Chasing Down the Derby

  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Danny Moloshok
    Groupie Doll, a 5-year-old mare ridden by Rajiv Maragh, winning the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint in November. Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Danny Moloshok
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Gary Bogdon
    Jockey Mike Smith celebrates his victory aboard Mizdirection, who won the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November. Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Gary Bogdon
  • Photo by Jonathan Palmer
    During Keeneland’s annual September Yearling Sale, which spans two weeks, owners and prospective buyers spend much of their time appraising horses in the stable areas. In particular, they’ll critique a horse’s bone structure, posture, and gait. Photo by Jonathan Palmer
  • Photo by David Coyle
    During Keeneland’s annual September Yearling Sale, which spans two weeks, owners and prospective buyers spend much of their time appraising horses in the stable areas. In particular, they’ll critique a horse’s bone structure, posture, and gait. Photo by David Coyle
  • Photo by Z
    During Keeneland’s annual September Yearling Sale, which spans two weeks, owners and prospective buyers spend much of their time appraising horses in the stable areas. In particular, they’ll critique a horse’s bone structure, posture, and gait. Photo by Z
  • Photo by David Coyle
    During Keeneland’s annual September Yearling Sale, which spans two weeks, owners and prospective buyers spend much of their time appraising horses in the stable areas. In particular, they’ll critique a horse’s bone structure, posture, and gait. Photo by David Coyle
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Gary Mook
    Secret Circle (left), a 4-year-old colt ridden by jockey Martin Garcia, is shown winning the $1.5 million Expressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November. Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Gary Mook
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Phil McCarten
    Mizdirection storms back to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint for the second year in a row. Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Phil McCarten
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Dan Dry
    Jockey Gary Stevens celebrates his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic riding Mucho Macho Man Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Dan Dry
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Pat McDonogh
    Jockey Gary Stevens celebrates his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic riding Mucho Macho Man Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Pat McDonogh
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Danny Moloshok
    Jockey Gary Stevens celebrates his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic riding Mucho Macho Man Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Danny Moloshok
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Rodney White
    The Reeves Thoroughbred Racing continent celebrates the victory (bottom) before heading to the winner’s circle. Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Rodney White
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Jamie Rhodes
    Beholder, a 3-year-old filly, sprints to victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff in November. Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Jamie Rhodes
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Dan Dry
    With her win at the Breeders’ Cup in November, Groupie Doll increased her career earnings to more than $1.9 million. She sold for $3.1 million at a Keeneland auction four days after her Breeders’ Cup victory. Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Dan Dry
  • Photo by Z/Keeneland
    A yearling colt with four white feet (a bad omen to some owners) sells for $1.7 million at Keeneland’s annual September yearling auction in 2013. Photo by Z/Keeneland
  • Photo by Z/Keeneland
    Photo by Z/Keeneland
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Danny Moloshok
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Gary Bogdon
  • Photo by Jonathan Palmer
  • Photo by David Coyle
  • Photo by Z
  • Photo by David Coyle
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Gary Mook
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Phil McCarten
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Dan Dry
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Pat McDonogh
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Danny Moloshok
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Rodney White
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Jamie Rhodes
  • Photo by Breeders’ Cup/Dan Dry
  • Photo by Z/Keeneland
  • Photo by Z/Keeneland
  • Shaun Tolson

There’s more than one strategy for success in Thoroughbred racing, which means every owner has a chance to win at Churchill Downs.

It’s nearing two o’clock in the afternoon and the SoCal sun is beating down on Santa Anita Park just east of Pasadena. It’s the second day of November—the 30th running of the Breeders’ Cup—and the mercury has reached its zenith for the day. Down by the paddock, the owners and trainers dressed in their race-day best—be it bow ties and fedoras or wide-brimmed hats and form-fitting cocktail dresses—are beginning to sweat, but their perspiration has little to do with the weather.

The Breeders’ Cup is, as many equine experts describe it, the Super Bowl of horse racing. Unlike at the Derby, the Belmont, or the Preakness Stakes—where a long-shot runner or two will round out the field of horses—the Breeders’ Cup field is stacked with champion runners with impressive résumés. George Bolton, an investment banker and horse owner, who successfully dabbled in the industry through the 1990s and then hit it big in early 2007 when he bought a share of Curlin (a colt that went on to win the Preakness Stakes, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and the Dubai World Cup, among other races), sums up the Breeders’ Cup appeal. “Here,” he says, “there are no Hail Marys.”

Fourteen horses are in the paddock gearing up for the Turf Sprint, a race more than three-quarters of a mile long with a

$1 million purse. The field is dominated by male horses—only one filly and one mare are among the competitors—but that hardly seems relevant based on the morning’s odds. The favorite, a 5-year-old mare named Mizdirection, shocked the Breeders’ Cup crowd the year before, when, with less than 300 yards to go in the Turf Sprint (against the same number of male challengers), she stormed back from more than nine lengths off the lead to win.

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