It was supposed to be a two-horse duel to see which colt would be the favorite for next year’s Kentucky Derby.
But what some called a “match race” between odds-on favorite Dennis’ Moment (9-10) and local hope Eight Rings (3-2) fell apart when the gates opened Friday afternoon for the $2 million Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
“Right away I said, ‘Oh, man. It’s going to be hard,” said jockey Írad Ortiz Jr., who held on as Dennis’ Moment went down to his front knees stumbling out of the gate.
Then what was left of those expectations withered away a little more than a minute later, when jockey John Velázquez asked Eight Rings to move forward from second place at the three-eighths pole. And he did not.
“He took a deep breath, and then he just didn’t go when Johnny asked him,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He didn’t show up. That’s not like him.”
So somebody had to win this thing. It wound up being Storm The Court (45-1), the second-longest shot on the board that produced the biggest winning price ever in the 36 times that they have run this race.
A distant third to Eight Rings over this same course five weeks ago in the American Pharoah Stakes, Storm The Court picked up the pieces by leading the whole way. He outdueled Anneau d’Or (28-1) in the final furlong to win by a neck. Wrecking Crew (39-1) was another 3¼ lengths behind in third. That led to a $1 exacta that paid $488.20 and a 50-cent trifecta that paid $1,965.25.
Storm The Court’s winning time for the 8½ furlongs was 1:44.93 on a fast but deep, safety-first track that produced slow times – and no injuries – throughout a sunny, 80-degree day at Santa Anita. The only two runnings of the Juvenile that were slower were the one year it was nine furlongs and another year when the track was muddy.
So does all this make for a Kentucky Derby favorite? Because that is what usually happens to the Juvenile winner, even though only two of the first 35 went on to win the Derby.
At William Hill in Nevada, Storm The Court was cut from 90-1 to 12-1 in its resurrected futures. Off shore and overseas he is still 33-1.
“Get out of here,” his trainer Peter Eurton said when he heard the odds. “Really? Wow. We’ll have to take a little bit of that. Let’s make sure we get some of that.”
A lot of things have to go right over the next 182 days, but those odds are certainly more attractive than the 10-1 odds at William Hill that still belong to sixth-place Eight Rings and last-place Dennis’ Moment.
“It’s about as bad a thing as I’ve had in my career,” Dennis’ Moment’s trainer Dale Romans said in a statement Friday night. “It seems like he cooled fine so far. It was just bad racing luck. We’ll lay out a plan to get him to the Derby next year.”
It was more than the favorites’ bad luck that helped Storm The Court. So was the strategy to add blinkers, a suggestion that came weeks ago from winning rider Flavien Prat after that 8¼-length loss in the American Pharoah.
“I thought last time he ran a little green,” Prat said. “He broke well, and then he was kind of looking around. So I thought the blinkers might help him, and so actually they did.”
And to think just two months ago Prat was being dismounted by this horse in the Del Mar Futurity. Now this son of Court Vision is taking Prat, Eurton and owners Ryan Exline and David Bernsen on a dream ride that may or may not last very long. But they will take it while they can get it.
“We’ll see how he comes out of this race and go from there,” Eurton said. “We probably would give (the Derby) some thought. That’s everybody’s dream.”
Breeders’ Cup notes and opinions
Ten-time Royal Ascot-winning trainer Wesley Ward has an early candidate for his 12th annual trip to England next June. Ridden by Írad Ortiz Jr., the favorite Four Wheel Drive (3-2) led the whole five furlongs to win the $1 million Grade 2 Juvenile Turf Sprint, the first of the championship races. Now 3-for-3, the 2-year-old colt sired by 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah ran off to a three-quarter-length win in 55.66 seconds on the firm turf. “It’s well known that I try to go to Royal Ascot,” Ward said, “and this colt certainly would be one of the favorites next year to do that.” Ridden by Ortiz’s brother José, pace-chasing Chimney Rock (12-1) finished second for his third race in a row. Another Miracle (19-1), also sired by American Pharoah, closed to finish third, three lengths behind the winner.
Trainer Chad Brown claimed his 13th Breeders’ Cup victory and his 11th on the grass when Structor (5-1) took the lead in the last six strides to win by three-quarters of a length in the one-mile $1 million Juvenile Turf. Sired by 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and ridden by José Ortiz, Structor is now 3-for-3. After the race Brown said that he will probably move Structor to the dirt to make a run at the Kentucky Derby. “I can’t wait to see Chad try him on dirt,” owner Jeff Drown said. “If he takes to the dirt and we’re able to try to make some noise this spring, that would just be super exciting.” Long shots filled out the $2 trifecta that paid $11,967. Billy Batts (50-1), racing with blinkers off and with Structor’s former rider Írad Ortiz, finished a narrow second, a neck better than Gear Jockey (60-1). Arizona (2-1), the favorite racing for Coolmore, finished fifth. Structor’s winning time was 1:35.11.
Already a Grade 1 winner coming in here, British Idiom (5-2) made a bold move from fifth place going into the final turn and ran on to win a slowly run $2 million Juvenile Fillies. Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Javier Castellano, the Flashback filly ran the 8½ furlongs in 1:47.07 to win by a neck and keep her record perfect through three races, stamping her an early favorite for the Kentucky Oaks. A pair of Uncle Mo fillies – the favorite Donna Veloce (2-1) and Bob Baffert trainee Bast (9-2) – were second and third, 1¾ lengths apart.
It has been five years since trainer Graham Motion won a Breeders’ Cup race. The drought ended when Sharing (13-1) pulled away from the late-charging favorite Daahyeh (7-2) to finish first by 1¼ lengths in the one-mile, $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf. Manny Franco rode the Speightstown filly to her third consecutive victory. Sweet Melania (9-2) finished third, missing second by a neck. The winning time for the mile was 1:34.59. Daahyeh came as close as any European came to winning on the turf, although the overseas horses tend to be more dominant in the Saturday grass races.
McKinzie (3-1 William Hill, 4-1 Bovada, 7-2 Europe per Oddschecker) remains the consensus favorite in futures markets to win Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Code Of Honor (4-1, 4-1, 4-1) is a co-favorite at Bovada.
Friday’s $56,517,228 all-sources handle was a first-day record for the Breeders’ Cup, 5.4 percent higher than last year’s Churchill Downs program that was also 10 races. And with a $489,379 carry-over, Saturday’s Pick 6 pool is expected to exceed $5 million, according to Santa Anita. But the Breeders’ Cup shot its credibility in the big toe when it announced the crowd at Santa Anita was 41,243. Ummm, no shot. It is worth remembering that while dollars are easily audited, crowd counts are not. Until there is a disincentive to make them up, then they should be taken with a grain of salt the size of the flats in Bonneville.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is normally posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It appears more frequently during coverage of big racing events, including this week’s Breeders’ Cup. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. Breeders’ Cup trainers Dale Romans, John Sadler and Bill Mott, retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens and XBTV racing analyst Millie Ball are guests from Santa Anita on the regular episode. There is also a pop-up edition featuring Las Vegas racing handicappers Vinny Magliulo, Dave Tuley, Patrick McQuiggan, Johnny Avello and Chris Andrews. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by Xpressbet.