If the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships determine the 2003 Horse of the Year, which frequently is the case, all hail Halfbridled.
The 2-year-old filly was the only North American--based starter in any of Saturday's eight races at Santa Anita who confirmed her position as the best in her class. With a dominating victory from the No. 14 post position in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies, the daughter of Unbridled capped an undefeated, four--race season.
The other seven Championship races were won by longshots or by Europeans and the day's biggest winner was a human -- trainer Richard Mandella, who saddled four of the day's victors.
In fact, the most likely candidate for Horse of the Year is Mineshaft, who was retired before the Breeders' Cup with a sparkling, but not perfect, 2003 record. Despite his imperfections and his defection from racing's biggest day, Mineshaft still could inherit the title by default after Saturday's upsets -- and if Eclipse Award voters are reluctant to turn to a 2-year-old filly.
Championship race results:
$2 million Distaff, presented by Nextel
With Azeri on the shelf, Sightseek was the heavy favorite. But she was pinched back at the start and never reached serious contention while Adoration, a 40-1 longshot, loped along on the lead and then jetted off in the stretch to win by 4 1/2 length under Patrick Valenzuela. The 4-year-old daughter of Honor Grades ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.17. Elloluv was second and Got Koko was third. Adoration had not won a graded stake in 15 months and was fourth in her last start. Trainer David Hofmans said Valenzuela saw she was improving and encouraged him to run her in the Distaff.
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
As a sidelight to Halfbridled's impressive performance, jockey Julie Krone became the first female jockey to win a Breeders' Cup Championship race when she guided Halfbridled across the finish line first. Ashado was second and Victory U.S.A. was third, neither threatening the winner. "She jumped out of the gate so quickly, she brought me in at least six paths, which is just where we wanted to be," Krone said. Added winning trainer Richard Mandella, "We thought we'd be relieved if we were only four-- or five-- wide on the first turn. ... She's an exceptional filly." The final time for the 1 1/16 mile was 1:42.75.
$1.5 million NetJets Mile
Many thought Europeans would have a rough day at the Breeders' Cup after traveling across an ocean and a continent, only to find temperatures in the 90s and a rain of ash from nearby wildfires. But when the day of racing "dawned," the Europeans provided their own wildfire, with Six Perfections leading the way. The only filly in the field, Jerry Bailey guided the 3-year-old daughter of Celtic Swing between horses in the final yards to take the lead, then held off Touch of the Blues for the victory. Century City was third. The time was 1:33.86. Trained by Pascal Bary for the Niarchos Family's Flaxman Holdings, Six Perfections has never been worse than second in 10 lifetime starts. She is expected to work toward the same race next year. Flaxman Holdings' Domedriver won the Mile last year at Arlington Park.
$1 million Sprint
The day's shortest and fastest event also was one of the few that didn't feature Mandella or the foreign contingent. Cajun Beat, a Kentuckian, rallied from just behind a hot pace to win the event by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:07.95 -- just a single tick off the Breeders' Cup record. Bluesthestandard rallied up the rail to take second while Shake You Down, who helped set the pace, held on for third. Cajun beat, a 3-year-old son of Grand Slam, came into the Sprint off a very similar victory in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park. He has won four of nine starts this year for Kentucky-based trainer Steve Margolis. Margolis said Sunday he hopes the gelding can defend his title next year when the Breeders' Cup is run at Lone Star Park in Texas.
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
Proving that Six Perfections' victory was no fluke, Islington overcame her international journey and the California heat to lead Europeans to a 1--2--3 sweep in the "DisTurf." Under jockey Kieren Fallon, Islington raced in the middle of the field as Bien Nicole took a big lead on the backstretch. Coming between horses, Islington swept to the front as the field turned for home in the 1 1/4--mile turf race, then won a stretch--long duel with L'Ancresse by 1/2 length. Yesterday was a non--threatening third. Islington finished in Breeders' Cup--record time of 1:59.13, shaving a full second off the record set by Banks Hill two years ago at Belmont Park. The 4--year--old daughter of Sadler's Wells had been running successfully in Europe this summer against some of the world's top male horses, including the likes of High Chaparral and Falbrav. She finished third in this event last year at Arlington Park, encountering serious traffic problems.
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
It was a double Mandella touch in the Juvenile as Action This Day got the lead at mid--stretch and went on to win over stablemate Minister Eric. Chapel Royal was third in the slowly run event, clocked in 1:43.62. Many of the nation's top 2--year--olds bypassed the Juvenile, which has not produced a Kentucky Derby winner in any of its previous 19 runnings. That no knock on Action This Day, a son of Kris S., who was coming off his maiden win at Hollywood Park a month ago and went to the post at odds of more than 25-1. Near the back of the pack on the turn, jockey David Flores guided the Kentucky-bred between horses and accelerated through the stretch. The favorite, Cuvee, faded badly and barely crossed the finish line, dead last in the field of 12.
$2 million John Deere Turf
After becoming the first trainer to win both 2-year-old races on the Championship card, Mandella also figured in the first dead-heat for win in the 20-year-history of the Breeders' Cup as Johar hit the line together with defending champion High Chaparral. Falbrav finished third, just a neck behind the top two. The 1 1/2 mile, starting on Santa Anita's unique downhill course, was clocked in 2:24.24. High Chaparral, a 4-year-old Sadler's Wells colt, was among the favorites despite a poor showing in the Arc d'Triomphe in his last start. He had won three straight before the Arc. Johar, a 4-year-old by Gone West, was the longshot in the race after a limited 2003 campaign that included a second-place finish in his last start, the Clement Hirsch at Santa Anita. The victory also gave High Chaparral the points lead in the World Series Racing Championship but he is expected to be retired without contesting the two remaining events in that series -- the Japan Cup and the Hong Kong Cup.
