Jockeys hop on Velazquez's horses at Breeders' Cup
ARCADIA, Calif. -- Jockeys, agents and trainers were left scrambling Saturday to fill the mounts of jockey John Velazquez, who was thrown from Secret Compass and had to have emergency spleen surgery after the day's first Breeders' Cup race, the $2 million Juvenile Fillies.
It was a day of mixed results for the replacement riders on the eight horses slated to have Velazquez in the saddle, with a win for Jose Lezcano aboard Wise Dan in the Breeders' Cup Mile and a pair of seconds for other jockeys earlier on the card.
The seconds included Havana, the favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile, one of two Velazquez mounts taken over by 50-year-old Hall of Famer Gary Stevens.
Stevens steered Havana to the lead and what looked like a victory in the homestretch before the colt lost steam and was overtaken by trainer Bob Baffert's New Year's Day.
"It was a great try," Stevens said.
With little time for instructions, Stevens said Havana's connections kept it simple, saying nothing more than hold on to the whip.
"They just told me not to hit him," Stevens said.
Luis Saez, the first jockey to take a Velazquez mount just minutes after the accident, came even closer. Saez rode Judy The Beauty in a fierce rally in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint before winner Groupie Doll won by a half-length.
"I came flying, but it was too late," said Saez, who was asked to ride the Judy The Beauty for the first time just 15 minutes before the race.
It was a different story for Lezcano, who had ridden Wise Dan several times before. It showed with a win in the $2 million Mile as he rallied to beat long- shot Za Approval by three-quarters of a length.
"I really wanted Johnny to ride the horse, but Jose's done a great job, he's always picked him up when Johnny's hurt," said Wise Dan's trainer, Charles LoPresti "He didn't panic, and it worked out."
FALSE STARTS FOR STEVENS: Until changing everything with a win in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, Stevens had a strange day where he twice crossed the finish line first but still didn't manage to add to his Breeders' Cup victory total.
Stevens won the $100,000 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap, the last race on the Santa Anita undercard before the start of the Breeders' Cup proper, then had his mount disqualified after it finished first in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
That meant just one trip to the winners' circle and no Breeders' Cup wins despite being first to the wire twice.
"I tried not to let it get in my head," Stevens said.
Stevens brought a definitive end to the consolation prizes aboard Mucho Macho Man, his 10th Breeders' Cup victory and first in the Classic.
"It's actually the culmination of a career," Stevens said.
WHO'S HORSE OF 2013?: Mucho Macho Man's Classic win throws another race wide open: the contest for Horse of the Year.
Game On Dude would have been a near-sure thing for the top Eclipse Award had he capped off an undefeated 2013 with a win as the favorite in the Classic, and may still take it after going 5-for-6 while racing only in Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes.
A case could be made for Mucho Macho Man after the colossal Classic victory, but the 5-year-old horse had won just once this year coming into the Breeders' Cup.
That may make 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan a favorite to repeat after his victory in Saturday's Mile.
The 6-year-old gelding won six of seven graded stakes in 2013, most of them cruising away from the field, and finished second in his only loss before Saturday's win.
Wise Dan's trainer, Charles LoPresti, said that if Game On Dude had won the Classic "it's going to be hard to argue that Wise Dan should be Horse of the Year," but added "I think our horse deserves to be in the running."
With Game On Dude fading to ninth in his season finale, Wise Dan should be more than just a candidate.
KEEPING IT REGAL: Usually a rock guitarist can do no wrong by channeling Jimi Hendrix.
But it proved an unusual problem for Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, who brought his guitar and replaced the typical trumpet to play the call to post Saturday at the Breeders' Cup.
Sambora said during his first pass at rehearsal, he played a thundering, distortion-laden riff much like Hendrix did in his epic version of the national anthem in 1969 at Woodstock.
But the NBC TV crew told him that wouldn't work.
"The first one I did exactly like that," Sambora said, "and they told me it would scare the crap out of the horses."
Sambora played it again, but "I did it more regally," as befits the blue-blood thoroughbreds of the Breeders' Cup.
"It was more in the tradition," Sambora said.
The TV crew said the horses would be fine.
BANKS CASHES IN: Actress Elizabeth Banks came to the Breeders' Cup not to walk the red carpet or wear a feathered hat, but to bet.
Though the 39-year-old star of "The Hunger Games" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" wore a shimmering dress in the celebrity-studded Trophy Lounge at Santa Anita and had a drink in one hand, the other was full of tickets, many for exotic bets like superfectas that showed she was no beginner.
"I've won a little money," said Banks, who held a winning ticket for Mizdirection, the mare owned by sports talk host Jim Rome who took Saturday's $1 million Turf Sprint.
"I had her in some exotics that paid off, too," Banks said. "She's a nice horse."
Banks said she'd been going to the track, most often New York's Saratoga Race Course, "Since I was 10 years old."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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