Catching My Eye: three things to take away from the 2022 Breeders' Cup

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

November 10th, 2022

Breeders’ Cup weekend is behind us, and what did we learn? Three takeaways from last weekend: four-year-old equipment change for Todd Pletcher means something. Tyler Gaffalione is just getting started. Uncertainty around Cave Rock and Forte going forward.

Blinkers on Malathaat?

When I think of equipment changes for a Pletcher horse, I think of Vino Rosso, whose blinkers came off after winning the Jockey Gold Cup (G1). Everyone asked, “Why change anything on a winning horse?” Pletcher answered this question when Vino Rosso won the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Now I also think of Malathaat. She won her 4-year-old debut in the Doubledogdare (G3), then came back to lose to Clairiere by a head bob in the Ogden Phipps (G1). Pletcher threw the blinkers on and she lost the Shuvee, but that race wasn’t the goal for the 2021 Kentucky Oaks winner who finished third in last year’s Distaff. She proceeded to string three grade one wins in a row, ending with the Distaff on Saturday.

The blinkers didn’t improve her speed figures but it gave her the focus to win races like the Distaff where she had to fight to the line and win by a nose. When Pletcher makes this sort of move with a barn standout, it tells me he knows they are an inch away from being the best in their division, and he is willing to make the adjustment to get them there. We’ll see this again, undoubtedly.

T-Gaff’s first

Tyler Gaffalione won 30% of the stakes races he had mounts in during the Keeneland fall meet. Entering the weekend, he had never won a Breeders’ Cup race. On Friday in the Juvenile Fillies, bettors slept on the grade one-winner Wonder Wheel, and TGaff brought her home with an amazing off the pace ride when Wonder Wheel’s best efforts had been coming on the lead. The rider let her find her own way in the field and did not panic when she didn't want to blast off to the front out of the gates.

On Saturday, it was 42-1 shot Caravel who broke like lightning in the Turf Sprint and never looked back. Winner of the recent Franklin (G3) with a stalk and pounce trip, this is another spot where the rider made the difference by recognizing the opportunity of the race and seizing it once Golden Pal didn't make the break.

He is the top rider in Kentucky and he will absolutely continue to win in the Breeders Cup at a regular clip.

Down Goes Cave Rock

Cave Rock was the first “sure thing” to lose. An unblemished Baffert 2-year-old with a perfect draw, Cave Rock looked unbeatable on paper, right? Well, it depends on which figures you looked at, which is always something to remember--not all speed figures tell the same story. Thoro-Graph put a few others in the same conversation with the undefeated .47-1 shot. And if you watched him in the paddock and on the track pre-race, Cave Rock was worked up, expending energy, possibly not as excited about the race as his backers.

Still Cave Rock ran well, finishing second to Pletcher’s star Forte, who raced wide in 5th through the first 3/4 miles but came with it late. Jockey Ortiz Jr. had said after the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) win that he had to put so much into straightening him out and getting him away from Loggins in the homestretch that he didn’t fully get into him to push him forward. Aka, there was more there.

Here’s something I know about two-year-olds: some have hit their peak and others are still moving up. At 5-1, Forte was the play there.

Going forward? Cave Rock is by Arrogate, and Forte by Violence. Both are known for the precocity of their foals, and neither has thrown a true Kentucky Derby contender. Violence is a sire on the rise. And Arrogate’s filly Secret Oath won the Kentucky Oaks. So I wouldn't count either of these out of the conversation, but I will not be taking them or any of the Juvenile runners in the Derby future pools.

The other Baffert, National Treasure, who ran well for third is by Quality Road, a upper echelon sire but another with foals who seem to peak either as two-year-olds or four-year-old and up. Many of the others in here are from their sire’s first crop, so how they do as three-year-olds is anybody’s guess.