Heavily favored Miesque's Approval, ridden by Eddie Castro, rallied from last in the field of seven and drew clear to a 1 ¼-length win over the closing Free Thinking in Saturday's $269,250 Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs.
The Martin Wolfson-trained 7-year-old son of Miesque's Son covered the mile on "firm" turf in 1:34.52 and paid $3.20, $2.40, and $2.10. Free Thinking, with apprentice jockey Julien Leparoux in the irons, overcame traffic problems on the far turn to take second by a neck and returned $3.40 and $2.60. Therecomesatiger, piloted by Rafael Bejarano, held on for third after opening a 1 1/2-length lead in the stretch and paid $2.80.
Therecomesatiger led the first quarter-mile in :24 1/5 after bobbling at the start and bumping On the Border while forcing the pace, but Thunder Mission took over to lead by two lengths after a half in :47 and six furlongs in 1:10 4/5. Therecomesatiger surged back to the lead after that, as Thunder Mission faded.
The victory in the Firecracker Breeders' Cup was not as close as Miesque's Approval's last start, an April win in the Maker's Mark Mile (gr. IIT) at Keeneland that was run in similar style. In that race, he launched a furious stretch run to defeat Artie Schiller, the winner of last year's $2 million NetJets Breeders Cup Mile (gr. IT), by a nose.
"He's a great horse," said Castro, who has ridden Miesque's Approval in his last five starts, including three victories. "This was very much like the race at Keeneland, it was almost the same race. He just runs very good in the stretch. He's fast."
"He runs better on the outside of horses and, once you can get this horse to the clear, he just accelerates," said Wolfson. "And that's kind of what happened in the Maker's Mark, but he got clear at the quarter pole. He didn't get clear until something like the sixteenth pole here. I was real proud of him."
Owned by Live Oak Plantation, the horse won for the third time in four starts this season and the winner's purse of $170,605 raised his lifetime earnings to $1,360,079. The Firecracker Breeders' Cup victory was his first race at Churchill Downs and improved his career record 10-10-5 in 36 starts.
Miesque's Approval was soundly beaten while running for a $50,000 claiming tag in New York as recently as November, but he has been revitalized since he moved to Wolfson's barn at Florida's Calder Race Course in December. After a fourth-place finish in a minor stakes race at that Florida track, Miesque's Approval scored a 48-1 upset victory in the $500,000-added Sunshine Millions Turf in January at Gulfstream Park. He followed that with a close runner-up finish in Gulfstream's Canadian Turf Handicap to English Channel, who would go on to win the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs, and then upset Artie Schiller at Keeneland.
Wolfson's long term goal for Miesque's Approval is a bid for this year's $2 million NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile, which will be run on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.
Thunder Mission finished fourth, and was followed by Place Cowboy, Gigiwatt, and On the Border.