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Breeders' Cup first day: Corniche, Echo Zulu, Bobby Flay, confusion reign

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Breeders' Cup first day: Corniche, Echo Zulu, Bobby Flay, confusion reign
Jockey Joel Rosario, atop Echo Zulu, wins the Breeders' Cup Fillies race at the Breeders' Cup Championships at Del Mar racetrack in Del Mar Calif., on Friday. Photo by Mark Abraham/UPI | License Photo

DEL MAR, Calif., Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Corniche and Echo Zulu were runaway winners in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Turf Friday at Del Mar, providing a potential preview of the 2022 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

Also on the first day of the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Del Mar, celebrity chef Bobby Flay won the Juvenile Fillies Turf with homebred Pizza Bianca, Twilight Gleaming beat the boys in the Juvenile Turf Sprint and Modern Games was a controversial winner in the Juvenile Turf.

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Here how it went on "Future Stars Friday" at the Southern California track "Where the Turf Meets the Surf."

The Juvenile

Corniche ran away with the $2 million Grade I TVG Juvenile, leading all the way and winning by 1 3/4 lengths. When a challenge came at the top of the stretch, jockey Mike Smith shook the reins, the Quality Road colt found another gear and that was that. Pappacap was second and Giant Game was third.

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The morning-line favorite, Jack Christopher, was scratched.

Corniche now is 3-for-3. He won his first start at Del Mar, and followed that with a victory in the Grade I American Pharoah at Santa Anita. He has not trailed at any call in any of his races. Normally, he would be the clear early favorite for the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

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But there's a problem.

Winning trainer Bob Baffert has been suspended by Churchill Downs and denied access to the track horses he trains are ineligible to earn point toward a Derby start -- all a result of several positive drug tests involving Baffert horses culminating in Medina Spirit's victory in this year's Run for the Roses.

Corniche now has forfeited 30 points, which normally is enough to ensure a start in the Derby.

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"That's a long way off," Baffert said when asked about the Derby situation. "Our focus was just on getting here. There's still a lot of things going on, and no need to talk about that right now. A lot can happen between now and then."

Part-owner Peter Fluor, who with partner K.C. Weiner bought Corniche for $1.5 million as a yearling, said the duo had no qualms sticking with Baffert through his troubles.

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"All we had is a Plan A -- this race and what it means to Corniche and his status as a 2-year-old, Fluor said. "We thought we have a better chance of winning this race with our friend Bob Baffert and that's what happened.

"We never thought about moving the horse to another trainer."

Pappacap was awarded 12 Kentucky Derby points for his second-pace finish in the Juvenile and now is the official leader.

Baffert had two others in the Juvenile. Pinehurst finished in a dead heat for fifth and Barosa faded to get home ninth. He also won the opening race on the Friday program with a lightly raced 3-year-old, Triple Tap.

The Juvenile Fillies

Ladies and gentlemen, your early Kentucky Oaks favorite: Echo Zulu. The undefeated Gun Runner filly extended her perfect record, emphatically, winning the $2 million Grade I NetJets Juvenile Fillies by 5 1/4 lengths after leading all the way.

With Joel Rosario up, Echo Zulu started from the outside gate in a field of just six 2-year-old fillies, shot to the lead and worked to the rail. She was never challenged and Juju's Map won a tight nod over Tarabi for second as Echo Zulu coasted home.

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The time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:42.24 and could have been better if the finish had been tighter.

Echo Zulu is trained by Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds. Asmussen also trained Gun Runner, who won the Breeders' Cup classic in 2017 at Del Mar and is represented by his first crop of foals this year.

The filly won at first asking at Saratoga in July, then swept New York's Grade I races for 2-year-old fillies, the Spinaway at the Spa and the Frizette at Belmont Park. She has not won by fewer than 4 lengths.

"She is a very special filly," Asmussen said. "It means so much because she is from the first crop of Gun Runner. He did so much for us."

Asked about Echo Zulu's prospects for the 2022 Kentucky Oaks, Asmussen said, "She's hard to compare against any horse of her age."

The Juvenile Fillies Turf

His television show is "Beat Bobby Flay" and none of the top-quality rivals, Europeans or fellow Americans, could do it in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf as Pizza Bianca, a Flay homebred filly, got a near-miraculous trip to come from last to win by 1/2 length.

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Malvath, based in France, was second and a Kentucky invader, Cachet, finished third as Pizza Bianca, with Jose Ortiz riding, flashed past the finish line in 1:36.08 over firm turf with Jose Ortiz riding.

The outcome seemed unlikely as the field approached the stretch as Pizza Bianca was last of 12. But the seas opened and, weaving among rivals, Ortiz got the filly to the inside and found clear sailing. As he often does in his cooking challenges, Flay pulled it out.

"If I go outside, Ortiz explained his tactics, "I was going to be eight or nine wide. Going inside, I knew I had a chance to win the race."

Pizza Bianca is a daughter of the Australian-bred stallion Fastnet Rock. Her dam, White Hot, is by the late Galileo, the dominant stallion from Ireland. She won her first start at Saratoga and finished second in the Grade I Natalma at Woodbine in her only other race before the Breeders' Cup.

Flay bought the unraced dam as a yearling and said, "I plan to keep her forever because they say blood eventually will show up. I just didn't think it was going to show up in the very first foal."

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Trainer Christophe Clement won his first Breeders' Cup race.

The Juvenile Turf

Modern Games salvaged the day for the Europeans, winning the $1 million Juvenile Turf amid confusion that left fans unable to bet on him and booing lustily when jockey William Buick booted him home first.

Modern Games, a Dubawi colt trained by Charlie Appleby, entered off a victory at Newmarket in England and was one of the favorites for Saturday's rather wide-open race. He roared home first outside the leaders with Tiz the Bomb and Mackinnon second and third.

The confusion started when Albahr flipped in Gate 2 as the horses were being loaded. He was extracted without apparent injury, but was ordered scratched. Both Albahr and Modern Games are owned by Godolphin and their riders wore identical royal blue silks.

When Albahr flipped, the No. 1 gate opened and Modern Games took a few strides out before Buick pulled him up. He was brought back around, but apparently thee was confusion about which of the two had been scratched.

After a lengthy pause, it was announced, without explanation to the crowd, that Modern Games would run "for purse money only."

That resulted in wagers on the colt being refunded and, when he circled rivals into the stretch and won by 1 1/2 lengths, a chorus of boos and jeers rained down on the track -- not for the horse, but for the situation.

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The Juvenile Turf Sprint

Twilight Gleaming rolled right out of the gate in the $1 million Grade II Juvenile Turf Sprint and just kept going, winning by 1/2 length with a crowd of rivals duking it out of the minor awards. Go Bears Go was second with Kaufymaker third.

The favorite, Averly Jane, settled for fifth. Twilight Gleaming, an Irish-bred filly by Twilight Son, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.24 seconds with Irad Ortiz Jr. up.

Twilight Gleaming, owned by Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Stables, was second in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot, then returned to win a minor stakes at Deauville in France Aug. 7 in his most recent race.

"We knew we had something special then," said Ward, who now has won three of the four runnings of this race and also trains Kaufymaker.

He may not be done, either. He said after the recent sales in Europe, "We've got some really good ones for next year."

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