11/04/2017 3:17PM

Caledonia Road closes stoutly to win Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

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Barbara D. Livingston
Caledonia Road, under jockey Mike Smith, wins the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies by 3 1/4 lengths.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Ralph Nicks enjoyed some great moments as an assistant to Bill Mott, most notably the glory years with Cigar. But when Caledonia Road rolled to a 3 1/4-length victory Saturday, it was Nicks, finally, who could claim a Breeders’ Cup win all his own.

Caledonia Road, well back through the early stages, closed with a flourish under Mike Smith to overtake the front-running Alluring Star and win the 34th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar.

“This is amazing to be here, just amazing,” an emotional Nicks said immediately afterward.

Overlooked at 17-1 when making just her third start, Caledonia Road returned $36.60 after finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.05 over a fast track. Alluring Star, an 8-1 shot under Joe Talamo, held second by a neck before Blonde Bomber, with Separationofpowers another 1 3/4 lengths back in fourth in a field of 13 2-year-old fillies. Caledonia Road earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 82.

The victory extended Smith’s Breeders’ Cup record for wins by a jockey to 26.

Moonshine Memories, the 2-1 favorite, grabbed the early lead, as expected, but Alluring Star never let her shake loose when clinging to her outside flank into the first turn and on into the second turn. Approaching the quarter pole, as Moonshine Memories began to fade, Alluring Star surged to an open lead, but Caledonia Road was well under way with a looping outside run.

In the middle of the final turn, “I could tell the front-runners were being hard pressed at the time,” said Nicks. “I said to myself, ‘Just maintain your momentum, and we’ll get there.’ ”

Indeed, inside the furlong pole, Caledonia Road went past without resistance to become one of the early favorites for the 2018 Kentucky Oaks.

"She was dynamite," said Smith. "She was much more forwardly placed than I expected her to be, to be honest. She was up there intent on getting into the game and running good. She was in a good rhythm, breathing well. I gave her a breather from the half-mile pole to the 3 1/2 because she kind of wanted one. When I stepped on the accelerator again, man, she jumped back on it, and I knew I was going to be live from that point on."

Nicks, 50, grew up on the racetrack as the son of trainer Morris Nicks, who is still active in Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. He worked closely with Mott, the iconic Hall of Famer, for 13 years, including as an assistant and exercise rider when Cigar was the two-time Horse of the Year in 1995-96. After going out on his own in 2004, Nicks traveled extensively while based primarily in Kentucky before deciding several years ago to base his stable year-round at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

“Working for Mott, with the champions there, getting to witness it and be part of it all on that stage, then getting to do it for myself, it’s very special,” said Nicks, whose only prior Grade 1 victory came in the Humana Distaff with Aubby K on the 2013 Kentucky Derby card.

Caledonia Road, a bay Florida-bred by Quality Road, is owned by Zoom and Fish Stable Inc., Charlie Spiring, and Newtown Anner Stud. She was a $140,000 purchase at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Caledonia Road won her career debut by 2 3/4 lengths on closing weekend of the Saratoga meet. She then was second to Separationofpowers by 3 1/2 lengths in her only subsequent start, the Grade 1 Frizette on Oct. 8 at Belmont Park.

Since then, Nicks said he didn’t do a lot with her because of the four weeks between races. “I stayed out of her way pretty much,” he said. “This close between races, we didn’t overdo it. A little schooling and let her be happy.”

The $2 exacta (12-9) paid $392.20, the 50-cent trifecta (12-9-5) returned $2,289.95, and the 10-cent superfecta (12-9-5-13) was worth $2,937.10.

After the top four, the order was Piedi Bianchi, Wonder Gadot, Moonshine Memories, Princess Warrior, Gio Game, Stainless, Heavenly Love, Maya Malibu, and Tell Your Mama.

This was the fourth time in the last five years the Juvenile Fillies resulted in an upset, with the prior big-priced winners being Ria Antonia (32-1 in 2013), Take Charge Brandi (61-1 in 2014), and Champagne Room (33-1 in 2016).