DEL MAR, Calif. – Corniche has a bright future as winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Whether it includes the Kentucky Derby next year remains to be seen.
The 2-year-old colt won the $2 million race by 1 3/4 lengths at Del Mar on Friday, assuming the mantle as the early favorite for the Derby at Churchill Downs, where his trainer, Bob Baffert, has been banned.
Sent off as the 7-5 favorite, Corniche sprinted to the lead and stayed there under 56-year-old jockey Mike Smith. The 2-year-old bay colt ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.50.
“There’s something about the Breeders’ Cup, that for whatever reason, it just takes me to another level,” said Smith, the event's career money-winning leader among jockeys. “I turn 18 all over again and I just have a blast.”
Baffert was allowed to enter horses in the season-ending world championships, but the event’s money-leading trainer had to meet certain conditions, including stricter out-of-competition testing of his horses and greater security at his barn. He agreed to the extra scrutiny and was required to pay for it out of his own pocket.
Baffert was banned by Churchill Downs for the 2022 and 2023 Kentucky Derbies after Medina Spirit finished first this year and then failed a post-race drug test. The medication involved is allowed in Kentucky, but not on race day. Baffert’s horses have had five failed drug tests in the last year.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to make a final ruling on Medina Spirit.
“The Derby’s a long ways off and so right now my focus was just getting him here,” Baffert said of Corniche. “We’ll see how it plays out. There’s still a lot of things going on. A lot can happen between now and then.”
As part of his ban at Churchill, Baffert's horses aren't allowed to earn points in qualifying races that help determine the 20-horse field for the Derby.
Corniche paid $4.80 to win. Pappacap was second and Giant Game was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Baffert had two other runners in the race: Pinehurt dead-heated for fifth and Barossa finished seventh.
Jack Christopher, the early 9-5 favorite, was scratched by the veterinarian because of a left shin issue.
All of the day’s 10 races — led by five Cup races for 2-year-olds — went off safely on a foggy and unusually cool 60-degree (15 Celsius) day at the seaside track north of San Diego.
In the day's last race, Albahr was scratched from the Juvenile Turf after the 2-year-old gelding flipped in the starting gate. Initially, the crowd was told that 2-1 favorite Modern Games also was scratched. After a delay of several minutes, it was announced that Modern Games was running for purse money only; no wagering on him was allowed.
Modern Games won and those who bet on him were to get their money back. Fans in the crowd of 20,536 booed as the horses came back to the grandstand afterward. Both horses are trained by Charlie Appleby.
For the first time, all 14 races in the two-day world championships are being run without race-day medication allowed.
Peter Fluor said he and partner K.C. Weiner of Speedway Stables never considered moving Corniche to a different trainer.
“Bob's doing a great job,” Fluor said. “We're kind of enjoying the moment and down the road we'll focus on that.”
Some of Baffert’s clients have left him in the wake of his legal woes.
“They stuck with me and it means a lot to me,” he said of Fluor and Weiner.
Trainer Christophe Clement snapped an 0-for-41 slump in the Breeders' Cup when 9-2 shot Pizza Bianca went from last to first in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Owned and bred by celebrity chef Bobby Flay, Pizza Bianca ran a mile in 1:36.08 and paid $21.80 to win. Jockey Jose Ortiz had a start-and-stop trip, threading the 2-year-old filly through narrow openings created by the traffic from a 14-horse field.
Racing resumes Saturday with nine Cup races, topped by the $6 million Classic.
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and trainer Wesley Ward continued their dominance of the Juvenile Turf Sprint as Twilight Gleaming led every step in the opening Cup race of the day.
Ortiz and Ward teamed for their third straight victory in the $1 million race.
Ward had two other runners in the 12-horse field, including the 9-5 favorite and previously undefeated Averly Jane, who finished fifth.
Instead, it was Twilight Gleaming who took charge and held off Go Bears Go by a half-length. Kaufymaker, also trained by Ward, was third.
The filly, running against colts for the third straight time, improved to three wins in five starts for Stonestreet Stables' Barbara Banke, recently named the first woman chair of the Breeders’ Cup board of directors.
Twilight Gleaming paid $12.40 to win and ran five furlongs in 56.24 seconds.
Echo Zulu became the early favorite for the 2022 Kentucky Oaks with a dominant win in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies.
Echo Zulu took charge out of the starting gate and was never threatened. She rolled to a 5 1/4-length victory over Juju’s Map. She ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.24 and $3.60 to win as the 4-5 favorite.
Echo Zulu improved to 4 for 4 this year while giving Rosario his 14th Cup win.
Associated Press freelancer Mike Farrell contributed to this report.
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