There’s something electric about Breeders’ Cup Saturday: between the massive crowds, the amazing competition, the eye-catching fashion and the stunning backdrop of Santa Anita, there’s a sense of wonder and anticipation that completely permeates the atmosphere around the track.
As I mentioned above, Breeders’ Cup Saturday really does bring out some outstanding fashion; I love seeing how different people interpret their signature horse racing looks, and Saturday was definitely not a disappointment when it came to awesome personal style!
The track was definitely a scene, but even with all of the frenetic activity surrounding the Breeders’ Cup action there are always quiet little moments that stop me in my tracks and remind me of the simple pleasures that a day at the races can bring. As I made my way to the track for the first of the afternoon’s Breeders’ Cup races, I came upon this scene. Aside from doing the yeoman’s work of escorting horses from the walking ring to the starting gate each race, pony horses act as incredible ambassadors to fans. I doubt that this little girl will forget this moment for a long time to come.
On to the main events! When it was time to kick off the Breeders’ Cup races, Shea Leparoux opened up the ceremonies with a beautiful rendition of “God Bless America.”
Then four buglers in their finest regalia summoned the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to the racetrack for their moment in the sun.
As the two-year-old fillies made their way to the starting gate, tension mounted in the crowd as anticipation for the first Breeders’ Cup race reached a boiling point. The only people who seemed relaxed were the assistant starters as they waited to help horses into the starting gate for the biggest race of their young lives.
As the race came down to the wire, the margin between leader She’s A Tiger and the fast-closing Ria Antonia shortened stride by stride. But as the horses got closer to the finish line, it appeared that She’s A Tiger strayed off course and bumped Ria Antonia. It was a photo finish and the Breeders’ Cup was off to a very dramatic start!
As the stewards (the track judges who have the responsibility of deciding rulings on inquiries and objections in races) took a long time to review the tapes as the two fillies circled each other on the track.
The tension in the air was definitely high in both Ria Antonia’s and She’s A Tiger’s camps as they awaited the stewards’ ruling.
When the announcement came down that Ria Antonia would be put in first place due to interference her human connections went absolutely bonkers.
I can’t blame them, though – what a way to win a Breeders’ Cup race!
I would like to note that I was devastated by the loss of Secret Compass in the Juvenile Fillies. I remember her fondly from her win in the Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita back in September, and I know she will be dearly missed by racing fans nationwide as well as by the people who spent every day with her. My thoughts go out to her human connections and to her jockey John Velazquez who was badly injured in the spill.
The day’s next race was the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, which had attracted a very strong international field. As the horses swept down the hill and onto the regular turf course it looked like a full-on cavalry charge.
After the field of fillies and mares completed a circuit around the track, the final strides became a fight to the finish that saw European invader Dank take home a victory.
As the horses came back from the turf course, I overheard the other photographers lamenting that winning jockey Ryan Moore was known for his poker face after a win – even seeing him crack a smile was a rare sight. So when my camera caught him grinning outside of the Winner’s Circle, I knew just what I had to tweet:
I had to laugh a little bit because a bunch of British horse racing outlets retweeted that; I guess everyone was a little floored to see Moore break character and look happy!
Then it was on to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Actor and BC Ambassador Bo Derek was on hand to present the trophy to the winner, and she looked amazing as she waited to find out who would snag the victory.
In my heart, I was rooting for Groupie Doll: she’s just such a tremendously gritty and determined horse, and her trainer Buff Bradley is one of the most genuinely great guys in the business. His love and care for each of his horses shines though in their attitudes, and his win with Groupie Doll in last year’s edition of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint was one of my favorite racing moments of 2012. Plus, the Doll is slated to be sold in the upcoming Keeneland sale, so there was a certain bittersweetness to the fact that this would be their last race together.
After a thrilling six furlong (aka ¾ mile) showdown, Groupie Doll once again showed her mettle and gutted it out to fend off Judy The Beauty by a three-quarters of a length to reclaim her title as the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner.
When I stood up and looked behind me, Buff Bradley was there and the look on his face said it all: the joy, pride, and love he feels for Groupie Doll as well as the sorrow that this would be their very last trip to the Winner’s Circle together. It was a moment I’ll never forget and it brings tears to my eyes even as I write this. (Which, by the way, is totally freaking out the guy next to me on the airplane.)
We were lucky enough to be able to have a camera and microphone on Buff while he was watching the race, and if you have a moment to watch the video you’ll understand just how much love he has for his horse.
Of course, a Breeders’ Cup win is a huge achievement, and jockey Rajiv Maragh was all smiles as he and Groupie Doll came back to the Winner’s Circle.
