The Breeders’ Cup was a month ago. Those words pain me to type. How I long to be there again. You’d think I’d be done with the Breeders’ Cup blog posts by now, but that’s impossible. The event means too much for me to stop posting about it just a month after it culminated.
On my blog, many of the photos you see are taken by my mother, Terri Cage of Terri Cage Photography (http://terricagephotography.com/). If the caption does not give credit to the picture, I took it. Otherwise, I will denote that my mom took it. That's not the case in this blog, as all the photos belong to her.
My mom has an incredible eye for what makes a terrific photograph. At the Breeders’ Cup, our seats gave us a great opportunity to see the horses up close, which meant we got to take some amazing photographs. I took a few good photographs, but they were nothing compared to the ones my mom took.
This blog is to allow my readers to see what the Breeders’ Cup was like through my eyes, all through my words and my mom’s pictures. I’ve posted many blogs about my experience at the Breeders’ Cup already (The Beautiful Bluegrass posts, Drosselmeyer: From Racehorse to Stud, The Shackleford Experience, Screaming for Hansen, My Special Aurelia, and A Tall Jockey, a Magnificent Horse, and a Lily), but I thought I’d allow readers one more insight:
*All photos are by Terri Cage.
This picture was taken on our first day at the Breeders’ Cup this year. When we pulled up to the track, I immediately spotted Creative Cause in the chute, being ponied. Before I knew it, a flood of Breeders’ Cup horses came along, including Stacelita, Goldikova, the late Irrefutable, Cambina, Trappe Shot, and several others. Finally, I was amidst the best of the best yet again. My second Breeders’ Cup journey had begun.
A dappled gray in a yellow saddle towel grew nearer and off the saddle towel I read the name Rattlesnake Bridge. My mind immediately flashed to the Timely Writer Stakes, which had been Uncle Mo’s 2011 debut. In the race, Rattlesnake Bridge had run an impressive second. To me, that’s what he's best-known for. For others, he was most well-known for finishing second to another Mike Repole-owned colt, Stay Thirsty, in the Travers Stakes (GI). His beautiful gray frame moved past me, his mane and tail flowing. Beside me, I could hear my mom’s camera going crazy. Grays are her favorite to photograph.
I’ll come right out and say it. Picking Drosselmeyer to win the Classic was my proudest moment of this year’s Breeders’ Cup. I had Flat Out on paper, but the moment that is photographed above had me on Drosselmeyer’s side. I’d been a fan of the colt since the Risen Star Stakes (GII) in 2010. It was my first time to see him in person and as I saw him trotting towards me, my heart thudded in my chest. I knew in that moment that he was sitting on a big race. His eyes gazed right at my mother and me as he jogged by, moving like a show horse. I was riveted by him, my head following him until he was out of sight. My love for Drosselmeyer began to climb higher in that moment.
The 2011 Breeders’ Cup races could not have begun with a much better start. I was eagerly anticipating the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Sprint, as my favorite two-year-old colt, Secret Circle, was the favorite for the race. I had followed the colt since his maiden (Juvenile Spotlight: Secret Circle), which I watched live on TVG. He immediately had my heart and I followed him from then on. As soon as he dominantly won the Jack Goodman Stakes, I knew I would see him at the Breeders’ Cup. So as I stood along the rail near the winner’s circle as the horses for the first Breeders’ Cup race of 2011 made their way toward the paddock, I kept my eyes peeled for number six. Finally, my eyes caught sight of the bay son of Eddington. Bob Baffert’s trademark blue shadow roll sat atop his nose as he strolled toward me. Not long after my favorite two-year-old walked past me with just inches between us, I stood in the same spot to watch him cross the wire victoriously. To add to the excitement, I stood along the winner’s circle wall as he entered the winner’s enclosure with the purple and gold blanket of flowers draped over his withers. I couldn’t help but beam as I watched the triumphant colt stand alongside his happy connections.
Stephanie’s Kitten unleashed a striking turn of foot to win the Breeders’ Juvenile Fillies Turf (GII) for her owners and breeders, the Ramseys. The filly, named after Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s granddaughter, returned to the jubilant family under Johnny Velazquez. As I watched from just outside the winner’s circle, I felt the family’s infectious joy and began to smile. I’ve always loved how happy the Ramseys get when their horses win. They are clearly a closely-knit family that loves its horses.
|My Miss Aurelia|
Taken just before the running of the Filly & Mare Turf, this picture is clearly of one of the iconic Twin Spires as the sun sank lower in the sky. Standing at Churchill Downs at sunset in the midst of the Breeders’ Cup is about as close to magic as you can come.
