LOUISVILLE — He wasn't even supposed to be there.
Had his connections stuck to their plan, Drosselmeyer would have been slugging it out in the Breeders' Cup Marathon on Saturday afternoon rather than unleashing a thunderous kick beneath the lights of the Churchill Downs stretch in the $5 million Classic.
Were it not for the chestnut colt's resurgent effort against Grade I company on Oct. 1, Mike Smith's last memory of the Classic would be the heartbreaking outcome from 2010 that still haunts him even now.
Drosselmeyer was given one last shot to prove he could still shock the racing community. To say he pulled it off would be a huge understatement.
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The year of parity in horse racing added one last crazy chapter as 2010 Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer shot down the middle of the track to catch pacesetter Game On Dude and win the Classic by 11/2 lengths.
With multiple Grade I-winning filly Havre de Grace, juvenile champion Uncle Mo, and hard-knocking Flat Out in the 12-horse field, Drosselmeyer became an afterthought. The 4-year-old son of Distorted Humor had been pointing toward a start in the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon, but his owners, WinStar Farm, and trainer, Bill Mott, switched gears and sent him to the Classic after he ran second to Flat Out in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Sent off at odds of 14-1, Drosselmeyer took back under jockey Mike Smith as Game On Dude set fractions of :23.61 and :47.84 under Chantal Sutherland. Game On Dude fought off a challenge from Uncle Mo on the turn for home and looked ready to make his rider the first female jockey to win the Classic — only to have a classic winner of the past ruin the script.
"I'm surprised; I shouldn't say that," said Lisa Troutt, wife of WinStar Farm owner Kenny Troutt. "Kenny has so believed in this horse the whole way through. When we went to the Belmont, he said, this horse has a great chance. He hasn't done that well since, but ... he just has a way of pulling it out."
It was just his second win in six starts since his Belmont upset, but it was a big one for his connections.
He is the first Breeders' Cup winner for WinStar Farm, and he gives Mott the distinction of joining John Shirreffs as the only trainers to saddle the winners of the Ladies' Classic and Classic in the same year. Mott also trained Royal Delta to a victory in the top race for fillies and mares Friday night.
Then there is the matter of Smith, who earned a 15th Breeders' Cup victory — tying him with retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey for most all time. More poignant, though, is the fact that Smith — who was riding Drosselmeyer for the first time since guiding him to his Belmont win — can start putting behind him his narrow loss to Blame aboard the previously undefeated Zenyatta in last year's Classic.
"Last year, I sat here just devastated, thought my life was over," Smith said. "To come back and have a day like I did today and to win the race that I got beat by a nose in last year, it's just amazing.
"I know it's kind of hard to say when you're way back there last, but it was kind of Zenyatta– like. He just felt confident."
Smith compared Drosselmeyer to a bicycle that needs constant pedaling — and he never let the big-bodied colt hit the brakes during the 11/4-mile race.
Game On Dude took up his customary spot on the front end, with Uncle Mo pushing four-wide, Havre de Grace in a stalking spot in sixth, and Drosselmeyer biding his time in ninth.
Though Game On Dude gave up the advantage briefly to Uncle Mo with about 3 furlongs to go, the multiple Grade I winner was still a length clear in the stretch.
"He absolutely ran his race today," said Sutherland, who was formerly engaged to Smith. "He ran every inch of the way, and he was really tired at the end. I am so proud of him."
Drosselmeyer came surging up past Headache and Flat Out to his inside, hitting the wire in 2:04.27 over a fast track. Ruler On Ice, winner of this year's Belmont Stakes, was third, a half-length clear of Havre de Grace — who might still be the leading candidate for Horse of the Year with her three Grade I wins, including a victory over males in the Woodward Stakes.
"I don't think that puts him (Drosselmeyer) in position where he's Horse of the Year," said Larry Jones, trainer of Havre de Grace. "I still think we've got this one — in my opinion, it's such a blanket finish. She sure didn't do anything to tarnish her reputation."
Flat Out was fifth as the 7-2 favorite, and Uncle Mo faded to 10th, the worst finish of his eight-race career.
"He never really got into a good rhythm to get a good grip of the track," said John Velazquez, Uncle Mo's jockey.
Drosselmeyer is set to stand in 2012 at Keane Stud near Amenia, N.Y., and WinStar Farm President Elliott Walden said retirement is still likely for the colt.
If his fifth win in 16 career starts is his last, it's one that won't be forgotten.
"Could I have told you two years ago when we got started with him when he was a 2– year– old (he would do this)? No," Mott said. "But you keep working with him, and the horses keep improving. When we brought him back the beginning of the year, he was fat and really kind of didn't get in the rhythm. As the year progressed, he seemed to get a little better and a little better."