by Jon White
November 11, 2021
VENUE: Del Mar on Nov. 5 and Nov. 6
Main Track: dirt, fast Friday and Saturday; Turf Course: firm Friday and Saturday.
$6 MILLION CLASSIC (NOV. 6)
Results: (1) Knicks Go, who paid $8.40, (2) Medina Spirit, (3) Essential Quality.
Winner: Owned by Korea Racing Authority; trained by Brad Cox; ridden by Joel Rosario.
Distance: 1 1/4 miles on dirt.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 112. Authentic won the 2020 BC Classic at Keeneland with a 111 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Classic: 124 (Sunday Silence in 1989 at Gulfstream Park, Ghostzapper in 2004 at Lone Star Park).
Recap: Knicks Go again utilized his natural early zip to his best advantage. He darted immediately to the front and stayed there all the way to the end of the 1 1/4-mile, his first race going this far. Many had expected Medina Spirit to either vie for the early lead or, at the very least, push Knicks Go in the early going. But that didn’t happen.
You can’t say that you weren’t warned this was a possibility.
Two weeks before the Breeders’ Cup, I wrote this for Xpressbet.com: “Through the many years that I’ve been analyzing races, I have learned that it can be tricky to try and forecast pace. That’s because the pace situation can change considerably if an early speed horse does not have a good start. For example, if Medina Spirit does not have an alert beginning in the BC Classic, it would help Knicks Go. And the same goes for Medina Spirit if Knicks Go happens to have a tardy start.”
Knicks Go did not have a tardy start. Quite the opposite occurred. He exited the gate quickly. Medina Spirit? He began sluggishly for Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Velazquez. Medina Spirit seemed to hesitate just a bit when the outstanding starter Jay Slender pushed the button. This forced Johnny V. to make a split-second decision. Should he hustle Medina Spirit early or not?
After the slow start, Velazquez chose to not put the pedal to the metal, so to speak. He thought that if he gunned Medina Spirit early to go after Knicks Go, who already had the jump on Medina Spirit, it could take a toll on Medina Spirit toward the end of the 1 1/4-mile journey. No one else in the field of eight was quick enough to go with Knicks Go early.
Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman put it well when he wrote: “The race was 1 1/4 miles, but it was over a quarter-mile into it. No one went with Knicks Go, and when he gets to rock along with his high cruising speed, he’s unbeatable going two turns.”
Indeed, Knicks Go now is eight for eight in two-turn races for Cox. Despite this splendid streak and despite Knicks Go boasting the highest speed figures in the field, be they Beyers or Thoro-Graph, he was not sent away as the favorite, but rather a 3-1 co-second choice with Hot Rod Charlie.
I make the Del Mar morning lines. In this capacity, I was responsible for this year’s Breeders’ Cup morning lines, a daunting task for sure. I made Knicks Go a 5-2 morning-line favorite for the BC Classic. I pegged Essential Quality as the 3-1 second choice. I put both Hot Rod Charlie and Medina Spirit at 4-1.
The bettors then backed Essential Quality to the tune of 9-5 favoritism. Did this surprise me? No.
On the radio program “Inside Churchill Downs” two weeks before the Breeders’ Cup, I said that I expected Knicks Go would be sent away as the favorite. But I also said I thought it was possible that Essential Quality could end up being the favorite. This belief is one reason why I had Knicks Go and Essential Quality as close as possible on the morning line, putting them at 5-2 and 3-1, respectively. By contrast, Daily Racing Form’s early odds, crafted by Brad Free, had Knicks Go a 5-2 favorite, with Essential Quality two notches higher at 7-2.
I thought that Essential Quality might end up being the BC Classic favorite because he had been the favorite in eight of nine career starts. In his only loss, Essential Quality was the 5-2 favorite in the Grade I Kentucky Derby. A 5-2 favorite in a race with 19 betting interests is a very strong favorite. Essential Quality experienced a wide trip and finished fourth.
As for the BC Classic, Knicks Go won by 2 3/4 lengths. So much for the concern some had that the 5-year-old Maryland-bred son of Paynter might not be able to win going 1 1/4 miles. Knicks Go was two lengths in front with a furlong to go. Once again he increased his lead in the final furlong, just as he had done when reeling off three consecutive victories in 1 1/8-mile races going into the BC Classic.
In terms of Knicks Go’s dominance in those three 1 1/8-mile races, he won the Grade III Cornhusker Handicap by 10 1/4 lengths, Grade I Whitney Stakes by four lengths and Grade III Lukas Classic by 2 3/4 lengths.
Knicks Go is one of only four horses to win the BC Classic without having previously raced 1 1/4 miles, joining Ghostzapper in 2004, Raven’s Pass in 2008 and Zenyatta in 2009.
Additionally, Knicks Go became the sixth horse to win two different Breeders’ Cup races, joining Zenyatta, Beholder, Stephanie’s Kitten, Secret Circle and Golden Pal. Golden Pal, like Knicks Go, achieved the feat this year. Golden Pal won the BC Turf Sprint this year and the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint last year.
Again, a couple of weeks before the Breeders’ Cup, I wrote this for Xpressbet.com: “I believe what makes Knicks Go such a tough dude to beat in two-turn races is his ability to exhibit both early and late speed in a race. That produces a lethal one-two punch to his foes.”
In the BC Classic, Knicks Go recorded individual splits of :23.16, :22.61, :24.27, :25.24 and :24.29.
Check out how fast he went early, especially his second quarter in :22.61. Yet he still had plenty of gas left in the tank to run his final quarter in :24.29. That strong :24.29 final quarter by Knicks Go set the bar too high for Medina Spirit, Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie or anyone else to reel him in.
Medina Spirit had to settle for second. Essential Quality came in third, three-quarters of a length behind Medina Spirit. Hot Rod Charlie ran fourth, one length behind Essential Quality. Completing the order of finish were Stilleto Boy, Art Collector, Tripoli and Max Player.
Knicks Go’s final time was an excellent 1:59.57. It was faster than Gun Runner’s 2:01.29 when he won the 2017 BC Classic by 2 1/4 lengths at Del Mar.
In fifths, Knick’s Go’s final time was 1:59 2/5, faster by four-fifths of a second than Gun Runner’s 2:01 1/5. In spite of that, Knicks Go’s Beyer Speed Figure of 112 for his BC Classic was lower than the 117 Gun Runner received for his triumph in the 2017 renewal. This makes me wonder if perhaps Knicks Go’s Beyer should be higher than a 112.
This was the second straight year in which the BC Classic was won in front-running fashion. Authentic led past every pole in the 2020 edition of this race at Keeneland.
This year’s BC Classic nearly produced a Cox-trained exacta in that he also was the conditioner of Essential Quality.
Considering it appears that Essential Quality has no physical issues, I am very disappointed that Godolphin has decided to retire him. Why the rush to pull the plug on the racing career of the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2020 and the winner of this year’s Grade I Belmont Stakes and Grade I Travers Stakes? Essential Quality certainly was not retired because Godolphin needs the money. Then why do that? Essential Quality, it seems to me, might have had a terrific campaign next year at the age of 4.
Knicks Go has not quite been retired from racing. He might make one more start. If all is well, Knicks Go will go in the Grade I, $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park next Jan. 29.
The Pegasus has the mouth-watering possibility of being a clash between Knicks Go and 2021 BC Dirt Mile winner Life Is Good, who also is said to be a candidate for the 1 1/8-mile race.
It will be wonderful if that does happen.
FINAL NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
As an indication that Knicks Go is an odds-on favorite to be voted Eclipse Awards as 2021 Horse of the Year and champion older male, he received all 36 first-place votes in the final NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.
Knicks Go finished No. 11 in the final NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll for 2020.
Ranking second in the 2021 poll was 3-year-old star Essential Quality. That means Brad Cox trained both the No. 1 and No. 2 horses in this year’s final poll.
Below is the final NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll for 2021:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 360 Knicks Go (36)
2. 270 Essential Quality
3. 265 Life Is Good
4. 242 Medina Spirit
5. 205 Letruska
6. 126 Hot Rod Charlie
7. 67 Golden Pal
8. 64 Yibir
9. 59 Jackie’s Warrior
10. 55 Gamine
Also receiving votes: Echo Zulu (51), Malathaat (47), Corniche (36), Ce Ce (32), Domestic Spending (21) Aloha West (12), Maxfield (12), War Like Goddess (10), Art Collector (10), Dunbar Road (8), Dr. Schivel (8), Colonel Liam (4), Loves Only You (4), Space Blues (3), Echo Town (2), Ginobili (2), Smooth Like Strait (2), Jack Christopher (1), Pizza Bianca (1), Shedaresthedevil (1).
Note: I attributed the two points listed for “War Goddess” in its final poll to War Like Goddess.
$4 MILLION TURF (NOV. 6)
Results: (1) Yibir, who paid $19.00, (2) Broome, (3) Teona.
Winner: Owned by Godolphin; trained by Charles Appleby; ridden by William Buick.
Distance: 1 1/2 miles on turf.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 105. Tarnawa won the 2020 BC Turf at Keeneland with a 109 Beyer. Top Beyer in the Turf: 118 (Daylami in 1999 at Gulfstream Park).
Recap: The Tarnawa who showed up for this race at Del Mar was not the same Tarnawa who won the 2020 BC Turf at Keeneland. Tarnawa finished 11th this time. Her trainer, Dermot Weld, believes the probable reason that the classy mare did not fire this time is she was coming back too soon after running hard on an extremely soft, testing course at ParisLongchamp in the Oct. 3 when runner-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Facing his elders for the first time, 3-year-old Yibir was next-to-last in the field of 14 with a half-mile to go. The Great Britain-bred Dubawi gelding unleashed a furious late rally to win by a half-length in 2:25.90. This made Yibir two for two in this country. At Belmont Park on Sept. 18, he won the $1 million Jockey Club Derby going away by 2 1/2 lengths.
