The five-furlong 2023 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint provided an excellent start for the Europeans who filled the first three places at Santa Anita on November 3. The winner, Big Evs was the 3/1 second favorite but he was not saddled by a big-name trainer. Mick Appleby is known for his success in lower grade races on the dour all-weather tracks in the north of England. Big Evs, who had provided his first Royal Ascot winner, was the trainer’s initial Breeders’ Cup runner.
Appleby borrowed a US style starting bell from Adam West, the least well-known UK trainer at the meeting (or even in the UK for that matter), to get Big Evs familiar with the starting procedure. A son of first season sire Blue Point, bred by Rabbah Bloodstock out of an Oasis Dream mare, Big Evs was purchased for 50,000 guineas, the equivalent of $64,500 as a yearling. Now owned by Paul and Rachel Teasdale, they named him after Paul’s racing buddy for 25 years, Paul Evans. ‘Big Evs’ was a large man, who passed away last November.
Big Evs’s jockey Tom Marquand was also a Breeders’ Cup debutante. He said that the early speed was electric, giving Big Evs no chance of assuming his usual leading position. It was George Weaver’s Crimson Advocate (6/1) who blasted to the lead under John Velazquez and set a scorching pace. He was headed in the final furlong by Big Evs who had raced prominently.
Only Big Evs survived racing close the suicidal pace. He managed to hold off the late closing Valiant Force (23/1), owned by Amo Racing and trained by Adrian Murray in Ireland, to win by half a length. He had been held up by the top UK jockey, William Buick. The Ralph Beckett-trained Starlust (24/1) had raced mid-pack under Frankie Dettori and took third followed by Weaver’s 12/5 favorite and former titleholder, No Nay Mets.
A Double for Daughters of Justify
Favorite followers were disappointed when Just F Y I, a statuesque daughter of Justify owned and bred by George Krikorian, delivered a surprise win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies run over a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt. Sent off at 7/1, she gave her trainer Bill Mott his first Breeders’ Cup juvenile win.
He was delighted with how she broke under Junior Alvarado and managed to get a great trip despite her wide draw. She raced in second behind the 4/5 favorite and long-time leader, Richard Mandella’s Tamara who set hot early fractions under Mike Smith. The previously unbeaten Tamara is named after the daughter of the founder of Spendthrift Farms, D Wayne Lukas. She is a daughter of Bolt D’Oro out of their 2012 Juvenile Fillies and dual Distaff winner Beholder, also trained by Mandella.
Tamara weakened a furlong out and finished a disappointing seventh. Jody’s Pride (18/1) was beaten a neck into second for Jorge Abreu leaving Todd Pletcher’s Candied (14/5) and her barnmate Life Talk (21/1) to take third and fourth in that order.
There was no clear favorite in the Juvenile Fillies Turf run over a mile. Trained in Ireland, Donnacha O’Brien’s Porta Fortuna and Cherie DeVaux’s She Feels Pretty were both available at approximately 7/2 at the head of the market but it was Chad Brown’s 9/1 shot, Hard To Justify who took the top honors.
Owned by Wise Racing, this daughter of Justify, out of a Quality Road mare, towered over the majority of her rivals and gave her trainer his sixth win in the race. Unlike the market leaders, Hard To Justify did not come into the race with a top level win on her resume but she was unbeaten in her two prior starts. She was last seen winning the grade two Miss Grillo Stakes easily at Belmont a month ago, she was relatively unpopular with bettors at 73/10.
The 39/1 shot Dreamfyre broke well in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and was pushed forwards from her wide gate to lead by Hector Berrios. Flavien Prat did extremely well to get Hard To Justify into a good position, just behind her from a similarly wide draw. He managed to give her a perfect trip. She took the lead close to home, was momentarily headed in the stretch but fought back to win by half a length. Porta Fortuna had less luck in running and took second under Oisin Murphy ahead of She Feels Pretty who was bumped and forced to run horribly wide. It was a ride John Velazquez will probably want to forget.
Fierceness Surprises in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
The one mile and a sixteenth Breeders’ Cup Juvenile looked to be another open contest with Brad Cox’s Timberlake, Todd Pletcher’s Locked and Bob Baffert’s Muth available at odds of approximately 3/1 with the USA racebooks. Muth, a son of Good Magic bred by Don Alberto out of an Uncle Mo dam, was a $2 million purchase in March for Zedan Racing.
Muth had cruised to victory in the grade one American Pharoah Stakes here a month ago but it was Pletcher’s 16/1 shot Fierceness who bounced back from his Champagne Stakes flop to beat him six lengths. The massive winning distance made him the most visually impressive victor of the day. Ridden by Velazquez, this son of City Of Light out of a Stay Thirsty dam was bred by his owner, Mike Repole. It was his first Breeders’ Cup win with a homebred but not the first success for the combination of Pletcher, Repole and Velazquez. They won the race with Uncle Mo 14 years ago, a victory that Repole feels put him on the map.
Brown’s General Partner 19/1 took the lead early and was most closely pursued by Fierceness who headed him approaching the stretch and powered clear of his rivals. Muth seemed to hate the kickback and stayed on late to take second when free of it. Locked, the 23/10 favorite, pulled hard early and did not get a great trip under Jose Ortiz. He finished third, ahead of Timberlake.
Aidan O’Brien Triumphs After Adversity in Juvenile Turf
The top Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien was extremely disappointed when his leading Juvenile Turf contender River Tiber, the morning line favorite, was scratched by the veterinary team for lameness that was not apparent to him shortly before the race. He diplomatically said that ‘the rules are the rules’ appreciating that he is a visitor in another jurisdiction and added ‘when in Rome, don’t argue with the Pope’.
Having lost River Tiber, he saddled Unquestionable, the new 6/4 favorite and Mountain Bear, a 22/1 shot in this one-mile contest. Arnaud Delacour’s Air Recruit (22/1) soon took the lead from his inside draw under Luis Saez and set strong early fractions. Unquestionable raced in fourth under Ryan Moore, on the rail behind the hot early pace. Mountain Bear did not break well from the ten gate under Dylan Browne McMonagle and was forced to sit and suffer towards the rear of the pack.
Mark Casse’s My Boy Prince (26/5) had raced in second and headed Air Recruit a furlong and a half from home. Air Recruit battled with him on the rail forcing Moore to leave it for the first time, swooping round the front pair on Unquestionable in the stretch to take the lead 100 yards from the wire. Mountain Bear had been forced to run wide round the final turn but stayed on from nowhere to chase home his barnmate. He was beaten a length and a half into second, getting his head in front of the third-placed My Boy Prince on the wire.
Like River Tiber, Unquestionable is a son of Wootton Bassett. Unquestionable was bred in France out a Sea The Stars dam and was purchased for 340,000 Euros, approximately $363,000, as a yearling at Arqana. Moore said after the race that he was expecting a one two for O’Brien, but with River Tiber and Unquestionable.
Future Stars Friday provided a rags-to-riches winner in Big Evs and showcased the talent and versatility of Justify. His offspring can win championship races on both turf and dirt.