Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Breeders' Cup Experience: Photos

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 ( 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.

Big Drama
On the second day of our trip, we went to the morning works again. We stood along the rail of the clubhouse turn, with the Twin Spires looming nearby. As I gazed across the track, my breath was gone. Past me, champions jogged and galloped, preparing for the championship races that would be run on Friday and Saturday. Among the first horse to do so was Big Drama. I had witnessed the son of Montbrook win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) the year before, but the only good glance of him I got then was when he began to pull away from the field at the top of the stretch. This time, though, the dark-colored champion was just a pony horse away from me.

Get Stormy
Get Stormy, also known as Clyde because of his markings that resemble those of a Clydesdale, was another horse I had seen the previous year at the Breeders’ Cup. Yet, from my seats in 2010, it was difficult to catch a glimpse of every single horse. I was lucky to have been able to see Goldikova cross the finish line in that race rather than have to watch on the jumbotron. Yet, now the flashy bay horse was just feet away from me. His radiant blaze was clear against his russet coat and his muscles were distinct as he jogged past prior to taking a leisurely gallop.

Rattlesnake Bridge
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.

I wasn’t the only one that noticed that the Europeans came out in a string of horses, sauntering along the rail in what was normally a single file line. I’d noticed it the morning before, when Goldikova had gone for a stroll amongst other Europeans. This time, it was a different Breeders’ Cup champion mare that ambled past me. Except, this time, she stopped in front of me. She turned her head to look at something, her ears pointed forward and her eyes bright. There Midday was, close enough to touch.

As I gazed at the horses trotting toward us, I spotted a beautiful chestnut with a face marking that I could not mistake. It was Euroears, who had been a favorite of mine for well over a year. I had seen him in person twice before and each time, I was blown away by his beauty. As he came closer, my heart beat with excitement and I couldn’t help but let out his name in a squeal. He pricked his ears, his exercise rider smiling. I watched with my eyes bright as the beautiful chestnut, with a build like a Quarter Horse, jogged past before going for an easy gallop. It was thrilling to see him again, as I hadn’t seen him in about a year and one-half and for a while was unsure if I’d ever see him again.

Jackson Bend
I absolutely love this little horse. I’d seen him at Churchill Downs a year before, when he’d finished fourth in the Ack Ack Handicap (GIII). It had been very exciting to see him then and it was exhilarating to see him on the track just a few days before he finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI). I’ve always loved him and was moved by his impressive performances at Saratoga this summer (The Little Colt That Could). My mom, a big fan of the little colt as well, eagerly snapped pictures of the dainty liver chestnut before he disappeared on the other side of the track.

Afleet Again
Just one day prior to Afleet Again's longshot victory in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon (GII), the son of one of my favorites of all time, Afleet Alex, jogged past me over the muddy surface at Churchill Downs. His tall frame floated along the rail and my mom snapped pictures of him as I gazed at him, noting how relaxed he looked. He didn’t look like a 41-1 shot.

Yes, she’s Queen Goldikova, the three-time Mile winner. But she’s also Goldikova the Head-Tossing Diva. I saw her win the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) in person last year and can clearly remember standing on the tips of my toes to see her cross the finish line in front. It was the only 2010 Breeders’ Cup race where I was able to see the winner cross the finish line without having to look at the jumbotron. I still have that moment in history engraved in my mind. This year, I saw Goldikova many times. I saw her on the track in the mornings and my breath was whisked away each time I saw her. She was clearly a diva, constantly tossing her head and even requiring being led back to the gap. Seeing her in the mornings was a true gift and I felt that I came to know Goldikova’s personality by her appearances in the mornings. It was almost like walking outside to my barn to face the boss mare of the pasture, Jesse. Yet it wasn’t a State 4-H champion halter horse that might charge you like a buffalo without warning I was watching. It was a three-time Breeders’ Cup champion that will go down as one of the greatest racehorses of all time.

Secret Circle
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
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.

Musical Romance
I’m not sure why, but I have a soft spot for Calder-based horses. Perhaps it’s because I constantly watch HRTV and see many Calder races. I watch so many Calder races that the word ‘many’ is an understatement. Needless to say, I am very familiar with Musical Romance, through TV at least. I didn’t necessarily expect her to defeat Turbulent Descent, but I did expect a good performance. She exceeded both of those expectations, soaring to victory in the Filly & Mare Sprint. She’s one of many horses (Awesome Feather, Blind Luck, Jackson Bend, etc.) that has gone on to prove that Calder is underrated.

