Five Takeaways from the 2015 Breeders' Cup
Keeneland hosted two great days of championship racing. Here are my five takeaways from the 2015 Breeders’ Cup.
Phaorah delivers fitting conclusion in Classic romp: The champ went out a spectacular winner, dominating the Breeders’ Cup Classic in his career finale. American Pharoah saved his best for last, registering a career-topping 113 BRIS Speed rating for the 6 ½-length decision, and established a new single-season earnings record by a North American Thoroughbred ($8,288,800 from seven wins and a runner-up effort this year). He’ll be remembered as a great one, an once-in-a-lifetime individual who galvanized both die-hards and casual fans, and it was simply a pleasure watching American Pharoah perform.
Turf Females: The turf belonged to the dames. Tepin and Found defeated formidable male foes and both exciting distaffers are expected to return in 2016. Tepin sat a good trip in second before blasting her way to the front and rolling home a 2 ¼-length winner in the Mile, defeating an outstanding international contingent that was six-deep. The Irish-based Found became the first 3-year-old filly to capture the Turf, rallying gamely to edge heavily favored English Derby (G1) and Prix de l’Arc de Triopmphe (G1) winner Golden Horn. Stephanie’s Kitten, the 2012 Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, delivered a career-best in the Filly & Mare Turf, rating patiently in last before offering a dynamic turn of foot past all rivals, scoring by an authoritative 1 ¼-length margin over Irish-based superstar Legatissimo. And I won’t leave Catch a Glimpse out of the equation – the talented daughter of City Zip left no doubt of her superiority in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, improving to 3-for-3 on turf, and appears to have an extremely bright future for Mark Casse.
Sprinters: The post-race drama surrounding Runhappy is clearly unfortunate but it doesn’t diminish his brilliant performance in the TwinSpires Sprint, rating successfully for the first time. I didn’t think the 3-year-old had a chance to catch Private Zone in upper stretch, but Runhappy dug in determinedly like a true champion. Once Maria Borell took over training duties in April, putting her hands on the horse every day, Runhappy developed into a special performer and it’s unbelievable she could be treated so poorly by individuals displaying an abject lack of class. Wavell Avenue, a $40,000 maiden claiming winner nearly a year ago, continued her rapid ascension in the TwinSpires Filly & Mare Sprint, registering her first stakes victory with a 1 ¾-length decision. Trainer Chad Brown shed the one-dimensional turf label (5 wins, 4 seconds and 3 thirds in Breeders’ Cup turf races entering 2015), getting his first Breeders’ Cup dirt win after five previous unplaced attempts. And the Mongolian connections proved to be one of the better storylines, with Mongolian Saturday overcoming post 14 and earning his first stakes win with a 15-1 upset in the TwinSpires Turf Sprint.
Unbeaten Juvenile Stars: Songbird was the best 2-year-old to perform on Breeders’ Cup weekend, defeating a top-class Juvenile Fillies field with consummate ease as she powered home to a 5 ¾-length decision, and it will be interesting to see whether trainer Jerry Hollendorfer puts her on a possible path toward the Kentucky Derby next year. The Medaglia d’Oro filly ran more than a second faster than Juvenile winner Nyquist later in the program. Nyquist is the unquestioned leader of his division, recording a 5-for-5 mark that includes three Grade 1 tallies, and I loved how he overcame post 13 and a wide trip on both turns Saturday, scoring by a comfortable half-length margin. Trainer Doug O’Neill envisions him as a burgeoning two-turn star and sire Uncle Mo, who was very fast and is passing high speed along to a number of offspring, may prove versatile enough to sire classic performers if coupled with the right mares. However, Nyquist hails from a female family slanted toward sprint/mile distances; he’ll need to outrun his breeding to thrive at longer distances next spring.
Friday's Grand Appetizers: Friday was the first of the two-day program and the tone was set in the second Breeders’ Cup race of the afternoon by Liam’s Map, who delivered a top-class effort to win the Dirt Mile going away by 2 ½ lengths. He was caught behind horses after a slow start, forced to wait until the short stretch drive for clear sailing to launch a winning move, and the 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song was just getting warmed up when he crossed the finish line. In my view, he would’ve at worst been a clear second in the 1 ¼-mile Classic a day later, resulting in more purse money and prestige for connections, and Liam’s Map presence a day later would’ve made for a more compelling race. But the path of least resistance did produce a scintillating performance. Stopchargingmaria, who faltered after winding up on the lead by default in her previous outing, got the right stalking trip in the Distaff and finished strongly to prevail by a neck over Stellar Wind, who ran a huge race in defeat. The runner-up was making only her second start since mid-June and the 3-year-old Curlin filly looks set to be a major factor in the distaff division next year.