December 3, 2020

Breeders’ Cup Mile: Defending champion Uni in historical context

Uni wins the Breeders' Cup Mile 2019
Uni wins the 2019 Breeders' Cup Mile (Horsephotos.com/Cecilia Gustavsson)

When Uni lines up to defend her Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) title at Keeneland, she will be in august company in seeking a repeat. But she’d belong to an even more exclusive club to win again. Her profile, considered in historical context, suggests that might be unlikely.

Winners of multiple Breeders’ Cup Miles

Only two females have won the Mile more than once, Hall of Famers Miesque (1987-88) and Goldikova (2008-10). Both French-trained legends set a lofty standard, with Group 1 laurels a matter of regularity. Not that they were invincible, but their level of international form, often versus males, made them prime threats in their Breeders’ Cup appearances. Although Miesque was the second choice in both of her years of conquest, she yielded favoritism only to fellow Europeans (Sonic Lady in 1987 and Warning in 1988). And Goldikova was favored throughout her three-peat as well as in her third-place effort in 2011.

America’s own consecutive Mile heroes, Lure (1992-93) and Wise Dan (2012-13), likewise have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Lure was still a relative novice on turf when wiring his first Mile at 5-1 as a sophomore. By the time he mounted his title defense in 1993, Lure had won five of seven starts at 4, his only losses coming in longer events that stretched his stamina. Accordingly, he went off as the 13-10 favorite in his successful repeat. Lure was the 9-10 choice to accomplish a three-peat in 1994, but he wound up ninth.

Wise Dan’s proficiency on dirt and synthetic surfaces meant that he didn’t try the turf until his 4-year-old season, and only as a 5-year-old did he commit to the surface. The winner of his last 14 turf starts, Wise Dan scored as the 9-5 favorite in the 2012 Mile and at 4-5 in his 2013 repeat.

The only two-time Mile winner not in the Hall of Fame is Da Hoss. An 8-1 upsetter in the 1996 edition, he did not race again for two years, prepped in a Colonial Downs allowance, and famously regained his crown at 11-1 in 1998. That was an incredible training achievement on the part of Michael Dickinson. Had Da Hoss not been sidelined in his prime, his resume outside of those career-defining wins might loom larger. And Da Hoss was flattered in absentia in his missing year: Spinning World, the outstanding French colt who was runner-up in 1996, came back to win the 1997 Mile.

Unsuccessful title defenses

The six Mile winners dethroned on course include several champions.

Steinlen, best of the rest behind Miesque in 1988, was in career form the following season. The 1989 Mile marked his fifth straight victory, and the 9-5 chance sealed his Eclipse Award. Age was arguably catching up with him by the fall of 1990, however, and the 7-year-old finished fourth in his title defense.

Six Perfections, a European champion juvenile from the family of Miesque, wasn’t as formidable as her relative. Yet she didn’t have to be to land the 2003 Mile at 5-1. As a 4-year-old, Six Perfections placed twice from three starts ahead of the Breeders’ Cup, so it wasn’t a shock that she ended up third.

Singletary sprang a 16-1 upset in that 2004 Mile, working out the ideal trip and benefiting when the erratic Antonius Pius lugged in and threw away his chance. That result looked like an outlier at the time, an idea confirmed when Singletary was eighth in 2005 – ironically behind Artie Schiller, the disappointing favorite from 2004 who was making good a year later.

Kip Deville was 8-1 in his 2007 Mile score, but those odds might have reflected more concern about a recent leg issue than his otherwise solid form. Half that price in his 2008 title defense, Kip Deville ran an honorable race in second, perhaps even a winning one in a typical year, but not against the likes of Goldikova.

Karakontie, a high-class French operator descended from Miesque, was overlooked at 30-1 in 2014. Bettors likely weren’t aware of his legitimate excuses in his last pair, but there were other European fancies in the field, and post 14 didn’t exactly create enthusiasm either. Karakontie made his great-granddam proud with a barnstorming rally, but could not emulate her again in 2015, winding up 11th after a truncated campaign.

Tepin, the smashing 2015 Mile winner at odds of 9-2, raised her historical stature by capturing the 2016 Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot and the Woodbine Mile (G1) in an eight-race winning spree. But she came up just a half-length shy in her Mile title defense, denied by the perfect-trip Tourist who ran the race of his life. If another Mile eluded her, Tepin still became a two-time champion turf mare, and possible Hall of Famer.

Where does Uni fit?

Uni prevailed as a logical 7-2 chance in last year’s Mile, and her Eclipse Award as champion turf mare gives her claims of being an above-average winner. A four-time Grade 1 heroine, and course record-setter at both Aqueduct and Keeneland, the Chad Brown mare has been admirably consistent with a 20-11-2-4 record. If not for an illness that sidetracked her for a while in 2018, her major race tally could have been greater. Indeed, she’s been sparingly campaigned for three straight seasons.

Still, it’s taken Hall of Famers to turn in back-to-back Mile victories, and Uni hasn’t laid sufficient claim to that status so far. The Mile is her only major win over males, admittedly from few opportunities. If it had been a vintage running, it would help to elevate her profile, just as Da Hoss was boosted by Spinning World. But in hindsight, the 2019 Mile field wasn’t all that deep. At this writing, the Nov. 7 renewal is shaping up to be stronger –among her own stablemates, as well as from the broader foreign and domestic perspectives.

Now a 6-year-old mare – the same age when Goldikova finally lost in the Breeders’ Cup – Uni needs to be in at least as good a form as last year, and that’s debatable. After popping a splint delayed her 2020 timetable, she took three starts to regain winning form in the First Lady (G1). She captured it handily enough, but not quite in the blow-away style of a year ago. It arguably didn’t take as much winning either, since Uni just ran down Newspaperofrecord who’s not as effective around a second turn.

Back around a Keeneland course that suits her well, Uni could prove my very subjective view all wrong in the Mile. Until then, I’m inclined to see her having more in common with the one-timers than the Hall of Famers.

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