Bayern gives Baffert first Breeders' Cup Classic win in thriller

Jockey Martin Garcia had to wait out a stewards' inquiry before Bayern wore the floral winner's blanket. Bayern turned left out of the gate and multiple horses bumped at the start of the race.
Jockey Martin Garcia had to wait out a stewards' inquiry before Bayern wore the floral winner's blanket. Bayern turned left out of the gate and multiple horses bumped at the start of the race. AP

ARCADIA, Calif. — The end result of the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic was Bayern getting his nose down in front of two fellow sophomores who had tracked his every stride around the Santa Anita Park oval, proving his supposed distance limitations were bunk and giving Bob Baffert his first win in the 11/4-mile race.

It also for the trainer was the ultimate salve to a week that featured a massive blow.

Beneath the black-and-white results was a much messier picture. Bayern got his due, but it came with others screaming in his wake that he had cost them theirs.

"I thought ... this has been so long waiting, please, Lord, you can't it away from me now," Baffert said.

The stewards at Santa Anita Park did not in fact take away Bayern's narrow Classic triumph over Toast of New York and dual classic winner California Chrome.

They allowed the final order to stand after an inquiry despite a head-on view that showed that Bayern basically made a left turn into Shared Belief after breaking out of post No. 7, slamming into the previously unbeaten champion who then ricocheted into Moreno en route to off-the-board finishes for both.

Shared Belief, sent off as the favorite, did gather himself to sit sixth down the backside but could only muster a fourth-place finish when called upon by jockey Mike Smith.

A statement from the stewards said that "after speaking with the patrol judges and riders involved, it was our unanimous decision that pursuant to CHRB Rule 1699, that the incident occurred in a part of the race where the horses interfered with were not cost the opportunity to place where they were reasonably expected to finish."

The connections of Shared Belief — who was seeking his eighth win in as many starts and a championship-clinching victory — said otherwise.

"I think it cost me the race," said Mike Smith, jockey of Shared Belief. "I was never able to get comfortable after getting hit at the break. I kept getting bounced around all the way around the turn and Moreno kept getting out and bumped through the backside. Even so, he ran a dynamite race."

Martin Garcia, who was aboard Bayern, said "the ground broke, and then my horse just broke really sharp. I just, there was nothing I could do. I corrected right away ... but he was pretty clear."

The cloud hanging over Bayern's Classic win is right in line with the taxing week Baffert already endured. On Tuesday morning, Baffert had to deliver what he termed some of the most disappointing news of his career when he declared multiple Grade I winner American Pharoah, the morning-line favorite for the Juvenile, out of the race with a possible foot bruise.

Call it a case of one door opening when another closes.

Like his former stablemate, multiple Grade I winner Game On Dude, who was recently retired, Bayern's game plan is one with no plan B: He goes 100 mph to the front and dares his challengers to run him down. It earned the 3-year-old son of Offlee Wild a 71/4-length triumph in the Grade I Haskell Invitational in July and it was enough to put California Chrome and six others in their place when he won the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby in September, his final Breeders' Cup prep.

Game On Dude famously faltered in the Classic, failing to win the race in three tries. Without fellow speedster Moreno bringing any additional heat as expected, Bayern was rocking along on the front end with Toast of New York stalking about a length and a half behind through fractions of 23.12 and 46.44.

"The thing about Bayern, once he gets his speed, his brilliance is his weapon," said Baffert, who earned his 11th career Breeders' Cup victory and had lost with his previous 12 starters in the Classic. "We talked about it before and you need to let him do his thing. If you try to slow him down, he's just not effective.

"So I loved what was going down."

With three eighths of a mile to go, Toast of New York loomed at Bayern's flank with Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero California Chrome, who had been third throughout, swung out three wide and tracking the leading duo.

At the wire, a nose and a neck separated the top three with Bayern covering the 10-furlong distance in 1:59.88. The celebration that eventually transpired was muted by the controversy that rose up around it.

"We lost our race at the break when the seven (Bayern) shot out of there and ran into everyone," said Eric Guillot, trainer of Moreno who ended up last in the 14-horse field.

"My horse ran his eyeballs out," said a more pleased Art Sherman, trainer of California Chrome. "He was right there, right down to the money."

Even more cloudy right now is the picture for Horse of the Year and 3-year-old champion. Bayern seemingly would have both locked up by earning what is now his sixth win in 10 career starts.

Like Saturday's result, it's not that simple anymore.

"To me, certainly he's gone cross country like beating the best, and certainly on the world stage, he's overcome everything and won today," Bayern's owner Kaleem Shah said. "In my mind certainly he deserves Horse of the Year and 3– year– old champion."

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