Mike Repole and Vincent Viola's Vino Rosso came away triumphant in Saturday's Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., racing away from 5-2 favorite McKinzie in the stretch to win by 4 1/4 lengths on the wire. It was the fourth Breeders' Cup victory this weekend for jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., and the first in the Classic for trainer Todd Pletcher. It was Pletcher's 11th victory in a Breeders' Cup race since 2004.
The third choice in the wagering at 9-2 after a disqualification in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup last out , the 4-year-old son of Curlin ran 1 1/4 miles over Santa Anita's fast main track in 2:02.80.
“It really wasn't about the last race,” Pletcher said. “It was about winning a Classic especially for Mike (Repole) and Vinnie (Viola) and their families. We just felt like the last five weeks the horse has been training unbelievably well. I've been anxious for the race to get here and just nervous about it. It's been a while since I came into a race of this magnitude with a horse doing this well. Every indication in his works, the way he shipped in, the way he galloped over the track. Everything was there indicating he was sitting on a lifetime best performance. So you always worry, did we ship in at the right time, but every indication was he was sitting on a big one and when it actually happens it's very rewarding, very fulfilling, very emotional.”
The winner's circle celebration was subdued, however, following the breakdown of Mongolian Groom at the other end of the stretch.
The Awesome Again Stakes winner suffered an injury to his left hind leg shortly after the quarter pole and was pulled up sharply by jockey Abel Cedillo. The attending veterinarians immediately put up the tarp and Mongolian Groom was subsequently loaded onto the horse ambulance to be taken to the on-track Equine Hospital. Radiographs revealed multiple fractures in the bottom of the cannon bone and top of the pastern.
Two hours after the Classic, Breeders' Cup officials issued the following statement saying that Mongolian Groom had been euthanized.
“Mongolian Groom sustained an injury in the Breeders' Cup Classic today and was immediately attended to by an expert team of veterinarians, led by board certified veterinary surgeon Dr. Ryan Carpenter. During their evaluation at the equine hospital at Santa Anita, they observed a serious fracture to his left hind limb. Radiographs were taken and a complete evaluation was performed. Given the extent of the injury, Dr. Carpenter, in consultation with Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, veterinary surgeon and professor emeritus at Colorado State University, Dr. Rick Arthur, Equine Medical Director of the California Horse Racing Board, and attending veterinarian Dr. Vince Baker, recommended humane euthanasia of Mongolian Groom.
“The death of Mongolian Groom is a loss to the entire horse racing community. Our equine and human athletes' safety is the Breeders' Cup's top priority. We have worked closely with Santa Anita leading up to the World Championships to promote enhanced equine safety. Santa Anita has implemented numerous industry-leading reforms to enhance the existing health and safety measures with the intent of providing a safe racing environment. In addition, Breeders' Cup always observes the most thorough up-to-date medication practices and restrictions, testing protocols, equine security and surveillance program, veterinary exams, injury management protocols and racing surface testing. These measures are in place to ensure our athletes are racing under the safest and most transparent conditions possible.
“Breeders' Cup has engaged world-renowned veterinarian, Dr. Larry Bramlage, to conduct an independent evaluation, the results of which will be published when completed. We will continue to keep all stakeholders apprised as information becomes available. We are committed to working with our partners in the industry to continue to advance safety reforms, with the well-being of our athletes in mind.”
Prior to Mongolian Groom's death, the most recent Breeders' Cup fatality occurred in 2016 at Santa Anita when the Argentine mare Corona Del Inca suffered a catastrophic injury in the Distaff.
Higher Power reared in the gate just before the start and was a half-step slower than the rest of the field, leaving the Pacific Classic winner in 11th in the early going. McKinzie and War of Will were both quicker out of the gate, as was Mongolian Groom, and those three raced down the stretch for the first time vying for the early lead.
War of Will came away as the frontrunner with a one-length lead in the clubhouse turn, marking off the first quarter mile in 23.09 seconds. McKinzie was to his inside in second with Mongolian Groom outside in third, while four lengths further back Vino Rosso had a perfect stalking trip in fourth position.
Entering the backstretch after a half in 47.16 seconds, McKinzie appeared to grab the bridle under jockey Joel Rosario and tried to run up the inside of War of Will. He did not have room and Rosario had to check the horse back, then angle out to the two-path. That pushed Mongolian Groom to the three-path as War of Will ticked off three-quarters of a mile in 1:10.71.
McKinzie took over from War of Will around the far turn, pulling away from Mongolian Groom as Vino Rosso began to unfurl his rally from third. Vino Rosso had to go four-wide but drew even with McKinzie at the head of the lane, engaging the favorite in a battle toward the wire.
“He was moving in the turn so, so good,” said an ecstatic Ortiz. “He was moving so good at McKinzie. Going into the first turn I had to use him a little bit. Going onto the backside I said, 'I've got a good chance if McKinzie is going to come back to me at the distance. That worked out good, he came back to me and my horse responded to me the way I expected him to and he won off on his own at the end.”
Vino Rosso got by McKinzie at the eighth pole, and pulled away toward the wire to draw his winning margin out to 4 1/4 lengths. McKinzie finished 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Higher Power in third, and the duo of Elate and Math Wizard closed from well off the pace to finish fourth and fifth, respectively.
“He ran his race,” trainer Bob Baffert said of McKinzie. “Joel rode him well. I told him to make sure he's in front turning for home, that's the way he likes it. But, Vino Rosso, after watching his last race I knew he's been getting better and better and he won here going a mile and a quarter. He was sitting there just perfect and I knew he was going to have a lot of horse left. When Joel hit McKinzie, and I told him don't hit McKinzie unless you're just really out of horse because he doesn't like it, and when he hit him, that's when I knew that was it. But, he did a lot of running. I told my wife (Jill) all week that Vino Rosso was the horse to beat. My horse showed up and I was proud of him. McKinzie ran his race. He just got beat.”
The full order of finish is as follows: Vino Rosso, McKinzie, Higher Power, Elate, Math Wizard, Seeking the Soul, Code of Honor, Yoshida, War of Will, and Owendale.
Bred in Kentucky by John Gunther, Vino Rosso is out of the winning Street Cry mare Mythical Bride. Gunther also bred 2018 Triple Crown-winner Justify, in the same crop as 2019 Classic winner Vino Rosso.
As a yearling Vino Rosso commanded $410,000 at the Keeneland September sale. He broke his maiden in November of his 2-year-old year and headed down the trail toward the Kentucky Derby last season. He won the G2 Wood Memorial before finishing ninth in the Run for the Roses and later fourth in the Belmont Stakes.
After a winter layoff, Vino Rosso returned to win the listed Stymie Stakes in March of this year. He ran fourth in the G1 Carter before shipping out to Santa Anita to win the Grade 1 Gold Cup in late May. Back at home in New York, Vino Rosso ran third in the G1 Whitney and then crossed the finish line first in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, only to be disqualified for interfering with runner-up Code of Honor in the stretch.
“I remember saying that that loss will make this win feel 10 times better,” said winning owner Mike Repole. “And it really did. You have to go through adversity, and that was pretty low, to reach the highest of highs. It's a great feeling.”
Though Pletcher publicly disagreed with the disqualification, he came into the Classic quietly confident and Vino Rosso rewarded him. Overall, Vino Rosso has won six of his 15 career starts for earnings of over $4.8 million.
“We sensed it early on this year that he was a little more mature, more focused, more into his daily training,” Pletcher summarized. “I think it's really a case of him getting time to develop and mature. We always felt he would be a better 4-year-old than 3-year-old. Just happy it turned out to be right.”
additional reporting by Natalie Voss
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