Day After Reflections: 2015 Was What the BC Is All About
by LAURA PUGH
When John R. Gaines envisioned the Breeders Cup he envisioned top Thoroughbred talent from all over the world coming to meet in one place, creating a place where champions could rise above and display their brilliance on a world stage. This past weekend, at Keeneland Racecourse, Gaines’ vision was on full display.
Who can say they weren’t left in awe as Liam’s Map overcame all adversity to mow down Lea, in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile? Everyone knew he was good, everyone knew that he was talented, but nobody expected a race that saw him forced to change his running style, while also getting bumped around and boxed in. Nobody envisioned him overcoming such a horrible trip to win with a flourish.
His trip was so horrible that even trainer Todd Pletcher had his doubts about winning. “I thought it was a tremendously impressive effort. I was concerned the whole way, but one thing that gave me encouragement was that every time something went wrong he just kept jumping back into the bridle. It was a great effort by a great horse.”
It was the first of many incredible efforts, by incredible horses.
The rest came on Saturday, the first being by the filly Songbird, who bears a striking resemblance to one of racing’s greatest fillies, Rachel Alexandra. Songbird broke from the far outside post, a disadvantage to a filly who wants to be on the lead, but when the gates opened she broke so fast that she made it to the lead in one fell swoop. The field assembled against her was of top quality, but even with her disadvantage at the start, she showed she was simply in a different class, winning by nearly six lengths.
Later on the card, we got to see a true rags to riches story fulfilled when Runhappy ran the race of his life. The performance gave trainer Maria Borell her first Breeders Cup victory, with her first Breeders Cup starter.
Forced to sit off the pace for the first time in his career, Runhappy remained professional and unfazed. In the stretch, it seemed for a moment, as if Runhappy wouldn’t have enough to get him past Private Zone. Then, as if he found a second wind, he kicked into a new gear and soared by his rival to stop the clock in 1.08.58, a new track record.
Borell could hardly even speak in the post race interviews and in the winner’s circle, she was simply overcome with emotion. “It’s unreal”, was all Borell could muster.
Next came the filly Tepin, who entered the Breeders Cup Mile, against males as the underdog. As the field turned for home, however, Tepin made sure that nobody would think that of her ever again. She wrested the lead away from Obviously, bursting clear with an incredible turn of foot. She hit the line 2 ¼ lengths the best.
“Today was a good, good field, and Europe came with a strong bunch, but she won easy.” Said Jockey Julien Leparoux, who believes this win puts her up as one of the best milers in the world.
Owner Robert Masterson had no doubts, claiming that she was the best filly in the country and that he knew that she would win. “She loves the soft, but you know she won on the good at Belmont, she runs on the fast at Churchill. I think she’ll run on anything, but she really likes the soft.”
Then finally came the big race, with the big horse…The Classic with American Pharoah. It was billed as the toughest field he would face in his career, but in the end American Pharoah showed that no matter how great the others looked, he was in a class of his own.
With the lack of early speed, Mike Smith, on Effinex tried to go with the Triple Crown champion early, but Pharoah was just too fast, reeling off his first three individual quarters in 23.99, 23.51, and 23.71. Every time Effinex move to assert pressure American Pharoah would open back up.
Around the turn Victor gave the big colt his que and ended the race in an instant. Entering the stretch, he had opened up a four length lead and he continued to lengthen it to 6 ½ lengths –tied for the longest margin of victory- all way to the wire. He won setting a new course record, finishing the race in 2.00.07 –one of the fastest in Classic history. -
Trainer Bob Baffert, who is normally not one to get sentimental, seemed especially choked up. “I said to Victor, today you get to let him go. I’m so proud of my team and thankful to Zayat for breeding him. This is for Pharoah. Just wanted him to go out the champion that he is. I’ll never have another one like him.”
These moments are what Gaines’ had in mind when he pitched the idea of a world championship series. The moments that raise you to heights you never thought you could reach, and overcome you with indescribable emotion. The 2015 Breeders Cup World Championships encompassed all of that…. 2015 is what the Breeders Cup is all about.