$4 million Classic - powered by Dodge
Two or even three of the starters in the Classic could have made a case for Horse of the Year honors -- if they had won. But two of them, Medaglia d'Oro and Congaree, burned each other out on the front end and the other, Pleasantly Perfect, couldn't recover after a rough trip around the first turn. That left longshot Pleasantly Perfect to pick up the pieces, coming from behind the leaders in the stretch to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Medaglia d'Oro held on for second -- an all-too-familiar placing for him -- and Dynever nosed out Congaree for third. The final time was 1:59.88, just off the Breeders' Cup record of 1:59.16 set by Skip Away at Hollywood Park in 1997. Pleasantly Perfect is unlikely to garner much Horse of the Year support. The Kentucky-bred had won only one of his three previous starts this year, the Goodwood Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita in his last outing. That was his first start since finishing fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap in March. Major disappointments in the Classic: Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide finished ninth and defending champion Volponi was last.
In other weekend racing:
Fields of Omagh upset Saturday's Carlton Draught Cox Plate at Moonee Valley at odds of 17-1. Fields of Omagh stayed close to the leaders through most of the race, took over the point with about 500 meters to run and held on to win by a neck over another longshot, Defrier. The odds-on favorite, Lonhro, was home third, just another 1/2 length back. The victory was particularly sweet for trainer Tony McEvoy, who twice has coaxed Fields of Omagh back to racing form after tendon injuries. "I was always confident of getting him back. I never thought he was completely finished." McEvoy said he felt Fields of Omagh, who ran fifth in the race last year, was a Cox Plate contender after his fast finishing second in the Group 1 Toorak Handicap, 1600 metres, at Caulfield on Oct. 11. McEvoy said Fields Of Omagh could press on for more glory in the World Series Racing Championship, which ran three events this weekend in the Cox Plate and the two top Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita in California. The Hong Kong leg of the series is a possibility for the gelding, who has been entered for both 2000 meter and 2400 meter races at the big international meeting. "We'll sit down and weigh up all the possibilities," McEvoy said.
Voodoo got a clear lead a the top of the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Sport Page Handicap and coasted home a 2 1/2-lengths winner over Bowman's Band. Highway Prospector was third. Voodoo, a 5-year-old Petionville gelding, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.18 under Jorge Chavez.
Also Saturday, Randaroo led most of the way in the $150,000 First Flight Handicap, then barely held off odds-on favorite Shine Again to win by a neck. Herbert Castillo Jr. provided the well-judged ride, completing the 7-furlong event for fillies and mares in 1:23.65. Randaroo is a 3-year-old daughter of Gold Case.
Please Take Me Out took out all her rivals in Sunday's $75,000 Miss Grillo Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The daughter of Take Me Out surged to a big lead and then won by a head over Bobbie Use. Lucifer's Stone was third and the favorite, Saree, got home sixth. Please Take Me Out ran 9 furlongs on the firm inner turf course in 1:50.75.
"Racing as it was meant to be" is in the books for another year as Keeneland closed out its fall meeting with Saturday's $150,000 Fayette Stakes. M B Sea punctuated the meeting with a stirring upset, winning a stretch duel with Tenpins for a 1-length victory. Changeintheweather and Seattle Fitz dead-heated for third. M B Sea, with Craig Perret up, got the 9 furlongs in 1:50.30 on a fast track. She is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Alphabet Soup and went to the post at odds of 35--1.
As Keeneland closed, Churchill Downs opened its fall meeting with a chunk of the grandstand missing and awaiting reconstruction. Not missing was good tactical speed from Cappuchino in Sunday's $150,000 Ack Ack Handicap. Cappuchino sat right off the pace of Pass Rush, gained the lead with a quarter mile to run and eased clear a furlong out. At the wire, he was 2 lengths to the good with Pass Rush holding second and Twilight Road third. The 7 1/2 furlongs went in 1:31.66.
Stellar got Saturday's card off to a stellar start, rallying in the final yards to win the $100,000 Very Subtle Handicap by a nose over Lacie Girl with Cee's Valley Girl just a neck farther back in third. Stellar, a 3-year-old daughter of Grand Slam, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.63. The favorite, Nasty Storm, finished last of six and Mooji Moo was fifth.
As the Breeders' Cup crowd was heading for the exits, Pie N Burger took charge in the stretch to win the $150,000 Seabiscuit Handicap by 1 length over Chinkapin. Redattore, trained by Mandella, was third. Pie N Burger, coming off the Louisiana circuit, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.11. The favorite, Fleetstreet Dancer, finished sixth with a flat effort.
Winter Garden, the heavy favorite, stalked the early lead in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Fashion Handicap, moved to the front on the turn and went on to win by 1 length over Mille Feville. Sheila's Prospect was third. Winter Garden, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Roy, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.59.
In Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Fanfreluche Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, Ontheqt led most of the way and rolled home a 3-lengths winner over Finnerty's Frolic. Blonde Executive was third. Ontheqt got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.34.