My Miss Aurelia
My Miss Aurelia was one of the horses that I most looked forward to seeing at the Breeders’ Cup. I’d followed her since before her maiden and am a huge fan of her. To have her stroll right past me prior to dominantly winning the Juvenile Fillies was an incredible experience. As if that experience wasn’t amazing enough, I had the opportunity to stand just a few feet away from the special filly as she entered the winner’s circle. My eyes were locked on My Miss Aurelia as she paraded before me with the blanket of flowers hanging over her withers. I knew I was within the presence of greatness. I could feel it.

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.

Perfect Shirl
When Perfect Shirl crossed the wire victoriously in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, she made it back-to-back years for a longshot to take the race. She provided jockey John Velazquez with his second win on the Breeders’ Cup card and Canadian Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield with his first-ever Breeders’ Cup victory. As the sun sank and the lights shining down on Churchill Downs grew brighter, the beautiful filly entered the winner’s circle, just feet away from me.

Miss Match
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.

Royal Delta
My excitement amplified as the Ladies’ Classic field rounded the clubhouse turn at a walk. My eyes took in the talented fillies and mares, locking on the likes of It’s Tricky, Plum Pretty, and Royal Delta. As I stood along the rail, the fillies and mares walked past so closely that I could reach out to touch them if I tried. Before long, they paraded before thousands of fans, the bright lights overhead brighter than ever as they loaded into the starting gate. As they thundered past the grandstand for the first time, I couldn’t catch my breath. There I was, standing at the edge of the track as some of the most talented female racehorses in the world galloped past in one of the most prestigious races. When the field approached the wire, a dark spot in green emerged on the outside. Royal Delta, I thought. A grin that stretched from ear to ear appeared on my face as I watched the brilliant filly effortlessly sweep past the others to take the Ladies’ Classic. In a surreal moment, the champion was awarded with the blanket of flowers before entering the winner’s circle right before me. If I’d attempted to, I could’ve stretched my arm out to stroke her dark coat as she glided into the winner’s enclosure.

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.

Afleet Again
Just one day after I saw Afleet Again for the first time, the gray colt drew away impressively to win the Marathon. Yet again, he didn’t look like a 41-1 shot. His longshot win kicked off a day full of longshots filing into the winner’s circle to my left.

As the horses charged home in the Juvenile Turf, it was Wrote that rushed up on the outside to win going away, his beautiful stride allowing him to float over the lush turf course. It was the beginning of a big day for Aidan O’Brien. As I stood along the rail next to the entrance to the winner’s circle, the dark colt jogged up to the swarm of people around the winner’s circle. After the blanket of flowers had been draped over his withers and he turned to walk into the winner’s enclosure, my breath caught. The colt was absolutely striking.

Corey Nakatani aboard Regally Ready
Regally Ready ended up being the only favorite on the Breeders’ Cup Saturday card to wear the garland of flowers. The classy turf sprinter provided Corey Nakatani and Steve Asmussen with their second 2011 Breeders’ Cup victory. Just like when Corey Nakatani had won aboard My Miss Aurelia the previous afternoon, he celebrated joyfully, pulling some lilies from the blanket of flowers and kissing them before raising them in the air. His celebration just goes to show how emotional and incredible it is to win a Breeders’ Cup race.

Jersey Town
The 2010 Cigar Mile (GI) winner was a show-off as he was led toward the saddling paddock. The beautiful chestnut took my breath away with his magnificence. He may not have won the race that day, but he definitely captured my attention.
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.
Caleb's Posse
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.

Courageous Cat
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
As Court Vision returned to the winner’s circle after his 64-1 win in the Mile, Robby Albarado must have felt the sting of losing his mount on eventual winner Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby slip away. He celebrated joyfully aboard the veteran grade one winner, smiling nearly nonstop. It was sad that Goldikova had lost, but Court Vision is one of my favorite horses and it was clear how blissful his connections were. I couldn’t help but be happy for Court Vision and his connections.

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.
Uncle Mo
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

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