The intriguing matchup didn’t show up.
But Monomoy Girl did.
The 5-year-old mare, who missed all of 2019 because of a variety of health issues, returned to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and won it again, making a wide, sweeping move on the second turn and finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Valiance at Keeneland Race Course on Saturday.
The race was billed as a showdown between Monomoy Girl and the star 3-year-old Swiss Skydiver, but Swiss Skydiver, ridden by Robby Albarado, stumbled out of the gate and spent the rest of the race playing catch-up, only to finish seventh in the 10-horse field.
Florent Geroux rode Monomoy Girl like she was the best horse in the race, and she was, adding another BC Distaff win to go with the one she won at Churchill Downs in 2018 to earn the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly.
“Honestly it’s a relief,” said trainer Brad Cox, who won four of the 14 BC races on the weekend. “She means the world to me, and it’s a lot of pressure when we run her, I don’t know why. It just is. It’s been a long road back. She’s a real race horse. She’s meant so much for so many people’s lives; she’s an amazing creature. I love her to pieces.”
“What a mare, just exceptional,” Geroux said. “She’s a mare of a lifetime, very rare. It’s like finding a diamond. When you have it, you do the best you can. It’s a gift. Even after all she’s been through, being off a year and a half, to come back and still be at the top of her game is unreal.”
Monomoy Girl polished off a 4-for-4 2020 season, after missing all of 2019 with a mild bout of colic, followed by a muscle pull when she was trying to come back in the fall.
In Saturday’s Distaff, she tracked the front-runners in fourth on the outside, and when she made her move heading into the homestretch, no one threatened.
Valiance and jockey Luis Saez got up for second and just held off the Chad Brown-trained Dunbar Road by a half-length.
“Words can’t even describe it,” Cox said. “She’s meant so much to so many people’s lives. She was my first Grade I winner here at Keeneland [in the 2018 Ashland]. I’m just do proud of her.”
“I had a perfect trip,” Saez said. “I just followed the leader. I knew she was going to put me there. For a minute, I thought I was going to win it, but man, that other filly is something.”
It was an anticlimactic end for Swiss Skydiver, who beat males in the Preakness and won the Alabama at Saratoga Race Course.
“She stumbled a little bit leaving there,” Albarado said. “It maybe cost her a little length or two position-wise, but it didn’t cost us the win. I had a great opportunity turning for home and get on through there and get heads-up with the champ, but she just didn’t have it today.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t win, but I’m not disappointed in her. What she has done in her career, she has never let anybody down, she hasn’t disappointed anybody. The way she ran in the Preakness, she doesn’t have to validate herself from here on out. She’s a special filly and everybody knows her. She gets a little time now and will come back next year stronger.”
TWO MORE TRACK RECORDS
As expected, Serengeti Empress blasted to the lead in the Filly and Mare Sprint, but the Bob Baffert-trained Gamine put her away in the stretch and broke the track record for seven furlongs with a time of 1:20.20, winning by 6 1/4 lengths.
At the center of a string of failed drug tests by Baffert horses in 2020, the 3-year-old Gamine got back to the winner’s circle under John Velazquez after having finished third to Shedaresthedevil in the Kentucky Oaks.
The victory was the 16th Breeders’ Cup triumph for Baffert and 17th for Velazquez, but the first in the Filly and Mare Sprint for either.
“That’s the baddest [filly] in the land right there,” Baffert said. “I knew [Serengeti Empress] was going to go and I told Johnny if you get separation, to get to the outside. She is doing as well as she did when she won the Acorn.
“She is just brilliant. She is the fastest filly going one turn I’ve ever trained. I wanted it bad for her. What she’s gone through, she deserved it. Of all my races, this meant the most to me.”
“We knew that other horse would come out running, but I didn’t want to give it up too easy,” Velazquez said. “I wanted to make him [Luis Saez] to work a little harder. Once he passed me, I came off the rail and even then I didn’t want to give it to him that easy either.
“I made sure I put a little pressure on because I know that filly is really tough on the lead. I made sure I was close to him [Saez]. When I asked my filly, she was there for me.”
“We just got outrun,” Serengeti Empress trainer Tom Amoss said. “There’s no secret to it. We just got flat outrun. Gamine turned in a spectacular performance, but I’m still so very proud of my filly. Being second-best today is no disgrace, not by a longshot. My girl was a winner a long time ago before this race.”
