English Channel pulled away from a tight pack coming out of the final turn and exploded through the stretch to win his first $3 million John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) in three tries, beating a field that included European star Dylan Thomas.
The winner, a son of Smart Strike out of the Theatrical mare Belva, was third through early parts of the race, moving up to second entering the final turn. The 5-year-old English Channel inched ahead of pacesetter Fri Guy under jockey John Velazquez midway through the final turn and won by an ever-widening lead of seven lengths over runner-up Shamdinan.
The final time for the 1 1/2-miles race was 2:36.96 on a soft turf course. Defending Turf champion Red Rocks finished third, Better Talk Now was fourth, while 4-5 favorite Dylan Thomas never really challenged, and finished fifth in the field of eight.
“We got the perfect trip,” said Velazquez. “Our plan was to save ground and wait as long as possible before we made our move. Everything was perfect. Last year (in the Breeders’ Cup), we had an outside post and he never relaxed. This year, he’s older and he has learned to relax. That was the key today.”
English Channel, who was bred in Kentucky by Keene Ridge Farm, won for the 13th time. He entered the Turf with three victories in 2007, including a triumph in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) Sept. 30 at Belmont.
Owned by James Scatuorchio, English Channel was fifth in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Turf and third last year. He has now earned more than $5 million in 23 starts.
The winner paid $8, $4.40, and $3; Shamdinan, at odds of 25-1, paid $17.60 and $9.40; and Red Rocks paid $4.60. A $2 exacta was worth $152, a $1 trifecta netted $282.70, and a $1 pick-3 earned bettors $238.70.
Trainer Todd Pletcher was ecstatic. “He delivered big-time today. That was a big performance. He dominated some really good horses. I was concerned (about the course condition). Obviously, it was extremely soft, but he ran an unbelievable race.”
Dylan Thomas, considered by many as the top-rated horse in the world, never took to the soft turf. The 4-year-old Danehill colt had won five of eight races this year.
“It was not turf racing – look," jockey John Murtagh said, pointing to his mud-covered silks. “He was spinning his wheels out there. He even hated the warm-up, and this is a horse who loves his racing and everything about it. We had no chance.”
Fri Guy set a pedestrian pace through a mile, going 26.7, 53.20, 1:19.01, and 1:46.01. English Channel was in perfect stalking position the whole way.