There was high drama before the start of the Grade 1 Juvenile Turf (1m), the final race on the opening day of Breeders’ Cup 2021 at Del Mar, when Godolphin’s Albahr flipped out in the starting stalls, rearing up and appearing to injure his stable companion, Modern Games, in the adjacent gate.
While Albahr was withdrawn – his jockey, Frankie Dettori, walked away unscathed, as did his mount – Modern Games was allowed to take his chance despite initially being reported also as a non-runner, but racing for prize-money only under North American rules.
Despair quickly turned to joy for Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby when Modern Games and William Buick flew home down the outside to collar Grafton Street and record a comfortable success over Tiz The Bomb.
US-based punters were not paid out on Modern Games if they had backed the favourite, with their stakes returned, which led to noticeable booing at the racecourse as the son of Dubawi returned to the winner’s enclosure.
Asked if he had ever been involved in a race like it before, Buick responded “no“. He continued: “I must thank the team at the gate. There was a lot of confusion. This horse did nothing wrong. He took everything in his stride. He was a step slow from the gate but we got ourselves in okay. He came with a nice run. He’s a true pro. Everyone has done a great job with him.”
A brilliant last-to-first ride from Jose Ortiz saw Bobby Flay’s homebred Pizza Bianca come out on top in the Grade 1 Juvenile Fillies’ Turf (1m), giving trainer Christophe Clement his first success at the Breeders’ Cup.
British raider Cachet set the pace under Luis Saez, followed closely by Turnerloose and the James Ferguson-trained Mise En Scene, and for a moment it looked like Saez might have stolen a march on Cachet, trained by George Boughey for Highclere Thoroughbred Racing.
Yet as the petrol gauge started to run empty inside the final half-furlong, Pizza Bianca, who was stone last turning into the straight, weaved through the pack to edge ahead near the finish, holding off the late rattle of French raider Malavath and favourite Haughty, with Cachet an honourable fourth.
Twilight Gleaming is well known to European racing fans, having finished second in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot before winning a Listed contest at Deauville, and the daughter of National Defense showed her rivals a clean pair of heels in the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (5f).
Irad Ortiz Jr quickly had Twilight Gleaming at the head of affairs, chased by One Timer on his outside, and while the chasing pack started to close in the run for the line, she had enough in reserve to see off Go Bears Go, trained by David Loughnane for Kia Joorabchian’s Amo racing, and Kaufymaker, like the winner trained by sprint king Wesley Ward.
Winning owner Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables, who enjoyed Royal Ascot success in June with Campanelle in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup, looks to have another candidate for the big sprint in 2022.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Echo Zulu was a hot favourite in the Grade 1 Juvenile Fillies’ on dirt and the daughter of Gun Runner never saw another rival, leading from start to finish under Joel Rosario to score eased down in the extended mile contest.
Corniche was another all-the-way winner despite emerging from the outside stall in the Grade 1 Juvenile on dirt over the extended mile. Jockey Mike Smith, 56, was enjoying his 27th triumph at America’s premier horseracing event, this latest one coming for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Speedway Stables.