Breeders’ Cup Turf - Thursday notes

December 10, 2019

Big John B – A 1 1/2m jog on the training track was the main exercise of the day for Big John B, the 20-1 shot who will carry the hopes of owner Michael House and trainer Phil D'Amato in the $3 Million Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.

The 5yo son of Hard Spun was claimed for $50,000 in April out of a race at Keeneland by trainer Michael Stidham for House and D'Amato. Big John B's subsequent rise to Graded stakes victory is an example of cooperation between the Midwest and West Coast-based trainers.

“Michael claimed him for us out of a race in which he ran last,” D'Amato said. “Mike ran him at Churchill and won (via disqualification) and got his (Big John B) confidence up. The plan all along was to run him at Churchill and then ship him to California. Mike did a lot of work with him and got his confidence up, then I just trained him like I do all my turf marathon horses.

“He just really took to the program. Mike Stidham is a really good guy and a really good horseman and he got the horse's confidence going in the right direction. I just continued what he started and the horse is doing really great.”

Brown Panther – see European report

Chicquita/Magician – see European report

Finnegans Wake – Trainer Peter Miller, wearing an old green Charlie Whittingham jacket, said Thursday that he hopes some of the lessons he learned while grooming for the training icon will rub off on him and translate into Breeders’ Cup success with five entrants.

Finnegans Wake, a 5yo horse making his second start for Miller, is an example of a horse he hopes is improving enough to challenge the best in the world in the Turf.

“That’s the $20,000 question,” said Miller from Barn 44 of the horse who ran an encouraging second in the John Henry Turf Championship here Sept. 28.

Finnegans Wake, who shipped here from San Luis Rey Downs Wednesday, galloped 1 ½ m with exercise rider Stephanie Korger Thursday.

Flintshire – see European report

Hardest Core – Andrew Bentley Stables’ Hardest Core continued his preparation for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Thursday morning with a mile gallop on the Santa Anita turf course that commenced on the hillside turf course at the three-eighths pole, giving the son of Hard Spun a chance to cross over the same portion of the dirt track he will traverse in Saturday’s race.

“He looked just as good - if not better - than he did (before his win last out in the Arlington Million),” trainer Eddie Graham said afterward. “I’m just hoping he’s in the same kind of form as last time. He looks great and the trip didn’t bother him at all - he's happy. He shipped perfectly.”

“Excellent! He felt great,” exercise rider Jody Petty exclaimed while still on horseback and passing Clockers’ Corner. Petty, who was previously the exercise rider for champions Animal Kingdom and McDynamo, has worked diligently with Hardest Core since the 4yo survived and recovered from a nearly fatal botched castration last year.

“His last work at the farm (seven furlongs over an undulating uphill course) was fantastic. I tried to videotape it for the press with a helmet cam, but I just took photographs by accident. I wish you could have seen how good it was.”

Working Hardest Core over the testing terrain of Graham’s Unionville, Pa., farm, Petty has helped orchestrate his return to a fitness level begetting a three-for-three 2014 season. Overall, the Kentucky-bred whose dam is a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Gilded Time has won five of his last six races and six of 11 in his career.

“I’m really happy with him. I’m glad to have the team here too,” Graham said of Petty and assistant/groom Brianne Slater. “I’ve known and worked with them for over 20 years and it’s a team effort. That (comfort) takes a little bit of the pressure off.”

While Hardest Core’s work occurred later in the morning Thursday (9:45 a.m.) in order to work on the grass, his continued preparation will be earlier in the morning on Friday – approximately 6 a.m. – to adjust to limited Breeders’ Cup Friday training hours.

Imagining – Phipps Stable’s Imagining galloped 1 3/8m Thursday morning at Santa Anita and was scheduled to school in the paddock during the afternoon’s first race.

The 6yo son of Giant’s Causeway has exclusively run in Grade I company during the 2014 season with a victory, two seconds and a third.

“He had some little things that were bothering him. We just had to give him time to get over them. This year, we’ve been able to get him on a pretty good pattern,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “That helps when you’re not start-stop, start-stop, all the time.”

Imagining has solid early speed as he displayed in his front-running Man O’ War victory, but he has also won from off the pace.

“He’s just a free-running horse. It doesn’t matter where he is in a race. To get stopped and started, is not his deal,” McGaughey said.

Main Sequence – Flaxman Holdings Ltd.’s Main Sequence galloped 1 5/8m and visited the paddock at Santa Anita Thursday morning.

The 5yo gelding is set to seek his fourth straight Grade I victory in the Turf, the 1 ½m grass event that carries special significance for his trainer. Graham Motion saddled Better Talk Now for a 27-1 upset victory in 2004 at Lone Star Park.

“It really started my career. It took my career to a whole different level, so obviously it means a whole lot to me. It’s amazing to me that it was 10 years ago,” Motion said. “It’s pretty neat to have a contender in the race this year. I’ve wanted to get back with a contender for this race, so it’s exciting.”

Prior to his three victories in the U.S., Main Sequence had won four races from 14 starts in Europe for trainer David Lanigan, who was the person who suggested the son of Aldebaran be sent to Motion.

“We talked about the horse a lot even before we talked about him coming to me. Since I was spending a lot of time there, I knew a lot about the horse already,” Motion said.

Lanigan will be in attendance at Santa Anita for Main Sequence’s run in the Turf.

Telescope – see European report

Twilight Eclipse – Their three battles are not as epic as the Triple Crown races of Affirmed and Alydar, but Twilight Eclipse and Main Sequence have developed a strong rivalry of their own.

In their three competitions, the last three races for both and all Grade Is, the Tom Albertrani-trained Twilight Eclipse was beaten by only a neck twice and was a close third while finishing strongly. His connections hope the tables get turned on Saturday.

“I was talking to Graham (Motion, the trainer of Main Sequence) before he shipped and I told him I might get my Air Force buddies to divert the plane he was on to the Ukraine. They took off before we could get our resources set,” joked retired U.S. Army officer and West Point graduate Terry Finley, the president of West Point Thoroughbreds, the racing syndicate which owns Twilight Eclipse.

“He beat us fair and square three straight times, but we came awfully close each time. Let’s hope we change that on Saturday.”

Said Albertrani, “He’s in fantastic condition right now. I am really excited about the way he’s been training up to this race. He’s just been a little bit unlucky getting beat less than a length in those last three starts. He just needs a little more racing luck, but he certainly looks the part going in to the race.”

Twilight Eclipse, a 5yo son of Purim who has six wins in 20 starts, has been one of the most consistent grass runners in North America over the past three seasons and will get the firm turf he relishes. The world-record holder of 2.22.63 for the 1 1/2m distance of the Turf has certainly earned his keep.

Sold for the bargain basement price of $1,000 as a yearling, Finley bought him privately after his second start. The gallant gelding has gone on to earn just shy of $1 million.

“He’s turned out to be a really good horse,” said Finley, who has 65 horses in the syndicate, 30 of which are with Albertrani. “He’s in the right program and Tom fits him to a T. Knock on wood, he’s also been very sound. We’ve been extremely happy with him. I just hope he has a very good day on Saturday and none of the other horses in there have a great day.”

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