01/07/2015 10:26AM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Karakontie

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Barbara D. Livingston

Eleventh of 14 and eighth of 16. Those were Karakontie’s finishes in his two races before he traveled from France for the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita.

On the bare face of things, Karakontie might have looked as unlikely a BC Mile winner as any of the overseas horses in the race, and that is how bettors saw things, sending him off at odds of 30-1.

But the bare face of things is just that: all surface, no depth. And resting behind that façade was a brilliant racehorse who would win the BC Mile with enough force to be named an Eclipse Award finalist as champion turf male.

Karakontie was bred and is owned by Flaxman Holdings Ltd. The racing entity of the Niarchos family has had a lovely association with the BC Mile. Stavros Niarchos, who brought the family into racing, won the Mile with Miesque in 1987 and 1988. Niarchos died in 1996, and the next year, Flaxman Holdings won the race again with Spinning World before scoring two more wins in the race with Domedriver in 2002 and Six Perfections in 2003. Five wins in 17 years – not bad.

Karakontie’s origins are all over the map – literally. He is by the American sire Bernstein but was bred in Japan, the son of a Japanese mare by Sunday Silence named Sun Is Up. It was in France with English-born trainer Jonathan Pease that Karakontie went into training, and he emerged as France’s top 2-year-old of 2013, winning three of four starts and capturing the Group 1 Jean-Luc Lagardere on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe undercard.

Karakontie’s 3-year-old season began robustly, too. He finished second to the good colt Ectot in his comeback race, then, as the even-money favorite, beat 11 rivals in the Group 1 French 2000 Guineas on May 11. In June, he ran in the French Derby, but that 10 1/2-furlong race proved beyond Karakontie’s scope. He checked in eighth and was put away for the rest of the summer.

His comeback run in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret on Oct. 5 at Longchamp turned into a mild disaster almost from the start. His stablemate Fiesolana caused serious interference within the first quarter-mile, and Karakontie found himself hemmed in with nowhere to run for the last five of the Foret’s seven furlongs.

So, there was that “11” hanging like a black mark next to his Foret running line, and to that was added the number 14, Karakontie’s unfortunately wide post position for the Mile.

Karakontie and the other French horses for the Breeders’ Cup got to California the weekend before the races, and when they cleared quarantine and began training, Karakontie at first did not make a favorable impression. But as the week wore on, Karakontie looked better and better, more and more at home, and on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, he went out and ran a remarkable race.

Major help came from jockey Stephane Pasquier, who made Karakontie’s parking-lot draw look ideal, settling him smoothly into a fine position stalking a crazily fast pace by the time Karakontie had finished his short straightaway run and hit the first turn. The pair began moving seriously midway around the far turn, and Karakontie had hit full stride at the top of the homestretch.

He needed a split between rivals, but when a horse is moving that fast, that confidently, the hole is almost always there. Karakontie hit it, reached the front, and held his fellow Frenchman Anodin at bay by one length.

It was the lone race Karakontie ran in North America. It also might have been the best single turf performance turned in by any horse all year in North America. And it’s why Karakontie’s name is in this program.