With a devastating 6 ½ length win in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic this past Saturday at Keeneland, Santa Anita-based American Pharoah, who was ridden by Victor Espinoza, led a powerful local contingent that brought home three Breeders’ Cup Championship trophies.
In addition to Triple Crown Champion American Pharoah, who registered racing’s first-ever “Grand Slam” by virtue of his Classic win, Santa Anita Park was also represented by the brilliant undefeated 2-year-old filly, Songbird, who annihilated her competition in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies, winning by 5 ¾ lengths under Mike Smith. Reddam Racing’s Nyquist remained undefeated in the $2 million Juvenile, as he rallied wide to win by a half length under Mario Gutierrez.
Trained by Bob Baffert and owned by his breeder, Zayat Stables, LLC, American Pharoah, who took Santa Anita’s Grade I FrontRunner Stakes in his final start as a 2-year-old, wintered in Arcadia in advance of his Triple Crown assault and returned to The Great Race Place following his Belmont Stakes win in June. A subsequent winner of the Grade I William Hill Haskell Invitational Aug. 2, “Pharoah” returned to Santa Anita from Del Mar following a grueling second place finish in the Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 29.
In what many feel could’ve been the biggest challenge of his Hall of Fame training career, Baffert set about getting his stable superstar back to his best with a series seven Santa Anita workouts, beginning with a leisurely half furlong move in 49.80 on Sept. 21, and ending with a razor-edge half mile in 46.60 on Oct. 26—five days in advance of his career finale in the Classic.
“I want to thank Santa Anita for being so accommodating and for having such a great surface for us to be able to train on,” said Baffert on Sunday. “I could see in the last three weeks that ‘Pharoah’ had really turned it around and I knew coming out of his last work with Martin (Garcia) here that he was doing extremely well.”
Ridden by Espinoza in all but his first start (a fifth place run going 6 ½ furlongs at Del Mar on Aug. 9, 2014), the bay colt by Pioneerof the Nile goes to stud with nine wins and a second from 11 starts and earnings of $8,650,300.
Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, Songbird followed up on her sensational 4 ½ length score in Santa Anita’s Grade I Chandelier Stakes on Sept. 26 with an even more impressive win at Keeneland, as her final time for 1 1/16 miles of 1:42.73 was a full second faster than what her male counterpart, Nyquist, recorded in the Juvenile six races later.
Ridden throughout by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, the Kentucky-bred filly by Medaglia d’Oro worked a total of four times at Santa Anita following her Chandelier win, beginning with a half mile in 47.20 on Oct. 6 and ending with another half in 47.40 on Oct. 24. Brilliant by any estimation, Songbird has won all four of her career starts by a combined 22 ¼ lengths while being heavily favored in three of them, and is thus being considered by many to be a candidate to perhaps take on the boys in the new year.
Conditioned by Doug O’Neill, Nyquist has enabled J. Paul Reddam, Gutierrez and O’Neill to engage in some equine deja’ vu, as the threesome combined for a measure of Triple Crown glory in 2012—winning the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with I’ll Have Another. A Kentucky-bred colt by Uncle Mo, Nyquist was a first-out maiden winner going five furlongs at Santa Anita on June 5, and stretched out for the first time to take the Grade I FrontRunner Stakes here on Sept. 26.
Expertly managed by O’Neill, Nyquist drilled three times at Santa Anita coming out of the FrontRunner, beginning with a soft half mile in 52 flat on Oct. 9, and ending with a five furlong move in 1:02 just before the first race on Oct. 23.
“We wanted a fresh track that day and I really want to thank Santa Anita for allowing us to work just before the races,” said O’Neill, who with three winners on Oct. 25, took the 2015 Autumn Meet training title. “We look forward to getting him back home here and then we’ll start mapping out a plan to the Santa Anita Derby.” With his Juvenile win, Nyquist is now a perfect five for five.
Santa Anita, which will host the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships for a record ninth time next year on Nov. 3 & 4, has now produced 59 Breeders Cup winners, dating back to Chief’s Crown, who won Santa Anita’s Grade I Norfolk Stakes en route to victory in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 1984.
Source: Santa Anita Park