Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Proviso is a bit of a late bloomer, but she seems to be reaching her peak heading into the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs Nov. 6.
She’ll need every bit of her talent and experience because she’ll be facing such horses as Eclipse Award winner and European champion Goldikova, who is trying to score an unprecedented third straight victory in the race, and Gio Ponti , 2009’s champion older male and champion male on grass.
The Mile is widely regarded as one of the toughest -- if not the toughest – races during the Breeders’ Cup’s two-day program.
Proviso, who was foaled in Europe and raced there before coming to America, has faced Goldikova only once previously in her career. The Juddmonte runner finished third, beaten 4 ½ lengths, when Goldikova captured the 2009 Prix Rothschild (Fr-I).
“I do regard Goldikova as a monster horse,” said Garrett O’Rourke, the manager of Juddmonte Farms in Kentucky. “You hope she maybe stubs her toe or the jockey falls off, something like that. Proviso does have the home course advantage and she’s learned to run off the turns really, really well. She’s been stabled at Keeneland and now at Churchill, so she hasn’t had to travel a long way like Goldikova did. Proviso is capable of winning, and it’s just a matter of who is the best on the day.”
Proviso is coming into the Breeders’ Cup with a four-race win streak in grade I turf events. It started Feb. 6 in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap at Santa Anita Park and then continued in the June 5 Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park, the July 31 Diana Stakes at Saratoga, and the Oct. 9 Abu Dhabi First Lady Stakes at Keeneland.
Proviso, a 5-year-old daughter of Dansili, was a two-time group III winner in Europe, but never quite reached the Juddmonte team’s high expectations for her even though she was second or third in three group I races.
“She was a very highly touted filly as a 2-year—old and maybe wasn’t the star we hoped she would be as a 3-year-old, so we regrouped and brought her over here when she was 4,” O’Rourke said.
In her American debut, which came in the fall, Proviso finished first in the 2009 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I), but was disqualified and placed second. She was being conditioned at the time by the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. She then was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I).
Following Frankel’s death last November, Proviso was moved to the care of another Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott. She finished second in the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) this past January and she hasn’t lost since.
“Bill’s crew has done a good job with her and she’s learned to relax a little bit more,” O’Rourke said. “She’s learning how to save her best effort for the last furlong instead of trying to burn up all her gas in the first couple of furlongs. I think that’s the key to her improvement. With maturity, she’s gotten a little more sensible and gotten it all together. She’s able to adapt to the conditions of a race and the pace of a race. She just has a confidence about her.”
Proviso has cut it very close during her string of victories, winning by a nose, a head, and twice by a half-length. Her regular rider is Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who also will be aboard Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). Zenyatta is known for her late runs that have resulted in some tight finishes.
“The last time at Keeneland (in the First Lady), I told Mike after the race, ‘You need to get Zenyatta out of your head,’ ” O’Rourke said. “But the important thing is that she (Proviso) is on the right end of those photo finishes.”