By Bill Heller
Five accomplished New York-breds are primed to make an impact in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita: Dr. Russell Cohen’s Tri-Bone Stables’ homebred five-year-old horse Effinex; Gary Barber and Sequel Racing’s five-year-old mare Haveyougoneaway; Treadway Racing Stable’s four-year-old filly Wonder Gal; J Stables, Head of Plains Partners, Summers, Summers, Kisber and Summers’ three-year-old colt Mind Your Biscuits; and Eric and Harris Fein, Christopher McKenna, Guri Singh and Jerry Walia’s two-year-old colt Syndergaard.
Two other New York-breds were also-eligibles who didn’t draw in: Robert Falcone and All Heart Racing’s Stable’s five-year-old grass mare Rumble Doll and Three Diamond Farm’s two-year-old turf colt Shiraz. In addition, NY-bred Bar of Gold was entered in the Filly and Mare Sprint but was scratched.
The quintet of New York-breds who will step onto Thoroughbred racing’s greatest stage Saturday have all won or nearly missed in graded stakes. Yet all have to run the best race of their lives to reach the winner’s circle.
Effinex’s challenge is by far the steepest of the five New York-breds. He will face California Chrome, the leading contender for Horse of the Year off his six-for-six record this year; spectacular Travers Stakes winner Arrogate; and assorted other heavyweights including multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Frosted in the mile-and-a-quarter $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
But anybody who dismisses Effinex’s chances at hitting the board Saturday need only remember last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, when Effinex finished second by 6 ½ lengths to Triple Crown Champion American Pharoah. In doing so, Effinex finished four lengths ahead of Honor Code in third at 33-1 odds. Frosted finished seventh in last year’s Classic.
Effinex, a son of Mineshaft out of What a Pear by E Dubai, has finished in the money in 15 of his last 19 starts, including two fourth-place finishes, on the way to becoming the second-leading New York-bred all-time in earnings ($3.247 million), topped only by 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide ($3.529 million).
Effinex began his five-year-old campaign at Santa Anita on March 12th, when he finished third by 4 ¾ lengths to Classic rival Melatonin as the 7-5 favorite in a field of nine.
Effinex has one of the best distance resumes in this year’s Classic field of 10, with three victories, two seconds and two thirds in eight starts at a mile and a quarter.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens has done a masterful job spotting Effinex as he has navigated upwards from New York-bred stakes to tackling the best dirt horses in the world. In his last start in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on October 8th, Effinex battled on the lead before finishing second by a half-length to Classic foe Hopportunity as the 6-5 favorite.
Mike Smith rode Effinex his last three starts and in seven of his last eight, but he elected to ride Arrogate in the Classic for Bob Baffert. California-based Flavien Prat will be riding Effinex for the first time.
Effinex is 15-1 on the morning line, but he can become the leading New York-bred earner of all-time. Cohen is confident Effinex will finish No. 1 before he retires. “As long as he comes back healthy and sound, all in one piece, we get to play again,” Cohen said after the Jockey Club Gold Cup. “He’s a game sucker. He’s game every time he runs. He’s an owner’s dream because he’s a Saturday afternoon horse every Saturday afternoon. They don’t make them like that anymore.”
Haveyougoneaway is the 3-1 morning-line favorite under John Velazquez in a field of 13 contesting the $1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She earned it. With Velazquez riding for the first time, Haveyougoneaway stretched her current winning streak to three by taking the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga in her last start on August 27th at 10-1 odds. Previously, she had won the $100,000 Dancin Renee Stakes for New York-breds at Belmont Park and the Grade 2 Honorable Miss at Saratoga. Kendrick Carmouche piloted her in both those scores.
Andy and Susan Beadnell bred Haveyougoneaway, a daughter of Congrats out of One Wise Cowgirl by Wiseman’s Ferry.
Haveyougoneaway was originally trained by Allen Milligan and made the first 22 of her 26 career starts in open company at a variety of tracks: Oaklawn Park, Lone Star, Remington Park, Prairie Meadows, Ruidoso Downs and Zia Park.
Last spring, Haveyougoneaway shipped to New York and joined the barn of trainer Tom Morley. She made her first start for Morley in the $200,000 Critical Eye Stakes for New York-breds on May 30th, finishing second by a length and a half under Jose Ortiz to Bar of Gold. Then she began her winning streak.
