Saturday, November 10, 2012

Breeders' Cup 2012: Highlights

By Mary Cage

Every renewal of the Breeders’ Cup is always abounding with special moments and 2012’s edition of the prestigious event was no different­. From the week leading up to the Breeders’ Cup to the culmination of the fifteenth championship races, the Breeders’ Cup is full of excitement, drama, and emotion. Wrapped up in the action of the spectacular event for several days, I continue to reflect on my extraordinary time at the Breeders’ Cup, which is truly an event like no other.

Mornings at Clocker’s Corner

Santa Anita provides a unique experience by allowing one to venture to the Clocker’s Corner each morning to watch morning works, gazing at the heroes of the racetrack as they waltz past. From my first morning in Southern California to my final day there, I attended morning works at the Great Race Place, my eyes fixed upon the stream of Thoroughbreds pouring onto the track, dotted in large numbers of Breeders’ Cup contenders.

As a Breeders’ Cup horse loomed, the commotion of the fans and media gathered at Clocker’s Corner would grow, the horse’s name slipping from the lips of many, especially if it was a “big horse” such as
Royal Delta, Animal Kingdom, or Groupie Doll. As fog hugged the track, morning dew clung to every surface, the crisp morning air leaving me to find warmth in the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. My eyes rarely left the track, watching some of the best racehorses in the world wander past me, sometimes just inches separating me from them.

While these grand athletes milled to and fro, I had the ability to talk to other racing fans gathered at Clocker’s Corner, which left me reeling with happiness and hope. There really are others out there infected with the incurable racing bug. And not only was a mass of spectators gathered around to watch the horses, but some of the most well-known people in racing walked among you as well: Bob Baffert, Doug O’Neill, Corey Nakatani, Todd Pletcher, Graham Motion, among others.

Morning works at Santa Anita
Photo by Terri Cage

The Marathon

Often, the Marathon is among the Breeders’ Cup races that get pushed aside, that few people fondly reminisce upon. But this year’s was different, all thanks to the horse that strode to an easy 4 ¼-length victory. That horse was the underdog Calidoscopio, who was sent off at odds of 17-1.

Not having raced since his victory in the General Belgrano (GII) in Argentina, the nation from which the nine-year-old gelding hails, the bay gelding became the oldest racehorse to ever capture a Breeders’ Cup race. Choose whichever aspect of his win you want; no matter which one you choose, it is undeniable that Calidoscopio’s triumph was an eccentric, yet touching one.

Among the most intriguing facets of this horse’s Breeders’ Cup venture was his appearance in the mornings. Not only did he wear an eye-catching bonnet on his head in the mornings while training, but Calidoscopio’s exercise rider galloped him around the Santa Anita oval without a saddle, an Argentinean tradition. It was truly a fascinating experience to watch Calidoscopio prepare for race day, traveling about the track in a unique style that was sure to catch the eye.

But as interesting as his appearance in the mornings was, the moment of Calidoscopio’s win I found most intriguing was his return to the frontside after the race. His connections ran up to the gelding, hugging him as they gave jockey Aaron Gryder high-fives, celebrating the victory with great joy. I was moved to tears in that moment, touched by the unmistakable love for the horse, and, of course, the thrill of a huge victory displayed Calidoscopio’s connections.

Calidoscopio training for the Breeders' Cup
Photo by Terri Cage

The Ladies’ Classic

Standing along the wall that lines the tunnel through which horses enter the track for the post parade at Santa Anita Park, I held my breath in anticipation for the grand fillies that would soon grace my vision. I’d seen them all before, whether it be at a previous Breeders’ Cup or at the morning works, or perhaps both, but something about the moment left me breathless as I eagerly waited for the field for the 2012 Ladies’ Classic to emerge from the tunnel, their necks arched as their fierce jockeys sat aboard them, the call to post sounding as they pranced onto the dirt oval.

And suddenly the classy field stepped out of the darkness of the tunnel and into my vision. Thereby stepped the talented Grace Hall, followed by the undefeated
My Miss Aurelia, the latter of which my eyes latched onto. I’d followed My Miss Aurelia’s career since her noteworthy debut as a juvenile, a race in which I’d selected her prior to race day due to her outstanding pedigree. There she pranced before me, her legs dancing over the dirt as she cavorted on to the track, her neck arched as she left me riveted, taking my breath away. The star-studded field only continued from there and as soon as Awesome Feather appeared, my eyes locked upon her, taking her in. A filly with a flawless record, I’d also followed Awesome Feather since early on in her career and have great respect and adoration for the spectacular individual.