Domestic Spending and United were scratched due to both geldings having inflammation in a front leg. That opened the door for Bolshoi Ballet and Channel Maker to get into the starting gate from the also-eligible list. Channel Maker finished fifth. Bolshoi Ballet ran sixth.
$2 MILLION DISTAFF (NOV. 6)
Results: (1) Marche Lorraine, who paid $101.80, (2) Dunbar Road, (3) Malathaat.
Winner: Owned by U Carrot Farm; trained by Yoshito Yahagi; ridden by Oisin Murphy.
Distance: 1 1/8 miles on dirt.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 103. Monomoy Girl won the 2020 BC Distaff at Keeneland with a 100 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Distaff: 120 (Princess Rooney in 1984).
Recap: Talk about a pace meltdown.
Private Mission, off at odds of 10-1, set a blistering pace for a 1 1/8-mile race while being pushed by 8-5 favorite Letruska. The fractions were a scorching :21.84, :44.97 and 1:09.70, a tempo that took a toll on the duo. Letruska finished 10th in the field of 11 to snap her five-race winning streak. Private Mission capitulated and ended up last.
Japan’s Marche Lorraine, ninth early, charged to the front coming to the top of the stretch. She opened a two-length lead in upper stretch, then had to desperately hold on to eke out a nose win over Dunbar Road (12-1). Dunbar Road narrowly lost despite encountering her share of traffic trouble. Malathaat (7-2), who did not have the best of trips, rallied to finish third, a half-length behind Dunbar Road. Clairiere (10-1), fanned seven wide into the lane, also rallied and lost by only three-quarters of a length while finishing fourth.
Marche Lorraine, whose final time was 1:47.67, is a 5-year-old Japanese-bred Orfevre mare. I was at the Group I, $6.5 million Japan Cup in 2012, a race Orfevre was very unlucky to lose. He finished second, a scant nose behind the filly Gentildonna.
Gentildonna swerved out during the stretch run to avoid running over a faltering Beat Black. When Gentildonna did that, she solidly bumped Orfevre. Only a nose separated them at the finish. After a lengthy stewards’ inquiry, there was no change made to the original order of finish. In my opinion, Orfevre got robbed in that Gentildonna should have been disqualified.
Orfevre, a Japanese Triple Crown winner in 2011, also was unlucky not to have won the Group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2012. Many, including yours truly, believe jockey Christophe Soumillon moved Orfevre too soon in the Arc. Orfevre blew by several opponents, including Solemia, and opened a clear lead late in the race. Solemia then came on to win by a neck.
Even though Orfevre was unlucky in 2012 to lose a pair of lucrative events, the Arc and Japan Cup, the grandson of the great Sunday Silence (winner of the 1989 BC Classic) managed to amass lifetime earnings of $19,005,276.
And now Orfevre also is the sire of a Breeders’ Cup winner.
$2 MILLION MILE (NOV. 6)
Results: (1) Space Blues, who paid $6.20 as the favorite, (2) Smooth Like Strait, (3) Ivar.
Winner: Owned by Godolphin; trained by Charles Appleby; ridden by William Buick.
Distance: 1 mile on turf.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 106. Order of Australia won the 2020 BC Mile at Keeneland with a 105 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Mile: 119 (Miesque in 1987 at Hollywood Park).
Recap: When I watched the video of Space Blues’ win in the Group I Prix de la Foret at ParisLongchamp on Oct. 3, I had no doubt that I was going to install him as the morning-line favorite for the BC Mile. His late kick in the Foret was breathtaking. I listed him at 5-2 on the BC Mile morning line.
In the BC Mile, Space Blues enjoyed a perfect trip early when nice and relaxed in third while within close attendance of the pace. It was a flawlessly executed ride by Buick. When Space Blues was asked the question in the stretch, the 5-year-old Irish-bred son of Dubawi responded readily to prevail by a half-length in 1:34.01 as the 2-1 favorite.
Smooth Like Strait, a gem of consistency throughout 2021, set the pace and finished second at 10-1 when not quite able to stave off Space Blues. Smooth Like Strait lost a shoe during the race, according to trainer Michael McCarthy. Smooth Like Strait might well have won the Grade I Turf Classic instead of finishing second if his saddle had not slipped.
In seven 2021 starts through the BC Mile, Smooth Like Strait won the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita on May 31 while losing his six other races by margins of a neck, a neck, a head, a half-length and a half-length.
Mo Forza, the 3-1 second favorite, never threatened after getting mugged early and finished last in the field of 13.
$2 MILLION SPRINT (NOV. 6)
Results: (1) Aloha West, who paid $24.60, (2) Dr. Schivel, (3) Following Sea.
Winner: Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners; trained by Wayne Catalalano; ridden by Jose Ortiz.
Distance: 6 furlongs on dirt.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 100. Whitmore won the 2020 BC Sprint at Keeneland with a 104 Beyer. Top Beyer in the Sprint and the top Beyer in Breeders’ Cup history: 125 (Precisionist in 1985).
