June 2, 2020

Balan: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile ‘might take a little while to sink in’

Storm the Court (lime hat) wins the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Horsephotos.com)

ARCADIA, Calif. — The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) might take a little while to sink in.

If Storm the Court and Anneau d’Or were the favorites in the $2 million race Nov. 1, the Santa Anita grandstand would have been electrified, with raucous screams cheering on the contenders.

RELATED: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Transcript

But there wasn’t an overwhelming uproar from crowd, likely because the onlookers were in shock.

It’s hard to cheer when you’re thumbing through your program to figure out who the horses are.

The 1 1/16-mile dirt test was indeed a classic. At the top of the lane, Storm the Court, the pacesetter off at 45-1 odds, disposed of 3-2 second choice Eight Rings. Only one horse loomed—debut winner Anneau d’Or, a 28-1 Blaine Wright-trained shipper from Golden Gate Fields who had previously made his lone start on grass in Northern California (although he won that race by an impressive eight lengths).

Odds-on favorite Dennis’ Moment was nowhere to be found after a brutal, stumbling start from post 1, which sent him to his knees, and the longshot pair threw it down to the wire.

Storm the Court had just a head in front at the furlong pole, and it appeared Anneau d’Or had momentum to pass on the outside, but the Peter Eurton trainee came back and held off the challenger by a neck at the wire, in a final time of 1:44.93 under jockey Flavien Prat.

“I knew he would fight. I just didn’t know how much,” Eurton said. “Once he did put his head out in front … I knew it would be interesting to the wire.”

For Dennis’ Moment, his last-place result in the field of eight was easily explained. For any horse to recover from that kind of stumble would have been a monumental feat, but for a 2-year-old on a tiring, kickback-heavy surface he’d never raced on before? That mountain was too hard to climb.

“Out of the gate I said, ‘Oh man,’” said Dennis’ Moment’s jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr. “You don’t see too many horses like that stumble that badly out of the gate and come back and win the race. I asked him to run early, he gave it to me and put a good effort into the turn, but then at the quarter pole he slowed down.”

More puzzling was the performance of Eight Rings, who got the perfect trip seen so many times for Bob Baffert-trained standouts. The Empire Maker colt appeared to be cruising just off and outside of Storm the Court, as the longshot set fractions of :23.49, :47.07 and 1:11.60 through six furlongs, but it became clear at the top of the stretch that Eight Rings had enough, and he tired to finish fifth, 8 1/4 lengths behind the winner.

“Perfect position,” said Eight Rings’ jockey, John Velazquez. “I was just where I wanted to be. (He) sat well, got to that second turn and I didn’t have anything.”

Another 3 1/4 lengths behind the top pair, 39-1 Wrecking Crew completed a longshot trifecta that paid $1,965.25 for a 50-cent wager.

Storm the Court (inside) Horsephotos.com

It’s not the first time the owners—or some of them, anyway—of Storm the Court popped a stunning upset in a Breeders’ Cup 2-year-old race.

Storm the Court’s majority owner, Exline-Border Racing (led by Ryan Exline and Justin Border), which owns the colt in partnership with David Bernsen, Susanna Wilson and Dan Hudock, also owned Champagne Room in a large partnership when she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at 33-1.

“We’re 2-0 at (more than 30-1) at the Breeders’ Cup, so we’re undefeated,” Exline joked.

Storm the Court, without blinkers in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) last time out, raced well off Eight Rings in his front-running victory and finished 8 1/4 lengths back. But Prat, who has ridden the Court Vision colt in all four of his races, suggested a change after the Breeders’ Cup prep.

“I thought the last time he ran a little green,” the rider said. “He broke well, and then he was kind of looking around. On the backside he kind of lost his focus and kind of dropped back. So I thought blinkers might help him.”

With the suggestion from Prat, Eurton added blinkers for the Juvenile, and the script was flipped. But Storm the Court also showed speed in his 5 1/2-furlong debut win in August at Del Mar, so the tactics didn’t come out of thin air.

“We were looking probably to track (Dennis’ Moment) and Eight Rings, but once he broke like he did and got into position, you’re not going to take back at that point,” Eurton said. “We were pretty happy where we were, but it wasn’t the original plan, (which was) to just get into the race.”

Also in attendance at the post-race press conference was breeder Jim Power, who owns Stepping Stone Farm, which bred Storm the Court out of the Tejano Run mare My Tejana Storm.

Storm the Court preps for the Breeders' Cup
Storm the Court preps for the Breeders’ Cup (Horsephotos.com)

“Right now I only have two mares,” Power said, with the emotion surrounding the achievement of winning a Breeders’ Cup race clear in his voice. “This horse is a fourth generation. I raised his mother, I had her mother and I had her mother. I just was happy this horse had a chance to run his race today. I can’t say enough for the small breeder. It doesn’t take a million-dollar horse to win a race.”

Storm the Court was a $60,000 purchase by Exline-Border racing at the OBS spring sale of 2-year-olds in training in April. Other than a single homebred, Scabbard (who finished fourth), the rest of the field was purchased at public auction, all for $250,000 or more.