With Zenyatta's almost-perfect career ended, horse racing will settle in to await its next superstar.
There is no heir apparent to the super mare, who came up just short in Saturday's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, losing by a head to Blame and finishing her racing life with a record of 19 wins and one second in 20 starts.
When Zenyatta's late run from the back of the field fell just short, the first reaction of her legion of fans was shock and disappointment, even tears. Next, the debate began over Horse of the Year honors -- Zenyatta or Blame?
But when the sorrow wanes and the awards are sorted out, the sport will turn the page. Whose story will be written there?
None of the older horses who shared glory in the Breeders' Cup World Championships is a likely successor to Zenyatta. The other superstar on the program, Goldikova, won the Mile for a record third straight time. But she is 5 years old and based in Europe. And Blame is headed to stud at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. A list of the other winners includes some good horses, indeed. But superstars? No.
There is one prospect, though. That would be Uncle Mo, the easiest kind of winner in the $2 million Juvenile. Drawing clear of a pace duel at the top of the stretch, the Indian Charlie colt, ridden by John Velazquez, won by 4 1/4 lengths. He now has three wins from three starts -- all by open lengths.
"Uncle Mo exceeded my expectations in the Breeders' Cup," trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday. "His 2-year-old year has been as good as any other 2-year-old's. He has been as impressive in his three races as any 2-year-old I've seen."
Of course, there's a long road ahead to the Kentucky Derby -- which, coincidentally, was exactly six months away as Pletcher spoke. He said he will take Uncle Mo to Florida for the winter and plan out two prep races before the Kentucky Derby. The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct is likely to be the final prep.
"We're going to do everything we can to make sure Uncle Mo comes back here in May in great shape," Pletcher added. "If it happens, we'll be thankful."
Asked Saturday if he ever has allowed himself to dream about starting a horse in the Kentucky Derby, Repole said, "Yes. I did that 30 years ago and I've done it every day for 30 years. So probably I'll do it tomorrow, also."
His colt's name, by the way, refers to "momentum," not to any relative of Repole's.
Another one to watch from Pletcher's barn is Pluck, who survived a nightmare trip to win the $1 million Juvenile Turf. After stumbling badly at the start, the More Than Ready colt raced into the first turn at the back of the field, then had to sidestep a fallen horse and rider.
The field was entering the backstretch before jockey Garrett Gomez could even think about getting Pluck into the race. Still, he advanced quickly on the turn, got through between horses and roared to the finish, winning by a length over Soldat, going away and picking up his second straight graded stakes win.
"He's been a colt that's been very talented but he's still learning," Pletcher said. "He was doing a lot of things on natural talent but, today, he really polished off the race at the end." Although he has been racing on the turf, Pletcher said he might try Pluck on a synthetic course next year and, if that works, think about the Kentucky Derby for him, too.
But quite a few other good 2-year-olds also have the first Saturday in March on their "to do" list. Many of them were running elsewhere during the weekend, as noted below.
Other races on the Saturday Breeders' Cup card:
Zenyatta's loss to Blame will be dissected for a long time and her jockey, Mike Smith, will be an even longer time getting over the feeling he could have gotten her home first. But the facts are, her running style put her last and her unfamiliarity with dirt tracks caused trouble when she started getting hit by dirt kicked up by her rivals and fell far back. Then, when Smith wanted to move on the stretch turn, he chose to wait for room rather than circling the field. At that point, as it turned out, there was just a head too much left for her to do. Smith tearfully blamed himself. Owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs took the defeat more stoically. "I take no pride in beating Zenyatta," said Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm, which co-owns Blame. "But we owe it to ourselves and the racing public to send our horse out there and try to give him the best chance we can." He then shamelessly lobbied for Horse of the Year votes. "I thought the battle for Horse of the Year was fought about a half hour ago and Blame won it," he told the post-race news conference. "I mean, she's a great horse, Zenyatta is. But she had her best shot to get by and she didn't do it. So I don't think you can vote for her." He may be surprised when the announcement is made in January.
Aside from Zenyatta's quest for perfection, the day's most-anticipated event was the $2 million TVG Mile, with Goldikova shooting for an unprecedented third straight win in the same Breeders' Cup race. Adding to the drama, her trainer, Freddie Head, rode the great filly Miesque to back-to-back victories in the Mile in 1987 and 1988. Goldikova did not disappoint. After racing in mid-pack to the turn, jockey Olivier Peslier swung her to the outside and the 5-year-old Anabaa mare accelerated quickly by them all, winning by a comfortable 1 3/4 lengths over her chief rival, Gio Ponti. The Usual Q.T. was third. "Right now, she is the best filly in the world," Peslier said. And Head called Goldikova, "extraordinary. I don't have the words." Asked if there is any possibility she might return for yet another year, co-owner Alain Wertheimer said, "We have no idea." Gerard Wertheimer added, "At the moment, I think we're enjoying the race and the win."
