Chasing Down the Derby

  • 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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