11/03/2012 12:31PM

Breeders' Cup Day 1


After a year's worth of anticipation and a week of intense finishing touch, Day 1 of a Breeders' Cup always comes down to horses and jockeys. Friday at Santa Anita was no different.

Veterans Aaron Gryder, 42, and Pat Valenzuela, 50, each had one mount on Day 1. How'd that go? Gryder, conceding his Spanish is weak, got the drift from the Argentine delegation when they communicated to him to remove Calidoscopio from the Marathon field and not be concerned. Gryder did as he was told, dropping so far back early in the 14-furlong journey that they didn't even show up on the Trakus system of Pong-like gumdrops. They came on strong at the end to win by 4 1/2 lengths, beating the Marty Jones-trained Grassy (who'd been pointed for this race for a long time) and jump-starting a winner's circle celebration that rivaled the end of the Falklands war. "There's a guy smoking a cigarette in here," a winner's circle security guard anxiously reported over a walkie-talkie. He's lucky there wasn't a bonfire. As for Gryder, who always plays it close to the vest, his sentiments were simple. "If you're only gonna ride one, you might as well win." It was his first Breeders' Cup score.

Valenzuela has won seven BC races, most recently the Distaff at Santa Anita in 2003 with Adoration. He rode the hair off 1-to-2 favorite Merit Man in the Juvenile Sprint, using every trick in the bag, drifting at the break, floating a rival out at the top of the stretch, and then bearing down on the steadily closing Hightail and Rajiv Maragh, who accepted Valenzuela's invation and took the opening inside. After losing the photo by a nose, Valenzuela made his familiar, "Did you see that?" face and claimed foul, to no avail. Second money was worth $90,000.

Other rides resonate. Garrett Gomez ran the Juvenile Fillies field off its feet with Beholder, but their tactics should have surprised no one. She beat favored Executiveprivilege a length over a track that was tiring for closers (with the exception Calidoscopio), their jockeys returning covered in wet, sticky sand. Little wonder then that Mike Smith put Royal Delta on the lead in the Ladies Classic, not wanting to have anything to do with the sandy kickback. But imagine the sick feeling of the opposition seeing Royal Delta lobbing along in front when, on most days, she would be content to stalk, kick and crush. Smith came back without a spot on him.

Any other time the ride of the day would go to Christophe Lemaire, who had enough filly in Flotilla to bob and weave through a field of 14 before finding one last seam and kicking clear in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. And he did it all in a lickety-split two-turn mile, when most best-laid plans change in the blink of an eye. By contrast, in the mile and a quarter Filly & Mare Turf, there was plenty of time to appreciate the work of Javier Castellano aboard Zagora. As they made their way down the backstretch it was clear Castellano's concerns had to be ahead, where Marketing Mix was going great guns under Gomez, and immediately behind, where William Buick had a hammerlock on The Fugue. Treading a delicate wire, Castellano waited as long as he could to commit his final push, thereby keeping Buick boxed in, and yet timed it to catch Marketing Mix. Zagora's winning margin was three-quarters over MM, with The Fugue a half length back. Don't tell me you couldn't run again and get a completely different result.

Finally, hats off to Mike Smith and his cagey Ladies Classic win with Royal Delta. In winning the race (nee Distaff) for the fifth time, Smith put his name in splendid isolation atop the list of Breeders' Cup jockeys with 16 winners, one more than Jerry Bailey. The closest among active riders are Gomez, with 13, and Frankie Dettori, with 10. Smith's first one came in 1992 aboard Lure in the Mile at Gulfstream Park. Six of his wins have come since he turned 40, in 2005. And for those who would point to the increased opportunity of winning Breeders' Cup races since the program began expanding in 2007 (there are 15 now), every one of Smith's sweet 16 have been racked up in the seven original races as framed in 1984: the Juvenile (Unbridled's Song, Vindication), the Juvenile Fillies (Stardom Bound), the Sprint (Amazombie, Cherokee Run), the Mile (Lure, Lure again), the Distaff/Ladies Classic (Zenyatta, Azeri, Ajina, Inside Information, Royal Delta), the Turf (Tikkanen) and the Classic (Zenyatta, Skip Away, Drosselmeyer).