I managed to snag one of the flowers from the Doll’s winning garland, but when I saw this awesome couple and their wonderful sign I knew that they had to have it as a keepsake.
After that, I had to dry my eyes and check my mascara, because it was time for the Turf Sprint and I needed to focus up. After all, another of my ladies was about to run: The Miz! Mizdirection won this race against the boys in 2012, and I was hoping for a repeat performance in this year’s edition. And she didn’t disappoint: Mizdirection flew over the downhill turf course, sweeping wide around the turn to snatch the lead in the final strides of the race.
Mizdirection is owned by a group of people that includes Jungle Racing, and it was great to see the entire gang celebrating in the stands after the win.
Jungle Racing’s lead owner is sports radio personality Jim Rome, and he was positively glowing as Mizdirection returned to the Winner’s Circle to reclaim her place as the Turf Sprint champion.
And of course, jockey Mike Smith never disappoints after a win: he’s got such a wonderful attitude and when he celebrates he really gets into it. I absolutely love that!
Also, I just really love this picture: I caught Smith and Mizdirection looking to the sky at the same time. Gotta love that connection between horse and rider!
Mizdirection is also slated to be sold in a few days; it’s another sad moment, but she’s owned by too many people at the moment to begin her next career as a broodmare and the great news is that whoever gets her will be sure to give her an awesome home befitting her achievements.
The next race on the docket was the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; I always love this race because you’re almost guaranteed to see at least one winner of one of the Triple Crown races in the field. It’s a little bit of horse racing déjà vu and it’s always tons of fun. So naturally I was a very happy girl as the starting gate opened and the future stars of racing were off and running!
At the end of the Juvenile, it was New Year’s Day who rang in the victory as jockey Martin Garcia lifted his crop in salute to the win.
One thing that I absolutely loved about this win was the sheer joy on the face of New Year’s Day’s groom. The man was clearly thrilled with his horse and never stopped patting him the whole time that they were waiting to go into the Winner’s Circle. It was totally touching and reminded me just how important these horses are to their caretakers. The huge smile on this man’s face speaks volumes for the love and pride he has for New Year’s Day.
Up next was the Breeders’ Cup Turf: this is a huge race with a $3 million purse attached for the winner, and this year’s field was laden with international talent vying for a piece of that pie. At the end of the day, the Euros struck again as Magician pulled the Turf victory out of his hat.
Ryan Moore was on board for this win as well, and wouldn’t you know it? He was smiling again and even waved to the assorted photogs! I mean, the man was practically giddy (well, for him, anyway.) I guess two Breeders’ Cup wins in one day will do that to a guy!
He even held his trophy aloft with the rest of Magician’s two-legged connections; and MTV personality/skateboarder/Guinness Book of World Records holder/racehorse owner Rob Dyrdek (man, that guy is busy!) accompanied them on the podium. He’s the guy on the left, FYI.
As the horses came back from the race, there were representatives from the Los Angeles emergency services present to hold a giant American flag when the National Anthem was sung. Of course, they had to wait to unfurl it until after the horses had left the track, and I was struck by the expression on this firefighter’s face as he watched the horses being unsaddled after the turf. There really is nothing like witnessing the power and beauty of a Thoroughbred up close, and you could tell that being feet away from these amazing animals left an impression on this man.
Sally the Santa Anita Park Clydesdale, however, just wanted to know what the giant flag was all about. This is her first year working at the track and she’d definitely never seen anything like that before!
Side note: My friends Claire, Molly and Alicia asked if I knew all of the names of the non-racehorse critters who live and work at Santa Anita and I said that of course I did; I may not know the names of some of my extended family, but animals stick in my memory. Thankfully all three of them are fellow racing girls and totally didn’t think that this makes me weird.
As the horses moved off of the track and the American flag was unfurled, Toni Braxton took the stage to deliver a memorable performance of the National Anthem.
Then it was time for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint; Secret Circle was the heavy favorite in the race and didn’t disappoint his backers, winning against a talented field of horses.
As they returned to the Winner’s Circle, jockey Martin Garcia leaned down to give Secret Circle a kiss of gratitude. It was a touching moment, and Secret Circle seemed to appreciate the affection.
And we the photographers certainly appreciated the thumbs-up we got as well! Right back at you, Martin – two Breeders’ Cup wins in a day isn’t half-bad!
OK, if you’ve read my blog this week you’ll remember how I’m just a little bit (read: a lot) obsessed with Wise Dan. Well, his race was up next as he returned to the Santa Anita Park turf course to defend his title in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. I was so nervous before the race that I misspelled guacamole in my pre-Mile tweet. This perfectly illustrates what a wreck I was because guacamole is easily my favorite dip and one of the only things I can make from scratch that actually resembles food.
