A couple of favorites won, wrapping up year-end championships. There were some huge upsets, with big prices on the Tote board. The Europeans had their ups and downs but walked off with one of the day's biggest prizes. And the home team arguably retained bragging rights.
Arlington management, hosting its first Breeders' Cup, got cool but dry day and 46,118 people showed up for racing's biggest day. A few rays of sunshine even poked through the clouds as the horses came on to the track for the final championship race, the $4 million Classic.
It was the Classic that provided the biggest shocker of the day. Volponi, a 4-year-old who has raced with limited success this year, exploded down the stretch to beat 3-year-old Medaglia d'Oro by 6 1/2 lengths, paying $89 to win. It was the biggest upset in the Classic since Arcangues shipped in from France to California to win the 1993 running at odds of 133-1.
Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner War Emblem had hoped to wrap up Horse of the Year honors with a victory in the Classic. He fought for the lead with E Dubai until the field hit the stretch turn, then both faded from contention with War Emblem finishing eighth. He now heads for a breeding career in Japan.
That outcome left year-end honors up in the air. A beneficiary could be Azeri, the impressive winner of the first race on Saturday's championship card, the $2 million Distaff.
Azeri drew clear in the stretch to win her seventh straight race and her 10th in 11 lifetime starts. Kentucky Derby winner Farda Amiga was second and Imperial Gesture was third.
Trainer Laura De Seroux told reporters she can't comment on Horse of the Year prospects for Azeri.
"That's all up to you guys. She's never been in danger of losing a race. I mean, she has a record that is rarely seen. It's rare that you find a horse that can put together a win streak like that and only be second once in her life," she said.
There also could be some Horse of the Year lobbying for Storm Flag Flying, winner of the $1 million Long John Silver's Juvenile Fillies. The regally bred filly -- daughter and granddaughter of Breeders' Cup champions -- gave up the lead in mid-stretch to Composure but came back on the inside to win by 1/2 length. Santa Catarina was a distant third.
Trainer Shug McGaughey, who has trained the whole family of horses for the Phipps stable, said he was "tickled to death for her. It's four wins in a row, she won the Breeders' Cup and she will be a champion 2-year-old."
If the voters are willing to take a European horse who raced only once in the United States, they could look to the winner of the $2 million John Deere Turf -- High Chaparral. The Irish-bred provided a bright spot for trainer Aidan O'Brien, whose promising band suffered several other setbacks on Saturday.
Third in the Arc d'Triomphe in his last outing, High Chaparral ran like a champion in the Turf. He sat off the pace under jockey Mick Kinane, then split horses in mid-stretch, going on to win by 1 1/4 length over veteran U.S. campaigner With Anticipation. Falcon Flight, a French-bred, was third.
"We are delighted," said the soft-spoken O'Brien. "We've always thought he was a top-class horse. He ran his own race and he quickened really well when he was asked." Added Kinane: "He's so, so all class."
O'Brien didn't fare so well in other races Saturday.
In the $1 million NetJets Mile, his biggest favorite on the day, Rock of Gibraltar, missed the break and trailed the field through the first half. He then was bothered when another of O'Brien's horses, Landseer, suffered a fatal breakdown at the top of the stretch. "The Rock" finished second to Domedriver and Landseer was humanely destroyed.
Good Journey, who pressed the pace in the Mile, held on well to finish third.
O'Brien's troubles continued in the $1 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile. Both his starters in that race for 2-year-old colts and geldings -- Hold That Tiger and Tomahawk -- missed the start and trailed the field in the early going. On the front end, Bob Baffert trainees Vindication and Bull Market set the pace. Vindication went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths while Baffert's third starter, Kafwain, closed to finish second. Hold That Tiger, despite the horrible start and a wide trip, got third.
"I would love to think he could be a Kentucky Derby horse next year," O'Brien said.
In that sense, finishing third in the Juvenile may be better than winning the race. No Juvenile winner in the past 18 runnings has come back the following spring to win the Run for the Roses.
The $1 million NAPA Sprint and the $1 million Filly & Mare Turf were both celebrations for the home team.
In the Sprint, Orientate rolled from off the pace to win by 1/2 length over pace-setting Thunderello with Crafty C.T. third. Orientate is trained by D. Wayne Lukas and was ridden by Jerry Bailey -- top names in the history of the Breeders' Cup in their areas. Owners Bob and Beverly Lewis picked up their first Breeders' Cup win.
Kona Gold, running in a record fifth Sprint, finished fourth. Super filly Xtra Heat, who was second last year, contested the pace in this year's edition before falling back to finish sixth.
Bobby Frankel not only trained the 1-2 finishers in the Filly & Mare Turf but also owns the winner -- Starine. Starine, a French-bred, took the lead in the stretch and beat defending champion Banks Hill by 1 1/2 length.
Frankel trains Banks Hill for his primary client -- Juddmonte Farms.
"I just beat my best client, so I might not have a job tomorrow," he joked. "To be honest with you, if I'd finished second and she (Banks Hill) would have beat me, I would have been happy. Honest to God."
Volponi exploded down the stretch to post a huge upset in Saturday's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Arlington Park.
The 4-year-old son of Cryptoclearance entered the Classic with only two wins in seven starts this year. With jockey Jose Santos up, he sat behind the pace duel between Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem and E Dubai.
Turning for home, Santos put Volponi down on the rail and he hit another gear, winning off by 6 1/2 lengths. Medaglia d'Oro, who surged to the lead on the turn for home, held on for second, a neck ahead of Milwaukee Brew.
After setting the pace, E Dubai finished next-to-last and War Emblem, likely running his last race before heading for a breeding career in Japan, got home eighth.
Trainer Bob Baffert said he knew War Emblem was in trouble when jockey Victor Espinoza had to urge him toward the early lead. "I think maybe he's just a tired horse," said Baffert, who all week before the race insisted War Emblem was well rested, happy and ready to run.
Volponi has raced on both the main track and the turf this year on the east coast. In his last start, just three weeks ago, he rushed from well back to finish a close second behind Burning Roma in the Meadowlands Cup Handicap. His last victory was in the 1-mile Poker Handicap on the turf at Belmont Park on July 2.
Hall of Fame trainer Philip Johnson said he added blinkers to Volponi's equipment after the Meadowlands race because he felt he had been too far behind in that event. He said he originally blamed the jockey, but after watching a tape of the race, he concluded it was a matter of the horse's field of vision.
"The blinkers make him concentrate a little bit," Johnson said.
Despite his recent troubles, Volponi stakes races at ages 2, 3 and 4.
Johnson, a long-time Chicagoan, saddled horses at many Chicago tracks, dating back to the 1940s.
Volponi's win was the biggest upset in the Classic since Arcangues shipped in from France to California to win the 1993 running at odds of 133-1.
Volponi paid $89, $26.80 and $12.40; Medaglia d'Oro $4.60 and $3.60; Milwaukee Brew $9.60. The $2 exacta returned $463.60.
The race had been billed as a battle of 3-year-olds like War Emblem, Medaglia d'Oro and Came Home against older horses like Volponi and Milwaukee Brew.
'I didn't like the 3-year-olds in here at all," Johnson said, noting that many of them had not raced for many weeks.
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