Whatever anyone thought they knew about this year’s 2-year-old division heading toward next year’s Kentucky Derby was surely dashed, smashed and turned upside-down after Saturday’s running of the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.
Storm the Court, a 45-1 longshot, went to the front and stayed there, holding off Anneau d’Or, another longshot at 28-1, to win the most important 2-year-old race by a neck. Finishing third was Wrecking Crew, who was sent to post at odds of 39-1.
Going into Breeders’ Cup week, it seemed as if there were three horses that stood head and hoof above everyone else. There was Dennis’ Moment, Eight Rings and Maxfield. But Peter Eurton’s Storm the Court, benefiting from an equipment change by adding blinkers, won a race that even his trainer wasn’t sure he could win.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to be tough, I really did,” Eurton said. “I wasn’t fooling anybody. … I think everybody sitting here next to me” — owners — “probably would have been content getting a placing against some of the best 2-year-olds in the country. But we’re pretty happy the way it ended up.”
Maxfield was eliminated from the race on Tuesday when he developed a problem with his right front leg and scratched from the race. Dennis’ Moment, the even-money favorite, was eliminated at the break when he stumbled badly. He finished last in the eight-horse race. Eight Rings, winner of the American Pharoah, was in a perfect position all the way around, but when jockey John Velazquez asked him entering the stretch, he came up empty. He finished sixth.
Storm the Court paid $93.80, $24.80 and $12.00. The remainder of the field in the 1 1/16-mile race was Anneau d’Or, Wrecking Crew, Scabbard, Full Flat, Eight Rings, Shoplifted and Dennis’ Moment. The attendance was 41,243 and the Breeders’ Cup set a first-day record for handle of more than $56 million.
The idea to add blinkers came from jockey Flavien Prat, who had ridden Storm the Court in his previous three starts. Storm the Court won his first race, got caught up with Eight Rings in the Del Mar Futurity and both jockeys were sent to the ground, and then finished third in the American Pharoah.
“I thought last time [in the American Pharoah] he ran a little green,” Prat said. “He broke well, and then he was kind of looking around. On the back side he lost his focus and dropped back. So, I thought the blinkers might help him. And so actually it did, and I think that the fact that he ran two turns once was a big help.”
In deep stretch it looked as if Anneau d’Or was going to go by Storm the Court, but that only made the soon-to-be winner try harder.
“I knew he would fight, I just didn’t know how much,” Eurton said. “And once he did put his head out in front like he did, I knew it might be kind of interesting all the way to the wire.”
According to Eurton, Storm the Court also benefited from a home-court advantage, being stabled and training at Santa Anita.
“I think it’s a big advantage to train here, and I mean for the guys that ship in I know how bad it is if you’re not up in the race and the kickback is tough here. It’s a track that I think you need to train on as anybody here will tell you that.”
As is usual for a winning trainer, Eurton had no idea what the plans are going to be with the Storm the Court, although it’s likely he’ll get the rest of the year off.
It’s likely that these horses will meet somewhere down the road — especially Storm the Court and Eight Rings.
“He was in a good spot the whole way and [jockey] Johnny [Velazquez] said when they came to the three-eighths pole he took a deep breath and then he just didn’t go when Johnny asked him,” trainer Bob Baffert said about Eight Rings. “He didn’t show up. … You’ve got to give credit to the winner. He just kept on going.”
Dennis’ Moment is likely to go to Kentucky to start his 3-year-old season. Because of how he broke from the gate, most experts will ignore this race as any indication of his future.
“Out of the gate, I said to myself ‘Oh man,’” said jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. “You don’t see too many horses like that stumble that badly out of the gate and come back to win the race. I asked him for run early, he gave it to me and put a good effort into the turn, but then at the quarter pole he slowed down.”
Storm the Court was the least expensive purchase of all the eight horses entered. He was a $60,000 purchase at the Ocala (Fla.) Breeders Sale. Eight Rings was bought for $520,000 and Dennis’ Moment for $400,000. Wrecking Crew and Shoplifted both went for $800,000 or more.
Talk about getting more than what you paid for.