Author: John Berry
TRAINER Brad Cox had a wonderful Breeders’ Cup this year, training four winners, two on the Friday (Aunt Pearl in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf and Essential Quality in the BC Juvenile) and two more the following afternoon when Knicks Go took the BC Dirt Mile and the wonderful Monomoy Girl repeated her 2018 victory in the BC Distaff. He thus became only the second trainer in Breeders’ Cup history to train four Breeders’ Cup winners in one year, matching the feat achieved by Richard Mandella at Santa Anita in 2003. In fairness, we should add that correctly Cox has surpassed Mandella’s achievement because Mandella saddled what traditionally we would have called three and a half winners, one of his successes being a dead-heat rather than an outright victory.
However, in the modern world most people seem incorrectly to place a dead-heat on a par with a clear cut win. This theory reached its nadir in 2003 when Frankie Dettori was given the prize for being the leading jockey at Royal Ascot. Four jockeys (Richard Hughes, Johnny Murtagh, Kevin Darley and Kieren Fallon) each rode three winners while Frankie Dettori rode two outright winners plus Ratio, who dead-heated with Fayr Jag in the Wokingham Handicap. Inexplicably, whoever was in charge of keeping the score found the effort of counting up to three too difficult, and decided that all five jockeys had ridden the same amount of winners before giving the prize to Frankie on the basis that he had ridden the most ‘minor placegetters’. If the rest of the world (barring bookmakers, of course, who correctly pay out as if half the stake had been on a winner and half had been on a loser; and the authorities, who give both sets of connections 50% of the first prize money and 50% of the second prize money) is happy to place a dead-heat on a par with an outright win, then, who are we to disagree?
Whatever our view, however, on the relative hauls of Mandella and Cox (whether we feel both trained a Breeders’ Cup four-timer or that Cox did so while Mandella had three and a half winners) the main reflection to take out of Cox’s mighty achievement is a feeling of awe about what Richard Mandella did 17 years ago. Crucially, in those days the Breeders’ Cup was still a one day meeting consisting of eight races, a very different kettle of fish to today’s ‘bean feast’ of 13 races spread over two days. It can’t be a coincidence that Mandella, a Southern California-based trainer, enjoyed his greatest day when the Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita and that Cox, one of Kentucky’s leading trainers, shone when the meeting was held at Keeneland. Home ground advantage is held to be a big factor in many sports and one feels that it has to apply here, even if only because the horses do not have to undertake a long journey to get there and are racing in a climate to which they are accustomed.
The first of Mandella’s winners on that great day back in October 2003 was the Julie Krone-ridden Halfbridled, who beat Ashado and Victory U.S.A. in the BC Juvenile Fillies. Going into the race with an unbeaten record after three starts including the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante Stakes, Halfbridled impressively justified favouritism. Disappointingly, she failed to build on this superb juvenile campaign, and never won another race. Her career as a broodmare for her owner/breeders, the Wertheimer Brothers, was a disappointment too, although she has produced two minor winners: Half Strike (by Smart Strike) in the USA and Pas Prete (by More Than Ready) in France. The Todd Pletcher-trained runner-up Ashado has done better. She won the Grade 2 Demoisel Stakes at Aqueduct five weeks later and then over the next two years she turned out to be a superstar, winning eight races including six Grade Ones: the 2004 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, 2004 Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park, 2004 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Lone Star Park, 2005 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park, 2005 Go For Wand Handicap at Saratoga and 2005 Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park.
Bought for $9,000,000 by John Ferguson on behalf of Godolphin nine days after ending her racing career with a third place behind Pleasant Home in the 2005 BC Distaff at Belmont Park, Ashado has bred several winners in the USA headed by the Bernardini gelding Westwood, whose finest hour came when he landed the Runhappy Stakes at Belmont Park in 2018, trained for Godolphin by Kiaran McLaughlin. Mandella’s second Breeders’ Cup winner of the afternoon came in the BC Juvenile when the 20/1 shot Action This Day scored under David Flores. His 3yo career in 2004 turned out to be no more successful than that of Halfbridled, and his stud career was not good either. He started out at Castleton Lyons Stud in Kentucky, before ending up covering for $1,000 in Indiana. The next success for Mandella came in one of the most unforgettable races run in this or any other century. A vintage edition of the BC Turf came within inches of producing a triple dead-heat. Mandella’s relatively unheralded representative Johar, ridden by Alex Solis, flashed across the post alongside the European champions High Chaparral and Falbrav, the trio inseparable to the naked eye.
After lengthy deliberation, the judge announced that Johar and High Chaparral had shared the prize, a head in front of an arguably luckless Falbrav. One might have thought that Johar’s magnificent performance, against two truly great horses, might have been as thrilling for Mandella and Solis as could ever be. However, 40 minutes later they shared some even greater excitement when the 14/1 shot Pleasantly Perfect beat Medaglia D’Oro by a length and a half to win America’s ‘weight for age championship, the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Happy memories of Richard Mandella’s splendid achievement of that sun-kissed Californian day in 2003 come flooding back! Brad Cox can rest secure in the knowledge that a decade or two from now people will similarly be reminiscing about his terrific four-timer at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup.