Of course, they can. At least some of them. The head-scratching thing for fans and the ticket-cashing mania for savvy bettors is that most of them don't. In particular, the horses who come to the Breeders' Cup races with the highest-flying reputations and seemingly unconquerable form absurdly don't show it on the day.
And in direct contrast, some unloved and unbet European racers win at wildly skewed odds.
Take the 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf. Raced on good going over the turf course at Keeneland, 2015 Arc de Triomphe winner Golden Horn was the odds-on favorite, but the Galileo filly Found, who had finished ninth in the Arc, won. Both horses lay well up with the steady pace (:24.56, :48.38, and 1:12.64), then stayed on strongly, and Found found just a tiny bit of extra finishing speed to beat the classic winner by a half-length. She paid $14.80.
Another Arc de Triomphe winner with a massive reputation who came to race in the 1986 Breeders' Cup Turf as a hot favorite was Dancing Brave (by Lyphard). The dapper little dark brown racer from Juddmonte Farm had taken Europe by storm with his astonishing turn of foot, and he was favored at odds of 1-2 on. In the race, he made a menacing move approaching the mile, stayed in fourth the rest of the race, and champion Manila (also by Lyphard) fought out the finish with the Nureyev colt Theatrical to win by a neck. Manila paid $19.60 and is generally regarded as one of the best turf horses to be developed here in the States.
Several theories were offered for Dancing Brave's loss, including the abrupt change of weather from the cool of fall in Europe to the near-tropical temperatures of southern California. Also, however, the pace pattern of racing in Europe is markedly different from that here in North America, where nearly all our courses are flat and firm (or on the firmish side of good).
The horse narrowly defeated by Manila, Theatrical, was a good-class European performer who came to the flat courses of America and excelled quite notably beyond his previous form. And in the 1987 Breeders' Cup Turf, Theatrical was back as the favorite for owner Allen Paulson and defeated the high-class Arc de Triomphe winner of 1987, Trempolino, in a dramatic finish.
But the colt who most exemplified the American brand of turf pedigree and performer was Claiborne Farm's great son of Danzig, dual-Breeders' Cup Mile winner Lure. In the 1992 running of the Mile, Lure took the lead early, rated in front, and raced the wheels off his competition in fractions of :22 2/5, :454/5, 1:09, and 1:32 4/5 on the firm course at Gulfstream Park. Behind him were the major European stars Arazi (the favorite), Selkirk, Brief Truce, and subsequent Breeders' Cup champ Paradise Creek.
Lure was quick, versatile, could lead – even preferred to – but could also finish like a high-class European performer. In 1993, everyone knew the score with Lure, and as the favorite, he led home Ski Paradise and Fourstars Allstar, who had race 1-2-3 all the way. In fourth was marvelous Toussaud, later to become a epic broodmare, and all those were in front of European stars such as Barathea and Bigstone.
Trying for a third Breeders' Cup Mile in 1994, Lure never got near the lead and finished unplaced behind Barathea, who led a rather Euro-formful finish at Churchill Downs. The pace in the 1994 Mile was steady enough to allow Barathea to lay up close to the leaders, ahead of the embattled Lure, then finish well to win by three lengths from the French-bred Johann Quatz, who closed from 14th and last at the half to be second.
The same versatility of use that allowed Golden Horn and Found to lead through a race with a steady pace, yet finish strongly, was present in the high-class Barathea. This is the pace profile most likely to produce a finish that is formful in terms of previous European results; likewise a slow pace that allowed a furiously quick finish would be conducive to positive results from European racers, but slow paces are uncommon in Breeders' Cup races.
In this year's events, the 2017 and 2018 Arc de Triomphe winner Enable is known for her versatility and gameness; she should be able to travel well with the leaders and make her run through the stretch. If anything hampers her, however, there will be others in position to take advantage.
Here's The Thought Process Behind Mind Your Biscuit's Switch From Sprint To Classic
By Natalie Voss
On the face of it, trainer Chad Summers knows his decision to send Mind Your Biscuits to the Breeders' Cup Classic seems crazy. The horse has hit the board twice in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and spent much of his career going six or seven furlongs. He won the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, a six-furlong event, twice in impressive fashion. The Japanese breeders who recently made a stud deal for Mind Your Biscuits did it because they want to infuse more speed into their bloodlines.
For much of his career, though, Summers has had an eye on stretching the horse out. He considered the Pegasus World Cup, but the timing has never quite aligned.
“It was kind of, what point could we do it when we thought all of social media would call us crazy? And this seemed like a good year to do that,” Summers joked.
