ARCADIA, Calif. — Bob Baffert got beat again in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Bill Mott settled for half of a repeat sweep in the weekend’s two biggest races.
The Hall of Fame trainers could only wince as 9-1 long shot Fort Larned won North America’s richest race on Saturday night, capping a weekend of upsets in the world championships at Santa Anita.
Fort Larned ran the race of his life, leading all the way to win by a half-length over Mucho Macho Man.
The highly anticipated Classic was strictly a two-horse race to the finish in front of 55,123.
Game On Dude, the 7-5 favorite, ran what Baffert said was “probably the worst race of his life” in finishing seventh. He lost in the closing strides a year ago at Churchill Downs.
Mott’s trio of Flat Out (third), Ron the Greek (fourth) and To Honor and Serve (10th) came up short.
“I don’t think we have any huge excuse,” he said.
Mott, unlike Baffert, didn’t leave empty-handed. Royal Delta successfully defended her title in the $2 million Ladies’ Classic on Friday as one of only four favorites to win in 15 races over two days.
After Tony Bennett sang “The Best Is Yet to Come” as the horses were led onto the track, the spotlight belonged to an unheralded entry named for an old post in Kansas that protected the Santa Fe Trail, a jockey who rides in racing’s minor leagues, and a low-profile trainer.
“The prestige of winning this race in front of the world is unbelievable,” jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. said.
He celebrated his 27th birthday with the biggest victory of his career. Trainer Ian Wilkes could say the same.
“Fort Larned just gave us the greatest birthday present ever,” said Hernandez, the leading rider this year at Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs.
Fort Larned ran one mile in 2:00.11 in the showcase race of the two-day world championships at Santa Anita that was shown in prime time for the first time. The 4-year-old colt paid $20.80 to win.
“I knew we were good when he broke sharp,” Wilkes said. “That’s where Brian won the race. We broke sharp and Game On Dude broke bad.”
Fort Larned went right to the lead and had things under control, with only Mucho Macho Man picking up the chase. Those two pulled away from the pack with Fort Larned digging in under Hernandez’s left-handed whip through the stretch.
Fort Larned’s biggest previous win came in the Whitney at Saratoga in August. The colt finished third behind winner Flat Out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in September.
“No one, I don’t think, was too worried about us coming off our last race,” Wilkes said. “We could do what we wanted to do and without having that bull’s eye.”
All the week’s attention had focused on Baffert and Mott, two veterans well acquainted with winning on the big days.
Baffert went 0 for 9 on the weekend, with Game On Dude failing to deliver the Hall of Famer a first-ever win in the Classic. It was the end of a bummer year for him after surviving a heart attack in March and finishing second in each of the Triple Crown races.
“It was a tough day for me, but I’ve had tougher,” the white-haired trainer said. “Joe Torre told me that you’ve got to forget it.”
Torre, the retired manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, co-owns Game On Dude, who could never employ his favored front-running style under Rafael Bejarano.
“At the three-eighths (pole) he gave me his move,” the jockey said. “And then, all of a sudden, he was flat, totally out of gas. I can’t understand it and I can’t explain it.”
Mott was trying to duplicate his feat from last year when he won the Ladies’ Classic and the Classic with Drosselmeyer.
Upsets dominated six of the day’s nine races, with Little Mike pulling off the biggest stunner at 17-1 odds in the $3 million Turf.