Ce Ce, ridden by Victor Espinoza, wins the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at the Del Mar on Nov. 6, 2021. Alex Evers /Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup

Breeders’ Cup Roundup: Ce Ce Scores the Upset in Filly & Mare Sprint

By Alicia Hughes

DEL MAR, Calif. – Trying to find horses to challenge reigning female sprint champion Gamine was becoming the equine version of unearthing the proverbial needle in a haystack.

The only time she had faced a double-digit number of rivals came when she bested 10 others in her second career outing last May. When the pre-entries for the 38th Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar were announced on Oct. 27, only six brave souls even bothered to throw their name in the hat to try and take her on in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) on Nov. 6.

Once the gates popped open for the seven-furlong test and the running began, however, the daughter of Into Mischief found herself pressed in a fashion she hasn’t faced in some time. And when the compact field of five hit the stretch and it was time to rise to the challenge, it was another multiple Grade 1 winning heroine who ended up answering the bell in spectacular fashion.

Bo Hirsch’s homebred mare Ce Ce started the Breeders’ Cup Saturday card off by showcasing why even the presence of an overwhelming favorite shouldn’t keep sporting connections from taking a swing. The 5-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality gave trainer Michael McCarthy his second career victory in the World Championships when she rolled up four-wide in the lane and drew clear for a 2 ½-length triumph in the Filly & Mare Sprint – upsetting one of the biggest favorites of the two-day event.

Since taking the 2020 edition of the Filly & Mare Sprint – an effort that backstopped her to the Eclipse Award for divisional honors – Gamine had not only not been defeated, but she also hadn’t had another horse in front of her. She came into Saturday with a five-race win streak that featured gate-to-wire triumphs in the Derby City Distaff (G1) and Ballerina Handicap (G1) and was unbeaten for her career in one-turn races.

The only time Gamine has been defeated on the square came when she crossed the wire in third in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks (G1) and was later disqualified to ninth after testing positive for the positive corticosteroid betamethasone. Though she made the lead on Saturday under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, the 2-5 favorite was pressed by Bella Sofia sitting outside on her flank through an opening quarter-mile in :22.31 with Edgeway tracked inside in third with Ce Ce sitting pretty in fourth.

“It was almost too good to be true on paper,” said McCarthy, who won the 2018 Dirt Mile (G1) with City of Light. “You see the fillies drawing outside, obviously you prefer that these two fillies have been drawn inside, but I thought (jockey) Victor (Espinoza) did a wonderful job of bouncing away from there and not letting those two fillies kind of dictate and get over on us.

“When she got heads up for lead for coming through the quarter pole I certainly got excited and I was kind of watching Bo, kind of watching her and inside the sixteenth pole I think I spent more time watching Bo.”

As Gamine approached the far turn and reached the half-mile in :44.92, she had both Bella Sofia ranging up on her and Edgeway coming through the inside to put double the heat on her as they readied for the stretch drive. All of them ended up in a battle for minor honors when Espinoza swung Ce Ce out around the bend, bumping slightly with Bella Sofia before kicking on to reward those who backed her at odds of 6-1.

“It was the right race at the right time for this filly,” said Espinoza, who earned his fourth Breeders’ Cup win. “Mike McCarthy did an amazing job training her up to this race. I had a lot of horse. She bounced out of the gate, but I decided to sit back and she was nice and relaxed.  When I shook the reins at her at the 5/8s pole, I got a little excited. I wanted to go inside, but that spot was taken. But it worked out pretty fine.”

While her Breeders’ Cup victory far and away stands out as Ce Ce’s biggest career moment, the chestnut mare had already complied a resume with a fair amount of gleam to it. Last year, she scored consecutive top-level wins in the Beholder Mile (G1) and Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) before closing out her campaign with a fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).

As good as she was going a route of ground, McCarthy opted to cut Ce Ce back in distance this season – a decision that allowed another level of her talent to surface. Her wins in the Princess Rooney Invitational (G2) and Chillingworth Stakes (G3) sandwiched her third-place finish to Gamine in the Ballerina and with all the speed to her outside on Saturday, her connections couldn’t have asked for a better set up.

“At Saratoga, I thought Gamine got loose, got an easy lead,” McCarthy said. “I believe that race, that day she led the opening quarter in like 23 and two and she can probably do that obviously with her eyes closed. Today a little bit of a reminder to kind of keep her at task. And my concern was that one race that we had down here was lackluster around two turns, but she’s been so good this year sprinting and everything has just kind of fallen into place here lately.”

Edgeway held for second, three-quarters of a length in front of Gamine. Final time for the distance was 1:21over a track rated fast.

“She was out there and she just got tired at the end,” said Bob Baffert, trainer of Gamine. “The winner ran a great race. I really can’t make a lot of excuses. She just got tired. I blame myself with the preparation. She had some time off and I think a race in between probably would have helped her. I think I made a mistake there. Now, she’ll be ready. Going in, I was hoping I was OK here. The winner is a good filly. She looked great in the paddock. I knew she was the one to beat.”

Out of the Belong to Me mare Miss Houdini, Ce Ce improved her record to eight wins from 16 starts with a career bankroll of $1,753,100.

“At my stage in life I want more fun than money and as long as she wants to run, and as long as — we know she wants to run and we’re going to run for awhile,” Hirsch said. “She’s been unbelievable.”

Life Is Good Spectacular in Dirt Mile Victory

The fractions going up at each point of call in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) would have been worrisome for trainer Todd Pletcher had they been coming from almost any other charge within his shedrow.

In the short time the Hall of Fame conditioner has had Life Is Good in his care, however, one thing has been readily apparent. What is hard and challenging for even talented horses comes easy for the son of Into Mischief. And so, even as the board threatened to melt under the blistering times the bay colt was throwing down over the Del Mar oval, his connections had faith that the brilliance he routinely showcases would only be amplified on the biggest stage.