Anyway, it was soon time for me to skibble down to the track because my man Dan was on his way to make a date with history. He looked absolutely beautiful as he headed to the grass track, and is calm demeanor did a lot to put me at relative ease as well.
I was almost relieved when the starting gates opened for the Mile – the anticipation was killing me! But as the horses came into the stretch and Dan wasn’t in the lead I’m not ashamed to say I was freaking out a bit; but shame on me for doubting Dan, because he wanted to win that race and so he did. It was an amazing show of athleticism, and I’m not too proud to admit that I teared up after his display of heart and courage. I just love that horse to bits.
The other thing about Dan, you see, is that he’s a grinner. He smiles after every win, and I swear I think it’s an actual smile. I got this great photo of him grinning right after his victory and I think I’m going to make a print and frame it because I love it so much.
His connections were so proud of him, giving him big pats and words of congratulations. He’s a well-loved horse, and trainer Charlie LoPresti and his team have done a commendable job of making him in to the happy and successful racehorse that he is.
But, seriously, guys, check it out: Wise Dan really does smile the whole time after he wins:
And you know who else was grinning like a loon? Yours truly. This is probably quite literally the happiest I’ve ever looked in my life. This year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile was one of the most fun moments to watch in my career, and I can only say thank you to Wise Dan and his connections for the memories that will last me a lifetime.
Many many thanks to the wonderful Alicia Winscze-Hughes for the photo!
Finally, it was time for the crown of the day: the Breeders’ Cup Classic!
Fans lined up to support their favorite horses and jockeys with homemade signs as the crowd gathered by the racetrack to secure the best spot to watch America’s richest horse race.
As the Thoroughbreds emerged on the racetrack, they were heralded by “The Best is Yet To Come” sung with flair by the awesome Kristen Chenowith.
For such a tiny woman she sure has a huge voice! She absolutely rocked the song, and then after graciously agreed to pose with fans and sign autographs.
Finally, it was time for the big race. As the horses leapt out of the starting gate the crowd roared; and the cries continued as the Classic contenders blazed past the Grandstand for the first time as the sun began to set over Santa Anita Park.
As the horses reentered the homestretch to battle to the wire, I had the extreme privilege to witness one of the most exciting races I’ve ever seen in my life. As Mucho Macho Man used all of his mighty strength to get to the wire first, three-year-old Will Take Charge was roaring up on the outside of the track with train-like momentum. And European invader Declaration of War was running the race of his life between them, trying to get to the finish line first. Those three horses showed so much heart; that stretch drive was the perfect example of the will to win that these Thoroughbreds have.
As the three horses hit the wire, no one had a clue as to who won the race; even the other photographers around me couldn’t tell from their pictures. As we awaited the photo finish announcement, the crowd was still on its feet watching the replay over and over and trying to determine the winner.
In the end, it was Mucho Macho Man who won by the barest of noses with the amazingly talented Will Take Charge right behind him and the very game Declaration Of War inches away in third. Each of these horses showed such tremendous talent and drive, and it was truly moving to witness that race in person.
So much has to be said for jockey Gary Stevens, too: to return to horse racing after seven years of retirement and have the year he’s had is nothing short of remarkable, and to win both the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and the Breeders’ Cup Classic this year is an achievement that jockeys half his age only dream of.
Mucho Macho Man’s trainer, too, is an extraordinary story: Kathy Ritvo survived a heart transplant and returned to the game against her doctors’ advice to train this horse, and her efforts were more than validated by her win in the Classic. It really was an amazing moment in the sport of horseracing, and maybe just sports in general.
It was another great moment when Mucho Macho Man and Gary Stevens returned for the Winner’s Circle ceremonies.
Gary even got a long-distance fist-bump from one of the Santa Anita outriders:
And his satisfaction as he threw flowers from the garland of flowers presented to the Classic winner says more than my measly words ever could.
As the sun set over the Breeders’ Cup that evening, I reflected that we as racing fans were treated to the full spectrum of emotion that comes with the love of this sport: from the sadness of losing Secret Compass to the bittersweet goodbyes of the upcoming sale of both Groupie Doll and Mizdirection; and from the pure and unadulterated wild joy of Wise Dan’s win to the thrill of one of the great stretch battles of all time in the Classic. I feel so lucky to have been there for all of it, and I can’t thank you enough for reliving the daily Breeders’ Cup experience with me throughout the week.
Now, who’s ready for Triple Crown season 2014? I can’t wait!