The youngest jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race courtesy of St Nicholas Abbey (2011), Joseph O’Brien became the youngest trainer to do so thanks to Iridessa’s 13-1 upset of Saturday’s $1.84 million Filly & Mare Turf (G1) at Santa Anita. Mrs. C.C. Regalado-Gonzalez’s Irish shipper outdueled Vasilika as defending champion and 4-5 favorite Sistercharlie got no closer than third.
Joseph O’Brien’s landmark score puts him in the Breeders’ Cup record book for another reason. He’s only the second to accomplish the feat as both a jockey and trainer, following the great Freddie Head who rode Miesque and trained Goldikova to their total of five Mile (G1) victories.
The younger O’Brien’s coup came in the wake of father Aidan O’Brien’s disappointment earlier in the morning. Fleeting, one of two Ballydoyle entrants along with Just Wonderful in the Filly & Mare Turf, was scratched after the state veterinarian’s examination. That’s the same reason why Sistercharlie’s pacemaker, Thais, was withdrawn Thursday, reportedly to the displeasure of trainer Chad Brown. Aidan O’Brien, who likewise believed that Fleeting was fine, accepted the decision with characteristic grace:
Aidan O’Brien on withdrawal of Fleeting on vet advice @ Santa Anita. “We were happy with her and felt she trotted up the way she always does, but the vets weren’t happy with her and we respect their opinion. When you come to these jurisdictions you must abide by their rules.”
— Richard Forristal (@R_Forristal) November 2, 2019
Although the absence of Thais figured to alter the race shape, the lone speed Mirth ended up overplaying her hand through fast fractions of :23.45, :46.45, 1:09.68, and 1:34.15. Vasilika was her nearest pursuer, followed by Iridessa, who was asked to secure good position early under a well-judged ride by Wayne Lordan. Sistercharlie bided her time as expected farther back in fifth, but ended up not being able to make up enough ground.
As Mirth came back to them turning into the stretch, Vasilika and Iridessa moved in tandem to pass her. Iridessa found a slightly quicker spurt to gain a slim lead, and the hard-trying Vasilika couldn’t peg her back. A neck up at the wire, Iridessa completed 1 1/4 firm-turf miles in 1:57.77.
There was an historical echo of the 2002 Filly & Mare Turf at Arlington, where Iridessa’s granddam, Starine, dethroned Banks Hill. Starine went off at the exact same price – 13.20-1.
“That was fantastic,” Joseph O’Brien said of Iridessa. “Wayne (Lordan) gave her a great ride and got into a really nice position early on. I’ve got a great team back home that work for me. This is unbelievable.”
“Unbelievable feeling,” Lordan said of his first Breeders’ Cup win. “She was so tough to dig deep and hold on. It was some performance.”
Vasilika delighted trainer Dan Ward, the longtime assistant to Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer who’s taken the helm:
“What a fantastic race. He (Flavien Prat) rode her perfect. He had her relaxed the whole way. They weren’t gaining ground on the turf so he felt like he had to be out closer (than her usual position) and just put her where she was comfortable and she did not give up. She’s done everything we’ve asked from her since the day we got her (as a claim). She’s a super horse.
“Hopefully, we don’t sell her (at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky on Tuesday). I don’t want to lose her. You know that.”
Sistercharlie, who made mild headway into third, wasn’t reducing her deficit much late and checked in 2 1/4 lengths adrift. Her connections paid tribute to the top two while suggesting the champion didn’t find circumstances conducive to her best.
“They just didn’t come back,” owner Peter Brant said. “She tried real hard. A good horse won and she was just a little too far back. But she ran really well. I’ll see how she comes back and we’ll see what we’ll do. She’s very special. We might try and keep her in training, we’ll see.”
“It was hard for her,” Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez said. “The fast pace that they put in front of her, it’s hard for a horse to come back the way she is, with her style of running. She still ran well, but it wasn’t her.”
Brown noted that Sistercharlie got her trip, but that didn’t play as well on this course:
“Johnny said it might have been a little too firm for her. They weren’t really coming back today. But not a bad trip. I loved her spot on the first turn. She ran a great race. I think the two horses who finished ahead of her ran outstanding.
“I don’t have any major excuses other than it seems like it’s a pretty firm turf and if you’re not in the mix turning for home it’s going to be hard to win on it. This was her first time running here and this might not be her course. Not taking anything away from the top two runners. They were really finishing through the wire.”
British shipper Fanny Logan reported home another three-quarters of a length back in fourth, followed by Just Wonderful, the tiring Mirth, Villa Marina, Billesdon Brook, Mrs. Sippy, and Castle Lady.
O’Brien, a mere 18 years old when steering St Nicholas Abbey for his father in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Churchill Downs, is now 26. He thus eclipses Craig Dollase, who was 27 when training Reraise to victory in the 1998 Sprint (G1), as the youngest Breeders’ Cup-winning trainer.
Iridessa is a total O’Brien family production. Bred by Aidan and Annemarie O’Brien’s Whisperview Trading, the bay is from the first crop of Coolmore’s 2013 Epsom Derby (G1) hero Ruler of the World. She was produced by the Danehill mare Senta’s Dream, Starine’s first foal.
Initially raced by Annemarie, Iridessa was acquired by her current owners after her smashing debut at Killarney last summer. She was earning her fourth Group 1 laurel here, and all have come at a price. Iridessa captured last fall’s Fillies’ Mile (G1) at 14-1, the June 28 Pretty Polly (G1) over Ballydoyle globetrotter Magic Wand at 8-1, and the September 14 Matron (G1) during Irish Champions Weekend at 10-1. Iridessa was coming off a fine third to Billesdon Brook in the Sun Chariot (G1) down Newmarket’s Rowley Mile. With her Filly & Mare Turf heroics, she’s now two-for-two at 1 1/4 miles.
“That’s as good as it gets,” said Mark Madgwick, Regalado-Gonzalez’s representative. “Unfortunately the owners couldn’t make it, but I’m sure they will be over the moon. She will stay in training next year.”