But just behind Awesome Feather was Royal Delta – the horse that took my breath away. I focused my vision on her, watching her in awe as she and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith sauntered onto the track. I was left in absolute wonder of the reigning champion, feeling a chill as she gazed right at me, inches from me as she strolled through the tunnel.

The race did not quite play out as expected and I found myself focusing primarily on the spectacular Royal Delta, who set blistering fractions, leading the others into the homestretch with My Miss Aurelia and Include Me Out hot on her heels. But Royal Delta called upon all her class and dug deep, leaving me beaming as she crossed the wire to defend her title.

Her trip back to the frontside was an unforgettable moment. Each winner had been applauded and cheered for upon its return to the winner’s circle, but the stands roared in admiration for Royal Delta and as the grand filly trotted up beneath a jubilant Mike Smith, I found myself crying tears of joy as the magnificent Royal Delta traveled before me, receiving the blanket of flowers for her outstanding victory.

Royal Delta after her Ladies' Classic victory
Photo by Terri Cage

The Filly & Mare Sprint

One of the biggest stars at this year’s Breeders’ Cup was Groupie Doll. Having dominated the division throughout 2012, most fans gathered at Santa Anita or watching the Breeders’ Cup on television pondered how large of a winning margin the stunning chestnut would win the race by. The answer? 4 ½ lengths.

What made Groupie Doll’s victory so special, you may ask? It wasn’t just her brilliance, but who she won it for: breeder, trainer, and co-owner Buff Bradley. One of the most genuine persons in racing, Buff Bradley is known for his adventures with the hard-knocking Brass Hat and the wonderful King of Speed. Seeing the tremendously gifted Groupie Doll win for Buff Bradley was icing on the cake.

Groupie Doll after her Filly & Mare Sprint win
Photo by Terri Cage

The Juvenile

It was in 2003, ten years after she became the initial female rider to capture a Triple Crown race in the Belmont Stakes (GI), that Julie Krone became the first female jockey to pilot a horse to Breeders’ Cup victory when she rode Halfbridled to a win in the Juvenile Fillies. In 2012 alone, Rosie Napravnik became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks (GI) and the second female jockey to find the winner’s circle in a Breeders’ Cup race and the first to do so in the Juvenile.

Riding the undefeated Shanghai Bobby, Rosie Napravnik appeared to be home-free aboard the short-priced favorite as the field turned for home, but down the stretch, a contingent of horses threatened the lead she and her mount had established. Vigorously, the talented jockey set to work on her mount, asking him for all he had as the other juveniles loomed large, particularly
He’s Had Enough. In a thrilling finish, Rosie Napravnik rode her handsome mount to victory, returning to the winner’s circle to the admiration of the crowd.

Rosie Napravnik and Shanghai Bobby after their Juvenile triumph
Photo by Terri Cage

The Turf

It is often expected that the foreign horses will dominate this race and rightfully so. Prior to this year’s running, the last American horse to capture the Turf had been English Channel in 2007. With foreign invaders such as reigning champion St. Nicholas Abbey, the looming Japanese horse Trailblazer, and the brilliant filly Shareta, the American horses had a tall task ahead of them, but great hope was invested in Point of Entry, who was coming off of three grade one wins.

However, Point of Entry was not the American that dethroned the foreign horses in this year’s renewal of the Turf. It was Little Mike , who, like Calidoscopio, is quite the underdog. Despite having won two previous grade ones this year, including the prestigious Arlington Million Stakes (GI), Little Mike was dismissed at 17-1. But, showing shades of his Million victory in the stretch, the plucky gelding – for which many believed had distance limitations – dug deep in the straightaway, repelling all challengers to capture the victory, leaving his connections exultantly celebrating all the way down to the winner’s circle.

Just part of the celebration after Little Mike's Turf victory
Photo by Terri Cage

The Mile

Featuring one of the toughest fields of the weekend, the Mile did not disappoint as far as displaying the greatness of the Thoroughbred athlete was concerned. Among the horses in the force was a Kentucky Derby winner in Animal Kingdom, a horse who had been lurking in the shadows of Frankel in Excelebration, and a horse who needed no explanation as to the degree of his brilliance in Wise Dan.

