Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The $2 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for 2-year-old colts and geldings has always separated itself from most of the other Breeders’ Cup races and it has been because of a number of reasons. When the inaugural Breeders’ Cup was held at Hollywood Park in 1984, it was Chief’s Crown that won the first race of the day, the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the first ever Breeders’ Cup race. The Juvenile would act as the Breeders’ Cup lid-lifter for the first three Breeders’ Cups, but was moved later in the card in 1987, due to the race’s popularity with the bettors, television audience and television executives with ratings and perhaps a Kentucky Derby to promote the next year. This year, there will be 15 Breeders’ Cup races at Churchill Downs Nov. 4-5, and the Juvenile is one of seven with a purse of least $2 million.
All Breeders’ Cup races have the riches and the prestige, no doubt. The $5 million Classic and $3 Turf are cornerstone events with international appeal and have the ability to impact racing and breeding world wide. But the Juvenile has that connection to the Kentucky Derby. Yes, it is notable when a Derby winner runs in the Classic and only Sunday Silence in 1989 and Unbridled a year later have won both races in the same year. But we haven’t seen a Kentucky Derby winner win a race since Big Brown won the Monmouth Stakes back in 2008; and Derby winners Animal Kingdom this year and Super Saver last, did not make it to the Classic, so the Classic does not have that attraction every year.
Not to be too romantic, but the Juvenile brings with it every year, Derby dreams with blankets of red roses on a sunny first Saturday in May.
True, only Street Sense (photo above right) in 1996-97 has won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby the following year, but that doesn’t stop the speculation and knee jerking. (For the record: I raise my hand in blogging court; guilty as charged on both of those counts.) But Americans are almost possessive of the Juvenile winner. If a horse wins the Juvenile, we expect him on the Derby trail next year. When Vale of York was retired after one bad start as a 3-year-old in Dubai, we at the very least were disappointed and at the most even agitated.
When trainer Francois Boutin and owners Allen Paulson and Shiek Mohammed al Maktoum took Arazi back to France after his sensational 1993 Juvenile, they were harshly criticized by the American press and fans. And when they prepped him for the Kentucky Derby with one start in the one mile Prix Omnium, a group 2 grass race at Saint-Cloud in France, we scoffed at the training schedule while at the same time making him odds-on favorite at 3-to-10 in the Derby. Then Arazi finished eighth in the Run for the Roses which only accelerated the criticism.
We love the Juvenile too, because it gives us that glimpse into what we vision in our minds as the Kentucky Derby future.
Other great horses have been defeated in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Easy Goer was second behind Is It True in the 1988 Juvenile. Best Pal was sixth behind winner Fly So Free. Afleet Alex was second to Wilko. Lookin at Lucky would have his first of what would be several unlucky races in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup, losing to Vale of York by a nose. Last year, Travers winner and Classic contender Stay Thirsty was fifth behind Uncle Mo, also Classic bound next month.
A Juvenile winner in early November is also perfect timing for the stallions that benefit when their get win the Juvenile. With breeding season coming that winter, many mare owners will be impressed by the Juvenile win and the following extra attention the victory gives to the winner’s family.
Three stallions have had great success in producing Juvenile winners and the sires of juvenile winners. Only Kris S., Seattle Slew and Unbridled have two sons each with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile wins. Kris S. sired Brocco (1993) and Action This Day (2003); while Unbridled’s Song (’95) and Anees (’99) are both sons of Unbridled. Seattle Slew is the sire of Juvenile winners Capote (’86) and Vindication (’02).
Unbridled and Seattle Slew also have additional Juvenile winners, each further down their bloodlines. For Unbridled, it is 2008 Juvenile winner Midshipman, a son of Unbridled’s Song, while Seattle Slew has to go through his prolific son A.P. Indy, the sire of Stephen Got Even and grandsire of Vale of York, to get his other Juvenile winner.
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, perhaps even more than those who take much richer races later in the day such as the Classic or Turf, has a certain mystique that seems to set it apart from others on the Breeders’ Cup slate. The extra significance can be attributed as much to its intangible connection to the following year’s Kentucky Derby than even the rich purse, grade 1 status or Breeders’ Cup glory that comes with the festive day.
But whether it is deserved or not some 2-year-old colt will be the next great thoroughbred hope for a Kentucky Derby winner and maybe even more.