Although horses owned by the Maktoum family of Dubai finished 1-2 in the year's biggest race, their best horse -- Discreet Cat -- may have been on the bench.
Invasor, owned by Sheik Hamdan's Shadwell Stable, came along with a dramatic late stretch run in Saturday's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, spoiling the championship aspirations of Bernardini, owned by Sheik Mohammed's Darley Stable.
Had Bernardini won, the 3-year-old certainly would have been a shoo-in for Horse of the Year. He had won six consecutive races coming into the Classic, including the Preakness, Jim Dandy, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Now, Invasor will get much support for the top honor. He has four consecutive wins, also including the Pimlico Special, Suburban Handicap and the Whitney. Even Tom Albertrani, Bernardini's trainer, felt that way after the Classic. "I would probably think that would go to Invasor after this race," he said, adding that Bernardini should be the 3-year-old title winner.
The only loss on Invasor's record was a fourth-place finish this past March in the UAE Derby in Dubai -- a race won by Discreet Cat, owned by Sheik Mohammed through Godolphin Racing. After that triumph, many fans had Discreet Cat in their fantasy stables for the U.S. Triple Crown races. Instead, he stayed in the barn until late summer, when he returned to action by winning a tuneup at Saratoga and then romping to victory in the Jerome Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park.
Discreet Cat, a son of Forestry, has yet to be seriously tested in running up an undefeated record in five starts - four of them this year. Sheik Mohammed entered him in the Classic -- but only as insurance that he would have a starter should some mishap befall Bernardini. When Bernardini was a go, Discreet Cat was a scratch.
Now Discreet Cat is expected to make his final start of 2006 in the Hill n' Dale Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 25. Should he win that race, he would be 5-for-5 for '06 and a victor over the Breeders' Cup Classic winner.
His light schedule probably won't qualify him for much Horse of the Year consideration -- even though he might be the best horse in the world's best stable.
The 23rd running of the Breeders' Cup World Championships had some sad moments -- none sadder than the fatal breakdown suffered by Pine Island on the backstretch in the $2 million Emirates Airline Distaff. Owner Ogden Phipps and trainer Shug McGaughey, among the most dedicated and classiest participants in the sport, were devastated by the tragedy. Fleet Indian, running her last race, also broke down in the Distaff but is expected to recover after surgery.
Trainer Todd Pletcher's record 17 starters, including Fleet Indian, came up winless. But Pletcher did rack up three seconds and three thirds -- adding substantially to his record for most money won in a season by a trainer. "This is not a game of secondary awards and, of course, I'm not happy with not winning a race," Pletcher said. "But the idea is to get your horses ready and to have them run well. And, for the most part, my horses did run well today. There were a few disappointments along the way. But, overall, I'm happy with what occurred."
The Maktoum family, second to none in their long-term commitment to the industry and to the breed, had a disappointing day other than the Classic. Henny Hughes, racing for Sheik Rashid's Zabeel Racing International, ran last of 14 as the favorite in the $2 million TVG Sprint after a terrible start. Godolphin sent out two for the $2 million NetJets Mile on the grass and Librettist got home 10th and Echo of Light last of 14. Balletto finished fourth in the Distaff and was promoted to third by a disqualification.
ESPN, taking over television coverage after 22 years on NBC, did an excellent job with the broadcast. ESPN employed familiar folks who know their stuff. And Trevor Denman was a completely acceptable substitute for Tom Durkin in calling the races. The features were informative and the anchor crew did a good job of handling the breakdowns in the Distaff with relative sensitivity and perspective.
A race-by-race rundown:
$2 million Juvenile Fillies
Dreaming of Anna, coming off two races on the grass, led from gate to wire, holding on impressively down the long Churchill Downs stretch to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Pletcher took second and third with Octave and Cotton Blossom. Dreaming of Anna, trained by Wayne Catalano for Frank Calabrese, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.81 under Rene Douglas. Cash Included didn't fire and finished fifth. Dreaming of Anna, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Rahy, is undefeated in four starts and a lock for an Eclipse Award for her Chicago-based connections. "Mr. Calabrese turned down a lot of money for this horse," Catalano said. "He said to me, 'Wayne, I want to take her to the big dance.'"
