With bump-and-run tactics, Bayern stole Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. And the colt likely snatched Horse of the Year, too.
Surviving a 10-minute inquiry, Bayern gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his first win in America’s richest race and his 11th Cup victory overall. But he had to outrun one of the best Classic fields ever assembled, including Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome.
“I don’t think I was breathing the last 20 yards of the race,” Baffert said. “This has been so long in the making; I said, ‘Please, Lord, you can’t take it away from me now.’”
Refusing to give up the lead, Bayern covered the 11/4 miles in 1 minute, 59.88 seconds on a drying, tiring track. But an incident at the start almost erased the victory.
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Bayern, fourth choice at 6-1, broke sharply to his left, colliding with favored Shared Belief and causing a chain reaction. The mass bumping also took out Moreno, who was expected to challenge Bayern for the lead.
The stewards ruled the incident at the start “occurred in a part of the race where the horses interfered with were not cost the opportunity to place where they were reasonably expected to finish,” according to their official statement.
In a valiant rally under jockey Victor Espinoza, California Chrome almost caught the front-running Bayern and long shot Toast of New York, who ran second throughout. The trio crossed the wire in a blanket finish with Bayern ($14.20) a nose in front of Toast of New York with Chrome a neck back in third.
“I thought I had a chance to win,” Espinoza said. “The last sixteenth (of a mile), Chrome was digging in as hard as he could.”
Bayern and Chrome had been on a collision course since Bayern bested Chrome in the Pennsylvania Derby in September. In their only previous meeting, Chrome trounced Bayern in the Preakness.
“He showed his Philadelphia race was no fluke,” Baffert said. “He’s that good. … He’s just brilliant, and he showed it (Saturday).”
With his third win in a seven-figure race since July, Bayern earned $2.75 million for the Classic victory. A son of Offlee Wild, he has won six of 10 starts and nearly $4.4 million.
“It’s an amazing feeling, a dream come true,” said Bayern jockey Martin Garcia, who started his career at Golden Gate Fields.
Chrome’s effort earned him $500,000 and likely more time on the track. If he had run poorly, his owners – Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City and Steven and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev. – were considering retiring their star.
“My horse ran his eyeballs out,” trainer Art Sherman said. “He was right there, right down to the money. I thought it was a great effort. He came back strong.”
Bayern should be back – maybe for years to come.
“Definitely, he’ll be back,” owner Kaleem Shah said. “He’ll race as a 4-year-old, 5-year-old and 6-year-old if he can.”
As expected, sophomores dominated this deep Classic. The first six finishers were 3-year-olds. Following the first three were Shared Belief in fourth, Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist in fifth and Candy Boy sixth.
“The 3-year-olds were just standouts this year,” Baffert said. “To have them all together, it’s very rare.”
As usual, the Cup provided new milestones. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas (20 Cup wins) and jockey Mike Smith (21 wins) added to their Hall of Fame career records. Aboard Shared Belief, Smith thought he was robbed at the start by Bayern’s big bump.
“I think it cost me the race,” Smith said. “Even so, he ran a dynamite race.”
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Shared Belief lost for the first time. Said Hollendorfer of the incident, “You saw what happened.”
The Classic provided a wacky ending to a wild 31st Breeders’ Cup.
For the first time, it rained at a California host track on Classic Day with more than a half-inch of rain Friday night and Saturday morning. Yet the main track stayed fast for all the Cup races.
The early rain didn’t hurt attendance with a two-day announced total of 98,319, including 61,114 on track Saturday – the largest Breeders’ Cup crowd at Santa Anita since 1986.
Before the Classic, Main Sequence ($14.40) locked up top honors as America’s best turf horse after holding off Euro star Flintshire in the $3 million Turf. Trained by Graham Motion and ridden by John Velasquez, the 5-year-old gelding finished his 2014 campaign with four consecutive Grade I wins.
“Once he gets rolling, he’s tough to beat every time,” Motion said. “For a horse to win four Grade I’s in a row is pretty remarkable. … I think he should be considered for Horse of the Year.”
The $2 million Mile provided some international spice with 30-1 long shot Karakontie ($62), the first Japanese-bred to win a Cup race. Based in France, the 3-year-old colt, a son of Bernstein, is owned by the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings, who also own Main Sequence.
Rallying from last, Texas Red ($29.80) gave the Desormeaux brothers, jockey Kent and trainer Keith, the thrill of their sibling partnership with a 61/2-length win in the $2 million Juvenile.
But the Classic belonged to Bayern. Said Shah, “In my mind, he certainly deserves Horse of the Year.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.