In the Ballerina, Haveyougoneaway made her first start at seven furlongs, rallying to win by a half-length with Velazquez aboard for the first time. Morley decided to train her up to the Breeders’ Cup, and two bullet works – four furlongs in :47 1/5, best of 34 the morning of September 29th, and five furlongs in :58 2/5, best of 14 on October 13th at Belmont Park – suggest she has a huge shot Saturday.
Haveyougoneaway isn’t the only New York-bred in the Filly & Mare Sprint. Wonder Gal, originally an also-eligible, has drawn in and is listed at 30-1 on the morning line. That’s a crazy number for a filly who has only gone off at double-digit odds twice in her 14 career starts. She was 15-1 in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies when she ran a huge race, finishing third by a length, and 16-1 in the 2015 Grade 1 Acorn when she again ran well and again finished third by a length.
Bred by Apache Farm, Wonder Gal is a daughter of Tiz Wonderful out of Passe by Dixie Union who sold for $210,000 in Mach 2014.
While she’s amassed more than $800,000 in earnings, Wonder Gal is still looking for her first victory in open company. Her three wins came in the $122,000 Lynbrook Stakes by 14 ½ lengths in her incredible career debut, the 2015 $200,000 Empire Distaff by 2 ½ lengths, and an allowance race by 11 ½ lengths on September 2nd. In her final start before the Breeders’ Cup on October 1st, she finished fifth by 5 ½ lengths at 2-1 odds in the Gallant Bloom Handicap on a muddy track at Belmont. Kendrick Carmouche, who finished eighth on Wonder Gal in the 2015 Grade 1 Test Stakes, reacquires the mount Saturday.
Mind Your Biscuits, who drew the rail in a field of just nine in the six-furlong $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint, is a colt that’s blossomed into a star for Falcone, who took over Mind Your Biscuits’ training this year.
The son of Posse out of Jazzmane by Toccet showed promise for trainer Rudy Rodriguez as a two-year-old, finishing third as a maiden in the $206,000 New York Breeders’ Futurity at Finger Lakes, but didn’t break his maiden until his first start as a three-year-old on April 9th. He followed that win with a third in an allowance race and a second in the $125,000 Mike Lee for New York-breds.
Then he took his game to another level. After winning an allowance race by 9 ¼ lengths at Belmont Park, Mind Your Biscuits won the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga going away by a length and three-quarters. Mind Your Biscuits then finished fifth in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop and a fast-finishing second to Sprint opponent Noholdingback Bear in the Grade 3 Gallant Bob Stakes at Parx in his last start on September 24th.
“He was coming at the end,” Falcone said. “He had to steady for a second, then he switched leads. I respect the winner, but he ran a good race as well.”
The 23-year-old Falcone, a native of Brooklyn, began working at the track for trainer Dominick Schettino as a teenager. “I worked in his barn when I was 13, 14, walking horses,” Falcone said. “I got my working papers when I was 15. Right out of high school, I became his assistant trainer at the age of 17. I was 20 when I started out on my own. I wanted to take a shot. I started out with three horses.”
Now he has 20. One of them can jump-start Falcone’s budding career Saturday. “I expect him to run his usual race, make his one run,” Falcone said. “If he’s not good enough, he’s not good enough, but he’s not going to embarrass himself or anyone else. Even if he finishes sixth or seventh, he won’t be beaten that many lengths.”
Joel Rosario, who is two-for-two on Mind Your Biscuits, regains the mount Saturday.
Syndergaard, named for New York Mets pitching sensation Noah Syndergaard, was inches away from being three-for-three heading into the mile-and-a-sixteenth $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Bred by Burleson Farms, Syndergaard sold for $450,000 as a two-year-old in April and has already earned $263,800 in three starts. He made his debut for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez at Saratoga on August 8th and won wire-to-wire by three lengths at 4-5 odds. Stepping up to the $190,000 Funny Cide Stakes for New York-breds at Saratoga on August 26th, Syndergaard again won wire-to-wire by 10 ¼ lengths at 3-5 odds.
Syndergaard went off the 9-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont on October 8th and led every step of the way until the final one, finishing second by a nose to Practical Joke in a very tight photo.
“That was a tough one,” Pletcher said. “We’ve had our share of tough beats. You tend to remember them more than the narrow wins. I felt bad for the horse. He ran so hard the whole way. He fought back. It told us a lot about him. He’s got heart along with physical talent.”
If he wins Saturday – his morning-line odds are 6-1 – he’ll likely be named two-year-old champion. And if that happens, let the Kentucky Derby dreams begin.