By Richard Rosenblatt, Ed McNamara and Jenny Kellner
What a way to go out!
The champion mare Monomoy Girl capped a brilliant career with an exceptional victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Keeneland on Saturday, with Preakness (G1) winner Swiss Skydiver stumbling at the start and never a real threat.
Built up as a showdown between two star females, the 5-year-old Monomoy Girl completed a perfect 2020 comeback campaign during a year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was just bad luck for Swiss Skydiver, who gallantly tried to move into contention along the rail but just ran out of steam.
Not Monomoy Girl, who also won the 2018 Distaff during her 3-year-old female champion season before being sidelined for 18 months.
Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, Monomoy Girl made a sweeping four-wide move around the far turn and held off her rivals in the stretch for 1 ¾-length win over Valiance. Dunbar Road was third.
The winning time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:47.84.
“She’s a champion,’’ Cox said of Monomoy Girl, who is scheduled to be sold at auction Sunday at Keeneland. “I’m very proud of her. I really, really thought she was netter than she’d ever been. I thought she was in a good spot at the eighth pole. [In the stretch] I was thinking, ‘Hurry up, wire.’”
Monomoy Girl ($4 to win on $2 bet) will go down in racing history as one of the best – 13 victories and two runner-up finishes in 15 races for owners Michael Dubb and Monomoy Stables. She was 4-for-4 in 2020. Total earnings: about $4.5 million.
Cox saddled his fourth Breeders’ Cup winner of the weekend, matching Richard Mandella’s record. Cox’s other weekend winners were Essential Quality (Juvenile), Aunt Pearl (Juvenile Fillies Turf); and Knicks Go (Dirt Mile).
Monomoy Girl, meanwhile, joins the likes of Beholder (2013, 2016), Royal Delta (2011-12) and Bayakoa (1989-90) as two-time Distaff winners.
Swiss Skydiver, with Robby Albarado aboard, did what she could to get back into contention, briefly moving up around the turn but tired in the stretch and finished seventh in the field of 10.
“She stumbled leaving there, and then she was struggling down inside,’’ Swiss Skydiver’s trainer Ken McPeek said. “She’s got a ladder to climb against older fillies and males. She stumbled today and yesterday [Simply Ravishing] stumbled out of there in the Juvenile Fillies. So it’s been an unlucky week for us.”
The undercard featured long-shot winners galore, topped last-minute entry Order of Australia in the Mile ($148.40 for a $2 win ticket); as well as a European sweep in the four turf races, and a few track records, including Gamine in the Filly & Mare Sprint.
Winners of other Breeders’ Cup races Saturday leading up to the Classic: Gamine (Filly & Mare Sprint, $4.20), Glass Slippers (Turf Sprint, $22.40); Knicks Go (Dirt Mile, $5.60); Audarya (Filly & Mare Turf, $37.60); Whitmore (Sprint, $38.80); Order Australia (Mile, $148.40); and Tarnawa (Turf, $11.40).
$1 million Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), 7 furlongs, 3 and up (Race 4)
A true champion in Gamine kicked off Day 2 of the Breeders’ Cup with a record-setting victory, sitting just off the flank of fellow-speedster Serengeti Empress and surging in the stretch to win by 6 1/4 lengths.
The winning time of 1:20.20 shattered the Keeneland track record of 1:21.32 held by Taris in 2014.
The 3-year-old filly, who twice failed post-race tests, had to pass a horse for the first time to win a race. When these two stars turned for home, Gamine, under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, hit her best stride and a duel from the start turned into a runaway.
“I’m so proud and happy for this filly, what she’s had to endure this year,’’ Baffert, who won his 16th BC race, said. “We’ve always thought she is the baddest in the land going one turn and she got to prove it today.”
Sent off as the even-money favorite in a field of eight, Gamine ($4.20) improved to four wins in six starts, including three Grade 1’s. The daughter of Into Mischief finished first in her second career start at Oaklawn Park on May 20, but was disqualified after failing a post-race test.
Purchased for $1.8 million by Michael Lund Peterson, Gamine came into the race off a third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). In her two starts before that, the filly won the Test (G1) by seven lengths and the Acorn (G1) by 18 ¾ lengths.
The race unfolded the way Baffert and Velazquez thought it would.
“We knew that other horse [Serengeti Empress] would come out running, but I didn’t want to give it up too easy,’’ Velazquez, who won his 17th BC race, said. “I wanted to make him [jockey Luis Saez] work a little harder. Once he passed me, I came off the rail and even then I didn’t get want to give it to him that easy either. When I asked her [Gamine] to run, believe me she was there.”
For Serengeti Empress, the 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner, it was the 19th and final race of her career. The 4-year-old filly trained by Tom Amoss posted a record of 7-5-1 in those 19 starts with earnings of about $2.15 million for owner Joel Politi, who purchased the filly for $70,000.
