The 2005 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships blended a bit of the old with a bit of the new. The event's all-time leading jockey (Jerry Bailey) and trainer (D. Wayne Lukas) tasted victory, but new faces like jockeys Garrett Gomez and Rafael Bejarano and trainers Rick Dutrow and Doug O'Neill also drank from the Cup for the first time.
The event featured a record-tying four defending race champions, although none managed to capture lightening twice. And, for just the third time in history, every field sported 10 or more starters. It was an attractive wagering menu that lured the largest handle in Breeders' Cup history – in excess of $122 million.
Just when you thought D. Wayne Lukas was tip-toeing into a Breeders' Cup, the event's all-time leading trainer kicked the door in to start the day. Lukas had only two starters on the program, but made the most of it (just think, he once ran 14 runners on this day in 1987). Not only did Lukas win the Juvenile Fillies with Folklore, he book-ended the superfecta with Ex Caelis, who out-ran her 16-to-1 pricetag. Folklore marked Lukas' 18th Breeders' Cup win overall and his third since 2000. Before anyone prematurely pronounces the end of the D. Wayne era, note that those three wins since 2000 are the most of any trainer in the world other than Bobby Frankel (four) and Richard Mandella (four). Aidan O'Brien also has three wins so far this millennium.
Californian Wild Fit ran an outstanding race to be second despite traffic trouble, signaling a sign of things to come for the west coasters.
Eclipse Award prediction: Folklore in a runaway after winning the Matron and Juvenile Fillies.
California-based Stevie Wonderboy became the first horse in history to lay off since the Del Mar meeting and tally the Juvenile, roaring past east coast speedsters Henny Hughes and First Samurai. He's got the pedigree to excel at longer distances and will be the winter book favorite for next year's Derby. Trainer Doug O'Neill deserves much credit for sticking to his plan to keep this colt around one turn and bypass the Norfolk. Note the final time was more than two seconds faster than the Juvenile Fillies – often on BC day, the gals go quicker.
Henny Hughes ran a superb race to turn the tables on rival First Samurai after both had a bit of misfortune before the field really got going.
Eclipse Award prediction: Del Mar Futurity and BC Juvenile victories will be more than enough for Stevie Wonderboy to gain the hardware, no matter what happens the rest of the year. The Two-Year-Old Champion will be a Merv Griffin Production.
FILLY & MARE TURF
The first race in Breeders' Cup history to feature a rematch of the previous year's top three finishers turned out to be a classic case of “pace makes the race.” Intercontinental was a last-minute pinch-hitter for injured stablemate Melhor Ainda and carried her speed beyond 1-1/16 miles for the first time in her career. When jockey Christophe Soumillon and Luas Line did not fire to the front from the rail, it left Rafael Bejarano aboard Intercontinental loose on an easy lead. Nobody wanted to make the first move; and they all paid the price. Last year's one-two-three finishers chased home two-three-four this time around with Oujia Board, Film Maker and Wonder Again.
Eclipse Award prediction: Intercontinental should garner the Champion Turf Female Award and join her older sister Banks Hill among the honorees. The rest of the division took turns beating one another all season.
Three of the top five wagering choices comprised the Sprint trifecta, but to think this year's dash for cash was formful would be a stretch. Odds-on favorite Lost In The Fog threw in the towel and finished seventh after setting a reasonable pace, suffering his first defeat in 11 career starts. Silver Train, fourth choice in the betting at 12-to-1 odds, sat just two lengths off the early pace and pounced late. His strong performances at Belmont Park this year were followed with yet another gold-letter effort in the Sprint. What's important to note is that New York-based horses have now won the Sprint four of the past five years. This was once exclusive territory of the Californians, but the balance of power has shifted.
Eclipse Award prediction: A 3-for-7 record (with two wins in races less than a mile) likely won't be enough for Silver Train to capture Champion Sprinter honors. Despite his disappointing run, Lost In The Fog earned the title with eight victories over seven different tracks this year.
