by Frank Vespe
Call it the “Left turn heard ’round the (racing) world.”
In the days leading up to Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, Bob Baffert, trainer of Classic contender Bayern, told the media, “He just needs things to go his way (in the race). If not, they run these things every year, right?”
Bayern apparently agreed. Once the gates opened, Bayern took matters into his own hooves, veering sharply left, banging into post-time favorite Shared Belief and causing that runner to clobber Moreno. That left Shared Belief, a horse who figured to want clear running in range of the leader, toiling among horses in sixth in the early going, steadying twice off rivals.
And it left Moreno, who projected to be involved in the early pace battle — he’d been first or second at the first call of nine of his last 10 races, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, and had shown no ability to close — laboring back with Shared Belief.
Oh, and it left Bayern, a horse who’s done his best running on the lead, in front and in control — having things his own way, you might say. From there, he ran on gamely and just held off Toast of New York and California Chrome — two horses outside of the gate incident who might have been helped by it — for the win.
Eric Guillot, Moreno’s trainer and no stranger to controversy, was not pleased. “When you break, first couple of jumps, horses go right and left, that’s normal. Then you’re supposed to correct your horse,” he told the Courier-Journal. “… Not once did they try to … grab a hold of the right rein and correct their horse. To me that was the game plan. Looked like it worked.”
As for Shared Belief, he had a passel of trouble, first from Bayern, then from Toast of New York. He “failed to overcome his early adversity,” according to the chart, and finished fourth. Moreno, meanwhile, packed it in after three-quarters of a mile and finished last.
Mike Smith, aboard Shared Belief, was asked whether the early tangle, including both Bayern’s bump and his other traffic troubles, impacted the outcome. “I think it cost me the race,” he said.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer declined to comment, saying only, “You saw what happened.”
And Javier Castellano, aboard Moreno, added, “We lost our race at the break when the seven (Bayern) shot out of there and ran into everyone. That pretty much took us out of the game.”
Oddly enough, the stewards, who hung the inquiry sign but did not change the order of finish, agreed, up to a point. “We all agreed there was interference, no question, Bayern broke in,” steward Scott Chaney explained, sort of. “Three or four horses suffered interference.”
If so, why no change?
“It didn’t happen at a point of the race where it changed where they were reasonably expected to finish,” said Chaney.
Meaning, apparently, that the gate break of a 1 1/4 mile race isn’t really all that important.
In other words, what happens at the gate stays at the gate.