Recap: A lot of people thought Jackie’s Warrior was a sure thing. But in yet another example that there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to horse racing, Jackie’s Warrior vied for the lead to the top of the lane, then weakened and finished sixth as the 1-2 favorite.
I thought 4-1 Dr. Schivel was a sure thing at the sixteenth pole. But he got nailed right on the finish line by 11-1 Aloha West. A 4-year-old Maryland-bred Hard Spun colt, Aloha West completed this race in 1:08.49.
For Catalano, this was his fourth Breeders’ Cup win, following Dreaming of Anna (2006 BC Juvenile Fillies), She Be Wild (2008 BC Juvenile Fillies) and Stephanie’s Kitten (2011 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf).
This also made it back-to-back years in which a Midwest trainer saddled the BC Sprint winner. In 2020, Ron Moquette sent out the popular Whitmore, who won in come-from-behind fashion a la Aloha West.
$2 MILLION FILLY & MARE TURF (NOV. 6)
Results: (1) Loves Only You, who paid $10.60, (2) My Sister Nat, (3) War Like Goddess.
Winner: Owned by DMM Dream Club; trained by Yoshito Yahagi; ridden by Yuga Kawada.
Distance: 1 3/8 miles on turf.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 102. Audarya won the 2020 BC Filly & Mare Turf at Keeneland with a 103 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Filly & Mare Turf: 112 (Banks Hill in 2001).
Recap: Japan made history by winning this race with Loves Only You. This was despite some taking a dim view of all Japanese horses competing at this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
For instance, I received an email from a very sharp horseplayer, who wondered why Jasper Great was not higher than 15-1 on the morning line in the BC Juvenile. The horseplayer correctly pointed out that Jasper Great was going into the BC Juvenile off only a maiden win in Japan.
“The Japanese have never done well in America in dirt races, or any other BC races for that matter,” the horseplayer again correctly pointed out.
On Nov 1, the day I had to submit the Breeders’ Cup morning lines even before the post positions were drawn, Jasper Great was listed at 20-1 on David Aragona’s DRF early line.
“While Japan has historically not done well in the Breeders’ Cup, they have been doing extremely well on the world stage in recent years, winning many of the biggest races in the world,” I responded to the horseplayer. “Yes, Jasper Great won only a maiden race. But he won ‘easily’ by 10. He’s by a BC Classic winner [Arrogate] out of a mare by a BC Classic winner [Wild Again]. Who knows how good Jasper Great is off only one 10-length win? What if he’s a superstar? He probably isn’t, but what if he is?
“Sure, I could have made Jasper Great 20-1 or 30-1. But what if it turns out he’s some sort of monster and a bunch of money comes pouring in on him and drives him down to under 10-1?”
For the record, Jasper Great was sent away by bettors at 14-1.
“Ignore the Japanese BC raiders at your own peril,” was the headline in an Oct. 20 story written by Nicholas Godfrey for the website Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.
“In years to come, we might look back at the 38th Breeders’ Cup as the one in which Japan finally started to take it seriously. Ignore them at your own peril,” Godfrey wrote.
Talk about prophetic.
Loves Only You this year became Japan’s first Breeders’ Cup winner. And then later Saturday, Japan celebrated another victory when Marche Lorraine pulled off a 49-1 shocker in the BC Distaff.
Loves Only You was a far cry from 49-1 in the BC Filly & Mare Turf. I made her 4-1 on the morning line. Bettors sent her off at 4-1. Never far back, the 5-year-old Deep Impact mare (a granddaughter of 1989 BC Classic winner Sunday Silence) surged late to win by a half-length in 2:13.87. Deep Impact swept the 2005 Triple Crown in Japan.
My Sister Nat finished second in the field of 12. She is a half-sister to Eclipse Award champion and 2018 BC Filly & Mare Turf winner Sistercharlie.
Ending up third in this year’s BC Filly & Mare Turf was 2-1 favorite War Like Goddess, whose four-race winning streak came to an end.
$1 MILLION DIRT MILE (NOV. 6)
Results: (1) Life Is Good, who paid $3.40 as the favorite, (2) Ginobili, (3) Restrainedvengeance.
Winner: Owned by CHC Inc. and WinStar Darm.; trained by Todd Pletcher; ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.
Distance: 1 mile on dirt.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 109. Knicks Go won the 2019 BC Dirt Mile at Keeneland with a 108 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Dirt Mile: 119 (Corinthian in 2007).
Recap: Life Is Good was the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby in Churchill Downs’ future wager prior to an injury that knocked him out of the Triple Crown races.
Life Is Good emerged from a marvelous six-furlong workout in 1:11.40 at Santa Anita on March 30 with a hind ankle injury that required surgery. When he returned to equine combat, he suffered his only loss so far, though he even ran admirably in defeat. Life Is Good lost by a neck when he finished second to the crack sprinter Jackie’s Warrior in a rousing renewal of the Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 28.
After the Jerkens, Life Is Good resumed his winning ways. He cruised to a 5 1/2-furlong victory in the Grade II Kelso Handicap on Sept. 25, which really was nothing more than paid workout for him. He faced older foes for the first time in the Kelso.