The sky was orange as the fillies and mares for the Ladies’ Classic headed toward the saddling paddock. Miss Match, an Argentinian-bred mare who has won two group or grade ones in her career, strutted alongside a groom as the sun left the sky in a stunning mix of warm colors. The scene was just asking for a picture.
I must say, the US Army Golden Knights performance to kick off Breeders' Cup Saturday was incredible. There is no way I would fly down onto the infield of Churchill Downs with a parachute strapped to me. It was a dazzling way to kick off Saturday’s races.
|Corey Nakatani aboard Regally Ready|
Of course, the Dirt Mile belonged to Caleb’s Posse. However, my heart belonged to Shackleford in that race. The Preakness winner put on a show the entire time, unleashing his antics in the post parade as his copper mane flowed, his muscles rippled, and his legs pranced. His dance moves are different than the ones we saw with Zenyatta; his might actually launch the jockey into the air.
In one of the most dominant 2011 Breeders’ Cup victories, Caleb’s Posse powered home to take the Dirt Mile. The bay colt provided Rajiv Maragh with his first Breeeders’ Cup triumph. This was good enough for a thumbs-up by the jockey, but I’m sure it brought him much more joy than just a thumbs-up.
Shackleford wasn’t the only feisty horse in the post parade on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. The multiple group one-winning filly Sarafina gave her handlers plenty of trouble in the post parade for the Turf.
|St. Nicholas Abbey|
His win brought along a story that will not soon be forgotten. St. Nicholas Abbey was ridden to victory by Joseph O’Brien, the five-foot, eleven inches tall eighteen-year-old jockey. In the winner’s circle, Joseph sat aboard the radiant bay with his father, trainer Aidan O’Brien, standing nearby. With his height, Joseph likely does not have much time left of riding in flat races, but he can always say he won a Breeders’ Cup race for his father.
After a thrilling stretch run between Hansen and Union Rags, my ears were ringing as Hansen entered the winner’s circle. The joy of his connections was infectious, especially since they had been standing next to me during the race. If the Juvenile is any hint as to what we have in store for the 2012 Triple Crown trail and the Triple Crown, 2012 is going to be a great year for three-year-olds.
There were two blaze-faced bay beauties in the 2011 Mile: Get Stormy and Courageous Cat. The latter, trained by Bill Mott, had absolute gorgeous eyes that gleamed in the best lighting of the day. As the sun inched closer to the horizon, a golden glow was cast over Churchill Downs as the penultimate 2011 Breeders’ Cup race approached.
Goldikova picked the wrong person to have a staring contest with. As she walked along the rail, within touching distance of me, her eyes gazed into mine and she would not look away. It was like she was trying to have a staring contest with me. But since she’s one of the greatest racehorses of all time, there’s no doubt I’m going to stare. I’m not even going to breathe. Being in her presence was so special and to have her look right at me for a long moment was indescribable.
|Robby Albarado aboard Court Vision|
|Havre de Grace|
Havre de Grace decided to stare at me almost like Goldikova did. Her expression reminded me of the expression a curious foal often makes. Yet she walked with extreme class alongside Larry Jones prior to her run against the males in the Classic.
Havre de Grace and Uncle Mo were definitely the fan favorites of this year’s Classic. The charming bay colt strolled past the grandstand, seeming focused. Fans didn’t see the Uncle Mo they wanted to see that day, but his appearance always seems to bring a smile to many fans and it definitely did that evening.
As Drosselmeyer crossed the wire at the end of the race in a sudden rush to the lead, I punched my fist into the air joyfully. Mike Smith and Drosselmeyer had done it! The horse that had captured my attention in the mornings had run a race of redemption for himself and for his jockey, as well as provided Mott with a Ladies’ Classic and Classic double. As I stood along the rail, the stunning chestnut was bestowed the blanket of flowers as Mike Smith celebrated delightfully. I watched in awe as the Classic winner sauntered in circles with the Hall of Fame jockey aboard before they headed to the winner’s circle, so close to me that I could see the veins that were defined in Drosselmeyer’s neck, see the splotches of dirt on WinStar’s white silks, and see the detail of the flowers on the garland. It was such a special moment to be so close to the winner of America’s richest race and I can always look back and know that I was standing right there, so close to some of the greatest people in racing and the horse that gave me one of the biggest racing thrills I’ve ever experienced.
Thank you, Breeders’ Cup for the incredible experience and of course, Mom, for taking such great pictures. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup, when I got to witness some of the greatest Breeders’ Cup races of all-time and the great Zenyatta, was wonderful. Being so up close and personal with all the winners of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup was a completely different kind of experience. It was one I will forever hold dear to my heart.
Video by Mary Cage