Like most years, the 2004 renewal of the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) will bring together highly touted horses from both coasts. From the West Coast will come Roman Ruler, who, barring one hiccup in a neck loss to Declan's Moon in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. II), has dismantled the best and brightest from California. From the East Coast comes the unbeaten Proud Accolade, winner of the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park Oct. 9.
Behind both horses are committed owners who have plunked down some serious coin and have already reaped some reward on their investment. Interestingly enough, both horses hail from first-crop sires.
Roman Ruler, from the initial crop of 2000 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Fusaichi Pegasus
, cost owners David Shimmon and Bill Bianco of Fog City Stable $500,000 at last year's Keeneland September sale. Touted as a good one from the start, the Bob Baffert-trained colt broke his maiden by four lengths in mid-June, getting five furlongs in a zippy :57.27. He then knocked out four rivals in the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar by seven lengths. He bounded back off his lone loss with a victory in the Norfolk Stakes (gr. II) at Oak Tree, cruising to a 41/2-length score at the Juvenile distance of 11/16 miles.
Baffert has had at least one starter in the last five Juveniles, and not only won it in 2002 with Vindication, he ran second and fourth with Kafwain and Bull Market, respectively.
Vindication, owned by Satish and Anne Sanan's Padua Stables, was unbeaten heading into his Juvenile win. Padua is back this year with another unbeaten colt in Proud Accolade. From the first crop of Padua's excellent sprinter Yes It's True
, Proud Accolade was a $450,000 purchase out of this year's Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s March sale of 2-year-olds in training. A pair of stellar victories at Saratoga preceded his win in the Champagne.
The Juvenile is far from a two-horse race regardless of the fact that only six others pre-entered. Recent history reveals the favorite has not won since 1998, with Anees ($62.60 in '99) and Action This Day ($55.60 in '03) proving no entrant should be dismissed from consideration. In the race's history, 12 horses have gone to the post at odds of 2-1 or less and four of them won (33%).
D. Wayne Lukas, the Breeders' Cup all-time hit king, has won this race five times, and he'll be back for another try. Consolidator, a son of Storm Cat
purchased by Bob and Beverly Lewis for $1.25 million at Keeneland September, came on strong to win the 1 1/16-mile Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland Oct. 9. Following a dismal effort behind Afleet Alex in the seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, Lukas removed the blinkers from the colt's equipment and he responded with a sharp two-length win while stretching out around two turns.
Afleet Alex tasted defeat for the first time behind Proud Accolade in the Champagne, but his form up to then was solid enough. The $75,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale 2-year-old drew raves with his 5 1/4-length score in the six-furlong Sanford Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga, and he showed true grit in the Hopeful, getting up to win by a neck over Devils Disciple.
Adding a dash of European flavor to the mix is Wilko, a recent purchase by J. Paul Reddam. Trained in England by Jeremy Noseda, Wilko has made 10 starts, winning twice and placing in five stakes. While two other European imports have won the Juvenile--Arazi in 1991 and Johannesburg in 2001--both had strung together a series of impressive group I wins. Wilko doesn't own the same credentials, but perhaps going for the Kentucky-bred is his sire, Awesome Again, winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) in 1998.
While the Juvenile winner has later won the Eclipse Award as top 2-year-old male 16 times, including the last eight in a row, the racing world still awaits the first Juvenile/Kentucky Derby winner.