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
Street Sense trailed most of the field down the backstretch before jockey Calvin Borel got him into contention on the turn. Nearing the stretch, Borel put the Kentucky-bred son of Street Cry in full gear and fortunately found room on the rail to keep the bid going. Clear of the field, Street Sense jetted off to win by a record 10 lengths. The favorite, Circular Quay rallied to be best of the rest and Great Hunter was third. Street Sense, trained by Carl Nafzger for Jim Tafel, finished in 1:42.59. This was only his second career win. He was third in both the Arlington Washington Breeders' Cup Futurity and in the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland. "My strategy is always to come up the rail," Borel said. "I believe he's one of the best 2-year-olds I've ever been on in my life and we'll see what he does from here." Of course, no Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has ever come back to win the Kentucky Derby.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Contesting this race for the third straight year, Ouija Board saved ground early under Frankie Dettori, swung out wide for the stretch run and easily scampered home first, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Film Maker. Honey Ryder was third, with Wait a While fourth. Ouija Board, one of the most accomplished international stars in all of Thoroughbred racing, won the "Disturf" in 2004 at Lone Star Park and was second to Intercontinental last year at Belmont. The 5-year-old Cape Cross mare, owned by Lord Derby, is headed for the Japan Cup and the Hong Kong International Races before being retired, according to trainer Edward Dunlop. "She's the best. There's no other way of saying it," Dunlop said. "She's won two Breeders' Cups and finished second in another. It was a dream run and a dream ride. Frankie said it's the best she's ever been." Dettori said he had "no anxious moments. She took me 'round so easily. She's undoubtedly the best filly in the world now."
$2 million TVG Sprint
Thor's Echo reverberated against the Twin Spires after his upset victory keyed a $10,611.80 trifecta. After racing just off the early pace, the 4-year-old, California-bred son of Swiss Yodler came around the leaders on the turn, then drew off in the stretch to win by 4 lengths over one of Pletcher's longest shots of the day, Friendly Island (58-1). Nightmare Affair was third and the favorite, Henny Hughes, was last of 14. Thor's Echo, with Corey Nakatani up for trainer Doug O'Neill, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.80. "He really had a good break and Henny Hughes did not have a good break," Nakatani said. O'Neill said he was "joking about the post position (No. 1), and saying we could sell it to somebody for good money. But in the end, the post turned out to be our advantage."
$2 million NetJets Mile (turf)
Miesque's Approval raced far back in the field through much of the Mile, then came very wide into the stretch to find running room and ran past the leaders to win by 2 3/4 lengths at odds of 24-1. Aragorn rallied well to take second and Badge of Silver finished third. The favorite, Araafa, moved into contention on the turn but then faded and finished ninth. Miesque's Approval, trained by Marty Wolfson for Live Oak Plantation, finished in 1:34.75 with Eddie Castro aboard. The 7-year-old son of Miesque's Son came into the race with four wins from six starts this year, having defeated the likes of Artie Schiller during the spring at Keeneland. "That's the way he's run all year," Wolfson said. "He deserved it."
$2 million Emirates Airline Distaff
The most eventful race of the day as neither of the two favorites finished the race and the second-place finisher was set down to fourth for interference in the stretch run. At the end of the day, Round Pond was a deserving winner, running in the second flight until the turn, waiting for running room, then ducking down to the rail and drawing clear. At the wire, the 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Awesome Again won by 4 1/4 lengths over Asi Siempre, with Happy Ticket third. Asi Siempre's demotion by the stewards elevated Balletto to third-place money. Round Pond, with Edgar Prado up, ran the 1 1/8 mile in 1:50.50, winning for the third time in five tries this year. She is owned and trained by the same team -- Fox Hill Farms and Michael Matz -- that campaigned Kentucky Derby winner Barbero. "She's a very, very nice filly with a huge heart," Matz said. "She's a real winner and a real champion." Pine Island suffered her fatal breakdown on the backstretch while running near the back of the field and thus didn't impede others. Jose Santos was able to gather up Fleet Indian when she broke down on the turn, preventing further damage to her or any problems for other runners.
$3 million John Deere Turf
Hurricane Run had by far the best career record of any of the Europeans in this event but the buzz was that his best days were behind him. Instead, the lightly raced Scorpion was touted as a good chance for the foreigners to score. Instead, it was Red Rocks, a 3-year-old, Irish-bred son of Galileo, blasting to the lead at mid-stretch and then holding off the late rush of 2004 winner Better Talk Now. At the wire, Dettori had Red Rocks 1/2 length in front. English Channel, the best home of the home team, had the lead briefly in the stretch but couldn't hold, finishing third. Hurricane run raced evenly to finish sixth. Red Rocks won for just the third time in 10 starts and scored his first Group/Graded stakes victory for owner J. Paul Reddam and trainer Brian Meehan.
