Fans have fond memories of many legendary performances in the Breeders' Cup, but how many have wondered what those races looked like to trainers of the winners?
Bob Baffert, Shug McGaughey, and Mark Casse gathered to share their Breeders' Cup memories earlier this week at Equestricon, and they revealed a few things fans may not know.
Randy Romero had no doubt Personal Ensign would battle back to win the 1988 Distaff, but Shug McGaughey had no such confidence.
“Randy came back and told me truthfully, 'Never in doubt' and I said, 'Well I'm glad you felt that way. Wish you could have told me, sent a hand signal or something,'” said McGaughey, who saw Winning Colors get an easy, significant early lead and was convinced it was too much for his filly to make up.
In hindsight, McGaughey believes Personal Ensign's far-back position early may have been her attempt to adjust to the Churchill surface before digging in. He also believes the race helped cement the reputation of Breeders' Cup for providing tough competition and strong match-ups: Derby winner Winning Colors finished second in that Distaff, while third-place finisher Goodbye Halo had been third that year.
Trainers need a little perspective-check sometimes, too.
McGaughey recalled that same 1988 Breeders' Cup had been a tough one for him outside Personal Ensign's iconic win. He'd brought four runners total, including Easy Goer and Mining, Seeking the Gold, who were all considered strong contenders but lost their match-ups. All in all, McGaughey was a little disappointed in the day … at first.
“I'm walking back. It's cold, it's dark, I'm by myself, it's raining. I kind of have my head down a little bit,” McGaughey recalled. “I heard a voice behind me say, 'Hey, how'd you do today?' and without looking I said, 'I won one and had two seconds.' He said 'Well, you've had a good day.' I looked back over my shoulder and it was (Charlie) Whittingham.
Whenever I get down on myself, I think about that. There was a guy who'd seen a lot of days. It makes you appreciate what a good day is.”
Bob Baffert has actually had his droughts.
Baffert is now known for dominating the Breeders' Cup, but there was a long time between his first win in the series and his second. Baffert won for the first time with Thirty Slews, who was entered in the 1992 Sprint. Inspired by D. Wayne Lukas' transition from the Quarter Horse world to Thoroughbreds, he had recently made the jump himself.
“I ended up with him because I was at [Keeneland September] for like five days and I couldn't afford anything,” Baffert said. “I had $20,000 to spend and everything I saw that I liked ended up going for $150,000, $200,000. I saw [Thirty Slews] in the back and I loved him. The girl that was handling him said, 'By the way, he's a ridgling,' and I said, 'Yes!' because I could afford him.
“I remember they brought me the sheet to sign for him and I filled the whole thing out and immediately went to go see him. Immediately, they started paging me to come to the office because I didn't have credit. Luckily, I had a check with me.”
Baffert didn't have a winner again until Silverbulletday in the 1998 Juvenile Fillies, but when Thirty Slews took the Sprint, he said he thought he'd reached the pinnacle of his training career.
There's no such thing as the 'pressure being off' following the Triple Crown...because it's followed by the Breeders' Cup, and everything else.
Baffert was very aware of the fans' disappointment after American Pharoah's loss in the Travers (when they returned to California from Monmouth, Baffert remembers crowds of fans and media greeting them; they returned from Saratoga to silence). That was a concern for him headed into the Classic.
“The one thing that I've always said: there's a lot of pressure to train a Triple Crown, but it's really big after. To go out and be able to do what Bob was able to do after the Triple Crown, was amazing,” said Casse.
Lucky suits, unlucky trees.
The trainers were each asked whether they had any superstitions ahead of a big race – always a fun question, as the backstretch is a place which very much believes in good luck and bad.
Casse has no pre-race routines. Baffert said he doesn't have any particular superstitions himself, but son Bode does have a pair of lucky socks he wore to each of American Pharoah's races which he still pulls out for big races. Of course, Bode has grown significantly in three years, so they are now very short on him, but he can't be dissuaded.
McGaughey said he has from time to time worn the same suit from one big stake to another (while washing it in between of course). His only other lucky quirk: there's a tree in the Belmont paddock he always walks to the right of before saddling a horse.
Working Out The Kinks With Thunder Snow
By Chelsea Hackbarth
The talented colt drew attention for all the wrong reasons at last year's Kentucky Derby, bucking and propping so much during the first eighth of a mile that jockey Christophe Soumillon had to pull him up and duck into the paddock to avoid interfering with the other runners.
Before taking on the Twins Spires once again, trainer Saeed bin Suroor sent Thunder Snow to Churchill a month ahead of his end goal: the Breeders' Cup Classic. Every day since his arrival, the opinionated Dubai World Cup winner has been accompanied to the racetrack by a lead pony named “Dos” and yours truly.
Since European horses don't normally go with a pony horse and since Thunder can be a bit studdish, we treat him a little differently. Rather than grabbing hold of his bridle myself, my job with Dos is mostly to provide an example and a guide as to how Thunder ought to behave.
Some days it works better than others.
Thunder Snow is easily one of the most intelligent horses I've worked around; you can tell by the way he sizes up Dos as we head out to the track. He'll test his leeway by tossing his head and trying to get his nose in front of the pony's. He'd really like to bite the pony, but exercise rider Ian does a good job keeping Thunder's mouth away from Dos' neck and my knee.
We generally jog from the five-eighths pole back to the wire or beyond it, depending on the day, then Thunder turns around and gallops on his own. I pick him back up at the five-eighths pole to lead him back to the smaller quarantine barn.
Out on the track, most of the work in “handling” Thunder Snow has fallen to Dos, the pony. A solid dark bay OTTB, Dos uses his body position and head/neck posture to communicate with Thunder Snow, telling him where he wants him to go.
For example, to encourage Thunder Snow to move forward, Dos will push his haunches out to the left to make a “pocket” for Thunder Snow to move up into. By bending his neck to the right (and usually also pinning his ears – grumpy old goat!), Dos can help tell Thunder Snow to stay back behind him.
Of course, Thunder doesn't always care what we'd like for him to be doing, so sometimes Dos has to roll with it and stay with the colt, demonstrating “good” behavior. This week, Thunder Snow has been fresh but relatively well-behaved, a great sign heading into the big race.
Additionally, he's galloped over a sloppy Churchill Downs surface several times now and never been bothered by it, so we don't expect any repeat of the Derby theatrics this Saturday. Just to be safe, we won't be changing anything at the last minute, so I'll be taking leave of my Paulick Report station a bit early on Breeders' Cup Classic day – look for Dos and I as we accompany Thunder Snow to the starting gate this Saturday at Churchill Downs!
Momma's Mustard, Pickles and BBQ
Chad Cooley had always wanted to start a restaurant. He moved to Louisville from Kansas in 2001, and attended his first Kentucky Derby that same year. Cooley made a bet on relative longshot Monarchos and was rewarded with a $23.00 winner – he was instantly hooked.
“It was a dream come true,” Cooley said. “I got to walk with him on the track on Derby day and in the paddock with my dad. It's just something that you can't buy—a dream come true.”
Mucho Macho Man ran third in the Kentucky Derby, but would eventually go on to win the 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic by a nose.
Cooley used earnings from selling his shares in Mucho Macho Man to buy his first food truck in 2012, though mechanical issues kept him from opening right away. He spent nearly a year perfecting his mother's time-honored recipes from back home in Kansas, and today he operates the food truck and two brick-and-mortar restaurants in Louisville, Ky., called Momma's Mustard, Pickles & BBQ.
Those restaurants are decorated with Breeders' Cup memorabilia, including Mucho Macho Man's purple saddle towel and numerous photographs of “the horse who started it all.”
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