The main track record for the mile also fell by the wayside, as Knicks Go and jockey Joel Rosario rolled to a 3 1/2-length win in the Dirt Mile in a time of 1:33.85.
Liam’s Map set the previous record of 1:34.54 in winning the 2015 BC Dirt Mile.
Knicks Go also holds the Keeneland record for 1 1/16 miles, which he established in winning an allowance race on Oct. 4.
“He’s very fast, and he loves Keeneland, as well,” trainer Cox said. “We picked the horse up last winter and he really loves it here. Joel did a fantastic job of asking him to be forwardly placed, and he responded well. They went very quick and he was able to keep going. This is a good race for him with the short stretch. A lot of things were in his favor today. He’s a very aggressive horse, he loves to train. He’s just a very classy horse.”
“It looked like he was going easy,” Rosario said. “I didn’t know how fast he was going. He went 44 [seconds for a half mile]. That was very fast. He was able to hang in there and have a kick at the eighth pole. It was a very good performance.”
BIG DAY FOR BOUDOT
French rider Pierre-Charles Boudot swept both the Filly and Mare Turf, on Audarya, and the Mile, on 73-1 long shot Order of Australia.
And he wasn’t even supposed to ride Order of Australia. And the only reason Order of Australia was in the race was because Boudot’s original mount, One Master, scratched, allowing Order of Australia to draw in as the only horse on the also-eligible list.
Boudot got that mount when countryman Christophe Soumillon tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Audarya gradually wore down the Chad Brown-trained favorite, Rushing Fall, surging to the front in the final yards to post a neck victory in the Filly and Mare Turf.
His finish time of 1:52.72 was a course record.
Brown said the mile-and-three-sixteenths distance may have been a little too long for Rushing Fall, who was coming off a win in the Grade I Diana at Saratoga.
“I thought she was going to be able to pull it off in deep stretch there, but it wasn’t to be,” Brown said. “She’s had an outstanding career. She’s definitely the horse of a lifetime for anybody, including me.”
In the Mile, Order of Australia started a trifecta of Aidan O’Brien trainees, followed by Circus Maximus and Lope Y Fernandez and paying $4,393.00.
It was also Order of Australia’s first career stakes win.
“It’s dream come true,” Boudot said. “It is only by chance to get these rides, and I’m sorry for Ioritz Mendizabal [previous rider of Audarya] and Christophe Soumillon.
“Audarya was amazing, a real warrior. It’s a difficult situation with COVID, but I was given two nice opportunities. Order Of Australia is a fast horse, the mile is very good for him and the good ground was perfect. … He’s a tricky horse, as he needs some help to concentrate. I’m over the moon.”
The horse that was supposed to have been ridden by Soumillon, the 4-year-old filly Tarnawa, won the Turf with Colin Keane in the irons.
Fan Favorite Whitmore rewarded his followers with a victory in the Sprint on a day when it looked like a closer like him wouldn’t have a chance against the front-end-speed types.
But in his fourth attempt at the Sprint, the 7-year-old gelding won by 3 1/4 lengths over C Z Rocket.
In previous Sprints, Whitmore was eighth at Del Mar in 2017, second at Churchill Downs in 2018 and third last year at Santa Anita.
“I said in the pre-race interview that whenever there are this many track records, it’s almost impossible to think a closer is going to do well,” trainer Ron Moquett said. “For him to run against the bias the way he did and the patience of the rider [Irad Ortiz Jr.], the willingness to listen, it all worked out.
“I’m so proud of the horse, proud for the connections. I’m proud for everyone out there that’s thinking when you run last in the Kentucky Derby, kick them out, do right by the horse and come back, and you have a shot to reach other dreams. You don’t discard them. You just do right by the horse and it keeps working out.”
“He’s been running for so many years. He’s a warrior,” Ortiz said.
The 4-year-old filly Glass Slippers won the Turf Sprint to become the first European horse to win that race.
“She’s a filly that thrives the second half of the year, and she travels well, she eats good, so it’s always a tricky one. But every day here we’ve gotten happier with her,” trainer Kevin Ryan said.
Imprimis appeared to be ready to make a run to victory in midstretch, but jockey Ortiz was forced to check up when the hole he was trying to get through suddenly closed.