But Summers' choice to send the horse to new territory in the Classic wasn't a hasty or impulsive one. Speaking at a panel of Breeders' Cup trainers at Equestricon, Summers said he had been keeping an eye on the 3-year-old classic division through the year, and the way he saw it, the field was coming up light. Triple Crown winner Justify was the best of the bunch, and once he was gone, Summers didn't feel much threat from those remaining behind.
Then there was Biscuits' running style. Summers said the horse is the only one to win the Golden Shaheen with a closing effort, which he did in this year's edition of the race. Then, he looked at the horse's runner-up finishes in the G1 Whitney (1 1/8 miles) and G1 Met Mile. The common factors he saw there was a single, uncontested early speed horse in each race – Diversify and Bee Jersey, respectively. Neither will be at this year's Breeders' Cup. As he watched the fields shape up for the Sprint, the Dirt Mile, and the Classic, Summers decided there were more horses in the Classic who might try to get out in front early, giving Biscuits a pace to run at.
“In the Classic you're going to have turf horses that need the lead that don't want the kickback, and they've shown they're going to be forwardly-placed,” he said. “Now, are they going to go :45 for the half-mile like they did in the Jockey Club Gold Cup? Probably not, but there will be enough speed in there that it will set up well for us.”
Even though he saw the stars aligning, Summers says that didn't make the decision an easy one.
“When you do something so well for so long, it takes some courage to break that mold,” he said. “One of the reasons we came back as a 5-year-old was to win a Breeders' Cup race.”
It's an unconventional move to switch divisions after a mature horse has been running well in one, but it's not totally unheard of. Precisionist alternated between the Classic and the Sprint twice, winning the 1985 Sprint and finishing third in the 1986 Classic.
But Summers doesn't think people are calling him crazy for the move – he knows it. He reads his critics on social media, although he admits he knows better. And yes, his detractors do get to him a little.
“You get used to it,” he said. “It still bothers me, but you don't want to feed into it.”
Summers has been pegged as an underdog for a long time now, from his high school football career, to the start of his training career. He's used to it. And he's not going to let that slow him down.
“It's good. I'm glad they root for the horse,” he said. “That's the most important thing. They like me or don't like me, but as long as they root for the horse, it's the most important thing to me.”
Carvajal Embraces 'One In Two Million' Opportunity With Imperial Hint
By Chelsea Hackbarth
He operates a stable of just seven or eight horses at Parx Racing, but 45-year-old trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. is currently preparing to contest the biggest race of his career. Imperial Hint, a 5-year-old son of Imperialism, is taking his connections on the ride of a lifetime as they bring the heavy favorite to Churchill Downs for the 2018 Breeders' Cup Sprint.
“It's not just a one-in-a-million opportunity,” said Carvajal, “it's like one in two million.” Imperial Hint gave Carvajal and owner Raymond Mamone their first graded stakes victory in the G3 General George at Laurel Park in February of 2017.
This season the dark bay has won four of his five starts, including a pair of breathtakingly easy Grade 1 wins in the
Vanderbilt and Vosburgh. The only issue has been Imperial Hint's diminutive size; even today, the colt stands only 15 hands tall.
“He did grow, eventually,” Carvajal laughed. “Just not taller. He grew out to the sides, like me.”
A native of Chile, Carvajal first thought he might follow his father into the saddle as a jockey. Luis Carvajal Sr. won approximately a thousand races in Chile, a significant number considering the limited racing opportunities. Carvajal Jr. quickly grew too tall for those aspirations but had already fallen in love with horse racing.
Seeing his son's interest in the sport, in 1988 Carvajal Sr. decided to bring him to the United States, where the opportunities for a career would be much better than in Chile. Carvajal Jr. was just 15 years old at the time. It would be a short-lived move for Carvajal Sr., who returned to Chile to ride after a few years.
Carvajal Jr., however, found work at the track for trainer Angel Penna, Jr. He galloped horses in the mornings and quickly learned the ropes as an assistant trainer, soaking in all Penna had to teach him.
“He is a classy, classy man,” Carvajal said of Penna. “Still today, if I have a question about something, I can always call him and he is happy to help me.”
This Saturday, Imperial Hint will be ridden in the TwinSpires Sprint by Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano and will leave the starting gate from post 5.
“It's a perfect match,” the trainer said, noting that Castellano has ridden Imperial Hint in his last eight starts. “My horse isn't too big, and neither is Javier. But they both have big hearts.”
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