I'm still screaming for Gorella to get through on the rail, but it's time to accept wagering defeat and move on. Artie Schiller, a horse who I'll admit I was wrong to think was overrated, got a well-deserved photo taken in the winner's circle of a major. The winning time of 1:36.10 certainly shows the course was nowhere near the “good” condition it was labeled, but Artie was all guts under red-hot rider Garrett Gomez. Favorite Leroidesanimaux earned high marks for running as well as he did with aluminum pads under his feet. Kudos to TVG analyst/trainer Tom Amoss for being all over that story earlier in the week on The Works. Horseplayers owe him an “atta boy.”
Eclipse Award prediction: Although Milers typically don't have much say in the Champion Turf Male race, a big case can – and should – be made for Leroidesanimaux. He won two Grade 1 races this year (Kilroe Mile, Atto Mile) and ran an outstanding race in here to lose by three-quarters of a length despite his post position and feet problems. Artie Schiller scored his first and only Grade 1 of the season, so it's unlikely he'll pull enough votes.
Shug still has it. Good luck finding a better active trainer in the world with an older mare than Shug McGaughey. The improving Pleasant Home was perhaps the most impressive winner on the entire program in the Distaff. Her 9-1/4 length win margin only would have increased with additional distance – and this was a darned good group she beat without a wicked pace in front of her. Those who called Ashado “overrated” and “lucky” are downright laughable. She finished a neck away from second money and narrowly missed a chance to surpass Azeri as the richest distaffer of all-time.
Eclipse Award prediction: Ashado's Grade 1 triumvirate of the Beldame, Go For Wand and Phipps likely will earn her Champion Older Female. Given her dominance on this day (and runner-up Grade 1 efforts from seven to nine furlongs prior), Pleasant Home would be a deserving champion as well. Ashado will take the prize. As for Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, the sidelined Smuggler is a narrow choice here, giving the Phipps/McGaughey team one out of two at the big banquet.
Four Europeans made the trip, and they cantered home the one-two-three-four finishers, led by the Andre Fabre-trained Shirocco. The Arc de Triomphe fourth-place finisher surprisingly sat second behind defending champion Better Talk Now's designated rabbit, Shake The Bank. Perhaps jockey Christophe Soumillon learned his riding lesson from the Filly & Mare Turf and had his mount in closer striking distance. Shirocco dominated the stretch run and never looked threatened as pursuers like Bago and Azamour found traffic on the turn.
Eclipse Award prediction: Horses have pilfered the Turf and headed back to Europe in the past and earned Champion Turf Male in the process, so it wouldn't be a total shock for Shirocco to be honored. However, his remaining resume is light. Don't be surprised to see Arlington Million winner Powerscourt get a groundswell of support. Of the two “one-time” raiders, I like his Million effort much more against Kitten's Joy et al.
Saint Liam simply was too good for what was left of the 2005 handicap ranks. Despite a bit of a layoff and a disadvantageous post position, the Classic never looked in doubt. Give credit to the connections of Flower Alley for getting the Travers winner to settle nicely; his race was highly admirable and clearly second-best. Two races deserve special attention – the Arkansas Derby and Hawthorne Gold Cup. Note that the top two Classic finishers, Classic second betting choice Borrego and Horse of the Year candidate Afleet Alex all are alumni of the Arkansas Derby. Also, the Hawthorne Gold Cup produced Perfect Drift and Super Frolic, half of the $12,626 Classic superfecta.
Eclipse Award prediction: Saint Liam clinched Champion Older Male and the absent Afleet Alex sewed down Champion Three-Year-Old with Flower Alley falling short in the Classic. Horse of the Year comes down to Saint Liam and Afleet Alex. If Ghostzapper got the nod last year over Smarty Jones, it's hard to imagine Saint Liam not taking the honors in a similar scenario.
Jeremy Plonk is the editor of The HorsePlayer Magazine and was lead researcher for NBC Sports' 2005 Breeders' Cup telecast.