ARCADIA, Calif. — The opening fractions were simply brutal. Ones that would destroy the kick of most horses who laid down such figures, and did in fact leave one would-be challenger wounded.
The thing with Goldencents is, the more heat he faces, the more his inner beast comes out. For the second consecutive year, the son of Into Mischief ran all his Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile challengers into the ground, setting a wicked pace up front and then holding off Tapiture late to become the first two-time winner of the 8-furlong test.
Despite coming into his Breeders' Cup title defense off a narrow defeat in the Grade I Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes on Oct. 4, confidence was high as Goldencents touted himself with his training heading into his final start before entering stud at Spendthrift Farm.
It was justifiable pride. Sent off as the 3-to-5 favorite, Goldencents was hustled to his customary spot on the lead by jockey Rafael Bajarano but faced pressure to his outside from Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Vicar's in Trouble at his neck as those two opened up 8 lengths over the rest of the nine-horse field down the backside.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Vicar's in Trouble backed up severely before the final turn and was ultimately vanned off with a non-displaced condylar fracture in the left front fetlock joint that will require surgery but is not life threatening.
Though Tapiture came with a determined drive on the outside, Goldencents never wavered, crossing the wire 11/4 lengths in front for his seventh win in 18 career starts.
"When I saw the three (Vicar's in Trouble) right on his back and I saw the first fractions I started to get a little nervous," said trainer Leandro Mora. "But I know this horse can handle that sort of pressure. When Tapiture was coming I started to sweat. But I had so much confidence in this horse all week."
Owned by W.C. Racing, Goldencents covered the distance in 1:35.16 with Tapiture 5 lengths in front of Pants on Fire for second.
The win took on extra emotion for Goldencents' connections as his trainer Doug O'Neill is currently serving a suspension for a medication violation in New York from 2013. Hence, Mora — O'Neill's longtime top assistance — is the trainer of record.
"We know what we do and the events of the last few months ... it is what it is," said O'Neill's racing manager, Steve Rothblum. "But it is gratifying that no matter how the parts work, we have such a great team that we continue to do what we do best. And it's such a blessing to have a horse like this."
Trainer Wesley Ward is absent from the Breeders' Cup to remain in Florida for his son's cross country meet. His presence was huge nonetheless as his runners went 1-2 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf with Hootenanny catching stablemate pacesetter Luck of the Kitten late to win the $1 million test by three quarters of a length.
Owned by Derrick Smith, Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier, Hootenanny came into the Breeders' Cup off a second-place run in the Group I Prix Morny at Deauville on Aug. 24. With Frankie Dettori in the irons and sent off at 6-to-1 odds, Hootenanny rated third off fractions of 22.71 and 46.91 before advancing three wide off the turn to cover the 1-mile distance in 1:34.79 over a course rated firm.
Juvenile Fillies Turf
Chad Brown-trainee Lady Eli laid claim to the mantle as the best juvenile filly in training, slipping through on the rail to overtake pacesetter Sunset Glow and win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf by 23/4 lengths.
With the win, the daughter of Divine Park remains unbeaten in three career starts and looked every bit a championship contender when she covered the 1-mile distance in 1:33.41.