South Korea-owned Knicks Go won the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday while Godolphin’s British-based Yibir took the Turf title at the 38th annual thoroughbred showdown.
Japanese horses captured the nation’s historic first two Classic victories in the two-day equine event at Del Mar, where Saturday’s nine races at were worth $21 million.
Knicks Go delivered trainer Brad Cox his first victory in the Classic with jockey Joel Rosario on board.
“He’s a tremendous horse. A champion now,” Cox said. “Just very proud of the performance. Very proud of what our team has done.”
Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, whose Kentucky Derby victory remains under investigation after a positive test for banned substances, was second with another Cox horse, Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality, taking third.
“He was really fast,” Rosario said of Knicks Go. “He likes to run. He said, ‘Come on chase me.’ I had nobody around so I let him run his race. He was amazing.”
There was little worry about Knicks Go’s jump to the lead from the start.
“I didn’t get nervous,” Lee Jin-woo of the ownership group Korea Racing Authority said. “Because I knew Knicks Go loves a fast track.”
It was hard for Cox to watch his crowning moment.
“It was a hard one to watch but a great one to watch,” Cox said. “They are like your kids. When they face each other it’s tough to watch.”
Yibir charged late to deliver the $4 million Turf for the third and biggest victory of the weekend for Godolphin Stables, trainer Charlie Appleby and jockey William Buick after Friday’s Juvenile Turf and Saturday’s Mile.
“To have three winners on the world stage is just fantastic,” Appleby said. “What a weekend.”
“It has been surreal,” Godolphin USA president Jimmy Bell said.
Yibir, who went off at 8-1 odds, covered the grass course in 2:25.90 with Irish-bred horses Broome second and Teona third.
“I can’t quite believe what he did,” Buick said of Yibir. “He was pulling my arms out for the first half. I thought we were in trouble. I thought we had done too much, but he got momentum when he headed for home.”
Loves Only You became Japan’s first Breeders’ Cup champion by winning the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf with a late charge.
Trained by Yoshito Yahagi and ridden by Yuga Kawada in their Cup debuts, Loves Only You covered the track in 2 mins 13.87 secs for a breakthrough triumph.
“It’s a dream come true for Japanese horse racing,” Yahagi said. “We’re making history. I’m really delighted.”
The 60-year-old trainer was over the moon later when 45-1 long-shot Marche Lorraine won the $2 million Distaff by a nose over Dunbar Road, covering the course in 1:47.67 in a Cup shocker.
“Any time, I can die,” Yahagi said. “American dirt, Japanese win — that has the biggest meaning.”
Irish jockey Oslin Murphy, 0-for-7 in prior Cup races, rode Marche Lorraine in the horse’s biggest race. saying,” This is a dream come true, to win on a Japanese horse and on dirt.”
Chad Brown, trainer of runner-up Dunbar Road, called it “probably the toughest loss I’ve ever had.”
In the Filly & Mare Turf, Loves Only You surged between runner-up My Sister Nat and third-place War Like Goddess to win by half a length.
“It was very tough race,” Yahagi said. “But we had confidence.”
Yahagi said the horse’s next race will be the Hong Kong Cup.
“Each time we go travelling she’s getting better and better,” he said. “And she gets stronger mentally.”
Last win by Space Blues
Ireland’s Space Blues, trained by Appleby and ridden by Buick, won the Mile in 1:34.01 in the horse’s farewell race.
“I wanted to do him justice,” Buick said. “I wanted him to go out with a win. I wanted to give him what he deserved.”
Golden Pal, the 2020 Juvenile Turf Sprint winner, was a wire-to-wire winner in the five-furlong Turf Sprint in a course-record 54.75 seconds, becoming only the fifth horse to win different Breeders’ Cup races.
“I asked him to get out of there and he just break like a shot,” jockey Irad Ortiz junior said.
Ortiz also rode Life Is Good to a six-length victory in the Dirt Mile.
Aloha West edged Dr. Schivel by a nose to win the $2 million Sprint while Ce Ce won the Filly & Mare Sprint.