Life Is Good then trounced his elders again as the 3-5 favorite in the BC Dirt Mile. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt won in front-running fashion by 5 3/4 lengths in 1:34.12.
Will Life is Good follow in the footsteps of 2020 BC Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go and capture the BC Classic the following year? Don’t rule it out.
$1 MILLION TURF SPRINT (NOV. 6)
Results: (1), Golden Pal, who paid $7.00 as the favorite, (2) Lieutenant Dan, (3) Charmaine’s Mia.
Winner: Owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Westerberg; trained by Wesley Ward; ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.
Distance: 5 furlongs on turf.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 107. Glass Slippers won the 2020 BC Turf Sprint at Keeneland with a 104 Beyer. Previous top Beyer in the BC Turf Sprint: 119 (Stormy Liberal in 2018).
Recap: Ward has been sky high on Golden Pal ever since the Kentucky-bred 3-year-old Uncle Mo colt was a yearling. The trainer felt that Golden Pal possessed the look in his eye and demeanor to possibly be something special.
Living up to his trainer’s high expectations, Golden Pal won the 2020 BC Juvenile Turf Sprint despite breaking from post 14.
Golden Pal once again lived up to Ward’s high opinion of him by winning the 2021 BC Turf Sprint. Few Quarter Horses have ever started as fast as Golden Pal last Saturday at Del Mar. He was two lengths in front quicker than you can say his name. He prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths in : 55.22 as the 5-2 favorite.
$1 MILLION FILLY & MARE SPRINT (NOV. 6)
Results: (1), Ce Ce, who paid $14.40, (2) Edgeway, (3) Gamine.
Winner: Owned by Bo Hirsch; trained by Michael McCarthy; ridden by Victor Espinoza.
Distance: 7 furlongs on dirt.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 100. Gamine won the 2020 BC Filly & Mare Sprint at Keeneland with a 110 Beyer. Top previous Beyer in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint: 108 (Groupie Doll in 2012 at Santa Anita).
Recap: Oops. I made Gamine my “most probable winner” at this year’s Breeders’ Cup. She finished third as the 2-5 favorite, losing for just the second time in 11 career starts.
My most probable Breeders’ Cup winner now has won in 13 of the 18 last years.
Below is a list of my most probable Breeders’ Cup winner for each year going back to 2004:
2021 Gamine in the Filly & Mare Sprint (finished third)
2020 Golden Pal in the Juvenile Turf Sprint (won)
2019 Midnight Bisou (finished second)
2018 Newspaperofrecord in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (won)
2017 Bolt d’Oro in the Juvenile (finished third)
2016 Dortmund in the Dirt Mile (finished fourth)
2015 Songbird in the Juvenile Fillies (won)
2014 Goldencents in the Dirt Mile (won)
2013 Wise Dan in the Mile (won)
2012 Groupie Doll in the Filly & Mare Sprint (won)
2011 Goldikova in the Mile (won)
2010 Goldikova in the Mile (won)
2009 Zenyatta in the Classic (won)
2008 Zenyatta in the Ladies’ Classic (won)
2007 Midnight Lute in the Sprint (won)
2006 Ouija Board in the Filly & Mare Turf (won)
2005 Ouija Board in the Filly & Mare Turf (finished second)
2004 Ouija Board in the Filly & Mare Turf (won)
In this year’s BC Filly & Mare Sprint, Ce Ce raced in fourth early, made a four-wide move to take the lead at the top of the stretch, then drew away to win by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:21.00. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred Elusive Quality mare was sent away at odds of 6-1 from a 4-1 morning line. She had finished third, three lengths behind Gamine, in the Grade I Ballerina Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 28.
Bo Hirsch, who has been going to the races at Del Mar for more than 70 years, bred and owns Ce Ce. Hirsch’s father, Clement Hirsch, has a Grade I race for fillies and mares named in his honor that is run each year during Del Mar’s summer meet. Clement Hirsch, who died in 2000, organized the group that took control of Del Mar in 1969 as a non-profit operation. That group continues to operate the track “where the turf meets the surf” to this day.
It is understandable that Bo Hirsch was especially ecstatic to win his first Breeders’ Cup race.
“I can tell you, by experience now, that when you win your first Breeders’ Cup, you’re on cloud million!” Hirsch said in the post-race ceremony in which one Bo (Bo Derek) presented a trophy to another Bo (Hirsch).
$1 MILLION JUVENILE TURF (NOV. 5)
Results: (1) Modern Games, who raced for purse only, (2) Tiz the Bomb, who was the winner for wagering purposes, paying $17.60, (3) Mackinnon.
Winner: Owned by Godolphin; trained by Charles Appleby; ridden by William Buick.
Distance: 1 mile on turf.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 87 for Modern Games (84 for Tiz the Bomb). Fire At Will won the 2020 BC Juvenile Turf at Keeneland with a 90 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Juvenile Turf: 93 (Donativum in 2008, Outstrip in 2013, Oscar Performance in 2016).