$5 million Classic, Powered by Dodge
The Classic was touted as a showdown between the regally bred, Dubai-owned Bernardini and the one-time claimer who dominates California competition, Lava Man. In fact, Lava Man has never run well outside California, even against moderate competition and he didn't improve on that record Saturday, fading in the stretch to finish seventh. That opened the door for Bernardini to lock up Horse of the Year honors and he appeared well on his way to doing just that, sweeping quickly to the lead on the turn and heading for home in front. But by mid-stretch, it appeared jockey Javier Castellano had pushed the button too early and Bernardini didn't have enough gas to make it all the way down the long Churchill Downs stretch. Invasor, the Argentine-bred, Uruguayan Triple Crown champion ran right by Bernardini and won by 1 length, under one of the youngest jockeys on the grounds, Fernando Jara. Premium Tap, winner of the Woodward at Saratoga two races back, ran evenly just behind the leaders and took third. Giacomo, returning to the site of his 2005 Kentucky Derby upset win, clunked up to finish fourth. The early pace-setter, Brother Derek, held on for fifth and will be one to watch next year. George Washington, a terror on the grass in England all year, performed credibly to get home sixth, beaten by 7 lengths in his first start on the main track. The 1 1/4 mile went in an unimpressive 2:02.18. Castellano said the Classic was Bernardini's first real challenge. "I had to ask him for the first time today. He passed the other horses easily. He gave me everything," Castellano said. Trainer Tom Albertrani said he doesn't yet know if Bernardini will race as a 4-year-old. As to Invasor's future, Rick Nichols, vice president and general manager of Shadwell Stables, said, "It's going to be up to Sheik Hamdan. ... With the fact of winning the Classic, it would be very tempting to go retire him, but it's also very tempting to win the Dubai World Cup in Dubai next March. So that will be his decision to make once we've had time to think about things."
In other weekend racing, briefly:
Leonnatus Anteas took charge in the stretch run and won Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity by 1 1/2 lengths over Marchfield. Leonnatus Anteas, a son of Stormy Atlantic, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:55.97, emerging as a top contender for next year's Queen's Plate. "He's a very intelligent horse," said winning trainer Kevin Attard. "Right from the git-go, he was smart about everything and handled things well." The colt now has won sprinting and going long, on both the main track and the turf.
Saturday, Shot Gun Ella went quickly to the lead in the $125,000 (Canadian) Ontario Fashion Stakes for distaffers, survived steady pressure and worked clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Count To Three. The 5-year-old Elajjud mare ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.79.
On the Breeders' Cup undercard, It's No Joke battled for the lead in a contentious running of the $200,000 Emirates Airline Ack Ack Handicap, finally got clear and then held on to win by a neck over Irene's Mon. Level Playingfield was third. It's No Joke, a 4-year-old colt by Distorted Humor, ran 1 mile in 1:34.77.
Also Saturday, Maryfield led most of the way to win the $200,000 Emirates Airline Very Subtle Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over Morner. Maryfield, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred mare by Elusive Quality, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.61.
In Sunday's $150,000 Cardinal Handicap for fillies and mares, Sabellina stalked the pace, got the lead in the stretch and just hung on to win by a nose over Silca's Sister. Sabellina, a 5-year-old, New York-bred mare by Langfuhr, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.96.
Making up for last weekend's bad weather, The Big A had five stakes of its own on Breeders' Cup Day.
Miss Shop rallied from last of six to win the $100,000 Turnback the Alarm Handicap for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths over Dina. The 3-year-old, Florida-bred filly ran 9 furlongs in 1:50.93. In the $150,000 First Flight Handicap for distaffers at 7 furlongs, Carmandia made up a lot of ground in the stretch and drew clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Win McCool.
Drum Major came from well back to take the $100,000 Knickerbocker Handicap by a head over pace-setting Flashy Advice. Safari Queen took command in the stretch run of the $150,000 Long Island Handicap, winning by 1/2 length over Royal Highness. And Silver Wagon used a quick move on the turn to dominate the $150,000 Sport Page Breeders' Cup Handicap, winning by 5 1/2 lengths over Sir Greeley and finishing 7 furlongs in 1:21.52.
Proudinsky got the best of the stretch run in Sunday's $100,000 Bay Meadows Derby, beating Bold Chieftain to the wire by 1 1/4 lengths. The German-bred son of Silvano, trained by Bobby Frankel for owner Gary Tanaka, ran "about" 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:48.27.
Runway Rosie put her head in front midway down the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Shap Cat Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and held on gamely to win by 1/2 length over Spenditallbaby. Runway Rosie, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Include, got the 1 1/16 mile on the all-weather track in 1:45.50.
In Saturday's $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes for 2-year-olds, Roman Commander stalked the pace, came between rivals on the turn and was just along in time to win by 3/4 length over Unusual Suspect, running 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.77. The winner is by Deputy Commander.