Monomoy Girl makes a statement at Breeders’ Cup amid thrilling day at Churchill

Florent Geroux, left, celebrated as he guided Monomoy Girl to victory as Joe Bravo, center, atop Blue Prize, and Jose Ortiz, right, atop Wow Cat, followed in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff race at Churchill Downs.
Florent Geroux, left, celebrated as he guided Monomoy Girl to victory as Joe Bravo, center, atop Blue Prize, and Jose Ortiz, right, atop Wow Cat, followed in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff race at Churchill Downs. AP

The Breeders’ Cup Thoroughbred Championships represents the best of racing each year, and Saturday at Churchill Downs fans got to see, perhaps, what makes the sport so exhilarating — late charging horses who win at the wire and an emphatic statement by 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl in the Distaff.

It got started early as Shamrock Rose, a Mark Casse-trained filly who went off at 25-1, brought the crowd to its feet, storming from dead last with a furious charge through the field to take the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint in a four-wide battle at the line.

Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. navigated Shamrock Rose from the back, not asking the 3-year-old until they were nearly around the turn. She answered with a flash of speed through the heart of the field, getting a head in front of second-place Chalon in the final strides.

“When I dropped in and got through horses, she came running,” Ortiz said.

It was the third win in a row for the Pennsylvania-bred, including the Grade 2 Lexus Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland last month.

“Her form tailed off in the spring, and I sent her home to our training center and they did a great job of getting her back,” Casse said. “When she came back, she has been a terror.”

Shamrock Rose represented the biggest payout of the day at $53.80, $21.40 and $11.20. A $1 exacta paid $360 and a 50-cent trifecta yielded a whopping $3,060.50.

Later, in the Mile, jockey Frankie Dettori thought 5-1 shot Expert Eye was spent in the Mile until right near the end.

“I felt we were going to be fifth, and then he just managed to find his rhythm ... ,” Dettori said. “I went from despair to joy in the space of 100 yards.”

In the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, Dettori rode another Great Britain-bred, Enable, a 4-5 favorite, to victory as the 4-year-old filly outlasted Magical in a stretch duel that sorted out after the field went 15-wide coming out of the turn.

Straight to victory

Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl put her stamp on 2018, finishing off a spectacular year with a win in the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Jockey Florent Geroux, who has had trouble keeping Monomoy Girl from veering in some races, pulled away early in the stretch and held off the late runners despite feeling like she was just coasting out there.

“I wasn’t going to the whip, because I know she doesn’t like it,” Geroux said. “If I hit her right, she goes left. If I hit her left, she goes right. So, I’m like, you know what? Let’s roll the dice and just try to keep riding.”

Trained by Brad Cox, Monomoy Girl’s only blemish on her record this season is a second place she got by disqualification last time out in Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes. She didn’t leave it up to the stewards this time, getting her seventh win of the season by a length over Wow Cat.

“She definitely matured this fall and gotten bigger, stronger and faster,” Cox said after the race, noting that while his still has to talk with the owners, he expects her to continue racing in 2019.

Welcome back

Owner Peter Brant got out of the horse racing game 20 years ago to focus on his passion for polo. Now, at 71, his polo career has waned but his love for horses has not. And his knack for building a winning stable remains intact.

Brant has 17 wins in 66 starts since jumping back in, including Sistercharlie’s $2 million Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf Saturday.

“I’m just happy to be back,” said Brant who was part of an ownership group with Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Swale and is credited as the breeder of 1995 Derby winner Thunder Gulch. “I guess comparing this win, I mean, this is the greatest win I’ve ever had.”

Brant said Sistercharlie, a 4-year-old filly trained by Chad Brown, had to overcome a spider bite, fever and pneumonia earlier in her career to get to the winner’s circle Saturday. She got bumped early and ran in the middle of the pack for much of the race. It wasn’t until the final strides that jockey John Velazquez got the last burst out of her as she stalked the leaders along the outside to win by a neck.

“And she’s just overcome everything and she’s very special, very special to me and very special to my family, and I’m sure, very special to Chad,” Velazquez said.

At Brant’s side in the winner’s circle were his family, including supermodel/actress Stephanie Seymour Brant, his wife since about the time he stepped away from horse racing. When asked what she expected coming into Saturday, she put it bluntly.

“I expected Sistercharlie to win.”

Back-to-back times two

Stormy Liberal, the defending champion of the Turf Sprint, held off a stern stretch challenge from race favorite World of Trouble to win by a neck after a two-horse breakaway in the final furlong.

It was the third win in a row for the Peter Miller-trained gelding and his 12th win overall.

Miller got another back-to-back champ later in the Sprint when 5-2 shot Roy H, also owned by Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen, pulled away by four lengths over Whitmore.

Miller suffered some tragedy and turmoil after last year’s wins, losing five horses in the San Luis Rey Downs stable fire in December and getting suspended for “disorderly conduct” in California in March. Miller is the first trainer to have two wins at the Breeders’ Cup in back-to-back years.

“The emotions and the highs and lows I have gone through in this game in the past year are indescribable,” Miller said after Stormy Liberal’s win. “I am just thankful to be back here.”

Can you hear me now?

Audible, the Todd Pletcher trained colt who hadn’t raced since his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, returned to Churchill Downs in style Saturday with a win in the inaugural $200,00 Qatar Cherokee Run Stakes.

Riding mid-pack, jockey Javier Castellano swung the 6-5 favorite five-wide in the middle of the turn and Audible took command as the field hit the front stretch in the 7-furlong race to win by two lengths.

Pletcher pulled Audible out of training after the Derby due to concerns about how he looked. A medical exam revealed nothing amiss, but the trainer remained unsatisfied and decided to be cautious, preferring to save him for fall.

Juvenile champ recovers well

Bob Baffert’s Game Winner will get some rest after his hard-fought win Friday in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His connections reported he came out of the race in good shape.

“We’re going to freshen him up a little bit and get ready for spring,” said Baffert, who won this year’s Kentucky Derby with Justify, a colt that never ran as a 2-year-old. “He had a pretty rough (trip), but still won. You can’t compare horses, but of all the Juvenile winners (he’s had), he’s the best one.”

Baffert has won the Juvenile four times, but while the race delivers a lot of early buzz for the Kentucky Derby, none of Baffert’s juvenile champs have gone on to claim the blanket of roses. The last juvenile champion to do so was Nyquist in 2016.

Saturday’s 2018 Breeders’ Cup champions

(Winners and payouts)

Filly & Mare Turf Sprint: Shamrock Rose, $53.80, $21.40, $11.20

Turf Sprint: Stormy Liberal: $16, $6.40, $4

Dirt Mile: City of Light, $7.20, $4.20, $3.20

Filly & Mare Turf: Sistercharlie, $8.60, $4.20, $3.40

Sprint: Roy H, $7.40, $4, $2.60

Mile: Expert Eye, $13.80, $7, $4.60

Distaff: Monomoy Girl, $5.60, $3.40, $3

Turf: Enable, $3.60, $3, $2.60

Classic: Accelerate, $7.40, $6, $4.40