Recap: Below are words that have been used to describe the 2021 BC Juvenile Turf:
Let’s just say that all of those words are appropriate to describe what happened in what no doubt is going to be regarded as one of the most controversial races in the 38-year history of the Breeders’ Cup.
Keep in mind controversy is nothing new when it comes to the Breeders’ Cup. There was controversy going all the way back to the first Breeders’ Cup held at Hollywood Park in 1984. The BC Classic that year had a $3 million purse, making it the richest horse race that had been ever run up to that time. Wild Again won a wild three-way deep-stretch battle with Gate Dancer and Slew o’ Gold. Following a stewards’ inquiry, Gate Dancer was disqualified and placed third for causing interference during the stretch run.
There was Breeders’ Cup controversy as recently as last year. Authentic won the BC Classic. His final time for 1 1/4 miles was originally posted as 1:59.19. This also was the final time listed in the original Equibase chart. The chart, though, had no fractions. In the chart’s comments, it said: “Due to a timer malfunction, the fractional times were timed manually using video.”
Many questioned the official final time of 1:59.19. Even the Trakus system used by Keeneland disagreed with that clocking. The Trakus system timed the race in 1:59.82.
Ultimately, yet another clocking, 1:59.60, became the official final time for the 2020 BC Classic.
Keeneland and Equibase issued this statement last year on Nov. 11:
“Prior to the running of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (Gr. 1) on November 7, 2020, at Keeneland, a photo eye at the start of the race originally was tripped, which resulted in an error when attempting to operate the timing system manually causing inaccurate timing for all fractions and the final time of the race. A final time of 1:59.19 was initially provided by Equibase using the available video replay. After subsequent and more detailed review and timing of the race from multiple sources and camera angles, Keeneland and Equibase have determined the fractional times for the Classic (:23.20, :46.48, 1:10.32, 1:34.64) and confirmed a final time of 1:59.60. The Classic chart has been updated and the running of Authentic in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic is now the official track record for the 1 1/4-mile distance at Keeneland.”
I think it’s fair to say that this year’s Breeders’ Cup had a race that was considerably more controversial than either the 1984 BC Classic or 2020 BC Classic. What occurred at this year’s BC Juvenile Turf was a comedy of errors, though there was nothing funny about it.
“The Friday running of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar has left bettors once again infuriated by the racing industry’s procedures and protocols, with social media abuzz with claims from longtime horseplayers that their confidence and enthusiasm for the sport has been irretrievably shaken,” Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty wrote.
To begin with, No. 2 Albarh, owned by Godolphin and trained by Charlie Appleby, flipped in the gate. He was scratched by the stewards on veterinary advice. No. 1 was Modern Games, the betting favorite, also owned by Godolphin and trained by Appleby.
Modern Games “was freed by a member of the gate crew in order to remove the horse from any danger as Albahr struggled on the ground in his own stall,” wrote Hegarty. “William Buick, the rider of Modern Games, quickly restrained the horse after he was released.”
An assistant starter had allowed Modern Games to come out the front in order for the colt to extricate himself from the gate. Hindsight always is 20/20, but it probably would have been better to back Albahr out of the gate. That would have better enabled veterinarians to inspect him. I say this because what happened next was what really set off the chain of events that caused such an outcry from horseplayers. One of the track veterinarians, Dr. Chuck Jenkins, prematurely recommended to the stewards that Modern Games was to be scratched.
Jenkins mistakenly thought Modern Games had busted through the front of the gate when the colt actually had been let out of the gate by an assistant starter. It is inexcusable that Modern Games was not closely inspected by a veterinarian or veterinarians at the starting gate before the stewards were contacted to recommend that Modern Games be scratched.
“After an additional examination and assessment of Modern Games by the attending veterinary team, track veterinarian Dr. Dana Stead concluded that the horse had not been injured and communicated to the stewards that the horse was cleared to run,” according to a joint statement issued Saturday by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and Breeders’ Cup.
By the way, a CHRB statement issued Friday said in part that “Modern Games reared up and hit the back of the gate; Albahr flipped over and became lodged underneath the starting gate.”
However, the CHRB issued the following statement on Monday to correct the record regarding Modern Games:
“Concerning the 10th race at Del Mar on Friday, November 5, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf: Upon review of available videos showing the horses in the gate prior to the start of the race, the CHRB has determined that Modern Games did not rear up in the gate, as was initially reported by the CHRB and the veterinarians at the gate. The starter and assistant starter took protective steps by leading the horse out of the front of the gate. The horse did not break through the gate on its own, as was originally thought. The CHRB is conducting a full investigation of this matter.”
The joint statement issued Saturday by the CHRB, Del Mar and Breeders’ Cup provided a timeline:
“The CHRB determined that, as discussed in the aftermath of the race, Modern Games was scratched by the stewards on the recommendation of one of the track veterinarians, Dr. Chuck Jenkins, at the starting gate at 17:35.35 PT,” the statement said. “After additional examination and assessment of Modern Games by the attending veterinary team, track veterinarian Dr. Dana Stead concluded that the horse had not been injured and communicated to the stewards that the horse was cleared to run.