Big Drama had things all his own way in the $2 million Sentient Jet Sprint, leading virtually all the way and holding well at the end to score by 1 1/2 lengths over Hamazing. The 4-year-old Montbrook colt picked up his third win from five starts this year. After racing longer in his sophomore year, trainer David Fawkes rested Big Drama for 10 months, then shortened him up for this year's campaign with success. Asked about plans, co-owner Jean Queen said, "I think maybe we'll keep racing him for a while."
Chamberlain Bridge did all his running in the final furlongs of the $1 million Turf Sprint, charging out seven-wide for room and getting home first by 1 1/2 lengths over Central City. The 6-year-old War Chant gelding, with Jamie Theriot up, has won five of eight starts this year but was questionable for the Breeders' Cup race because of an abscess in a foot. "I'm glad we found the foot early in the week," said winning trainer Bret Calhoun. But, he added, "We've had this race in mind since we freshened him last winter," and the abscess was the only bump in the road.
Dakota Phone rallied from last to win the $1 million Dirt Mile, paying one of the most generous returns in Breeders' Cup history -- $77.40 for a $2 win ticket. With Joel Rosario up, the 5-year-old Zavata gelding closed quickly along the outside down the lane and caught Morning Line in the final yards. In 10 previous starts this year, all in California on synthetic tracks, he had only a single win. That was the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" event for the big race. "That was a consideration," said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. But owner George Todaro said it would be a bigger deal next year, when Breeders' Cup starts picking up the expenses for horses who "Win and They're In." This year, he said, "You're not in. Next year, you will be in." Co-owner Ted Aroney said, "I was just thinking of Dubai … In March, going to Dubai for $10 million" in the World Cup.
The $3 million Emirates Airline Turf lost its biggest star – one of racing's biggest stars – when Epsom Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Workforce was withdrawn Saturday morning because his trainer didn't like the relatively hard turf. That left it for another European runner, Dangerous Midge, to emerge from a pace battle and draw clear in the stretch, winning by 1 1/4 lengths and providing some comfort to the Euros who were remembering how good they had it the past two years when the Breeders' Cup was run at Santa Anita. With Frankie Dettori riding for trainer Brian Meehan, Dangerous Midge picked up by far the biggest prize of his career. He is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Lion Heart colt. "We've always liked this horse and we've just been developing him all the way through," Meehan said. "I would imagine he will run again. We have to discuss whether he may take in the Japan Cup but I would think the Sheema Classic (on the Dubai World Cup program) would be his next target."
Friday's Championship Races
It's a good thing Saturday was a day for the ages because Friday had some elements that could have graced a circus. Starting with a fight between jockeys in the winner's circle and ending with a horse that probably shouldn't have started actually starting, the day also included winning owners who made their money on underwear, the "Chicken Soup" books and the Food Network.
In reverse order:
Unrivaled Belle rallied four-wide to win the $2 million Ladies' Classic under the lights, holding off favorite Blind Luck in the late going. Havre de Grace finished third but the buzz was about second-favorite Life At Ten, who was sluggish while being saddled, did not warm up properly but nonetheless was loaded into the starting gate. She immediately faded out of contention and did not finish. Both trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez said they were aware of the situation but neither said anything to the attending veterinarians. An examination showed nothing physically wrong with the filly and Pletcher commented Saturday, "You stay in the game long enough and you see everything happen. You can add that one to the list of new ones I've seen now." Bettors who held tickets on Life At Ten, which would have been refunded had she been scratched at the gate, undoubtedly agree and the state stewards said they will look into the matter. Unrivaled Belle, meanwhile, got the 9 furlongs in 1:50.04 with Kent Desormeaux up, confirming her love for Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old Unbridled's Song filly defeated reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra under the twin sprires on Kentucky Derby Day. "I just have to give Kent the credit," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "He pulled the trigger and it worked out. We opened up on the field and left them in her dust." She is owned by Gary Seidler and Peter Vegso, publishers of the "Chicken Soup" books.
Shared Account surged between horses into the stretch in the $2 million Emirates Airlines Filly & Mare Turf, dropped to the hedge and held off the odds-on favorite, Midday, to win by a neck at odds of 46-1. Keertana was third, another neck back, and Japanese invader Red Desire finished fourth. Hot Cha Cha, Éclair de Lune and Forever Together all were close behind. Shared Account, a 4-year-old Pleasantly Perfect filly, ran the 11 furlongs on firm turf in 2:17.74 with Edgar Prado up. "I'm speechless," winning trainer Graham Motion said. "I'm really surprised she was overlooked. She only had one bad race." That was her last one -- the Flower Bowl at Belmont Park, where she finished fifth. In each of her other three starts this year, she had been right there at the end but won only once. She is owned by Sagamore Farm, an historic Maryland property now being restored by Kevin Plank, founder and owner of the Under Armour underwear company.
