In Aqueduct's backstretch stable area Friday morning, handlers of the brilliant English filly Pebbles smiled at the prospect of her winning the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf from post position 13.
"She's a come-from-behind runner," said assistant trainer James Brown. "It's better, because she can avoid getting trapped inside somewhere."
Pebbles, the 2-1 favorite trained by Clive Brittain, rallied from next to last to defeat 13 rivals, 12 of them males. Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum spent $240,000 to enter her, and she returned him $900,000 in course-record time, but she needed some royal racing luck to do it.
Pebbles is a lightly raced 4-year-old who has Guinness Stout mixed in with her feed and who does not run unless accompanied to the track by stablemate Come On The Blues. Today, she found an opening along the rail, and jockey Pat Eddery steered her through to win by a neck over France's Strawberry Road II, ridden by Steve Cauthen. Mourjane, the 51-to-1 long shot, finished third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Strawberry Road II.
Nine horses from Europe were expected to dominate this event, and they did, occupying the first four places and five of the top six.
Another of them, Teleprompter (13-to-1), raced to the front as usual and opened up a three-length lead after a quarter-mile of the 1 1/2-mile race. Strawberry Road II (7-to-2 as a three-horse betting entry), followed along the rail, and Who's For Dinner (48-to-1) was a neck back in third.
Eddery angled Pebbles toward the rail rounding the first turn, and she began reducing her 13-length deficit as the field straightened down the backstretch.
Teleprompter, in front by as many as 5 1/2 lengths, seemed as if he might duplicate his wire-to-wire victory in the Budweiser Million. Jockey Tony Ives kept him on the lead for 1 3/16 miles, when Who's For Dinner and Greinton (5-to-2) caught him and Strawberry Road II challenged outside.
That left Pebbles in a tenuous position. She had moved along the rail into fifth position behind the faltering Teleprompter, but she had a four-horse wall in front of her.
As the leaders turned into the stretch, Greinton moved to a quarter-length lead over Strawberry Road II, but it was momentary. Teleprompter had turned wide, allowing Pebbles to shoot through along the rail and open up a 1 1/2-length lead.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Pebbles get through," Cauthen said. Eddery was upright and practically bouncing on the filly, whipping her slowly and rhythmically with his right hand. Strawberry Road II overtook Greinton and slowly closed the gap, but he never caught up.
Pebbles took 1 1/5 seconds off Bowl Game's six-year-old course record, finishing in 2:27.
Brittain said he had not decided whether Pebbles would race in the Washington, D.C. International at Laurel Nov. 16.