By Breeders’ Cup Staff Notes — Epicenter – Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter continued to impress in his gallops as he went out shortly after 8 a.m. and went 1 1/2m under regular exercise rider Roberto Howell.
“He’s just a fabulous horse,” said trainer Steve Asmussen, who is seeking a third Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic victory. “I really love how he’s physically matured throughout the year. It’s a tough running of the race. It’s easily the best race he’s ever been in, but his confidence level is where you would want it. He’s training beautifully.”
Flightline – Hronis Racing, Summer Wind Equine, West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm and Woodford Racing’s Flightline again was one of the first horses on the track Wednesday morning, galloping 1 1/4m with regular morning partner Juan Levya aboard.
Leyva, who is one of 18 riders to have won a Breeders’ Cup race with his first mount, has been with Flightline since he arrived in the barn save for three weeks when he was with trainer John Sadler’s horses at Oaklawn Park.
So, what was it like getting on Flightline for the first time?
“Best horse I ever sat on,” Leyva said.
And riding that “best horse”?
“I can’t describe it,” Leyva said. “There is a certain amount of pride that they entrust you with this kind of horse.”
Ironically, every morning that Flightline goes to the track there are some early departures from the runway across U.S. 60 at Blue Grass Airport.
“I tell him to chill out,” Leyva said with a big grin. “You don’t have to take off yet!”
Happy Saver/Life Is Good – WertheimerandFrere’sHappy Saver did not train Wednesday morning because of a quarter crack in his left hind foot. The crack will be patched today and trainer Todd Pletcher hopes to make Saturday’s Classic.
Meanwhile, CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm’s Life Is Good visited the starting gate and then galloped 1 1/2m with Amelia Green aboard.
Pletcher said the gate schooling was normal operating procedure with Life Is Good not having any issues at the gate in the past.
Life Is Good is scheduled to school in the paddock Thursday.
Hot Rod Charlie – It was a routine 1 1/8 m gallop for Longines Classic contender Hot Rod Charlie on Wednesday morning under exercise rider Connor Murray as the colt prepares for his third Breeders’ Cup start on Saturday. Owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable and Strauss Bros Racing, Hot Rod Charlie’s only other start at Keeneland was a second-place finish in the 2020 TVG Juvenile at odds of 94-1 for trainer Doug O’Neill.
“I think you’re seeing a taller, more filled out version now,” O’Neill said. “He just continues to be so competitive, and he brings it every time. I think the biggest change from what we saw a couple of years back (when he ran in the 2020 Juvenile) is just a taller, bigger version of himself who continues to try just as hard every time we run him.”
Tyler Gaffalione, who has the mount Saturday, also rode the colt in the Breeders’ Cup in 2020.
“He’s grown up a lot (since the 2020 Juvenile),” Gaffalione said. “He’s much bigger, much more powerful and much more mature. Right now it seems like he’s the complete package.”
O’Neill will be looking to capture his first Longines Classic win and add to his five previous Breeders’ Cup wins this weekend.
Olympiad – Grandview Equine, Cheyenne Stables and LNJ Foxwoods’ Olympiad had an easy gallop Wednesday morning with veteran rider Neil Poznansky aboard. The $700,000 Keeneland September 2019 purchase has been patiently managed by trainer Bill Mott, including a 364-day layoff between his 2yo and 3yo campaigns. He has earned $2,007,560 from 12 starts, including victories in five of his past six efforts.
“If you’ve got a nice horse and want to give them a career, you’ve got to be patient,” Mott said. “You have to watch and observe and if you think they have issues that need to be taken care of early on. Fortunately, with him, we had some baby issues and gave him the time and he’s repaid us for it.
“Everybody wants a (Kentucky) Derby winner and I have got one in the barn right now that we can start prepping in the spring for it, but the reality is that there’s only 20 horses going into that gate out of 20,000 foals born, so not everybody can do it,” Mott concluded. “A lot can’t make it for one reason or another, some aren’t good enough and some aren’t ready for it, but if you get one that’s good enough and ready, let’s go.”
Rich Strike – RED TR Racing’s Rich Strike galloped 1 1/2m with Gabriel Lagunes aboard before 6:30 Wednesday morning.
“He was wicked strong this morning,” trainer Eric Reed said. “The difference between before the (Kentucky) Derby and now is that he can control that wicked strong. He knows what he’s doing out there.”
Lagunes came back to Lexington after riding six horses Tuesday night at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in New Cumberland, West Virginia.
“That’s dedication right there,” Reed said. “I was going to get him a helicopter but I couldn’t get one.”
Lagunes, who won one race Tuesday and was to make the 6 ½-hour drive back tonight for six more mounts, said he got back to Lexington at 3 a.m. this morning.
“I drove part of the way and my girlfriend drove the rest and I slept,” Lagunes said. “We win Saturday, I’m going to get a plane.”
Taiba – Zedan Racing Stables Inc.’s Breeders’ Cup Classic contender Taiba had a busy Wednesday morning at Keeneland. The chestnut Gun Runner colt galloped on the main track shortly after it reopened at 8 a.m. and schooled in the paddock at 10:30.
The two-time Grade 1 winner trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert will face older horses for the first time in the Classic. The race is headlined by the unbeaten John Sadler-trained Fightline, who was rated at 3-5 on the morning line. Taiba and jockey Mike Smith drew the rail and are 8-1 on the morning line.
Baffert is based at Santa Anita Park and said he has paid close attention as Flightline has emerged as the leading horse in the country. He was so impressed, he said, that he decided to skip the Classic and prepared Juddmonte’s Laurel River for the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile (G1).
“I love watching him work. I’m out there and I’ve seen all of his works,” Baffert said. “John and I sit up there in the same area and we watch the way he does everything. He’s very aggressive. Horses like that are very easy to get ready.”
Baffert has a record four wins in the Classic. He put together a back-to-back-to-back run starting with Bayern in 2014. At Keeneland in 2015, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah concluded his brilliant career with an impressive victory. Arrogate completed the hat trick in 2016 and Authentic picked up the fourth Baffert win in 2020. This year, Baffert finds himself sending out an accomplished horse against a superstar.
“I know how people felt when they ran against American Pharoah,” Baffert said. “I know what they felt like because he’s Pharoah at 4. He just moves like him. He’s an extraordinary horse. He just moves over the ground and when he takes off he just takes off. The thing is that the only way a horse like that gets beat is just racing luck. Racing luck can get them all beat.”
However, Baffert said he was not predicting Taiba was poised to spring an upset against Flightline.
“Coming in here it’s like I’m not thinking that I might go up there…” he said, leaving a few words unspoken and setting up the rest of his thought. “Some of these horses I feel I have a really good chance of winning with, but him with him I’m just thinking if I could run second or third.”
In his most recent start, Taiba won the Pennsylvania Derby by 3 lengths on Sept. 24. He has been most effective when he has been able to sit a stalking trip and take on the competition in the stretch.
“He ended up in the one-hole, but he probably would have ended up in the inside anyway,” Baffert said. “Taiba, he breaks really well. He breaks like he’s going to go to the lead and then all of a sudden he sor