May 19, 2024

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has never been a great predictor of Kentucky Derby winners given that only two horses have won both races in 39 years. But, that did little to dampen the feelings of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez, both hall of famers when Fierceness won the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Friday at Santa Anita.

The 16-1 longshot broke alertly and settled in second place behind General Partner until midway on the far turn. Muth, winner of the American Pharoah and trained by Bob Baffert, was in good position on Fierceness’ outside as General Partner faded out of it, but when the two leaders started to drive down the stretch it was clear that Fierceness was not going to lose. The winning margin was an expanding 6¼ lengths.

Fierceness won his first race by 11 ¼ lengths so there was high expectations when he went into the Champagne Stakes at Aqueduct. But as the heavy favorite, he finished an unimpressive seventh.

“[Owner Mike Repole and I] covered every base after the Champagne,” Pletcher said. “The horse trained awesome all summer [at Saratoga]. We took a shot today and it worked out. He had a beautiful trip and he showed what he is all about.

“A lot of the tactics in a race like this, you have to leave in your rider’s hands. I could make a case for five horses being the pacesetter. It was really about getting in a good rhythm with him and letting him get comfortable with him. [Velazquez] as able to do that. It did look easy. … Very impressive.”

Fierceness paid $35.00 to win. Muth was second followed by the favorite and another Pletcher horse, Locked, and then Timberlake, Prince of Monaco, General Partner, Cuban Thunder, Wine Me Up and Noted.

In the other major dirt race for 2-year-olds, Just FYI held off Jody’s Pride to win the $2 million Juvenile Fillies. The race was notable for the defeat of Tamara, considered the best of the 2-year-old fillies. She went off as the heavy favorite at 4-5 and easily got the lead and held it until the top of the stretch when she clearly wasn’t going to fully get the 1 1/16 miles. It was her first time around two turns. She finished seventh in the 12-horse field.

“She went into the far turn, but her energy level just wasn’t there today,” said Mike Smith, who rode Tamara. “When I did pull up she did make a little noise. So, they’re going to scope her to make sure her airways are clear.”

Just FYI, trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Junior Alvarado, took the lead coming out of the turn, extended it to about three lengths had just enough to win by a neck. Just FYI paid $16.00 to win, followed by Jody’s Pride, Candied and Life Talk.

“I was a little worried she was going to get a little too rank,” Mott said. “But once she got position, she looked like she was settled down.”

Big Evs, who primarily runs in Britain, won the first Breeders’ Cup race, the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint. They used the flat five-furlong turf course for the race rather than the 6 ½ furlongs of the downhill course. Big Evs came off the pace to win by a half-length. He paid $8.40 to win as Valiant Force and Starlust rounded out the top three in the 12-horse field. Michael Appleby was the trainer and Tom Marquand was the rider.

John Velazquez celebrates after riding Fierceness to victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.

John Velazquez celebrates after riding Fierceness to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Hard to Justify found a hole in the middle down the stretch to win the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf by a head over Porta Fortuna. It was the third straight win for Hard to Justify and trainer Chad Brown and jockey Flavien Prat. She paid $20.20 to win. She Feels Pretty was third and Content finished fourth.

Unquestionable, who has been running in France and Ireland, won the $1 million Juvenile Turf for trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore. He was the favorite and paid $5.00 to win. Mountain Bear, also trained by O’Brien, finished second but after the race was vanned off. There was no immediate word on his condition.

O’Brien said the initial diagnosis was a non-displaced condylar fracture and described it as a small crack in the cannon bone. O’Brien said he should heal in about four weeks.

In the final race of the day, a non-Breeders’ Cup race, Bus Buzz, a 3-year-old gelding, was pulled up by jockey Edwin Maldonado in mid-stretch and the horse was vanned off. According to Dr. Jeff Blea, equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board, the injury was career ending and surgery is planned for Sunday.

There will be nine more Breeders’ Cup races, all worth no less than $1 million on Saturday.

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