The 30th Breeders’ Cup is in the books and it will go down as one of the most memorable, with non-stop exciting action from start to finish over the 14 championship races.
The star-studded two-day event saw $25 million in purses handed out, outstanding performances by a couple of Hall of Fame jockeys and a Hall of Fame trainer that went from watching a horse break down to the winner’s circle just hours later.
Toss in a first in the $5 million Classic, and it was a Breeders’ Cup for the ages.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from this year’s races.
The conventional thinking is that Europeans shipping across the pond and heading to Southern California would be at a disadvantage. They are not used to the firm turf course, do not race on dirt often and are not used to the warmer weather.
Then again, horses do not spend much time watching The Weather Channel.
Only 16 Euros made their way across the pond this year. But while the quantity was down over previous years, the quality was there, and they showed up loaded for bear.
London Bridge got things going on Friday in the Marathon, followed by Outstrip in the Juvenile Turf and Chrisellium in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were not represented in the other two Breeders’ Cup races on Friday.
On Saturday, Dank won the Filly & Mare Turf in her second start since coming to the U.S. In the Turf, Magician and The Fugue ran one-two.
Olympic Glory was disappointing in the Turf Mile, which was won by 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan in a repeat.
Declaration of War ran huge in the Classic in his dirt debut, a game third behind Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge.
Hall of Fame Jockey John Velazquez was poised for a big day on Saturday, but it ended early when his mount Secret Compass broke down in the fourth race.
Velazquez walked to the track ambulance and was transported to Huntington Memorial Hospital where X-rays were negative.
However, a scan of his abdominal area showed blood, and he was taken into surgery to remove his spleen.
The jockey was replaced on his mounts in the Filly and Mare Turf, Filly and Mare Sprint, Turf Sprint, Juvenile, Turf Mile and Classic.
Velazquez missed out on a big payday as Wise Dan repeated in the Turf Mile, with Jose Lezcano picking up the mount.
Mizdirection, owned in part by Jim Rome’s Jungle Racing, rallied for the victory against the boys in the $1 million Turf Sprint, winning the race for the second year in a row.
More impressively, the Mike Puype trainee won the race off a five and a half-month layoff, her last start a fifth place finish in the Just A Game at Belmont Park in June.
Sound familiar? The mare won the race last year off a similar layoff, making the back-to-back scores one of the best training jobs in Breeders’ Cup history. The mare made her last start in the race. She is headed to the Keeneland November Sales.
The mare paid $7.40 to win. Rack it, clones!
Next year, the Breeders’ Cup really should look into having the AARP as a title sponsor, although it does not seem as if either 48-year-old Mike Smith or 50-year-old Gary Stevens plans on hanging up their tack any time soon.
Mike Smith came into this year’s Breeders’ Cup as the all-time leading rider in wins with 17 and picked up a pair of wins on Friday and another on Saturday.
Smith won the first two Breeders’ Cup races, the Marathon aboard London Bridge and the Juvenile Turf aboard Outstrip. On Saturday he won the Turf Sprint on Mizdirection.
Stevens came out of retirement in January after seven years of spending his time in front of the camera in movies and television, and it did not take long for the Hall of Fame rider to pick up premium mounts.
He won his first Breeders’ Cup in 13 years piloting Beholder in Friday’s $2 million Distaff. He crossed the wire first in the Juvenile Fillies aboard She’s a Tiger but was disqualified for interference in the stretch.
Stevens rebounded by picking up the win in the $5 million Classic aboard Mucho Macho Man. When greeted by trainer Kathy Ritvo after the race, Stevens remarked, “You just made an old man happy!”
The day started tragically on Saturday as the Bob Baffert-trained Secret Compass broke down in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies. She suffered a lateral condylar fracture with dislocation, according to Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, on-call veterinarian with the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
Four races later, Baffert saddled New Year’s Day, who angled down to the inside in the stretch and got up late to pull off the upset in the $2 million Juvenile, giving the Hall of Fame trainer his third win in the race.
New Year’s Day returned his backers $23.00 and will be one of the early betting favorites for next spring’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Baffert also made it to the winner’s Circle with Secret Circle in the Sprint, just the colt’s second start off an 18-month layoff.
It was back-to-back victories in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint for Groupie Doll, who tracked the early pace and finished strongly, returning $8.60 for the win.
It looked as if the mare may have lost a step or two after her tour-de-force in the race last year where she trounced the field by four and a half widening lengths. Coming into Saturday, she had won just one of her three starts this year in a light schedule.
In her last start at Keeneland in the Thoroughbred Club of America, she was no match for Judy the Beauty in the stretch, weakening to finish third.
She turned the tables on that foe with her win and may have seen her last start on the racetrack. The plan is to sell her in the upcoming Keeneland November Sales for breeding.
The 2012 Horse of the Year, Wise Dan, repeated in the Turf Mile, bouncing back off a runner-up finish in the Shadwell Turf Mile, which was actually run on the synthetic polytrack surface because of the weather.
That loss snapped a nine-race winning streak, and doubters wondered if the six-year-old gelding was indeed past his prime.
On Saturday, he showed he was not, stalking a sharp early pace and finishing full of run to win the Mile for the second year in a row. With jockey John Velazquez injured earlier in the day, Jose Lezcano picked up the mount on the champion.
The gelding has won six of his seven starts this year, making him the leader in the clubhouse for Horse of the Year, and with Game On Dude failing to get the job done in the Classic, he likely will get the hardware.
Mucho Macho Man returned to the $5 million Classic after his runner-up finish in last year’s race and did one better, holding off the late-running Will Take Charge to get the win.
For trainer Kathy Ritvo, a heart transplant survivor, she became the first female trainer to saddle a winner in the Classic in the 30-year history of the race.
She gave a leg up to Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens, who came out of retirement in January. Stevens capped off an outstanding year with a win in the richest race in the U.S at the ripe young age of 50.
The 2013 Breeders’ Cup was a mucho good time indeed!
Follow me on Twitter @turfnsport.com