Updated on 11/08/2011 12:45PM

Breeders' Cup Classic: Drosselmeyer comes flying to cap day of upsets

Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey Mike Smith and Drosselmeyer capture the Breeders' Cup Classic.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A jockey who suffered the most-crushing loss of his career in the same race a year ago, a trainer with whom he had won many major races in years  past, and a horse who had been long forgotten since his Belmont Stakes victory 17 months earlier combined to win the richest race of the year on Saturday at Churchill Downs, when Drosselmeyer stormed down the center of the track to take the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Jockey Mike Smith, who said he was “devastated” when Zenyatta suffered the lone loss of her career here in last year’s Classic, and trainer Bill Mott, who won the Ladies’ Classic on Friday with Royal Delta, worked their old-time magic with Drosselmeyer, who had won just one time in six starts since his 2010 Belmont Stakes victory. That was the only previous time that Smith had ridden Drosselmeyer in a race.

Asked how long it took to get over Zenyatta’s defeat, Smith said, “Until now.”

“That’s one that will always hurt,” Smith said, “but this sure helps. Last year I sat here devastated. I thought my life was over. To come back and win today in a race I got beat a nose in last year, thank God.”

Drosselmeyer ($31.60) got up in the final yards to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Game On Dude, who set the pace and almost led from start to finish. He was ridden by Chantal Sutherland, Smith’s  former girlfriend, who was attempting to become the first female rider to win the Classic.

Ruler On Ice, this year’s Belmont winner, was another length back in third.

Havre de Grace, attempting to join Zenyatta as the only female racehorses to win the Classic, was a half-length behind Ruler On Ice in fourth. Flat Out, the lukewarm favorite at 7-2, was fifth

The other marquee horse, Uncle Mo, faded to finish 10th in the field of 12 after pressing the early pace of Game On Dude. Besides the first five, Uncle Mo also finished behind So You Think, To Honor, and Serve, Ice Box, and Rattlesnake Bridge, and in front of only his stablemate, Stay Thirsty, and Headache.

Drosselmeyer completed 1 1/4 miles on the main track in 2:04.27. The track was rated fast, but still had plenty of moisture in it following rain that began Thursday and lasted into Friday.

Drosselmeyer, 4, a colt by Distorted Humor, was purchased by WinStar Farm as a yearling for $600,000. The Classic was scheduled to be his final race before he goes to stud next year in New York, said Elliott Walden, the president of WinStar, whose principal owner is Kenny Troutt.

Smith also won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint earlier in the day with Amazombie. He now has 15 BC wins, tying him for the top spot all-time with another Hall of Famer, Jerry Bailey.

In the Classic, Drosselmeyer was well back during the early going as Game On Dude, pressed by Uncle Mo, set fractions of 23.61 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 47.84 for a half-mile, and 1:12.82 for six furlongs.

As the field neared the stretch, Drosselmeyer was in front of only two horses, but the field was beginning to bunch, so Smith took him wide.

“I knew he liked a mile and a half,” Smith said, referring to the Belmont victory, “so I went wide so he’d think he was running a mile and half.”

Game On Dude kicked clear of his rivals at midstretch and appeared home free with 150 yards to go, but Drosselmeyer closed furiously, his victory an appropriate coda for a week in which Mott’s horses touted themselves every morning with the way they were training.

“He was here a month, and had three good works over the racetrack, and I think it really paid off,” said Mott, who is the winningest trainer of all-time at Churchill Downs.

Mott’s Hall of Fame career began its rise at Churchill Downs before he relocated to New York two decades ago. Once there, he frequently won major races with Smith, who was based there at the time.

“We’ve won a lot of races together,” Mott said. “We got Mike here to win another big one for us.”

Drosselmeyer was off for nine months after his Belmont win and did not return to action until March at Tampa Bay Downs, where he was fourth in the $60,000 Challenger Stakes. It was not an auspicious start to a year that ended so magnificently. His only prior win this year was in the $60,000 One Count Stakes at Belmont Park in May.

“At the beginning of the year, he was fat and didn’t get into a rhythm,” Mott said. “But as the year progressed, he got better and better. Midway through Saratoga, it was like someone turned a switch. He was into his training.”

In his final prep for the Classic, Drosselmeyer finished second to Flat Out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It was his performance in that race, and the likelihood of a sharp pace in the Classic, that convinced Mott and WinStar president Elliott Walden to put Drosselmeyer in the Classic and not the lesser-regarded BC Marathon.

“We knew the trip wasn’t going to be a problem, that he was going to be running at them at the end,” Mott said.

Standing in the winner’s circle not long after Drosselmeyer was led away, Mott reflected on his good fortune. He had pulled off the same feat as trainer John Shirreffs, who in 2009 won the Ladies’ Classic and the Classic in the same year.

“Nice weekend,” he said with a smile.