Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Forever Unbridled rallied to win the featured $2 million Distaff on the first day of the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Del Mar, a day that also turned up an Irish challenger for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Battle of Midway battled back from a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby to win the Dirt Mile and an American filly defeated the European imports in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
The races continue Saturday with another nine events leading up to the $6 million Classic.
Friday's races were run before 32,278 fans in perfect conditions with partly cloudy skies, a fast main track and firm turf. Here's how it went:
Last year, Forever Unbridled finished third in the $2 million Longines Distaff as Beholder edged Songbird in one of the most dramatic races in Breeders' Cup history. With those rivals retired, the stage belonged to Forever Unbridled Friday at Del Mar.
With John Velazquez riding for trainer Dallas Stewart, Forever Unbridled was unhurried down the backstretch, moved quickly into contention outside rivals on the turn and had command by mid-stretch. Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman made a bold move from the back of the pack to finish second, 1/2 length back. Paradise Woods was third, another 3 lengths in arrears.
Forever Unbridled, a 5-year-old mare by Unbridled's Song, ran 9 furlongs in 1:50.25. It was her third race of the year and her third win, following the Grade II Fleur De Lis at Churchill Downs in June and the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga in August.
Velazquz said his plan was to save ground through the first turn, then get out to keep Forever Unbridled in the clear. He said he was happy to wait until the leaders tired. "They backed up so slow, I was like, 'Easy man,'" said Velazquez, who scored his 15th Breeders' Cup win.
Stewart said Forever Unbridled sustained a minor injury after last year's Distaff and credited owner/breeder Charles Fipke with the decision to keep her in training. "Nine out of ten guys would have retired her. Not him," Stewart said.
Las Vegas Dirt Mile
Battle of Midway, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, won a tight stretch duel with Sharp Azteca in the $1 million Las Vegas Dirt Mile. Awesome Slew was third.
With Flavien Pratt riding for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Battle of Midway moved wide into the stretch turn, engaged pacesetting Sharp Azteca with a furlong to go and was just 1/2 length better at the wire. The 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred Smart Strike colt finished in 1:35.20 over a track listed as fast with Flavien Prat riding.
Battle of Midway showed early speed in the Kentucky Derby, running second midway through the Run for the Roses, but faded late and finished 7 3/4 lengths behind the winner, Always Dreaming. Since then, he has three wins from five starts with two of the three coming at 1 mile.
Kenny Troutt, owner of WinStar Farm, a co-owner of Battle of Midway, said, "My heart was just pounding. He's been that way. He's been a fighter. He fought it out. He's a race horse." Troutt said WinStar President Elliott Walden picked out Battle of Midway as a Derby candidate "because we didn't have one in there. That worked out, too. He finished third," Troutt said.
"He did run well in the Derby," Hollendorfer said. "Then he ran a couple races where he didn't run well. Then our horse finally found himself here at Del Mar. We felt all along we could run in the Breeders' Cup Mile with him liking the race track."
All Mendelssohn needed in the final furlongs of the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf was room to run and, once jockey Ryan Moore found him an opening, the Kentucky-bred, Irish-trained colt led them home, winning by 1 length. Untamed Domain was best of a multi-horse scramble for the minor placings with Voting Control third and Catholic Boy fourth.
"He's still learning," Moore said. "But he got away well and traveled very kindly through the whole race. There's more to come from him. He's a big, very raw horse still and he will improve from racing."
Trainer Aidan O'Brien said the victory furthers hopes that Mendelssohn can be a candidate for next year's Kentucky Derby and Michael Tabor, one of the owning Coolmore partners, said Coolmore hopes the colt can replace his late sire, Scat Daddy, in the ranks of the world's great stallions.
The win was his second from four starts but followed an excellent second in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in England Oct. 14 behind his highly regarded stablemate, U S Navy Flag. Before that, he had raced greenly so O'Brien added blinkers. With that addition, the trainer said, "He grew another leg."
"We had it in our head that if everything went well today, he could be a horse we could train for the Kentucky Derby," O' Brien said. He noted there are Kentucky Derby trials in the coming springtime in Ireland and England as well as the UAE Derby in Dubai. Those could enable him to work Mendelssohn easily into contention for Louisville, he said, rather than traveling long distances.
Tabor said with a smile, "Some people were quibbling about his yearling price, which was $3 million. I don't think they're quibbling now. Perhaps he'll be the next Scat Daddy."
For O'Brien, the win was his 27th at the Group 1 or Grade I level this calendar year, putting some distance between himself and the old mark of 25, set by the late Bobby Frankel in 2003.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Rushing Fall overcame an outside post position and a wide trip to get the best of some top Europeans and best of her American rivals in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Rushing Fall, a Kentucky-bred daughter of More Than Ready, took up a stalking position on the outside as the field of 14 passed the stands the first time and maintained that spot down the backstretch. When asked by jockey Javier Castellano, she moved up outside rivals, hit the lead in the lane and had enough in reserve.
Best Performance chased Rushing Fall home to finish second, 3/4 length behind the winner and 1 length ahead of September, the best finisher of the Europeans, who missed the break, raced well back and was flying at the end. The favorite, September's stablemate in the Aidan O'Brien Ballymore yard, was hard pressed to keep up early on the inside and faded in the stretch, finishing last.
"Turning for home, it was amazing. She just exploded," Castellano said.
Rushing Fall, trained by Chad Brown, remains undefeated in three starts. Brown scored his fourth win in the event. Brown said his staff has done a remarkable job with the filly, adding, "She came to us so far ahead of the others."