Breeders' Cup Mile: Tepin Looks to Regain Top Form
By Bob Ehalt
When September and October roll around, there could be races worth $400,000 or even $1 million.
But more than just the purse money and prestige up for grabs, those races are also preps for racing’s grand prize.
The Breeders’ Cup.
Which properly frames one of the biggest upsets of the Breeders’ Cup prep season.
As shocking as it was when the 2015 champion turf mare Tepin was beaten by 29-1 shot Photo Call in the $400,000 First Lady at Keeneland on Oct. 8 and her eight-race winning streak came to an end, the loss in the Grade 1 stakes did not set off ear-piercing alarms for trainer Mark Casse.
It was, after all, a prep for four weeks down the road on Nov. 5 at Santa Anita Park when she will attempt to win the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile for a second straight year.
“We said all along the Breeders' Cup is our objective and we still feel very comfortable and confident about Tepin’s chances,” Casse said.
Prior to the First Lady, Casse faced a tricky decision. After the daughter of Bernstein traveled to England and recorded a sensational victory over males in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at a mile on June 14 at Royal Ascot, Casse gave his champion off until Sept. 17 when she again beat the boys, this time when she overcame a rocky start to take the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile.
Yet that half-length victory put owner Robert E. Masterson’s mare in a tough spot as far as the Breeders’ Cup was concerned. As part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” series, it gave her an all-expenses paid trip to the World Championships and a guaranteed spot in the BC Mile. Yet it also created a problem with the spacing between her races.
“We obviously knew coming back in three weeks for the First Lady wasn’t perfect,” Casse said. “But we had to decide between coming back in three weeks and giving us a better shot in the Breeders’ Cup or waiting seven weeks and not giving us that shot. People couldn’t believe we ran her back that fast but we believe our best chance of winning the Breeders’ Cup was to come back in three weeks.”
The loss, though, does put in Tepin in a much different position than last year when she came into the BC Mile off a breakthrough seven-length score in the First Lady over the same Keeneland turf course she would cruise to victory on in the World Championships.
“Obviously last year she was at the top of her game with the impressive victory in the First Lady. So it’s an entirely different deal,” Casse said. “Last year we were trying to keep her at top form. This year we’re trying to regain that top form.”
Casse said he also took the First Lady loss in stride because he did not consider it to be a sub-par effort.
Tepin simply ran into a buzz saw in Photo Call, who was hustled to a big early lead by Kent Desormeaux in the mile test on the turf and owned a 10-length lead through six furlongs in 1:10.73. But unlike the Grade 2 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs in March when the Todd Pletcher-trained Isabella Sings led by 18 lengths at one point and by five at the eighth pole before Tepin reeled her in and won by a length, another of Pletcher’s fillies did not falter. Photo Call led by 5 ½ lengths after seven furlongs in 1:22.89 and had enough speed left to fend off a late bid by Tepin, a 2-5 favorite, and prevail by 2 ¾ lengths.
“I think Tepin ran her race pretty much. Photo Call ran extremely well,” Casse said. “You look at the figures, we ran our normal Beyer (speed figure). Some things were said about (jockey Julien Leparoux) being too far back but Photo Call was not someone we were concerned with. The horse we thought could beat us was Bill Mott’s filly (Celestine, who was third as the 3-1 second choice). Photo Call ran a heckuva race. Kudos to her. We were getting to her, though, and the positive for us was the way she drew away from (Celestine). She’s a top filly and we did draw away from her.”
Casse felt even better after the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile was contested two races later. The $1 million stakes for males at the same distance as the First Lady featured much slower fractions of 1:13.47 and 1:25.24. The final time in the Shadwell, which was won by a filly, Miss Temple City, was 1:37.04, compared to 1:35.62 for Photo Call.
“Right after the race I thought maybe the fractions were too slow but when you compare them to the Shadwell I was even more impressed with Photo Call’s race,” Casse said. “It was a jockey’s race. Robbie Albarado (on Celestine) was watching Julien. Julien was watching Albarado but no one was watching Kent.”
Tepin will have an abundance of rivals at Santa Anita. As many as 20 horses are being pointed to the race.
Photo Call, owned by Teresa Viola, the wife of Florida Panthers owner Vin Viola, is being pointed to the World Championships off her huge win in the First Lady, though her connections are also considering the longer BC Filly and Mare Turf.
Miss Temple City, who gained an automatic spot in the field by winning the Shadwell Turf Mile, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race, will be joined at Santa Anita by fellow “Win and You’re In” recipients, Midnight Storm (Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita) and Kitcat (Gran Premio Club Hipico Falabella in Chile).
Ironicus, who rallied furiously to finish a head behind Miss Temple City in the Shadwell, is headed to the BC Mile, as is Tourist, who was another half-length behind in third.
Vyjack, Om and Obviously, who were 1-2-3, respectively, in the one-mile Grade 2 City of Hope at Santa Anita also may return in the BC Mile.
Arlington Million winner Mondialiste is a possibility, though he has a guaranteed spot in the mile and a half Breeders’ Cup Turf.
The top European hope figures to be Alice Springs, a 3-year-old filly trained by Aidan O’Brien for the Coolmore team of Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith. Second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf a year ago, Alice Springs is coming off a pair of overseas Group 1 wins in her last two starts.
Other Europeans planning a trip to California are Dutch Connection, Home of the Brave, Karar, Latharnach, Limato, Lumiere and Spectre.
It’s a formidable field yet the center of attention remains the race’s defending champ, Tepin.
“There’s 4 or 5 or 6 horses you have to concern yourself with, but if she brings her ‘A’ game they have to beat Tepin,” Casse said. “Maybe the First Lady gave us a little bit of a wake-up call. We might have her sharper next time. How many times does a great team lose a game late in the season and then goes on to win a championship? Look at American Pharoah he got beat and won the Breeders’ Cup. Secretariat got beat. Great horses get beat.”
Especially in preps.
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