Awesome Feather, undefeated in five starts in south Florida, remained undefeated for her career by winning the $2 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies in convincing fashion. With Jeffrey Sanchez up, the Awesome of Course filly dueled down the stretch with R Heat Lightning, then drew off in the final 16th to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Delightful Mary was up for third. The 1 1/16 miles took 1:45.17 over a fast track. The victory ensures an Eclipse Award for Awesome Feather and makes her the early favorite for next year's Kentucky Oaks. "Basically, I wanted to see if she could do this," winning trainer Stanley Gold said, "and she didn't disappoint me. We hoped she could just keep climbing the ladder and she did."
Dubai Majesty stalked the pace in the $1 million Sentient Jet Filly & Mare Sprint, exploded to a big lead at the top of the lane and cruised home first, 2 1/4 lengths better than Switch. Evening Jewel finished third. Dubai Majesty, a 5-year-old mare by Essence of Dubai, got the 7 furlongs in 1:22.31. Another who loves Churchill Downs, she now is 4-for-7 under the twin spires. "She loves this race track," winning trainer Bret Calhoun said. "On the turn, she took a deep breath and grabbed me and took me to the lead," jockey Jamie Theriot said. "When we made the quarter pole, I said, 'That's it. I ain't gonna get beat today.'" It was Theriot's first Breeders' Cup win.
It was a throwdown in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf and, for a change, celebrity chef Bobby Flay came out on top. Flay's filly, More Than Real, rated on the outside, surged to the front at the top of the stretch for jockey Garrett Gomez and kept going, winning by 2 lengths at odds of more than 13-1. The heavy favorite, Winter Memories, was blocked at a key point in the stretch run and had to settle for second, just a head in front of Kathmanblu. More Than Real, a Kentucky-bred More Than Ready filly, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:36.61. Flay, a dedicated racing fan and fully involved owner, said he didn't see the final part of the race because his wife, friends "and everybody was jumping all over each other. So basically, the last 16th of a mile was a blur to me and they just kept telling me, 'You just won the Breeders' Cup.' Anybody wants to tell me that anytime is fine with me." More Than Real now has two wins and a second from three starts and winning trainer Todd Pletcher said she likely will stay on the turf. Flay has had little luck taking his Food Network "Throwdown" concept to Louisville, losing twice to local restaurateurs.
The $500,000 Marathon got the Championship card off to a scary start. A traffic jam on the stretch turn caused a near collision that had jockey Martin Garcia practically airborne off his mount and jockey Calvin Borel breathing fire. The normally placid Borel tried to attack the miscreant, Javier Castellano, in the winner's circle and had to be restrained and carried back toward the jockeys' room. Castellano's mount, Prince Will I Am, finished second but was set down to 10th after a long inquiry. Meanwhile, Eldaafer, unaffected by the traffic issues, advanced from a pace-stalking spot to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The disqualification promoted Gabriel's Hill to second and Borel's horse, A.U. Miner, to third. Eldaafer, a 5-year-old A.P. Indy gelding, ran the 1 3/4 miles in 2:59.62 with John Velazquez up. Borel later said he had put the incident behind him.
While much of the rest of the racing world was looking forward to the Breeders' Cup, Australia was on hold for the Melbourne Cup. But, at the end, much of the world had reason to be looking at Australia as the island continent's most prestigious race went to an American-bred horse trained in France with a jockey based in Hong Kong. Americain is a son of Dynaformer, who stands at Three Chimneys Farm near Versailles, Ky. His trainer, Alain de Royer-Dupre, is based in Chantilly, France. And jockey Gerald Mosse, is a Frenchman currently operating out of Hong Kong. "This is a truly international event," winning co-owner Gerry Ryan said. So You Think, the favorite, had the lead with about 120 meters (131 yards) to go when Mosse urged Americain past him and to the lead. At that point, the contest was over. Maluckyday was up for second and So You Think settled for third. "I pressed the button at the right time," Mosse said. Americain's trainer said the horse will move along to the Hong Kong Vase next month at Sha Tin, then return to France for a 2011 campaign.
Apart came from off a moderate pace in Friday's $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap, battled to the lead outside a pair of rivals down the stretch and won by 3/4 length over Demarcation. Colizeo finished third. Apart, a 3-year-old Flatter colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.79 with Garret Gomez up. It was his third straight win, backing up the Prelude and the Super Derby, both at Louisiana Downs. He now has four wins from seven lifetime starts.
