derby runner, then here was the chance. I remember at the time thinking what a longshot that would be, but that it would give the casual fan an incredible experience. CEO of MyRaceHorse, Michael Behrens put together an amazing experience, and it became one of the highlights of the year, when John Velasquez, donning the MyRaceHorse silks at the behest of Spendthrift owner B. Wayne Hughes, took Bob Baffert’s Authentic across the wire to win the Kentucky Derby. With all that transpired in 2020, we needed a boost, and it could not have come at a better time. It was an incredible moment, especially because so many pundits thought this horse could not get the distance.
This past Saturday, Authentic once again took to the track and many scowled at his chances. Bob Baffert sent him to the Classic after he was just beaten by the filly, Swiss Skydiver, in the early October running of the Preakness. Most figured that Johnny V would take Authentic to the front, but that with so much firepower behind him, it would be difficult to turnback the likes of Baffert’s other 2 runners, Maximum Security and Improbable; nor would he be able to best Tiz the Law, who was back for vengeance after losing in a hoof-to-hoof match race down the stretch in the Derby. At the break, Authentic cruised out in front to an easy lead, controlling the fractions like he was keeping the Equibase times. Around the final turn a charge was mounted, but Authentic had more than enough left, powering down to the line for a seemingly easy score. You could hear a pin drop, and it wasn’t because the lack of a crowd; the deafness resonated across the Thoroughbred world. Authentic was both the Derby and Classic Champion in the same year, for just the 6th time in the history of the Breeders' Cup.
Early this morning, more news concerning Authentic was released as Spendthrift Farms and patriarch B. Wayne Hughes announced that Authentic would be retiring. Baffert was correct when he told his staff back in California to say their goodbyes to the son of Into Mischief because he might not be coming back. Instead, he would be joining his sire, carving out a new-found position at stud, all to the tune of $75,000 for each mare he covers. Fans of Authentic and the sport were a touch dismayed to say the least, “How could Authentic retire at 3-yrs-old when he only raced 8x and was still in his prime?” The debate over this will continue, in the interim, the Breeders’ Cup belonged to Authentic.
And that is our Top 5 moments from the Breeders’ Cup… See you next year!