GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – At a Breeders' Cup when nobody hit the Pick 6 and two winners paid more than $57, English shipper Wilko was the biggest shocker. Even trainer Jeremy Noseda was blown away when he had to head for the winner's circle after the Juvenile.
Not only was Wilko making his first start on dirt, but according to a British racing executive, "When he got off the plane he looked like a pony who didn't want to be here." Appearances can be misleading.
"He's an incredibly tough horse, a grinder, and he had always worked very well on the artificial surface at Newmarket," Noseda said Sunday morning. "But we didn't expect what happened on Saturday. I never thought I was going to win."
Hardly anyone else did, either, which explains Wilko's 28-1 odds. Frankie Dettori, one of the world's top riders, was among them.
"I can't believe it," Dettori said. "I mean the horse worked well on the dirt but we were just hoping to hit the board. I got a great jump but we were outpaced at the quarter pole. I don't really know what to say. I expected to be really outpaced."
Wilko appeared beaten when he dropped back to fourth entering the stretch, and it seemed certain that the winner would come from among Sun King, Consolidator and Afleet Alex. Then Wilko found another gear in deep stretch and powered past Afleet Alex to win by three-quarters of a length. It was only his third win in 11 starts and his first beyond 7 furlongs.
If you listened closely, you could hear the sound of thousands of Pick 6 tickets being shredded. Five of six returned more than $56,000, and getting that many correct meant you had two of the three bombers – Wilko ($58.60); Singletary ($35, Mile) and Better Talk Now ($57.80, Turf).
Wilko will be transferred to California-based trainer Craig Dollase and will be trained for a Triple Crown campaign.
"I hope it works out in the future," Noseda said, "and I am sure it will. He is a tough, hard-working horse."
Azeri may not be through
"We have no horse remorse this morning," Lukas said Sunday. "We swung for the fences and the ball fell back onto the field."
Lukas said Azeri will be bred in Kentucky in February but that he and Paulson have their eyes on races at Churchill Downs and Santa Anita before then. "I think we haven't seen the last of her," Lukas said. "I think she's going to run a couple more times."
Rough rides for Spencer
Spencer went 0-for-5 Saturday, dropping his Cup record to 0-for-7, and his losses all were eventfully bad. He managed to have poor starts on four of them and got into trouble early and late on the only one who finished in the money, runner-up Antonius Pius in the Mile.
Antonius Pius, a 31-1 shot, made a big late surge and fell a neck short of catching Singletary. Had he not veered left from the whip, he might have gotten up in the final jump.
"I gave him a couple cracks in the straight and he edged away from the stick," Spencer said. "He really should have won it. He's a horse with so much ability."
Considering it was Spencer's fifth ride on him, perhaps he should have known that he doesn't respond well to the whip.
O'Brien wouldn't criticize the ride, even though Spencer had to steady when he was in tight going into the first turn. That's where the Mile, the ultimate trip race, often is won or lost.
"Jamie said that if he rode him again, he wouldn't have hit him and he would have won, but I'm not sure of that," O'Brien said. "He ducked in behind [Singletary] when he hit him. He's a horse with immense ability, but he's a tricky horse and maybe a little immature, mentally."
Spencer saved his worst for his last ride of the day. He pulled an encore absurdity on Powerscourt, who broke poorly before being gunned to the lead with a ridiculously premature move while four wide along the backstretch. He led by two lengths entering the stretch but predictably had little left and ran third to longshot Better Talk Now. The margin was only 2¾ lengths, so with a smart, ground-saving ride, Powerscourt could have won.
O'Brien was kind to his jockey when many other trainers might have exploded with rage,
"He ran a good race," O'Brien said. "It was a messy race, the way it unfolded. Jamie made his move on the back straight, and just said that the horse got a little bit tired. I'm a bit disappointed, but you always are when you get beat."
Facts and figures