Corniche overcame a nervy start to capture the $2 million Juvenile on Friday, giving trainer Bob Baffert his first Breeders’ Cup race win since he was slapped with a two-year ban by the Kentucky Derby organizers.
Veteran jockey Mike Smith became one of the oldest Juvenile race winners at age 56, guiding Corniche to the one and three quarter lengths victory ahead of runners-up Pappacap and Giant Game.
Corniche is now tabbed as the horse to watch heading into next year’s Kentucky Derby.
“This is the first time he got a little warm, just a little excited and I think it was because of the crowd,” said Smith of Corniche.
Smith, who earned his third Juvenile win, said he also had some nervous energy before the one and one sixteenth mile race for two year olds at the Del Mar track in Southern California.
“There is something about a Breeders’ Cup. It takes me to another level. I turn 18 all over again and I have a blast. I am going to start crying,” Smith said.
The Juvenile is the feature event of the Friday schedule that kicks off Breeders’ Cup weekend. The $6 million Classic on Saturday caps the two days of showcase racing.
Pre-race favorite Jack Christopher was scratched earlier in the day from the Juvenile due to a shin injury.
Friday’s races went off amid intense scrutiny of controversial trainer Baffert after his horse and Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit failed a drug test at Churchill Downs.
Medina Spirit went on to place third at the Preakness and was banned from the final Triple Crown event, the Belmont Stakes.
Baffert has not been suspended by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission so far, but Churchill Downs issued a two-year ban on the 68-year-old, who filed suit in June demanding more tests before his horse could be stripped of the Derby win.
Baffert, the all-time money leader among Breeders’ Cup trainers, was allowed to enter horses this week, but had to submit to tighter barn security and stricter out-of-competition testing for banned substances than his rivals.
“I welcome everything,” said Baffert after Friday’s win. “I want people to know Bob Baffert is a good trainer and takes care of his horses.
“I try to stay focused and don’t worry about the clutter. We will get these wins,” he added.
“I just want to win. I am so happy this horse ran so well.”
Baffert had two other horses in the race: Pinehurt, who tied for fifth and Barossa, who finished seventh.
In the final race on the Friday schedule, Albahr was scratched from the Juvenile Turf after the gelding panicked and got stuck in the starting gate.