“Due to a miscommunication between the stewards and the Del Mar mutuels department, Modern Games was reinserted into the pari-mutuel wagering pools at 17:37.01 PT.”
“At 17:43.49 PT, after it was made clear to the mutuels department that Modern Games was competing for purse money only, the horse was again removed from the wagering pools.
“The race went off at 17:47.34 PT.
“Per CHRB rules, all wagers on Modern Games in the win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, superfecta and super high five pools are subject to refund. Daily double and Pick 3 wagers to Modern Games receive a consolation payment. Per CHRB rules, in all other multi-leg wagers ending on the 10th race, bettors with tickets including Modern Games and Albahr received the post-time favorite, Dakota Gold, unless they designated an alternate for the race.”
The next paragraph in Saturday’s joint statement is important. That’s because it addresses an issue that seemingly triggered the whole mess by not having one veterinarian in charge to recommend a scratch to the stewards.
“As a result of a review, the CHRB, Del Mar and Breeders’ Cup are modifying their injury management communications protocols, so that Dr. Stead will make the final determination with respect to scratches at the starting gate and has sole authority to communicate those recommendations to the stewards.”
Oh, if only that already had been the case.
Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch wrote: “Modern Games won the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. But if you bet on him, you didn’t.”
It is clear that much needs to be addressed going forward, especially regarding bettors. That’s because there should never, ever be a situation in which a person has bet on a horse who wins, but the bettor loses. That’s why it’s understandable that many of the 26,553 in attendance at Del Mar understandably booed loudly, while many others elsewhere likewise were irate.
Some have wondered why Modern Games ran for purse only. Once he was removed from the betting pools, there was no other option, as specified by CHRB rule 1974 (b). The rule states: “If a horse is removed from the wagering pool due to totalizator error, or due to any other error, and neither the trainer nor the owner is at fault, the horse shall start in the race as a non-wagering interest for the purse only and shall be disregarded for pari-mutuel purposes.”
“Shall” is the key word in that rule. The word “shall” ties the hands of the stewards. The stewards have wriggle room if it says “may,” but not when it says “shall.”
When I worked as a steward at Golden Gate Fields in 2017 with John Herbuveaux and Richard Lewis, we had to invoke CHRB rule 1974 (b) due to totalizator error in the fourth race on Sept. 10.
This is the relevant item dealing with that from the stewards’ minutes under the headline TOTE ERROR:
“Tote operator notified this Board [of Stewards] at 12:21 that they had mistakenly withdrawn #5 STOCKED from the betting pools for the 4th race. In accordance with California Horse Racing Board rule 1974 (b) the horse ran for ‘purse money’ only and remained out of the betting pools.
“All departments and the trainer were notified of this decision. Announcements were made throughout the day and TV was running information on screens up until the race time. Refund: $601.89. An investigation into this matter is ongoing.”
Stocked finished second, a neck behind River House.
A day after the BC Juvenile Turf controversy Friday, Master of The Seas reared in the gate prior to the start of the BC Mile. He was backed out, then inspected, then recommended by Dr. Stead to be scratched, then scratched by the stewards, then unsaddled. Like Modern Games and Albahr, Master of The Seas is owned by Godolphin and trained by Appleby. Godolphin and Appleby won the BC Mile with Space Blues, as noted earlier.
Fifth to sixth in the early going, Modern Games was quite impressive in winning the BC Juvenile Turf by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:34.72. Tiz the Bomb ran second, but he finished first at odds of 7-1 for wagering purposes. Tiz the Bomb was coming off a win in the Grade II Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, a performance that was all the more impressive because, prior to the start, he had busted through the gate (not led out of the gate like Modern Games at the Breeders’ Cup).
An Irish-bred Dubawi colt, Modern Games now has rattled off four consecutive victories. He came into the BC Juvenile off a Group III win in England on Sept. 23.
$2 MILLION JUVENILE (NOV. 5)
Results: (1) Corniche, who paid $4.80 as the favorite, (2) Pappacap, (3) Giant Game.
Winner: Owned by Speedway Stables; trained by Bob Baffert; ridden by Mike Smith.
Distance: 1 1/16 miles on dirt.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 91. Essential Quality won the 2020 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf at Keeneland with a 95 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Juvenile: 113 (War Pass in 2007).
Recap: The complexion of this race changed significantly one day beforehand due to the 11-hour defection of undefeated Grade I winner Jack Christopher. I had installed Christopher Jack as the 9-5 morning-line favorite. Winner of the Grade I Champagne Stakes, he was withdrawn from the BC Juvenile due an issue with his left shin, a development that no doubt turned his trainer, Chad Brown, into Chad Frown.
Corniche, breaking from the outside post in the field of 11, was hustled to the front at once. He led all the way and got the job done by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:42.50 as the 7-5 favorite. With this victory, the $1.5 million auction purchase remained undefeated in three career starts. Hall of Famer Baffert trains the Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt.
$1 MILLION JUVENILE FILLIES TURF (NOV. 5)
Results: (1) Pizza Bianca, who paid $21.80, (2) Malavath, (3) Haughty.
