DEL MAR, Calif.--With injuries and internal politics, timing is everything, isn’t it? Just ask football fans in Houston and passed-over employees everywhere.
It works that way in horse racing, too. Forever Unbridled’s victory Friday in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar was a pretty good example of that.
It carried over into Friday evening when the favorite Ulysses reportedly had a fetlock flare-up and was scratched from Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Turf.
At least in the case of Forever Unbridled, the agony was a thing of the past – almost exactly one year ago.
“This filly had an injury – not a bad injury (a bone chip) – after last year’s Breeders’ Cup,” said trainer Dallas Stewart, who saddled the now-5-year-old mare’s third-place finish in this race last November at Santa Anita for owner Charles Fipke. “Chuck said, ‘I want to keep going with her.’ Nine out of 10 guys would have retired her, but Chuck being the guy he is – a sportsman; he loves racing – he wanted to see this happen for her, and he did.”
But that wasn’t the half of it.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velázquez abruptly got the ride early this week after Joel Rosario was inexplicably dropped. Velázquez took full advantage, sitting back on Forever Unbridled (7-2) behind a soft pace before he shook the reins on the backstretch. They got the lead going three-wide into the stretch and held on for a half-length victory over the late-closing Abel Tasman (9-2) with Paradise Woods (5-1) another three lengths behind in third.
When asked to explain the rider change, Stewart got into some history.
“John got hurt, then (Joel) Rosario rode her,” he said. “Then Rosario got hurt, then got back on the horse, but then he got a call from (trainer) Todd Pletcher, who he rides for.”
But that was murky, old news. Stewart did not take the story the final step, leaving unexplained the reason why Rosario was replaced after he rode Forever Unbridled to victory in three of her last four races. They included wins in her only two starts this year: the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs in June and over the great Songbird in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga in late August.
“Mr. Fipke made the decision,” Stewart said. “That’s what we went with. (Velázquez) rode her great, she ran great, and I’m very happy about it.”
“I ran into Johnny last night,” Fipke said. “He already had a perfect plan all mapped out, and I had great confidence when I heard that.”
Rosario’s agent, Ron Anderson, was quoted early this week expressing his frustration with the late decision to fire his client. It was strangely ironic since it was Rosario who replaced an injured Velázquez in the 2013 Kentucky Derby for the winning ride on Orb.
Now a 17-time Breeders’ Cup winner, Velázquez would not set foot on the new eggshells, saying only “that’s up to the owners. That’s nothing to do with me. I don’t want to go into the details. But anytime I ride a big race or any kind of horse, I’m going to ride it the best I can. It doesn’t matter if it’s this horse or another horse. I’m going to go to win the race, and that’s what I’m good at.”
Rather than send the four-time Grade 1-winning mare into a breeding career, Fipke said that Forever Unbridled may now be aimed at the $16 million Pegasus World Cup in January, and that – “yes, yes, yes” – he has every intention of running her as a 6-year-old. Fipke said he does not have a place yet in the Pegasus, which is open to owners who put up $1 million apiece – or anyone who makes a deal with a stakeholder.
“As Johnny knows,” Fipke said, “I’m a deal maker.”
Breeders’ Cup Friday notebook
Ulysses (7-2), the morning-line and European futures-betting favorite for Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Turf, was announced as a scratch from the race in a statement issued by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club at 6:24 p.m. PDT. The Daily Racing Form subsequently reported that the colt was found to have had “heat in his fetlock,” according to racing manager Alan Cooper of Flaxman Holdings, the horse’s owner. A 4-year-old by Galileo trained by Sir Michael Stoute, Ulysses was close to the early lead in his last two races. He most recently raced early last month, finishing third on a soft track in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly, France.
A career long shot in big races, Battle Of Midway (14-1) outdueled Sharp Azteca (5-2) for a half-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Ridden by Flavien Prat for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, the 3-year-old sired by Smart Strike had stalked the pace throughout the race before engaging in the duel near the top of the stretch. Battle Of Midway first came to prominence as a 40-1 long shot finishing third in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Awesome Slew (14-1) was a distant third in the Dirt Mile, and the favorite Mor Spirit (2-1) was eighth.
Undefeated 2-year-old Rushing Fall (3-1) got the championships started with an emphatic win in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Javier Castellano pushed the button just before the final turn of the mile race and, despite going five-wide, ran past runner-up Best Performance (15-1), giving trainer Chad Brown the ninth Breeders’ Cup victory of his career. September (5-1) overcame a dawdling start to finish third for Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien, who did better later.
O’Brien got his 12th Breeders’ Cup win when Mendelssohn (9-2) ran his record to 2-for-2 in mile-long races with a one-length win in the Juvenile Turf. Riding star Ryan Moore had the Kentucky-bred 2-year-old on the rail and just off the pace throughout the race. After taking the lead with a move one path out in the stretch, Mendelssohn held off a late, middle-of-the-track charge by Untamed Domain (12-1) for a one-length victory. Voting Control (9-1) closed to a third-place finish.
Ron Flatter’s racing column will be posted daily during the Breeders’ Cup at VSiN.com. The next edition will be after Saturday’s races.
You may also hear the new Ron Flatter Racing Pod every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s episode features an interview with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. It also includes Gaughan Gaming oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo and South Point racing handicapper Patrick McQuiggan analyzing all the Breeders’ Cup races.