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Royal Delta's repeat win was a highlight of the 2012 Breeders' Cup World Championships. (photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing 

It all happens so fast. Fifteen Breeders’ Cup races worth more than $25 million in two dramatic days at Santa Anita Park. So many past performances to study. So many stories to tell. My top 10 memories from the 29th edition of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships:

Royal, indeed: Royal Delta took command early and was unyielding late in successfully defending her title in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1). Ben Leon looks like one smart investor in paying $8.5 million for her last November, days after her initial Ladies’ Classic triumph, in what he described as a “calculated risk.” She handed My Miss Aurelia her first defeat in seven starts, turning her back by 1 ½ lengths.

Juvenile sensation: Shanghai Bobby was all heart as he dug way down to turn back He’s Had Enough and remain undefeated through five starts. Rosie Napravnik joined Julie Krone as the only female jockeys to win Breeders’ Cup races when her mount re-broke after losing focus once he made the lead. “He turns it back on like no other horse I’ve ever felt,” said Napravnik, who will be the subject of intense media attention if she goes on to the Kentucky Derby (G1) with her gritty mount. No woman has ridden a Kentucky Derby winner.


Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Wise choice: Wise Dan emerged as a leading Horse of the Year candidate when he took the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) in the track-record time of 1:31.78 and extended his winning streak on turf this year to four consecutive races. “He’s just a special horse. Every time I do something with him, he amazes me,” trainer Charlie Lopresti said. The best news yet: the increasingly popular gelding will return for his 6-year-old campaign.


Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Impenetrable: Fort Larned gave jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. a 27th birthday present he will never forget with a sterling front-running performance for trainer Ian Wilkes. Hernandez had never ridden before at Santa Anita. He endured an inconspicuous start there when a horse kicked him in the backside as he visited the stable area. Wilkes said of the combination of Fort Larned and Hernandez: “It’s very simple with this horse. You’ve got to trust him. You’ve got to let him do what he wants. Brian has a knack with him. They get along great.”


Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Magical Mike: No one was praising Mike Smith after he appeared to be well on the way to victory aboard Paynter in the Belmont Stakes (G1) only to allow the rail to open for Union Rags and John Velazquez. He got the last laugh, though, when Royal Delta provided his 16th Breeders’ Cup triumph, pushing him past Jerry Bailey for the all-time lead. “I hope to be around a few more years to add to it,” said Smith, 47.


Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

She’s a doll: Groupie Doll trained sensationally for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint  (G1) and she ran that way, dominating by 4 ½ lengths with Rajiv Maragh needing to be little more than a passenger. The blazing 4-year-old closed her year with victories in five consecutive stakes races. The winning streak coincided with trainer William “Buff” Bradley’s decision to add blinkers.


Photo courtesy of

Super consistent: Zagora climaxed a 5-for-8 season in which she failed to crack the top three just once when she reached the winner’s circle in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). “Everything came together for her and it couldn’t happen to a horse that deserved it more,” trainer Chad Brown said.


Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Heartening comeback: Very rarely does a runner-up excite anyone, but Animal Kingdom thrilled onlookers when he closed powerfully to finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in only his second race in 17 months in a testament to the ability of trainer Graham Motion. The strong performance for the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner came in his first start since February, when he was prepping for a planned start in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) that never happened due to a hairline fracture in his pelvis. Now, a journey to Dubai is on the schedule again.


Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Going the distance: Calidoscopio, a 9-year-old horse from Argentina who was 12th of 13 after the opening mile, launched an unforgettable rally to take the 1 ¾-mile Breeders’ Cup Marathon by 4 ¼ lengths. “He just got to going and it was all over from there,” jockey Aaron Gryder said. “It was some ride.”


Photo courtesy of

Padding his lead: Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, 77, gained his 19th Breeders’ Cup victory, 10 more than his closest pursuers, Shug McGaughey and Bill Mott, when Hightail came on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. “I train every day and I ride every day,” Lukas said. “And if they will give us something to work with, we’ve got a chance.”      


Photo courtesy of

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