ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Mike Repole has been down this path before. A promising colt of his wins the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, goes to the Kentucky Derby as the early favorite and then nothing.
Now, he’s pausing before getting consumed by Derby fever.
Fierceness won the $2 million Juvenile by 6 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita on Friday, a race won by trainer Todd Pletcher and owner-breeder Repole last year with Forte.
“They will all tell you to start thinking about the Derby,” Repole said. “I’m not going to think about the Derby with this race.”
Forte came into the Kentucky Derby on a five-race winning streak and was the morning-line favorite only to be scratched hours beforehand because of a bruise in his right front foot. Repole’s Uncle Mo, the early Derby favorite in 2011, had to be scratched the day before the race because of a gastrointestinal infection.
“I might be skipping it,” Repole said of the 150th Derby next May.
Fierceness made quite the turnaround from a 20-length defeat in the Champagne Stakes nearly a month ago. He won his debut in the mud at Saratoga by 11 lengths before getting trounced.
“The Champagne was a head scratcher,” Pletcher said. “We had to go based on what we had been seeing from him all summer, before he was training for the Champagne and after the Champagne. Mike’s not afraid to take a shot. He said if you like the way he’s training, let’s take another shot.”
Pletcher earned his 15th Cup victory, while John Velazquez notched his 20th, second among jockeys on the career list.
Fierceness ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.90 and paid $35 to win at 16-1 odds.
“This one’s really special because 14 years ago the horse that won this race called Uncle Mo put the Repole Stable on the map. And Johnny Velazquez rode him,” Repole said. “We were in our 30s, now we’re in our 50s. These wins feel a lot better now.”
Muth, trained by Bob Baffert, was second. Locked, the 2-1 favorite also trained by Pletcher, was third in front of 43,377 fans on a sunny and warm day.
Baffert’s other entries, Prince of Monaco and Wine Me Up, were fifth and eighth, respectively. Pletcher’s third horse, Noted, finished last in the nine-horse field. The Wine Steward and Ecoro Neo were scratched.
Five of the seven horses that were scratched from Cup races Friday were for veterinary reasons, while the other two were by order of the stewards.
Racing resumes Saturday with nine Cup races, including the $6 million Classic.
Two potential contenders died in the days leading up to the two-day world championships. Geaux Rocket Ride was injured in a workout and didn’t recover after having surgery. Practical Move collapsed after a gallop in what Cup officials said was a “suspected cardiac event.”
Unquestionable won the $1 million Juvenile Turf to salvage the day for Irish trainer Aiden O’Brien.
River Tiber, his best prospect, was scratched earlier Friday by the veterinarians. O’Brien said the colt was “a little bit stiff” in the morning.
“I think with all the hysteria and everything that’s gone on, nobody wanted to take any chance,” O’Brien said. “We respected that.”
That left O’Brien with two horses in the field and they went 1-2 as Unquestionable beat Mountain Bear by 1 1/2 lengths.
Mountain Bear was vanned off in an equine ambulance. He sustained a non-displaced condylar fracture to his left front leg. O’Brien said the colt is expected to fully recover and race next year.
Unquestionable paid $5 to win as the 3-2 favorite. He ran a mile in 1:33.65.
Big Evs kicked off the day’s five races for 2-year-olds with a half-length victory over Valiant Force in the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Starlust took third as European runners swept the first three places in the five-furlong dash. The winning time was 55:31 seconds.
Big Evs paid $8.40 to win as the 3-1 second choice. The colt improved to 4 for 6 as the first North American starter for both trainer Michael Appleby and jockey Tom Marquand.
Just F Y I extended her unbeaten streak to three with a 7-1 win in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his 13th Cup win.
Tamara, the 4-5 favorite, grabbed the early lead but faded at the top of the stretch, finishing seventh. Just F Y I and jockey Junior Alvarado were all out to hold off Jody’s Pride by a neck at the wire.
Just F Y I paid $16 to win. The time was 1:44.58 for the 1 1/16 miles.
Trainer Chad Brown continued his dominance of the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf with his sixth win in the race as 9-1 shot Hard to Justify dug in for a half-length victory over Ireland-bred Porta Fortuna.
It was Brown’s 17th Cup win.
Hard to Justify ran a mile in 1:34.42. The daughter of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify paid $20.20 to win.
In the day’s 10th and last race, which wasn’t part of the Breeders’ Cup, Bus Buzz was pulled up sharply by jockey Edwin Maldonado after going “wrong” near the three-sixteenths pole, according to the Equibase chart notes. The 3-year-old gelding trained by Steve Knapp was vanned off and is scheduled for surgery Sunday, according to 1/ST Racing officials. They provided no details on his injury.
AP freelancer Mike Farrell contributed to this report.
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