Unrivaled Belle swept past the leaders at the head of the stretch, staving off favored Blind Luck after opening a big lead to win the $1,818,000 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) (VIDEO) by 1 3/4 lengths Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
Ridden as usual by Kent Desormeaux, Unrivaled Belle collected her first grade I victory as a 7-1 surprise for owners Gary Seidler and Peter Vegso, who also bred her. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott earned his first Breeders' Cup win since 1998.
It was the last of five big upsets in the six Breeders' Cup races on the opening program of the two-day festival and fueled a Pick 6 carryover of $817,642 heading into the Nov. 6 card. The Ladies Classic was held for the first time under the lights.
Unrivaled Belle defeated Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) this spring in her only prior race at Churchill Downs. She was much the best this time as well, completing the 1 1/8-mile journey in 1:50.04.
The winning gray/roan daughter of Unbridled's Song --Queenie Belle, by Bertrando, won for the sixth time in a 12-race career that also includes five runner-up efforts. She earned $1,080,000 for the victory and has now banked $1,774,929.
Blind Luck, the 3-2 choice, swept past her 3-year-old rival Havre de Grace to take second by one length but failed to menace the winner, who had posted three consecutive runner-up finishes since her La Troienne triumph.
“I think it was the way Kent rode her today; the break and the way she settled," answered Mott when aked the difference in Unrivaled Belle this time. "She made an explosive move around the turn leaving the three-eighths pole and just took the lead away from everybody. I just have to give Kent the credit. He pulled the trigger and it worked out. We opened up on the field and left them in her dust.”
Life At Ten, the second choice in the field of 11 who had won five of six starts this year, broke far behind the rest of her rivals and was eased after a half-mile. Trainer Todd Pletcher speculated after the race that Life At Ten, who was very quiet in the paddock and post parade, may have had a reaction to her pre-race anti-bleeding injection.
“I told him (jockey John Velazquez) when we left the paddock that I was concerned about the way she saddled," Pletcher said. "She was abnormally quiet; almost sedated-like. I told him to make sure and warm her up well. Unfortunately, she’s either had some sort of allergic reaction to her Lasix treatment or she’s had some severe cramps, or tied up before she ever went out there.
“That’s a tough position for Johnny to be in. He asked the vets to look at her. It’s unfortunate because of all the horses we brought over here today none were doing better than her. At the last minute, something went wrong."
Dr. Larry Bramlage, on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said in a statement that the 5-year-old mare was examined prior to entering the starting gate by a team of three vets that "did not observe any physical problems.
"She was examined again after the race and again no physical problems were observed. A more in-depth examination will be conducted this evening and tomorrow," the statment read.
Unrivaled Belle was reserved early in fifth off the rail as Malibu Prayer seized the early lead and took the field along comfortably by about two lengths with fractions of :24.66 and :49.09 for the first half-mile. Unrivaled Belle, angled out on the backstretch for clear running, advanced on the final turn as Blind Luck, trailing all but Life At Ten, started her typical late charge.
Acting Happy, tracking the pacesetter all the way, took over briefly from Malibu Prayer with Acoma and Havre de Grace also in contention, but Unrivaled Belle was moving best as the field rounded the turn. She took the lead with Havre de Grace and Jeremy Rose taking chase in the lane while about two lengths behind as they reached the furlong pole.
Blind Luck, given a little too much to do by Joel Rosario while rallying five or six paths wide, made a valiant effort to make a race of it but could not get on even terms with the winner.
"She was on the bridle all the way," Desormeaux said. "I hadn’t moved on her until (the three-sixteenths pole). I asked her, and she went. I saw Blind Luck on TV (infield screen) coming, and then I saw her again at the sixteenth pole and she hadn’t gained any ground on me. I was home then.”
“She did everything like she always does," Rosario said of the runner-up. "She broke good and got good position and I had a good trip on the inside. The horse on the outside of me (Seeking the Title) started to back up and I got in the clear. We moved when I wanted her to and she just ran like she wanted to win, but the winner was too good.”
Mott picked up his third Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (previously known as the Distaff). He previously won the race with Ajina in 1997 and Escena in 1998, both for owner Allen E. Paulson. Mott and Paulson also teamed to win the 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) with Cigar.
Unrivaled Belle was coming off a runner-up finish by two lengths to Life At Ten in Belmont Park's one-turn Beldame Stakes (gr. I) over nine furlongs Oct. 2. She finished second in both the Ruffian Invitational (gr. I) and Ogden Phipps (gr. I) handicaps in New York before that.
Sent off as the fourth choice, she paid $17, $5.80 and $4.20 while keying a $54.80 exacta. Blind Luck, looking to cement national 3-year-old filly divisional honors after wins in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Alabama Stakes (gr. I) for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, returned $3.20 and $2.40. Havre de Grace, her main rival in the division, was $4 to show.
It's Tea Time finished fourth, followed by Acoma, Acting Happy, Persistently, Milwaukee Appeal, Seeking the Title and Malibu Prayer.