Distinctive Dixie took charge in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000 Chilukki, easily holding off Third Dawn in the late going. Always A Princess finished third. Distinctive Dixie, a 5-year-old Fusaichi Pegasus mare, ran the one-turn mile on a fast track in 1:36.67 with Robby Albarado up. She had not won in nearly a year and now has five wins from 18 lifetime starts. However, she boasts three wins and a second from six starts at Churchill Downs.
Askbut I Won'ttell stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Cardinal Handicap for fillies and mares, waited for running room at the top of the stretch and finally got through to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Kiss Mine. My Baby Baby was third and Princess Haya finished fourth. Askbut I Won'ttell, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Horse Chestnut filly, got the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:50.41 with Shaun Bridgmohan up.
Full Moon Blues led all the way to an upset win in Saturday's $100,000 Tempted Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths over Tap For Luck. The favorite, Dixie City, finished third. Full Moon Blues, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Petionville, ran the mile on a "good" main track in 1:38.56 with Malcolm Franklin up.
To Honor and Serve also led from gate to wire in winning the $150,000 Nashua Stakes for 2-year-olds, beating runner-up Mucho Macho Man by 4 lengths. Quality Council finished third. To Honor and Serve, the odds-on favorite, ran the mile on a track upgraded to fast in 1:35.86 under jockey Jose Lezcano. He is a Kentucky-bred son of Bernardini.
Grassy rallied from near the back of the field to win Saturday's $150,000 Red Smith Handicap, edging Rescue Squad by a length. Bold Hawk finished third. Grassy, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred El Prado colt, ran 1 3/8 miles on soft turf in 2:20.06 with Joe Bravo up.
Strike the Bell struck the lead with a 16th to run in Sunday's $60,000 Glowing Honor Stakes for fillies and mares and confidently edged clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Miss World. Pacesetter Giant Mover finished third. Strike the Bell, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Mizzen Mast filly, ran 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:39.09 with Ramon Dominguez aboard.
Cathy's Crunches crunched a quartet of rivals in Saturday's $50,000 Golden Gate Debutante for 2-year-old fillies, drawing off in the stretch to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Justenufappeal finished second, a neck in front of Congress Woman Ivy. Cathy's Crunches, a Florida-bred daughter of West Acre, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.15.
Soaring Empire came from last of six to win Saturday's $70,000 Rutgers Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3/4 length over Wildcat Frankie. The early leader, Partyallnightlong, pooped out early and finished third. Soaring Empire, a Kentucky-bred Empire Maker colt, got the 6 furlongs on a "good" main track in 1:08.27 with Pablo Fragoso up.
Caleb's Posse accelerated sharply through the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Clever Trevor Stakes for 2-year-olds by 5 1/2 lengths. Grant Jack was the best of the rest, 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Chip Shot. Caleb's Posse, a Kentucky-bred Posse colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.22 with Quincy Hamilton in the irons.
Pachattack led from gate to wire in Saturday's $175,000 (Canadian) Maple Leaf Stakes for fillies and mares, drawing out to a big lead in the stretch and coasting home first, 5 3/4 lengths the best. Impossible Time was second and Satan's Quick Chick finished third. Pachattack, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Pulpit filly, ran 1 1/4 miles on the all-weather track in 2:02.18 with Chantal Sutherland up.
Strike Oil struck gold in Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Coronation Futurity, rolling from last of 11 to post the upset win by 3/4 length over Charlie's the Man. Enduring Star was third and the favorite, Good Better Best was seventh under the wire. Strike Oil, an Ontario-bred Forest Wildcat colt, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:52.10 with Luis Contreras in the irons.
Comma to the Top dazzled the locals in Saturday's $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes for 2-year-olds, opening a huge lead in the stretch and finishing first, 6 1/4 lengths ahead of Prayer for Relief. Clearance Clarence was third but after jockey Corey Nakatani gave the go-ahead to the winner, it was over, over. Comma to the Top, a Florida-bred Bwana Charlie gelding out of the Stormy Atlantic mare Maggies Storm, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.56. "He's a little bit green, but he has a high cruising speed like In Excess had and Bertrando had," Nakatani said. "He's a horse similar to them."
The optimistically named May Day Rose led all the way to a 4 1/4-lengths victory in Sunday's $100,000 Sharp Cat Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. True Way of Grace finished second with a late run and Big Tiz was third. May Day Rose, a Florida-bred Rockport Harbor filly out of the Pine Bluff mare May Day Bluff, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.39 with Martin Garcia up for trainer Bob Baffert.
Cryptolight stalked the pace established by Shadowbdancing in Saturday's $125,000 Mountaineer Mile Handicap, surged to the lead in the stretch and drew clear, winning by 5 3/4 lengths. Shadowbdancing held second, 3 1/4 lengths better than No Advantage. With Ernesto Oro up, Cryptolight ran the mile on a good track in 1:39.55. The winner is a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Fantastic Light.