Winner: Owned by Bobby Flay; trained by Christophe Clemente; ridden by Jose Ortiz.
Distance: 1 mile on turf.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 79. Aunt Pearl won the 2020 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf at Keeneland with a 91 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf: 96 (Lady Eli in 2001, Sharing in 2019).
Recap: This was a wide-open race. An indication of that is I made Pizza Bianca a tepid 5-1 morning-line favorite.
Wild Beauty was shipped from England to win Woodbine’s Grade I Natalma Stakes on Sept. 19. She generally had been listed as the favorite by bettors in England for the BC Juvenile Fillies. But the decision was made to run Wild Beauty in a Group I race at Newmarket on Oct. 8 and not send her to the Breeders’ Cup. She finished fifth in the Oct. 8 race.
Pizza Bianca had some trouble in the Natalma before rallying to finish second behind Wild Beauty. The BC Juvenile was an inscrutable race in terms of trying to forecast favoritism. Mainly off Pizza Bianca’s Natalma effort, I decided to make her the lukewarm BC Juvenile morning-line favorite.
Owner and celebrity chef Bobby Flay pretty much had to talk Clemente into running Pizza Bianca in the BC Juvenile Fillies.
“To think we had a chance, we weren’t going to be 30-1 at the Breeders’ Cup,” Flay said Tuesday to Steve Byk on his SiriusXM radio program At the Races. “Actually, she was the morning-line favorite. So, you know, when I saw that, I said, ‘Somebody else thinks she should be here, too.’ ”
Turning for home, Pizza Bianca was last in the field of 14. And then, in what many regard as the finest ride at this year’s Breeders’ Cup, Ortiz masterfully negotiated his way through traffic while rallying and got up to win by a half-length at odds of 9-1. The Kentucky-bred Fastnet Rock filly completed her journey in 1:35.36.
It turned out the actual betting favorite was just under 5-1. That was Koala Princess, who finished seventh.
$2 MILLION JUVENILE FILLIES (NOV. 5)
Results: (1) Echo Zulu, who paid $3.60 as the favorite, (2) Juju’s Map, (3) Tarabi.
Winner: Owned by L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds; trained by Steve Asmussen; ridden by Joel Rosario.
Distance: 1 1/16 miles on dirt.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 94. Vequist won the 2020 BC Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland with a 93 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Juvenile Fillies: 107 (Tempera in 2001).
Recap: No one has come close to defeating Echo Zulu yet.
Making it four victories by margins from four to 7 1/4 lengths, Echo Zulu led from start to finish in the BC Juvenile Fillies. She was 5 1/4 lengths clear of her nearest pursuer at the end of 1 1/16 miles while completing her trip in 1:42.24.
Hall of Famer Asmussen trains Echo Zulu, who made it three Grade I wins in a row. The Kentucky-bred filly previously had walloped her rivals in Saratoga’s Grade I Spinaway Stakes and Belmont’s Grade I Frizette Stakes.
Echo Zulu is by Gun Runner, who won the 2017 BC Classic at Del Mar by 2 1/4 lengths to complete a Horse of the Year campaign.
$1 MILLION JUVENILE TURF SPRINT (NOV. 5)
Results: (1) Twilight Gleaming, who paid $12.40, (2) Go Bears Go, (3) Kaufymaker.
Winner: Owned by Stonestreet Stables; trained by Wesley Ward; ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.
Distance: 5 furlongs on turf.
Winning Beyer Speed Figure: 84. Golden Pal won the 2020 BC Juvenile Turf Sprint at Keeneland with a 90 Beyer. Top Beyer in the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint: 90 (Bulletin in 2018, Golden Pal in 2020).
Recap: Twilight Gleaming won this year’s edition of the Wesley Ward Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Okay, that’s not the real name of this race. But it might as well be in light of Ward’s dominance.
The BC Juvenile Turf Sprint was first run in 2018 at Churchill Downs. Todd Pletcher trained the victorious Bulletin. Ward finished second with Chelsea Cloisters.
Twilight Gleaming provided Ward with his third straight win in the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint. Four Wheel Drive won in 2019 at Santa Anita, Golden Pal got the job done in 2020 at Keeneland, then Twilight Gleaming blasted to the front at once and went on to prevail by a half-length when able to hold off a host of late challengers. The Irish-bred National Defense filly completed five furlongs in :56.24.
This was Twilight Gleaming’s third win from five starts. This victory made her two for three on turf. She went into the BC Juvenile Turf Sprint off a win in France at Deauville on Aug. 7. She also won a five-furlong grass sprint against maidens at Belmont Park on May 9. Her lone defeat on turf was far from a disgrace. She ran second among 21 starters in the Group II Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot in England on June 16.
Why in the world is this BC Juvenile Turf still a Grade II? This is the only Breeders’ Cup race that does not have a Grade I ranking. It’s ridiculous this isn’t yet a Grade I race.
The Juvenile Turf Sprint kicked off this year’s Breeders’ Cup action at Del Mar. The 39th Breeders’ Cup will be held next year at Keeneland on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5.