When it comes to the Breeders’ Cup, trainers Bob Baffert and Wesley Ward have taken the approach that less is more. That is, less racing produces more success.
In the previous three runnings of the Breeders Cup, Baffert has won three races and Ward two with horses who had two months or more between their last start and the Breeders’ Cup. Now, many of their colleagues are trying a similar approach as there were a whopping 32 horses who were pre-entered for this year’s Breeders’ Cup that would be running off layoffs of two months or more.
In 2014, Ward won the Filly and Mare Sprint with Judy The Beauty off a 76-day layoff and Hootenanny won the Juvenile Turf off a 68-day layoff. Overall, that year, 20 horses attempted to win Breeders’ Cup races off layoffs of two months or more.
In 2015, American Pharoah won the Classic for Baffert off a nine-week layoff. Fifteen others that year tried and failed to win a Breeders’ Cup race off that long a layoff.
Last year, Baffert won the Classic again with Arrogate and the Sprint with Drefong, both coming off 10 week layoffs. Sixteen other horses tried and failed to win a Breeders’ Cup race off a layoff of two months or more.
This year, Baffert has taken the same approach with both horses as Arrogate will have 11 weeks between races and Drefong will have 10. Bafffert’s Mor Spirit will run in the Dirt Mile having not run since winning the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on June 10th.
“I know my Breeders’ Cup record before 1999 was not that great,” said Baffert, who said this approach is akin to what he used to when he trained Quarter Horses. “You’d run all these races and by the time you got to the fall you were empty. I think I’ve become a much better manager of horses now than I have ever been.”
Ward said he marvels at Baffert’s success being able to do win such prestigious races bringing horses back off a layoff. “He’s really emerged as one of the greatest trainers that’s ever lived,” Ward said.
ARROGATE enters the $6 million Classic on November 4th having not run since August 19th when he was second in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
“I could have easily run him in the Awesome Again,” Baffert said, referring to a race at Santa Anita on September 30th, “but I wanted to go back to something I had a lot of success with. I just felt I’d stick to that.”
Baffert said MOR SPIRIT will have 146 days between races because “it took so long for him to come around. Anytime you give a horse a little extra time it helps.”
DREFONG won last years’ Sprint after winning the King’s Bishop at Saratoga nine weeks earlier. This year, he has only two starts and in one of those he unseated jockey Mike Smith a few strides out of the gate.
“The one where he got loose that was like a race, he smoked all the way around there,” he said. “I probably could have run him [again] but he’s a horse that he ran pretty well fresh before.”
Ward will be running LADY AURELIA in this year’s Turf Sprint having not raced in 10 weeks, or since she was beaten a nose by Marsha in the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York.
“She’s really coming into the race beautiful,” Ward said. “Had I run back in one of the races five weeks or a month out, it would have been too cramped together. The timing she has now has been perfect. She’s doing awesome.”
Trainer Chad Brown pre-entered 14 horses to this year’s Breeders’ Cup. Three of them - including potential Filly & Mare Turf favorite LADY ELI - will be coming in having not raced in 10 weeks. In the case of Lady Eli, Brown said he preferred the Grade 2 Ballston Spa at Saratoga on August 26th over the Grade 1 Flower Bowl on October 8th at Belmont because he was assured firm turf and he preferred not to have to cut back to 1 1-8 miles after running 1 1-4 miles four weeks out.
Brown decided to skip a last prep for PAULASSILVERLINING for the Filly & Mare Sprint because he felt her fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Ballerina on August 26th at Saratoga was due in part to having run so hard to win the Grade 2 Honorable Miss four weeks earlier.
“The time’s done her well, she’s training really well fresh,” Brown said. “I’m liking this approach taking her into the race this way.”
PRACTICAL JOKE, also trained by Brown, had three races in seven weeks, culminating with a victory in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial so he decided to bring that horse in fresh to the Dirt Mile.
John Sadler, the trainer of STELLAR WIND, felt his filly’s performance when fourth in last year’s Distaff may have been as a result of having run her best career race five weeks earlier in beating Beholder in the Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes. This year Sadler skipped the Zenyatta with Stellar Wind, whose last race was the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar on July 30th.
“We thought about running in the Zenyatta but I thought last year it took a little bit of her energy to run so hard to beat Beholder,” said Sadler, who is 0-for-39 in the Breeders’ Cup.
Stellar Wind’s main rival in the Distaff figures to be FOREVER UNBRIDLED who has only run twice in 2017. She won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 17th and she beat the multiple champion Songbird in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga on August 26th. The time between races is nearly identical.
“We felt like if she comes with that race she did in the Personal Ensign, we think she’ll be right there in the Breeders’ Cup,” trainer Dallas Stewart said.