The juvenile races during the Breeders’ Cup World Championships are often are the biggest handicapping puzzles mainly due to the inexperience of the participants. In this year’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) for example, the winners of two of the three grade I races for 2-year-old fillies at the 1 1/16-mile distance (Rigoletta and Wickedly Perfect) are not participating.
While not a grade I filly yet, one juvenile with two-turn experience that will be in the Churchill Downs starting gate with a big shot Nov. 5 is Jacks or Better Farm’s homebred Awesome Feather. Jacks or Better Farm, near Ocala, Fla., is owned by Fred and Jane Brei.
Jacks or Better Farm has been represented in the Breeders’ Cup before as the breeder of Sprint (gr. I) participant Midas Eyes. The grade I winner finished eighth behind Cajun Beat in 2003 at Santa Anita Park.
Awesome Feather, trained by Stanley Gold, is fresh off a sweep of the three-race Florida Stallion Series stakes for state-bred juvenile fillies at Calder Casino & Race Course that culminated with a smashing 8 1/4-length victory Oct. 16 in the 1 1/16-miles My Dear Girl Stakes. She covered the distance in 1:48.05, a sharp time considering the male division, the In Reality Stakes, was run in 1:50.50.
She earned an 87 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort, and the same number for the seven-furlong Susan’s Girl Stakes at Calder Aug. 28. The 87 figure is the highest Beyer earned by any filly in the race.
Awesome Feather is pegged as the fourth choice at 6-1 on the morning line.
“Some people would rather have the bull’s-eye on their back and be the favorite; some people would rather be under the radar,” said Gold outside Churchill's Barn 43. “I just want to get there in good shape and see if she can do it.”
Fillies coming out of the last leg of the FSS haven’t done that well at the World Championships, with only one filly, Brave Raj in 1986, going on to win the BC Juvenile Fillies. Two other Florida-bred fillies have landed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies: Twilight Ridge in 1985 and Meadow Star in 1990.
The Florida-bred Awesome Feather is by the Jacks or Better homebred stallion Awesome of Course , out of Precious Feather (by Gone West). Awesome of Course, a son of 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Awesome Again , hasn’t had many foals, 29, but does have two stakes winners.
“They all seem to be runners,” Gold said of Awesome of Courses’ foals. “The mare, Precious Feather, was a decent mare and won a couple of hundred thousand dollars (and four minor stakes). She could run on the turf and dirt and short and long. We might have gotten a lot of the right parts of the two of them in Awesome Feather.”
Gold, who has a 20-horse stable at Calder, will be making his Breeders’ Cup debut as a trainer, but came pretty close to having a starter last year.
“If the Breeders’ Cup wasn’t in California last year, we might have had Jackson Bend and gone on to the Breeders’ Cup,” Gold said. After sweeping the FSS for males last year, Brei sold Jackson Bend to Robert LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito.
Put on the Triple Crown trail, Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil —Sexy Stockings, by Tabasco Cat), ran second in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), and Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I). He bounced back from a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) to run third behind Lookin At Lucky and First Dude in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Jackson Bend is entered to run in Friday’s Ack Ack Handicap (gr. II) on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Churchill.
While Gold didn’t make it to California, he has made it to chilly Kentucky for the first week in November. The New Jersey native knocked around tracks on the East Coast early in his career and took out his trainer’s license in 1978. He’s been based at South Florida’s Calder since 1985.
“I decided that I was just going to stay where it was warm and that’s where I’ve been,” he said, his down jacket zipped up under his chin. “The only place we’ve shipped to run with Fred’s horses has been Tampa Bay Downs a few times. I grew up in the Northeast and I’ve had my fill of it.”
Perhaps a Breeders’ Cup victory Friday night will warm him up.