“We just got outrun. There’s no secret to it. We just got flat outrun,’’ Amoss said. “Gamine turned in a spectacular performance, but I’m still so very proud of my filly. Being second-best today is no disgrace, not by a long shot. My girl was a winner a long time ago before this race.”
$1 million Turf Sprint (G1), 5 ½ furlongs, 3-year-olds (Race 5)
No foreign-based horse had ever won the Turf Sprint. Even though her English connections, trainer Kevin Ryan and jockey Tom Eaves, had no name recognition in America, 4-year-old filly Glass Slippers had an impressive resume. She had two Group 1 wins in England and France and finished second in July to Battaash, one of the best sprinters who ever ran in the U.K.
Glass Slippers transferred her top-class form to the New World, bursting through a seam three paths off the rail in midstretch before holding on by a half-length over fast-closing 25-1 shot Wet Your Whistle. Leinster, who entered 3-for-4 on Keeneland’s grass, was a half-length farther back in third.
“I’m ecstatic,” Ryan said. “We decided going a brave ride up the inner and take the shortest route, and if it didn’t work out, such is life. Today was our day.”
The Great Britain-bred daughter of Dream Ahead paid $22.40 for her seventh win in 17 starts and earned $550,000 for owner-breeder Bearstone Stud. She ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a good course in 1:01.53.
It was only the 12th win of the year for the low-profile Eaves, whose winning rate in a 21-year career is only 8%. It was the first Cup win for him and for Ryan, who broke trainer Peter Miller’s three-year streak in the Sprint. Miller’s gelding Texas Wedge faded late and was 11th of 14.
“I talked to Ryan Moore, who rode her in her last race,” Eaves said. “He knows this track well. That was the right thing to do to sit down there and ride for a bit of luck. It paid off.”
$1 million Dirt Mile (G1), 1 mile, 3 and up (Race 6)
Favored Knicks Go ($5.60) burst from the gate to nab the lead in a few short strides and never looked back as he blazed to a 3 ½-length victory over 62-1 long shot Jesus’ Team in track-record victory.
With Joel Rosario in the irons and leaving from post 6, the 4-year-old gray son of Paynter angled right to the rail and zipped through opening fractions of 21.98 seconds for the quarter-mile and 44.4 for the half with Complexity in close pursuit and a tightly packed group of 10 behind him.
Shaking clear of that rival as he barreled around the far turn, Knicks Go just kept on going and hit the wire in 1:33.85, bettering the previous mark of 1:34.54 set by Liam’s Map in the 2015 Dirt Mile.
Knicks Go now owns two track records at Keeneland, having covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:34.73 in his previous start Oct. 4.
Up for second was Jesus’s Team with Sharp Samurai along for third. Following him under the wire were Complexity, Owendale, Mr Freeze, Rushie, Art Collector, War of Will, Silver Dust, Mr. Money and Pirate’s Punch.
The victory was the third in as many starts this year for Knicks Go, who in his previous Breeders’ Cup appearance finished second at 40-1 in the 2018 Juvenile (G1). Transferred to trainer Brad Cox over this past winter, the colt kicked off his 2020 campaign winning an optional claimer in February at Oaklawn by 7 ½ lengths and returning Oct. 4 to win another optional claimer by 10 ½ lengths at Keeneland.
“This is was never something we even had on our target when he [last] ran this horse,” said Cox, who picked up his third victory of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, having taken Friday’s Juvenile (G1) with Essential Quality and the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) with Aunt Pearl. “This was just a preparation race for possibly the Clark Handicap or the Cigar Mile. So I thought as long as he’s doing well, we would find him an opportunity here.”
Owned by the Korean Racing Authority, Knicks Go won his first stakes victory since the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland as a 2-year-old. The winner’s purse of $520,000 lifted his lifetime bankroll to $1,348,995 and his overall record to 5-3-1 from 17 starts.
$2 million Filly & Mare Turf (G1), 1 3/16 miles, 3 and up (Race 7)
English trainer James Fanshawe cleaned up with Audarya in France this summer and fall, winning a Group 1 in Deauville and finishing second in another on Arc day at Longchamp. Their trip to the Bluegrass country was the best yet.
Audarya, ignored at 17-1 odds, closed relentlessly under Pierre-Charles Boudot to edge past 5-2 favorite Rushing Fall in the final strides and win by a neck. A late surge by Harvey’s Lil Goil came up a head short of Rushing Fall, who finished her career for Chad Brown 11-for-15 with three seconds, including 5-for-7 at Keeneland.
The winner paid $37.60 after being timed in 1:52.72 on a course rated good. Audarya received Lasix for the first time, as did England-based Glass Slippers, who pulled the 10-1 upset in the Turf Sprint.
The 4-year-old French-bred earned $1.1 million for Mrs. A.M. Swinburn for her fifth win in 13 starts. Fanshawe’s first Breeders’ Cup runner also gave Boudot his first win. Boudot replaced fellow Frenchman Ioritz Mendizabal, who had tested positive for COVID-19.
