As favorites fall, Saint Liam comes through
ELMONT, N.Y. -- On a chilly, windswept afternoon at Belmont Park, six of the first seven favorites on Breeders' Cup day had been blown away. Would Saint Liam be next in the Classic? He was stuck out in post 13 and had had some foot problems heading into the $4.68-million finale, and although he was bet down to 2-1, there were many skeptics.
Some liked Borrego. Others preferred Flower Alley, the New Zealand-bred Starcraft or the Irish shipper Oratorio. Saint Liam erased all of the doubts and beat everybody, and now there's a lively debate over Horse of the Year. The sidelined Preakness/Belmont winner, Afleet Alex, no longer is a lock, and Sprint failure Lost in the Fog is out of it.
Saint Liam overcame everything for jockey Jerry Bailey, winning a stretch battle with the stubborn runner-up Flower Alley, who outran his 10-1 odds, to take the 22nd Classic by a length Saturday as dusk was falling. It was the 5-year-old son of Saint Ballado's fourth victory in six starts this year, all of them Grade I's. He ran 1_ miles under 126 pounds in 2:01.49 on a fast track as a crowd of 54,289 roared.
"This horse started in February and danced every dance, and he showed up today," said trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who also won the Sprint with Silver Train to break his Cup maiden in his third try. "In fact, I thought he'd win easier than he did. We had a plan, but you have to have the horse. It's all about the horse. Oh, my God, what a day."
That it was, filled with surprises and monster payoffs. After Folklore took the Juvenile Fillies as the 2-1 chalk, six straight favorites went down, including the previously undefeated First Samurai (Juvenile) and Lost in the Fog, defending champions Ouija Board (Filly & Mare Turf) and Ashado (Distaff) and the talented English colt Azamour (Turf). But the biggest dud was Lost in the Fog, whose 10-for-10 season and chance at Horse of the Year evaporated when he backed up to seventh as the 3-5 sure thing.
Lost in the Fog's trainer, Greg Gilchrist, was disappointed but philosophical.
"We have to take the bad along with the good," he said. "That's the way things go. He'll be back next year; that wasn't his last race.
"He was laying third and I was kind of happy with that. In the turn for home he didn't have it in him today, for no apparent reason. It would have been nice to cap it off today, but it wasn't meant to be."
The Pick 6 wasn't destined to be hit, either. Five of six paid more than $90,000 to 40 winners, and the sequence became unhittable thanks to big prices trained and ridden by first-time Cup winners. Owner Merv Griffin's Stevie Wonderboy ($11.20) rallied to take the Juvenile. Intercontinental ($32.20) won the Filly & Mare Turf. Silver Train paid $25.80 in the Sprint. The Mile went to Artie Schiller ($13.20) and the Distaff to Pleasant Home ($63.50) in the biggest shocker. The Turf belonged to the Old World, with French-trained Shirocco, a German-bred, paying $19.60 as he topped an all-European superfecta worth $4.694.
The Sprint superfecta returned $35,358, and the Distaff super paid more than 20 grand. The late Pick 4 was worth more than $13,000. The day's last two Pick 3's came back $4,280 and $8,668. Who hit them, and how?
Trainers Doug O'Neill, Dutrow (2) and Jimmy Jerkens earned their first Breeders' Cup triumphs, as did jockeys Garrett Gomez (2), Edgar Prado (2) and Christophe Soumillon. Yet in the Classic, it was a very familiar face aboard the horse in the winner's circle. Bailey salvaged a frustrating day for him with his record 15th Cup victory and fifth in the Classic.
Bailey was asked if he was concerned about Flower Alley in the stretch.
"I knew I had that horse," he said. "You just don't want to have anybody come flying up. I know Borrego can really come with a strong run, but it was going to take a magnificent effort to beat him."
Now it might not be easy for Afleet Alex to defeat him for Horse of the Year.
Dutrow, a brash guy even more full of himself than usual, issued a challenge to the connections of the colt who came within less than a length of a Triple Crown.
"If he wants to run against us in 45 days," Dutrow said, "we're ready."
Saint Liam's owner, William Warren, couldn't resist chiming in.
"Afleet Alex is a 3-year-old," Warren said. "We're a 5-year-old. We have the maturity. I think we would win."
Well, that settles that. That is, until the voters decide.
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