It was a great start for bettors in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup races on Future Stars Friday, November 6 at Keeneland. Wesley Ward’s clear favorite in the Grade 2 Juvenile Turf Sprint Golden Pal performed exactly as predicted.
This son of Uncle Mo burst out of the gates like a bullet under Irad Ortiz. He took the lead and kept it all the way to the wire whilst Steve Asmussen’s Cowan, the second favorite at 9/1, stayed on to take second, nearly a length behind him under Ricardo Santana. It was a classic example of Ward’s extraordinary skill at handling sprinting juveniles.
European challengers took the lower placings. The relatively small UK trainer Nigel Tinkler saddled his stable star Ubettabelieveit (16/1) to finish third ahead of the mighty Aidan O’Brien’s Lipizzaner (12/1). A son of Kodiac, Ubettabelieveit was a $70,000 purchase as a yearling whilst Lipizzaner, another son of Uncle Mo, was bought for $650,000 at the same age.
The first major surprise of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup meeting was provided by Fire At Will who took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at 33/1 for Mike Maker under Ricardo Santana. This Declaration Of War colt out of a Kitten’s Joy mare was bred in Kentucky by Troy Rankin and was purchased for $97,000 as a yearling by Three Diamonds Farm. It was a first Breeders’ Cup win for his emotional owners.
Fire At Will took the lead in the stretch and beat the 11/4 favorite, O’Brien’s Battleground ridden by Ryan Moore by three lengths. Wesley Ward’s Outadore was a neck behind him in third under Jose Ortiz. Cadillac, another European shipper, finished half a length further back in fourth under Shane Foley for Jessica Harrington.
Fire At Will broke sharply and soon settled on the rail behind the pacesetting Outadore. The second favorite New Mandate was ridden forward to maximize the benefit of his gate two draw but was unruly when asked to settle close to the pace, throwing his head in the air. This son of New Bay was reportedly gelded before he hit the racetrack as he was found to be unmanageable by his European trainer Ralph Beckett.
New Mandate’s jockey Frankie Dettori is better than most at containing the enthusiasm of juveniles but this was an ugly battle that he could not win. It resulted in collateral damage, New Mandate finished last, tailed off.
Battleground was not the fastest out of the stalls and found himself towards the back of the pack. Moore sat and suffered for the majority of the race and had to go wide in the final turn. Battleground was significantly taller than Fire At Will and, although he powered past the rest of the field, Fire At Will had such an advantage that he never looked likely to reach him.
Battleground had not been seen on a racetrack since winning the Group 2 Veuve Cliquot Vintage Stakes in July run over seven furlongs at Goodwood. He was the pick of two of the commentators who assumed his absence was a deliberate ploy to prepare him for this race. In the parade ring he was the most impressive physical specimen by a distance.
Outadore was unruly in the gates, rearing and testing Jose Ortiz’s balance, but jumped out of them at the phenomenal speed typical of Ward’s trainees and grabbed the lead and the rail. He managed to maintain it until the final turn when Fire At Will had more to give and went clear of him.
Why was Fire At Will largely ignored by bettors?
Fire At Will had won his last two starts scoring in the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in early September run on a sloppy track over seven furlongs. He started at 3/1 under Irad Ortiz and beat the right horse, Ward’s favorite Blame The Booze, by half a length.
Most recently Fire At Will was the surprise winner of the Grade 2 Pilgrim Stakes on the turf at Belmont Park on October 3. He started at odds of 135/10 and beat Chad Brown’s Public Sector, the 17/20 favorite, by two lengths. He was allowed to lead and set steady fractions that the experts believed were responsible for his victory. On Friday he proved that he could perform when there was pace too.
It was less of a surprise but not the best result for most bettors when Robert Reid’s Vequist (13/2) showcased her speed and stamina by winning the Grade 1 Juvenile Fillies over a mile and half a furlong on the dirt. This daughter of Nyquist was masterfully guided by Joel Rosario, stalking rather than challenging the pace set by Junior Alvarado on Timothy Hamm’s Dayoutoftheoffice (100/30). Rosario asked for everything and got it when she took the lead 100 yards from the wire and beat Dayoutoftheoffice by two lengths.
Dale Romans’ Girl Daddy (13/2) missed out on second place by a nose and the same distance of a few inches was between her and the fourth placed 5/2 favorite, Kenny McPeek’s Simply Ravishing. Simply Ravishing tripped and lost momentum under Luis Saez leaving the stalls. She consequently found herself towards the back of the pack and never looked likely to threaten the winner. Baffert’s second favorite Princess Noor (11/4) probably wasted energy challenging the pacesetter but had less obvious excuses for finishing fifth, beaten four and a half lengths after weakening when it mattered.
Most bettors fared better in the Grade 1 Juvenile Fillies Turf when Brad Cox’s Aunt Pearl proved a worthy 5/2 favorite under Florent Geroux. This daughter of Lope De Vega broke well from stall five and was able to perform in her customary pacesetting style.
Unchallenged, she beat O’Brien’s Mother Earth (14/1) two and a half lengths with another European shipper only a neck behind in third, Kevin Condon’s Miss Amulet (14/1). Ward’s 7/2 second favorite Campanelle took fourth under Dettori, two lengths behind her. They chased the pace and ran out of gas.
The Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was a fascinating conclusion to the evening. Essential Quality, the 100/30 second favorite, wisely raced off the pace whilst none of the leaders settled and prevailed by nearly a length. Owned and bred by Godolphin, this Tapit colt saddled by Brad Cox provided Saez with his first Breeders’ Cup victory.
The 100/1 shot trained by Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie finished second after racing mid pack under Tyler Gaffalione ahead of Keepmeinmind (25/1) who stayed on from the back of the pack after starting slowly to finish third. The Asmussen trainee and evens favorite Jackie’s Warrior finished fourth, three lengths ahead of Mike McCarthy’s Rombauer (20/1) having raced prominently. There were question marks over the ability of Jackie’s Warrior to perform when not permitted to make all and that doubt was proved correct.
The early pace was set by Dreamer’s Disease (66/1) and it was a fairly frenetic one. None of the horses on the pace managed to settle. Baffert’s Classier (20/1) was keen in fourth early on and faded. The first three home all emerged from the middle or back of the pack. ‘Future Stars’ need to relax in their races if they are to achieve their full potential.