11/03/2012 6:31PM

Breeders' Cup Turf: Little Mike continues to defy expectations

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Tom Keyser
Little Mike holds off Point of Entry to upset the Breeders' Cup Turf.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Every label placed on Little Mike in the last year is proving to be wrong.

At one point, he was thought to be a miler. Then in August, he won the Arlington Million over 1 1/4 miles.

Going into Saturday’s $2,727,000 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita, Little Mike was expected to take his customary position on the lead. When he settled in third in the first mile of the race over 1 1/2 miles, jockey Ramon Dominguez thought his mount was comfortable, but still had concern about how the race was unfolding.

“We didn’t know how he’d react,” he said.

Little Mike was on the verge of a brilliant performance.

Winning for the first time over 1 1/2 miles, Little Mike won the richest turf race in the United States in the Grade 1 BC Turf, holding off a late threat from 2-1 favorite Point of Entry to win by a half-length.

St Nicholas Abbey, who won the 2011 BC Turf, finished third.

[BREEDERS' CUP 2012: Saturday results and video replays]

Little Mike ($36.60) was timed in a quick 2:22.83. A 5-year-old gelding, he races for owner Priscilla Vaccarezza and is trained by Dale Romans. Little Mike was bred by Priscilla’s husband, Carlo.

The time may have been a course record. Hawkster holds the mark of 2:22.80 set in 1989, but the track did not time races to the hundredths of a second at that time.

What is certain is that Little Mike deserves to be considered for the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding turf horse of 2012 along with BC Mile winner Wise Dan. The BC Turf was Little Mike's fourth stakes win of the year and third in a Grade 1 stakes. He won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in May, the race before the Kentucky Derby that day.

Saturday, Little Mike was ignored in the betting for the BC Turf, with much of the focus on Point of Entry and St Nicholas Abbey, the 3-1 second choice.

At the start, Turbo Compressor took the lead and set a quick pace of 22.83 and 46.77 seconds. Little Mike trailed by 3 1/2 lengths after a half-mile and by 1 1/2 lengths after a mile.

On the turn, Trailblazer, an import from Japan, made an imposing move with a wide rally to reach contention. As soon as it appeared that Trailblazer could reach the front, Little Mike, who was racing toward the inside, pulled clear. He led by 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole and held off the late challenges.

“Little Mike is unique,” Carlo Vaccarezza said. “He’s fast, but he has a lot of stamina.”

Dominguez said that Little Mike gave him the response he expected in the stretch.

“He really took off in the last part,” he said.

Point of Entry, who had won his previous five starts, four in stakes, finished three-quarters of a length in front of St Nicholas Abbey. Point of Entry was on the inside throughout the race and was as far back as ninth in the field of 12.

“He came running,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “He might have been a little farther back than I thought he would be. I’m not disappointed in the effort. I’m disappointed in the finish.”

St Nicholas Abbey was followed by Trailblazer, Shareta, Kindergarden Kid, Cogito, Slim Shadey, Dullahan, Treasure Beach, Optimizer, and Turbo Compressor.

The BC Turf was St Nicholas Abbey’s first start since an 11th in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Oct. 7.

“He didn’t pick up the way he did last year,” trainer Aidan O’Brien said. “I don’t think looking at it anything went wrong. He just didn’t pick up the other two.”