When Invasor stepped off the van at Palm Meadows training center last winter after arriving from Uruguay, where he had been purchased by Shadwell Farm, no one at trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s barn had a clue what to do with him or what to expect from him.
All they knew was that he was undefeated and had swept the Triple Crown in Uruguay.
But from a physical standpoint, he certainly was not what one would expect of an undefeated Triple Crown winner.
“He was on the light side and straight up and down in front, and he had a thick winter coat,” McLaughlin recalled. “It was hard to tell what we had. When Trish (assistant Trish McLaughlin) saw him, she wanted to know what kind of conditions he had; if we could run him in a two other than (allowance) or three other than.
“But each day I got to like him more. I liked his mannerisms and the look about him. He did everything right in his training and always outworked his company.”
Over the next nine months, Invasor took McLaughlin and his crew on the ride of their lives and put Uruguay on the racing map. His unexpected heroics resulted in Eclipse Awards for older male and the granddaddy of them all—Horse of the Year.
By winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I), Invasor inscribed his name, and the names of his trainer, owner, and jockey, in the history books.
He became the first horse in the history of the Breeders’ Cup to win the Classic off a layoff of as long as 13 weeks, the only horse ever to win the Classic coming off three consecutive grade I victories at three different distances (at three different racetracks), and the only champion bred and raced in another country to win the Classic.
In winning the Classic, he defeated the winners of 21 grade I stakes, including three classic winners and two Travers winners. And he proved himself to be the most versatile Classic winner ever by winning at distances from 51/2 furlongs to 19/16 miles.
Shadwell became the first owner ever to win a classic (the Belmont Stakes, gr. I, with Jazil) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year with two different horses. McLaughlin was able to share that same feat with his mentor, D. Wayne Lukas, who accomplished it in 1999 with Charismatic and Cat Thief.
And Invasor’s jockey, 18-year-old Fernando Jara, became the youngest rider ever to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
It wasn’t that long ago—May to be exact—that McLaughlin entered Invasor in the Pimlico Special (gr. I), not having the slightest idea what to expect. After all, the only time he had run the colt was in the S & M al Naboodah Group U.A.E. Derby (UAE-II), in which the Argentine-bred 4-year-old finished a well-beaten fourth to the younger Discreet Cat. Shadwell’s brain trust—owner Sheikh Hamdan and racing manager Rick Nichols—decided it was time to find out just what they had.
To the surprise of McLaughlin, Invasor, seemingly beaten at the quarter pole, found another gear and wore down the favorite, Wanderin Boy, to win by 11/4 lengths. “It wasn’t the toughest Pimlico Special ever, but the way he did it was impressive,” McLaughlin said. “But it wasn’t until his next race—the Suburban Handicap (gr. I)—that I became a believer.”
Invasor drew off to win by 41/4 lengths and followed that up with a gutsy nose victory over Sun King in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I). “The Whitney and the Breeders’ Cup Classic were off the charts,” McLaughlin said.
In the Classic, Invasor faced a talented field, headed by 3-year-old sensation Bernardini and the king of California, Lava Man. Invasor made a sweeping move, collared Bernardini in deep stretch, and drew clear to win by a length, clinching Horse of the Year honors.
“We felt we had a legitimate shot to win the Classic, even though we had to miss the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) due to a fever,” McLaughlin said. “I had a lot of respect for Bernardini, and was hoping, somehow, he wouldn’t have the smoothest of trips and we would. He’d been facing small fields, and things change when you fill that gate up. He did have a little traffic in the first turn and might have moved a bit early. You can pick the race apart, but in the end, the two best horses finished one-two.”
Recently, while at Belmont Park, where Invasor is stabled, McLaughlin thought back to last winter and said to assistant trainer Artie Magnuson, “It’s still hard to believe this horse won a $5-million race.” Now it’s on to the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), where Invasor will return to a hero’s welcome.
(Article appears in the January 27, 2007 issue of The Blood-Horse)