After a day featuring two brilliant championship performances, Cat Thief's victory in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic was almost an anticlimax.
The lightly regarded 3-year-old, who had won only once all year, astonished most handicappers with his win and confused the debate about who should be 1999's horse of the year. The leading contender for that honor, Behrens, delivered a lifeless performance, and the 19-1 Cat Thief was followed across the finish line by horses who were sent off at 25-1, 70-1 and 63-1.
While the Classic didn't anoint the horse of the year, the day's events before 45,124 at Gulfstream Park crowned two unofficial champions: the best horse in the world and the fastest horse in the world. Daylami, already considered one of the best European horses in years, delivered a powerful performance to beat America's grass runners in the Turf. Artax sped six furlongs in a spectacular 1 minute 7 4/5 seconds to win the fastest Sprint in history and equal Gulfstream's 26-year-old track record.
Cat Thief added to Wayne Lukas's record as the most successful trainer in Breeders' Cup history. This was his 15th victory in the event, after earlier winning the Juvenile Fillies with the 32-to-1 shot Cash Run. Trainer Bob Baffert, who came to Gulfstream with a powerful contingent and saddled the favorite in four of today's races, went 0 for 8.
The credentials of Lukas and jockey Pat Day--the all-time leading Breeders' Cup jockey--were the principal merits in Cat Thief's credentials. The colt had a record of losing close decisions, but he was seemingly helped by a souped-up Gulfstream track that gave an edge to speed horses today.
When the fleet Old Trieste shot to the lead, Cat Thief dueled with him in the early stages, until Day put him under restraint and let him relax.
As Old Trieste faltered, Cat Thief went past him, but long shots Budroyale and Golden Missile swooped outside both of them and looked as if they were going to overpower the leader. But Cat Thief fought back to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Budroyale and generate payoffs that had bettors staring at the tote board in disbelief.
The superfecta--requiring a bettor to pick the first four finishers in order--paid $692,907 for $1. The pick six returned slightly more than $3 million.
Daylami had been hailed as a superstar after winning three of Britain's most important stakes in succession this year, but he was trounced on a waterlogged track in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and came here surrounded by questions about his current form. Moreover, history seemed to be against him: European horses had been 0 for 40 in Breeders' Cup races at Gulfstream before the running of the Turf.
Daylami's jockey, Frankie Dettori, saved ground on the rail as last year's winner, Buck's Boy, set a fast pace. Then Dettori eased out on the turn and asked his mount to accelerate.
"I was just hoping he'd be the old Daylami," Dettori said. "And when I pressed the button, he just took off. He was a machine today."
Daylami scored by 2 1/2 lengths over another highly regarded European, Royal Anthem. It was sweet redemption for Dettori, who had been universally criticized for blowing last year's Classic with his ride aboard Swain.
Artax already had delivered some phenomenal performances this year: He set a six-furlong track record of 1:07 2/5 at Aqueduct and ran a record-breaking 1:07 3/5 at Belmont.
But he also had suffered various misadventures because of his tendency to get out of the gate tardily, and so he was not viewed as a standout in this tough 14-horse field.
When Artax broke quickly, jockey Jorge Chavez hustled him to press the pace-setting filly Enjoy the Moment. He disposed of her after running the first half-mile in 44 seconds. He opened a clear lead turning for home, and then repulsed the late rally by Kona Gold to win by a half-length.
"He's an amazing horse," said trainer Lou Albertrani.
His best performances have been sufficiently amazing that he may earn some horse-of-the-year support despite a spotty overall record.
Other Breeders' Cup races:
Distaff: In the long-awaited confrontation of three outstanding fillies, Beautiful Pleasure established herself as the best of her sex with a front-running victory.
She entered the $2 million event with a tactical advantage over Silverbulletday and Banshee Breeze, both Eclipse Award winners last season: She was the principal speed horse in the field. Chavez used his mount's speed to the fullest, opening a three-length lead as he reached the final turn. Silverbulletday tried to challenge and faded, then Banshee Breeze made a strong run inside the leader in the stretch. But Beautiful Pleasure repulsed the bid to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
Juvenile Fillies: It is not every day that a horse trained by Wayne Lukas and ridden by Jerry Bailey pays 32-1, but Cash Run did that as she upset undefeated Chilukki in the race for 2-year-old fillies.
In a fast field, Cash Run took advantage of her inside post position and seized the lead at the first turn, with the three leading contenders--Chilukki, Darling My Darling and Surfside--parked three-, four- and five-wide. Chilukki, who had been hailed a budding superstar after winning the first six races of her career, challenged three-wide at the final turn and briefly took the lead, but the long-shot leader battled back to score a 1 1/4-length victory.
"It was a dream trip," Lukas said. "Sometimes the trip is the difference."
Mile: Silic made a powerful move on the final turn, seized command in midstretch and held on to win a four-horse photo finish in the turf event.
After breaking from Post 12, the California-based colt was parked wide on the first turn and forced to lose ground throughout the race, but he avoided the traffic problems that compromised other contenders in the 14-horse field. Tuzla made a late charge to finish second, giving Baffert his best finish of the day.
Filly and Mare Turf: In a race filled with trouble, Bailey kept the favorite, Soaring Softly, in the clear and rallied to win the first running of the 1 3/8-mile grass race for females. She scored by three-quarters of a length over another New Yorker, Coretta, and clinched an Eclipse Award as she finished the year with a 7-8 record on the grass.
Juvenile: Last in a 14-horse field on the final turn, Anees charged through the pack and scored a 30-1 upset in the race that usually determines the early favorite for the next year's Kentucky Derby.
The colt from California benefited from a near perfect set-up. The field was loaded with speed horses, and most of them gunned from the gate to get a decent early position. The favorite, Forest Camp, zipped from Post Position 10 to press a fast pace, then surged to the lead after running six furlongs in a quick 1:10 1/5. When he weakened, High Yield went past him and momentarily looked like a winner. But jockey Gary Stevens managed to find running room in the congested field, and Anees finished powerfully to draw away with a 2 1/2-length victory.