“She did it well and was very courageous,” said Boudot, who overcame post 11 with a ground-saving ride. “The first furlong I had an opportunity to go behind Peaceful, and then the trip was perfect. It’s a great achievement to win for me here, and I’m very happy for the owner and the trainer, but I want to say sorry to Ioritz.”
Starship Jubilee threw Florent Geroux leaving the gate, but neither reportedly was injured.
$2 million Sprint (G1), 6 furlongs, 3 and up (Race 8)
The fourth time was a charm for old-man Whitmore, who took charge midway through the stretch and finally – finally – won this race.
The 7-year-old gelding finished eighth in the 2017 Sprint, came back the next year and ran second. A year ago, he was third. And in the 38th start of his career, 18-1 long shot Whitmore ($38.80) came through with a 3 ¼-length victory over C Z Rocket in a full field of 14. Firenze Fire was third; favorite Yaupon was eighth.
Whitmore had trouble entering the gate, kicking his back legs several times before being loaded in. Breaking from post 7 under Irad Ortiz, Jr., Whitmore was positioned well behind the leaders on the inside through fractions of 21.64 for the quarter and 44.66 for the half set by long shots Jasper Prince and Empire of Gold.
When the field turned for home, Ortiz steered Whitmore to the outside, passing the leaders on the way and cruised to an easy victory.
“He loves this track,’’ Ortiz said. “The trainer said, ‘Get him where he’s comfortable.’ When I asked him to go, he just took off.’’
Winning time was 1:08.61.
Trained by Ron Moquett, Whitmore now boasts a career record of 38-15-11-3 and earnings of more than $4.3 million for owners Robert LaPenta, Moquett and Head of Plains Partners.
“We’re a little slow,’’ Moquett said after winning his first Breeders’ Cup race. “Sometimes it takes us a little longer to figure things out. Whitmore did that. It took him a couple of races to get it figured out, what we wanted him to do.”
Ortiz won his second BC race, having ridden Golden Pal to victory in the Juvenile Turf Sprint on Friday.
$2 million Mile (G1), 1 mile, turf, 3 and up (Race 9)
Also-eligible Order of Australia got into the race because another long shot, One Master, was scratched. Pierre-Charles Boudot rode him because fellow Frenchman Christophe Soumillon tested positive this week for COVID-19. Aidan O’Brien’s colt was stuck out in post 14, had the fewest earnings ($47,238) in the field and was 0-for-3 in stakes. He was beaten by 47 lengths in his previous race, so he went off at 73-1 odds. No chance? Ha!
In one of the biggest shockers in the 37-year history of the Breeders’ Cup, Order of Australia received a perfect trip from Boudot and led a 1-2-3 finish for O’Brien. The winner finished a neck ahead of 11-1 Circus Maximus, who was three-quarters of a length clear of 18-1 shot Lope y Fernandez. Most of O’Brien’s endless string of winners are favorites, usually even-money or less. Talk about flipping the script. Order of Australia paid $148.40, $57 and $25.60 for his third win in eight starts. Big money!
England’s Kameko, the 5-1 favorite, finished seventh, and defending champion Uni was fifth.
O’Brien threw out Order of Australia’s last race because it was run in a bog after heavy rain at the Curragh. “The trainer was very confident in him on good ground and a small track,” Boudot said. “The draw was difficult, but I had a very nice trip and he gave me a nice turn of foot when we went for the lead. It’s a dream come true.”
Never has a pickup mount been more rewarding. Boudot also would not have ridden Audarya, upset winner of the Filly & Mare Turf, if Ioritz Mendiziball, hadn’t tested positive for the virus.
“It’s a difficult situation with COVID, and it is only by chance I got these rides,” Boudot said. “I got two opportunities, but I feel sorry for Christophe and Ioritz.’”
Order of Australia ran a mile on a firm course in 1:33.73 to give O’Brien his 13th Cup victory but his first in the Mile. Weirdly, it broke an 0-for-59 streak in the year-end championships for the master of Ballydoyle Stable. If you had boxed his trio for $2, you would have cashed a $17,572 trifecta. It’s a sure thing that this opportunity will never come again.
O’Brien remained in Ireland and deputized assistant trainer Pat Keating for the trip to Kentucky.
“First three home is unbelievable,” Keating said through his protective mask. “You need a lot of luck in this game.”
$4 million Turf (G1), 1 ½ miles, 3 and up (Race 11)
A European sweep in the turf races was completed when Tarnawa (9-2) closed with a flourish for the victory, with 2-1 Magical second and pace-setter Channel Maker third.
Tarnawa ($11.40), a 4-year-old filly going against males for the first time, was ridden by Colin Kean, a replacement for Christophe Soumillion, who tested positive for COVID-19.
Trained by Dermot Weld and owned by HH Aga Khan Studs, the filly bred in Ireland came into the race off three victories, the most recent two at Longchamp in Group 1’s – the Prix de l’Opera and Qatar Prix Vermeille.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.