DEL MAR, Calif. — Forever Unbridled swept to the lead coming off the far turn and held off late-charging Abel Tasman to win the $2 million Distaff by a half-length Friday at Del Mar, capping a day of upsets at the Breeders’ Cup.
The 5-year-old mare was coming in off a 73-day layoff. She showed no rust, though, in bettering her third-place finish in the race a year ago at Santa Anita.
Ridden by John Velazquez, Forever Unbridled ran 1⅛ miles in 1:50.25 and paid $9.40 to win at 7-2 odds.
Abel Tasman, a winner of three Grade 1 races this year, was second for trainer Bob Baffert. Paradise Woods finished third.
“She just got beat by a really good horse,” Baffert said.
Saturday’s card features nine Cup races, including the $6 million Classic in which Baffert will saddle four starters in pursuit of a record fourth straight victory.
In the Distaff, 2-1 favorite Elate was fourth in the eight-horse field.
Trainer Dallas Stewart earned his second Cup victory, 16 years after Unbridled Elaine’s upset win in the same race at Belmont Park. Velazquez collected his 14th career Cup win in the $2 million race. Velazquez earned $110,000 for his winning ride. Joel Rosario will get the same amount for sitting in the jockeys’ room after Forever Unbridled’s owner Charles Fipke made a late change to Velazquez that prevented Rosario from securing another mount.
“For timing and consistency, Johnny’s the best,” said Fipke, the Canadian gemologist and prospector who discovered diamonds in the Northwest Territories.
Forever Unbridled was sixth early on, with Velazquez moving her to the outside for clear running room. She kicked into gear approaching the far turn and quickly joined the two leaders before charging past them.
“He edged that horse right up close, and just at the right time he bounced right out in front of them all,” Fipke said.
Velazquez had ridden Forever Unbridled twice before, but that was 1½ years ago.
“I’ve been watching her all year when she’s been running with somebody else, so I kind of knew her very well from the first time I rode her,” he said.
Fipke, who also bred Forever Unbridled, said winning a Breeders’ Cup race is harder than discovering a diamond mine.
“You don’t realize how many other horses that we pay the oats and the bills and the training bills and everything just to get the one,” he said. “And the odds are pretty stacked against you.”
Stellar Wind, a six-time Grade 1 winner, finished last in her final race before retirement. Her trainer, John Sadler, extended his Cup skid to 41 races.
The only favorite to win among the day’s four Cup races was 9-2 shot Mendelssohn in the $1 million Juvenile Turf for Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien.
Ridden by Ryan Moore, Mendelssohn ran one mile on turf in 1:35.97 to beat Untamed Domain by a length.
The bay colt paid $11.60 to win.
The other $1 million races produced upsets: 3-1 shot Rushing Fall in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and 14-1 shot Battle of Midway in the Dirt Mile.
In the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Rushing Fall survived a wide trip to win by three-quarters of a length under Javier Castellano. The bay filly ran a mile on turf in 1:36.09 and paid $8 to win for trainer Chad Brown.
In the Dirt Mile, Battle of Midway rallied to hold off Sharp Azteca by a half-length under Flavien Prat.
Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Battle of Midway ran a mile in 1:35.20 and paid $30.40 to win.
The announced crowd of 32,278 on a cloudy, 68-degree day was 5,222 below the attendance cap of 37,500 for the first Cup to be run at the seaside track near San Diego.