As I had done for the Ladies’ Classic the previous evening, I stood along the wall of the tunnel as the horses entered in the Mile made their way from the paddock to the track. Each horse had a bounty of credentials to catch my eye, but my eye locked upon three main horses: Wise Dan, Animal Kingdom, and Excelebration.

As Wise Dan strutted past me, I focused on the regal chestnut, amazed by the sight of him. This was the horse that had put together one of the best, and certainly the most versatile, 2012 campaigns. My expectations were high for the stunning individual; despite the tough field, I anticipated the gelding would conquer the field en route to victory.

But Wise Dan wasn’t the only superstar in the field. One of my favorite racehorses soon followed, gazing right at me as he left me breathless. Animal Kingdom. Never before had I seen a Kentucky Derby victor contest in a race, but there he was, just feet away from me as he headed to the track to make his comeback. And just behind him? Excelebration, the horse who had been living in the shadow of the legendary Frankel.

The Mile certainly played out as one of the most terrific races of the weekend. Wise Dan stalked the pace set by the talented Obviously with Excelebration not far behind. Animal Kingdom, on the other hand, galloped near the end of the field along the rail. With his striking turn of foot, Wise Dan overtook Obviously near the top of the stretch, galloping home-free towards the wire. But Animal Kingdom, having experienced traffic issues, kicked into gear in late stretch to finish second as Wise Dan captured the race, eclipsing the course record with a spectacular final time of 1:31.78.

Among the best part of the Mile was, again, the horses’ arrival at the frontside following the race. Animal Kingdom appeared before Wise Dan, but the crowd cheered for him as loudly as they had for any winner on the day, praising the Kentucky Derby winner for his grand performance. Of course, the magnificent Wise Dan received his own roar of admiration for his incredible victory. One cannot help but anticipate what the superstars will bring next year.

Wise Dan after his triumph in the Mile
Photo by Terri Cage

The Classic

It’s the richest race in North America, the culmination of the Breeders’ Cup, and, of course, one of the most renowned races in the world. The field assembled for this year’s running was full of talented horses, featuring nine grade one winners and three other gifted Thoroughbreds. Yet again, I stood along the wall of the tunnel, my eyes gazing towards the paddock as I awaited the field for the Classic.

And like the sun peaking through the clouds, the first horse stepped out of the darkness, followed by eleven more brilliant equine athletes. My eyes took in the classy individuals, looking over the likes of such horses as Flat Out, Fort Larned, Game On Dude, Richard’s Kid, Ron the Greek, and Mucho Macho Man. In that moment, I was sure it would be a great race.

It was. Despite the fact that the favorite, Game On Dude, did not perform like his normal self, the stretch run was incredible. One of my personal favorites and top selections, Mucho Macho Man, chased at Fort Larned, who had formed a comfortable lead. Showing great perseverance, Mucho Macho Man loomed on Fort Larned’s outside, battling with Fort Larned down the stretch in a thrilling duel. But it was Fort Larned that dug deep, prevailing on jockey Brian Hernandez’s 27th birthday.

The Classic was everything it should have been. Yes, a 9-1 shot captured the race rather than the heavy favorite, but Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man displayed the characteristics I most admire in a Thoroughbred racehorse: heart and determination. The Classic was a race to remember. It’s not every day that we are able to witness two top-class Thoroughbreds battle it out in one of the richest races in the world, displaying their great will to win.

Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man crossing the wire in the Classic
Photo by Terri Cage

And another special moment? The presentation of the National's Anthem on BC Saturday. Read about it in this post.


  1. Hi Mary, I do not know you ..but I could just hug you for your love and admiration of these incredible horses. On a really bad day...this was great to read and remember all the great races, horses and emotions that came with the Breeders Cup this year. You really are a great writer and I hope its something you continue to do in the future.

    1. Jain, thank you so much. I'm sorry that you did not have a good day and I am so glad to hear that my blog helped you, as writing this blog also helped me on a really bad day. Turning to the heroes of the racetrack really can help cheer one up. Thanks again. I always enjoy hearing from you!