Sure enough, Life Is Good made what should have been taxing and turned into a the handiest of exercises when he blazed to a gate-to-wire victory in the Dirt Mile in his third start for Pletcher.

Life Is Good, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., wins the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile at Del Mar on Nov. 6, 2021. Alex Evers /Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup

Sent off as the 3-5 favorite in the field of eight, Life Is Good earned his first career Grade 1 victory in a manner that sparked all sorts of queries about what could have been and what might be. Originally trained by Bob Baffert, Life Is Good was barely challenged in winning his first three career starts but was knocked off the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail following his win in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) when he had to have surgery for an ankle chip. 

Since been transferred to Pletcher, Life Is Good has continued to inspire lofty talk even after suffering his first loss when he ran second, beaten just a neck by the equally brilliant Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) on Aug. 28. He came into the Breeders’ Cup off a 5 ½-length victory in the Kelso Handicap (G2) and could have just as easily gone in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) – or even Classic (G1) – if his team so desired. 

“We were anticipating a good performance or an exceptional performance, just it’s rare that you have a horse train as well as this horse does and breeze as impressively as he does and do everything as effortlessly and easily as he is capable of,” said Pletcher, who earned  his 12th Breeders’ Cup score. “We felt like he was sitting on a big effort and then you just hope everything goes smoothly with the ship and settling in in new surroundings and get a clean break and all classic things that you need to go right for him to show his talent.

“He’s one of classic rare horses that you could consider three different races on the card. Who knows, he might even grass on top of that. But he’s just, he’s super fast, but what we have seen from him in his training is he has the ability to go fast and keep going and I think that’s what everyone was able to see today.”

With Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the irons, Life Is Good sped clear into the first turn and showed the way in the two-path as he tossed up an opening quarter mile in :21.88 with Eight Rings tracking in second. The half-mile was an equally swift :44.94 but any notion that effort had sapped energy from Life Is Good ended as he found another gear in the lane en route to hitting the wire 5 ¾-lengths in front of runner-up Ginobili.

 “I had a perfect trip,” Ortiz said. “He broke out of there running, he relaxed for me. I wasn’t worried about those other runners early in the race, because I knew he was so fast.  When we got to the quarter pole, he re-broke for me.  What a nice horse to ride.”

Ginobili was three-quarters of a length clear of Restrainedvengence in third.

Owned by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, Life Is Good covered the covered the mile on a fast main track in 1:34.12.  He improves his record to five wins from six starts with $1,059,200 in earnings and a possible trip to the Middle East on the agenda in 2022 for starts in the Saudi Cup (G1) and Dubai World Cup (G1).

“He’s been straight as an arrow for us and he’s very professional,” Pletcher said. “the key for him is just us trying to get him to ration out his speed a little bit and settle and relax and the team’s done a great job of that.”

Aloha West Gets the Bob in Breeders’ Cup Sprint

In a career evolution nearly as swift as he is, Aloha West went from unraced maiden to Breeders’ Cup in ten months.

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Aloha West, sixth at the head of the stretch, rallied on the far outside to edge Dr. Schivel in the tightest of finishes at the line to win the 38th running of the $2 million Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Del Mar on Nov. 6.

Aloha West, ridden by Jose Ortiz, wins the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 6, 2021 at Del Mar. Bill Denver /Breeders’ Cup/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM

Trained by Wayne Catalano and ridden by Jose Ortiz, Aloha West didn’t make his career debut until this past February and only stepped into graded stakes company for the first time when he ran second in the Phoenix Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on Oct. 8. The son of Hard Spun showed he has learned his lessons quickly, however as he sat last early on as multiple Grade 1 winner and 1-2 favorite Jackie’s Warrior found himself in a duel for the lead with Special Reserve and Matera Sky through fractions of :21.91 and :44.11.

“I liked everything. I liked where we were at early in the race and the head-bob was a tough one. But you know when the results come this way we’re happy,” Catalano said. “Right now, it’s a good time to win a race like this. We are low on horses and have been around a long, long time. I have been reinventing myself so many times. Fifty years and counting. I just want to settle down and have a handful of nice ones in one spot and enjoy my life with my three grandkids and one more on the way.” 

Turning into the stretch, Dr. Schivel swept past Jackie’s Warrior and Special Reserve and opened a daylight margin, appearing well on his way to victory until the final jump.

“Wayne has just done and incredible job developing this colt,” said Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbreds. “He only ran for the first time I think in February this year as a four-year-old, and 10 months later he’s a Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion. That takes master horsemanship to be able to accomplish something that monumental.

“But he told me two weeks ago when this horse worked at Keeneland after he was the second in the Phoenix and this man has had his hands on some pretty serious horse flesh in his day, 3,000 wins as a jockey, almost 2,000 as a trainer, this is his fourth Breeders’ Cup win, and he told me this might be the best horse I’ve ever had my hands on. So we’re coming in here with all kinds of confidence. The way he’s managed and developed this horse is clearly brilliant, so we had so much confidence going in. Like you said, he never even won a stakes race so to do what he did today is just magical.”

Aloha West covered the six furlongs on a fast main track in 1:08.49. Following Sea got up for third.

It is the fourth Breeders’ Cup victory for Catalano and fifth for Ortiz and the first in the Sprint for Catalano and Ortiz, who won his second race of this year’s World Championships.

The victory was worth $1,040,000 and increased his earnings to $1,311,068 with a record of 9-5-2-0. It is the first stakes victory for the 4-year-old Maryland-bred son of Hard Spun out of the Speightstown mare Island Bound.