Breeders' Cup Distaff Story: Call Collect

Breeders' Cup Distaff Story: Call Collect
Photo: Mike Corrado
Pat Day celebrates his win aboard Unbridled Elaine in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Published in the Nov. 3 issue of The Blood-Horse
Trainer Dallas Stewart got a call just a week before the Breeders' Cup returning Unbridled Elaine to his care

The rigors of being a Thoroughbred trainer means spending nearly as much time on the phone as training horses. In the past four months, Dallas Stewart has made and taken thousands of calls, but two have proven to be life altering. The first, a body blow, came in early June, when owner Roger Devenport phoned to say he was taking his horses and transferring them to trainer David Vance's barn. The second came just eight days before the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).

That second call was Devenport asking Stewart to take the horses back, including Unbridled Elaine, who had been pre-entered in the $2,161,760 Distaff (gr. I). That call would help Stewart ring up his initial Breeders' Cup win with just his third starter.

"It was the owner's decision," Stewart said. "He just decided to move the horses and the filly came back to us. We were sad when she left but very happy when she came back. She was very well prepared. David did a great job with her. She's a great filly."

Great in stature and great in scope.

In the paddock, Unbridled Elaine, much like her father and grandfather, towered over her rivals. Lineage and Belmont Park run hand in hand with Unbridled Elaine. Her grandsire, Unbridled, won the Classic (gr. I) in 1990 at Belmont, and her sire, Unbridled's Song, won the Juvenile (gr. I) over the same track five years later.

The call to Breeders' Cup glory however, had to wait for an emergency 911 call. As the dozen fillies and mares made their way from the paddock to the track to inaugurate the World Thoroughbred Championships, the unthinkable happened. As Exogenous, the third horse in the post-parade procession, made her way out onto the track, she spooked. Skittering under rider Javier Castellano, she reared, flipped completely over, and suffered a concussion. In a freak move, she somehow caught her right hind leg in the fence separating the track from the winner's circle (see page 6486).

The crush of people attempting to get to their seats had to beat a hasty retreat while the horses behind Exogenous were turned around and led back to the paddock.

The first two horses through the tunnel, Tranquility Lake and Flute, remained on the track. The others were backed up into the paddock where all remained relatively calm considering the situation. "All of the horses that were back there were very, very good," said Stewart. "No one got out of hand and we just waited till when we were supposed to go on to the racetrack."

The delay to tend to Exogenous, which seemed to take an eternity, only added 10 minutes to post time for the Distaff. An unsettled cast quickly warmed up and headed to the gate for the nine-furlong race.

As expected, Tranquility Lake, breaking from the rail, wrested the early advantage under Eddie Delahoussaye. Pointed toward the Distaff by owners Marty and Pam Wygod and trainer Julio Canani after a run in last year's Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), she figured to control the pace, and set a modest opening quarter of :23.62. Lapped to her outside was fellow California invader Queenie Belle, last year's Distaff winner Spain, and Pompeii, who was a surprising presence on the front end.

Down the long Belmont backstretch, Tranquility Lake held the lead, but it wasn't the easy lead hoped for. Longshot Queenie Belle was spoiling the party while Pompeii continued to prompt. As the day wore on, it became obvious the inside was a no-man's land, and Tranquility Lake would be one of the first to pay the price. So would Flute, who was hemmed on the rail, much like she had been in the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) three weeks earlier. The half went in :46.94.

On the bend for home, they hit six furlongs in 1:11.87 as Pompeii forged to grab a short lead over a tiring Tranquility Lake. Spain, who had backed off the pace a bit, was ready to uncoil her best run. Longshot Atelier loomed boldly on the outside with Two Item Limit.

Throughout the race, the bunch was well packed. Unbridled Elaine, while near the back, was never more than six lengths off the pace. "We were pretty comfortably placed in the middle of the field. She was moving nicely off the turn," said jockey Pat Day after winning his record 12th Breeders' Cup race (he would later be tied again with Jerry Bailey after Squirtle Squirt won the Sprint, gr. I).

Unbridled Elaine was moving well, but seemed up against it as Spain took off to a commanding two-length advantage in the stretch under Victor Espinoza. "I had a lot of horse going around the turn," Espinoza said. "I looked like a winner all the way around. The speed slowed down in a hurry."

Spain had been prepped to defend her title perfectly. Given a four-month break, she was making her fourth start off the layoff after a series of races increasing in distance and competition. She was peaked for a grand performance, and in mid-stretch, it was her race to lose.

But in the middle of the racetrack, Unbridled Elaine was finally getting a chance to gain some momentum. "A horse on the inside came out and took what space I had," said Day, who had to check slightly to get outside in what proved to be the pivotal moveof the race. "I came across the horse's heels and got on the outside inside the three-sixteenths pole. At that time I was able to get my stick out and put her to the task."

Flute was losing position while mired inside. Pompeii was out of gas, but the small and game Spain was clear. She caught the mile in 1:36.51, but the race was taking its toll on her as well. The daughter of Thunder Gulch was shortening stride. Another 3-year-old filly, Two Item Limit, was coming with everything she had, but was only gaining slightly.

Proving size does matter, with Unbridled Elaine's large frame fully extended, Day was "pulling out all the stops," slicing into Spain's lead with each stride. She needed every inch of the Belmont stretch to get up and get the victory by a head. The final time was 1:49.21.

D. Wayne Lukas, Spain's trainer, nearly tasted his fifth Distaff victory, but saw it slip away in the final yards. "She pulled to the lead," Lukas said. "I'd rather see her settle. There are no questions about her; she ran well enough to win, but she really set it up for the other filly."

The closeness of the finish draws a deeper parallel as Devenport and Lukas know a thing or two about each other. They're both from Wisconsin and faced each other while racing Quarter Horses--Devenport as an owner, Lukas as a budding trainer. "He never had one as good as mine," Devenport said. Stewart, Devenport's trainer, worked under Lukas for 14 years.

"When I got the (second) call, I looked down at the caller ID and saw his number," Stewart said. "I picked up the phone and said, 'What's up, Rog?' He said, 'I want you to have my horses back.' Hey, people do that. He's the one paying the bills. But I always pulled for this filly."

Continued...

Distaff Chart, From Equibase

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