By Bob Ehalt/Breeders’ Cup
Owner Charles Fipke made his initial fortune in Canada’s diamond industry.
On Friday, he mined yet another jewel in Forever Unbridled, who surged past tiring leader Paradise Woods in mid-stretch and then held off a late bid from Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman to post a half-length victory in the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Grade 1).
The victory, Forever Unbridled’s third in as many starts this year, closed out the Breeders’ Cup portion of Day One of the World Championships at Del Mar, where a crowd of 32,278 turned out for the series’ first visit to the track where “The Turf Meets The Surf.”
All-sources wagering of $52,273,883 on the program marked a 5.3% increase from last year and on-track handle jumped 29% to $9,280,504.
“I actually think maybe (winning the) Breeders’ Cup might be a little more difficult (than finding a diamond mine) because you breed these horses, and you don’t realize how many other horses that we pay for the oats and the training bills and everything just to get the one (like her),” Fipke said.
Forever Unbridled was surely the one Friday as the homebred 5-year-old mare avenged a third-place finish in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff behind Beholder and Songbird and wrapped up the Eclipse Award for the outstanding older dirt female.
“I’m just blessed,” said trainer Dallas Stewart after winning his second Breeders’ Cup race. He also won the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Distaff with Proud Elaine. “She’s such a great filly. A championship was on the line and she’s three-for-three (this year). She ran great and I’m proud of (jockey) Johnny (Velazquez) and how he rode her. She’s had that spacing (her last race was Aug. 26 when she beat Songbird in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga) and she’s been very successful with that.
“Last year she had an injury (after the Breeders’ Cup) and we gave her plenty of time. Chuck (Fipke) was right about putting her back in training. He didn’t have to. He could have just retired her already a Grade 1 winner. He opted to bring her back and the injury wasn’t bad and she was never sore. We brought her back and put her back in training and she’s so good when you space those races out. She’s the best I’ve trained.”
For Velazquez, the victory was the capper to a wild chain of events that saw Fipke take jockey Joel Rosario off Forever Unbridled, despite Rosario riding her in her last six races and being 2-for-2 on her this year, and putting Velazquez back on her. Velazquez last rode Forever Unbridled when she won the Apple Blossom in April 2016.
“Every time since I’ve rode her, she’s pretty much the same,” said Velazquez, who won his 14th Breeders’ Cup stakes, the third-highest total behind Mike Smith and Jerry Bailey. “And I’ve been watching her all year when she’s been running with somebody else, so I kind of know her very well from the first time I rode her. She actually is much bigger and stronger now, for sure. I got into the paddock, and I said to him, wow, she looks awesome. Thank you. She looked really, really good.”
The victory also added more sparkle to Fipke’s breeding program as his mare Lemons Forever is the dam of Forever Unbridled and the Grade 1 winner Unbridled Forever.
“The family is special,” Fipke said.
The 7-2 third choice in a highly competitive field of eight, Forever Unbridled returned $9.40 to win.
She covered the mile and an eighth in 1:50.25 and might target males in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup for next start, according to Fipke.
Abel Tasman, the 9-2 fourth choice, was last after the opening half-mile and sliced about 2 ½ lengths off Unbridled Forever’s lead in the final furlong, but the 3-year-old owned by China Horse Club and Clearsky Farm settled for second.
“She really ran her heart out and just came out a touch short,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “It was a great performance by going against older horses, and it was a great performance by the winner. She ran her race. She just got beat by a really good horse.”
Paradise Woods, the Zenyatta winner sent off at 5-1, dueled with Champagne Room for the early lead and held on for third, a length ahead of Elate, the 2-1 favorite, who failed to fire.
“She was a little dull today; a little flat,” said Bill Mott, who trains Elate for Adele B. Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm. “Maybe it’s just late in the year and she ran like she is just getting a little tired.”
The Breeders’ Cup Distaff capped a Pick 6 payoff of $146,053.20, with a consolation payout of $684.80 for five winners.
Day Two of the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday features a 12-race card at Del Mar starting at 10:10 a.m. (PDT). The first Breeders’ Cup is the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (Grade 1) at noon (race four).
The featured Breeders Cup Classic (Grade 1) will be contested at 5:35 p.m. and can be seen on NBC.
The rest of the Breeders’ Cup card will air on NBCSN.