Arcadia, California: Fort Larned stole the show with a brave victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday, leaving Mucho Macho Man and favourite Game On Dude in the dust.
Game On Dude, unbeaten in five previous starts on the dirt track at Santa Anita, was widely tipped to give trainer Bob Baffert a first victory in the $5 million (Dh18.4 million) Classic — the richest race in North America.
Instead, he trailed in seventh, piling on the misery for Baffert, who had 10 runners over two days of Breeders’ Cup racing and departed without a winner.
“It really was a tough week, but what are you going to do,” said Baffert, who received words of encouragement from Game On Dude co-owner Joe Torre, the former World Series-winning manager of Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees. “When these things happen, when things are hard, you’ve just got to move on.
“A few minutes ago, Joe Torre told me that you’ve got to forget it. Things that happened five seconds ago, you’ve got to let them go and move on. That’s what will happen.”
As Baffert went back to the drawing board, Fort Larned trainer Ian Wilkes and jockey Brian Hernandez were celebrating their first Breeders’ Cup triumph — and in the race that capped the two-day, 15-race slate worth a total of $25 million.
Hernandez and Fort Larned took the lead into the first turn, extended it on the backstretch, then held on in a furious duel in the final straight to beat Mucho Macho Man by half a length.
“He was gaining on us, but our horse wasn’t going to let him by,” said Hernandez, who called the win a perfect 27th birthday present.
Flat Out was third as Game On Dude faded.
Fort Larned’s victory was not the only surprise of the day, however, with 17-1 chance Little Mike winning the $3 million Turf. The five-year-old gelding, a multiple grade one winner this year, held off fancied home hope Point of Entry as well as St Nicholas Abbey, who had won at Churchill Downs last year to continue Europe’s run in the race.
Joseph O’Brien, whose victory last year aboard St Nicholas Abbey had made him the youngest jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race, said his horse ran well but just didn’t have quite enough to beat the unheralded Little Mike.
“When I asked him, he responded. We had to go a bit wide on the turn, but nonetheless he ran very well,” O’Brien said.
Tapizar, dismissed at odds of 15-1, triumphed in the $1 million Dirt Mile and journeyman jockey Willie Martinez garnered the first Breeders’ Cup victory of his career when he piloted 13-1 Trinniberg to victory in the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Filly Mizdirection, who hadn’t raced since May, showed her male rivals the way home with a powerful turn of speed in the final stretch to win the $1 million Turf Sprint by half a length.
While trainer Aidan O’Brien could not repeat in the Turf with St Nicholas Abbey, he and jockey Ryan Moore teamed up for a second straight win in the $1 million Juvenile Turf with George Vancouver.
A year after the same duo brought Wrote to victory, Moore piloted George Vancouver through a tightly packed field to a 1 1/4-length win.
There were no real surprises in the Mile, the Juvenile and the Filly and Mare Sprint, though.
US turf star Wise Dan, trained by Charles Lopresti and ridden by John Velazquez, won the $2 million Mile in a course record 1min 31.78sec ahead of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. Excelebration, racing just a fortnight after a victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, was the best of the Europeans but finished out of the money in fourth.
In the $2 million Juvenile, the traditional pointer to next year’s Kentucky Derby, Shanghai Bobby lived up to his favourite’s status, fending off his rivals in the closing stages to earn his fifth win in five starts and cement his claim to champion two-year-old colt honours.
In the Filly and Mare Sprint, it was Groupie Doll who stretched her winning streak to five graded stakes races this year, three of them in grade one events.