DEL MAR, Calif. – A beautiful southern California afternoon at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club was the setting to kick off the 34th annual Breeders’ Cup world championships on Friday.
It was the first time that the Oceanside track was the site of the annual two-day racing festival and attracted 32,278 race fans. This year’s 13 Breeders’ Cup races have purses totaling $28 million, culminating in Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Forever Unbridled ($9.40) turned back three sophomore fillies to win the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff in Friday’s feature race. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez struck the front at the top of the stretch taking over from the front running Champagne Room to win his second Distaff.
The daughter of Unbridled’s Song gave Dallas Stewart his second career Breeders’ Cup training win, both coming in the Distaff. The winner's dam, Lemons Forever, won the 2006 Kentucky Oaks. The half-length victory over a hard charging Abel Tasman was her third straight win in as many starts this year.
The win in the Distaff should cement her as the older female champion. Earlier this summer Forever Unbridled defeated Songbird in her final race in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga Race Course. The win added $1.2 million to the 5-year-old mare’s career earnings which now top $3.2 million.
Velazquez took over the mount from Joel Rosario, a decision made by Canadian owner Charles Fipke. Rosario had rode her the last six races, but with Velazquez available, Fipke made the call to get Johnny V in the irons.
The race didn't go quite as planned for Velazquez, but he turned lemons into lemonade. "At the three-eighths pole, I followed Jose's horse [Elate] and all of a sudden she stopped and I had to go a little sooner than I wanted to. I got the lead a little too soon for me but, I mean, it was perfect." She completed the 1 1/8-mile trek in 1:50.25.
Abel Tasman who paid $5.40 to place and $3.60 to show likely locked up the 3-year-old filly division after a solid year which included wins in the Kentucky Oaks, the Acorn and the Coaching Club American Oaks. Mike Smith was seeking to add to his record 25 Breeders’ Cup victories, but just came up short in the 9-furlong contest.
"The winner had a quicker turn of foot and got away from me," said Smith. "I was coming at them late, but it was just too late."
The trifecta was completed by Alabama winner Elate, and the West Coast-based filly Paradise Woods finished fourth.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Rushing Fall ($8) stayed undefeated in three races winning the $1 million Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Javier Castellano, who has rode the daughter of More Than Ready in all three races, won his eighth career Breeders’ Cup race aboard the filly for trainer Chad Brown.
“We had a little bit of a rough trip going into the first turn, but I was lucky to be able to save ground and then get to the outside. I had a perfect trip after that,” said Castellano.
The win in the mile race by the 2-year-old filly was the ninth career win for Brown who continues to dominate Breeders’ Cup turf races.
The Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile produced a double-digit winner in Battle of Midway ($30.40) who overtook Sharp Azteca at the eighth pole to win the $1 million race. The third-place finisher in this year’s Kentucky Derby is 2-for-2 over the Del Mar strip and gave trainer Jerry Hollendorfer his third career Breeders’ Cup race. “This horse has always been a fighter and he showed it today,” said Hollendorfer. “He showed a lot of courage in winning the race.”
Flavien Prat, who has been a force in the West Coast riding colony, steered the son of Smart Strike down the lane beautifully to hold off a game Sharp Azteca by a half-length. “I thought there would be more pace. He relaxed well down the backside and gave me a really good kick,” said Prat.
Mendelssohn ($11.60) gave the Euros their first Breeders’ Cup win of the weekend, making a mid-stretch move storming home to win the $1 million Juvenile Turf. Mendelssohn is a half-brother to three-time Breeders’ Cup winner Beholder.
World-class rider Ryan Moore rode the son of Scat Daddy to the one-length victory in his colt's first race outside of Europe. “I think there’s more to come from him,” said Moore. “He’s a big, very raw horse still, and I think he will improve with racing and with experience.”
Trainer Aidan O’Brien hinted at a potential Kentucky Derby try for the talented 2-year-old in the post race press conference. O’Brien added his 12th career Cup win to his resume, second all-time behind D. Wayne Lukas. “We had it in our head that if everything went well today, he could be a horse we could train for the Kentucky Derby,” said O’Brien. “Especially now that we have the Kentucky Derby trials at home.”
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.