For many, the Breeder’s Cup begins today. The classic Saturday, nine big races, capped off by the Breeder’s Cup Classic, which will be carried live on the big NBC at 8:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time. But, for the last eight years, the Breeder’s Cup races have started on Friday with four races—two on the turf, two on the dirt—and though they go unnoticed for the most part, they are significant in stature.
Friday was a historic day in many ways. The first was a bit of a surprise as jockey Rosie Napravnik, announced at age 26 that she was retiring from riding. This came after she rode Untapable to a stirring victory in the Distaff. The filly has been nothing short of spectacular in 2014, undefeated against the fillies, her only defeat was against the boys at the Haskell over the summer. That race was won on a speed favoring track by frontrunner Bayern and something tells me that if the filly got another chance against the boys, she would fare much better.
Napravnik is retiring because he is seven weeks pregnant. She and her husband, trainer Joe Sharp, are naturally excited to start a family. Because her husband trains horses, I’m sure Napravnik will stay in the game in some capacity and my hunch is that a return to riding is not out of the question. She is only 26 and if Gary Stevens can take seven years off, get a knee replacement and come back to ride, then certainly Napravnik could come back—if she wants—as well. She will ride today, but if this was her last big win, what a way to go out.
The big winner yesterday was Goldencents in the Dirt Mile. He, too, is retiring and like Napravnik, he will go into the baby making business. The four year old by Into Mischief, out of Golden Works by Banker’s Gold is not a household name. Unlike California Chrome, Big Brown and Smarty Jones, he didn’t do his best running in the races that Americans watch. He was 17th in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, then 5th in the Preakness. That said, this is tough horse, a very tough horse. He broke his maiden in his very first race, then finished second in the Champagne Stakes, the signature race for two year olds at Belmont Park.
After his disappointing Triple Crown performances, he kept on racing, garnering three straight seconds. That certainly doesn’t capture the attention of the general public, but it proved that the colt was a tough, solid, game competitor. After those seconds, he captured the Dirt Mile at last year’s Breeder’s Cup, setting sizzling fractions in the process. While many like the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles, the mile is perhaps the best distance. It offers something for everybody. The speed horse can win, so can the stalker, the rater, and the closer. Horses can move up from six furlongs and succeed, as can those who prefer 1 1/4 or even 1 1/2 miles. Palice Malice proved this when he won the 2013 Belmont and then captured the Met Mile in 2014, when he beat—Goldencents.
After winning the Dirt Mile, Goldencents came to New York, the Big A, Aqueduct and finished seventh in the Cigar Mile. He was down, but not out. After a seventh month layoff, he came back to get second in the aforementioned Met Mile, then went 2-2-1-2 in his next four races. His trainer Doug O’Neill then was suspended, causing the colt to be moved to new trainer Leandro Mora. All that did was make yesterday even more special.
The 2014 Dirt Mile looked like a replay of last year’s with the fast fractions, and the tenacity of the colt down the stretch. The champion colt bore down and when he was challenged, pulled away like the great ones always do.
Goldencents had what I would call an under the radar but brilliant career. He made 18 starts, won seven times and finished second seven times, which is pretty darn good. Now, he’ll head to stud and we’ll see in 2017 and 2018 how his first crop of babies perform on the racetrack. If they have their dad’s determination, they’ll be just fine.
Today is Christmas Day if you love the sport of Kings. Nine Grade 1 races, nearly six non-stop hours of horse racing. We will miss Wise Dan, out of the mile with an injury, and perhaps heading to retirement, but there are other fascinating stories. Can Shared Belief stay undefeated by winning the Classic? He is a three year old who was injured during the Triple Crown season and he has done all his damage on the West Coast, so today is his opportunity to show the East Coast—and America—if he is the real deal. He has already beaten older horses in the Pacific Classic, so that’s not an issue. Can Tonalist, the Belmont champion win a race somewhere else besides Belmont Park? Can California Chrome show the form that he had in May when he romped in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness? Can Bayern win on a non-speed favoring track? Was VE Day’s win in the Travers a fluke?
I like to root for horses more than I like to bet on them, so I’m rooting for Toast of New York in the Classic. He has only made seven starts and seems to prefer synthetic, but I have a hunch he might just pull off a big upset today. He finished second in the Pacific Classic to the dominant Shared Belief, but it was a strong second and I have a feeling that he is sitting on a big one in the biggest race of the year.
Another horse to watch is Moreno. The four year old is certainly not getting much love, sitting at 20-1 on the morning line, but he is certainly capable of running big in big races. Sure, he finished ninth in his last start, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he also won the Whitney and was second in the Woodward, so at 20-1 he could make you some money.
The Breeder’s Cup, as always, is dripping with excitement and anticipation. The Kentucky Derby may be the marquee day of the year, but this is the Super Bowl of the sport.