Ladies’ Day was a short-lived experiment when the Breeders’ Cup first moved to two days, but it returned in an unofficial form on Saturday. Fillies upset male horses in the two biggest turf races of the day, and a female trainer picked up a win in the Sprint.
In the $3 million Turf, British superstar Golden Horn was an overwhelming favorite to pull off his own historic feat – becoming the first horse to win the two richest turf races in the same year after winning the Arc de Triomphe in France earlier this month. He led in the stretch, but it was Ireland’s favorite daughter, Found, who ran him down at the wire.
Found had finished second to Golden Horn in an Irish race last month, but was a disappointing ninth in the Arc. She came to the United States with the best European trainer/jockey combination in Breeders’ Cup history, Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore. The win was O’Brien 10th and Moore’s eighth.
Nyquist became the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby with an impressive win in the $2 million Juvenile, flashing through the field at the top of the stretch and holding off Swipe. However, his time was a full second slower than Songbird’s time in the Juvenile Fillies, so we might see her at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Songbird competing with the boys would be a fitting legacy of a day where female horses and trainers dominated.
In the Turf Mile, trainer Mark Casse, decided to put his star filly Tepin against the boys, and the move paid off in a big way. Instead of burning herself out in a speed duel against Obviously, she let him go by, and then blew him and the rest of the field to take the $2 million race.
That was the second straight win for females, as unknown trainer Maria Borell’s Runhappy cemented his case as the best speedster in North America with a win in the $1.5 million Sprint. In Borell’s first Breeders’ Cup start, the 3-year-old had to come from off the pace for the first time in his career, but ran down Private Zone and shattered the 6-furlong track record with a time of 1:08.58.
Borell is one of the best stories of the weekend – a former exercise rider for Nick Zito, she had struggled badly in her attempts to build a training business until she was offered the chance to train Runhappy earlier this year. Since taking him over, he has won all five of his races, moving from small-track allowance races to a Breeders’ Cup win.
She struggled to maintain her composure when interviewed in the winner’s circle, thanking the owners of the horse for giving her the chance of a lifetime. She became only the fourth woman to win a Breeders’ Cup race as a trainer.
Breeders’ Cup specialist Stephanie’s Kitten picked up her second career title in three races. After winning the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf and finishing second in the 2014 Filly and Mare Turf, she came back to win the same race in 2015. The 6-year-old made a move down the stretch and held off European favorite Legatissimo in the last race of her career.
The Filly and Mare Sprint turned into the expected speed duel between Taris and La Verdad. They didn’t go out at a suicidal pace, and hung for second and third, but Wavell Avenue made a huge move from mid-pack to run them down and take home the $1 million purse.
In the Turf Sprint, a race, that like the juvenile turf races and the Dirt Mile, probably could have been sacrificed to keep the event at one day, it was Mongolian Saturday pulling off the upset at 16-1 by holding off a hard-charging Lady Shipman.
The first Breeders’ Cup race of the day, the Juvenile Fillies, was expected to be a battle between eastern star Rachel’s Valentina and Californian standout Songbird. Rachel’s Valentina – the second and last foal from Rachel Alexandra – came in with two wins at Saratoga, but was no match for Songbird, who is now 4-for-4 after winning by 5 3/4 lengths.