`Thief' steals Classic show

Overlooked Cat Thief hits Breeders' Cup's $2M jackpot for Lukas

Record Pick Six: $3 million

Baffert gets shut out as long shots rule

November 07, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- D. Wayne Lukas reminded the racing world yesterday that he, not Bob Baffert, is king of the Breeders' Cup.

Although Baffert entered the $13 million series of eight races at Gulfstream Park with the strongest group of horses in Breeders' Cup history, Lukas entered with more Breeders' Cup victories, 13, than any other trainer. Lukas added two to that total, including the Breeders' Cup Classic, while Baffert got skunked.

The Lukas-trained Cat Thief, an overlooked 3-year-old seemingly ill-suited for the Classic's demanding 1 1/4 miles, ran the race of his life to claim North American racing's richest prize. Cat Thief earned $2,080,000 of the Classic's $4 million purse for his owner, Bill Young's Overbrook Farm, a 2,300-acre breeding operation near Lexington, Ky.

"It's been a great day," said Lukas, who's had a great year. "You're always surprised to win the $4 million Classic, but this did not totally surprise me."

It did nearly everyone else. At 19-1, Cat Thief's victory returned $41.20 for a $2 win ticket. And that was just the start of it. Cat Thief led a foursome of long shots across the Classic finish line: Budroyale at 26-1, Golden Missile at 75-1 and Chester House at 63-1.

They produced eye-popping payoffs: a $1,209.60 exacta, $39,031.20 trifecta and $692,907 superfecta. Also, Cat Thief's victory combined with those of the preceding five Breeders' Cup races produced an astronomical Pick Six payoff of $3,058,138.60, the largest Pick Six payout in history. One ticket contained the winners of those six races.

Left spinning his wheels amid all those bright toteboard lights was Behrens, the 2-1 Classic favorite and leading contender for Horse of the Year. Despite the unbridled enthusiasm of his trainer James Bond, Behrens never threatened and finished seventh.

Bond offered no excuses. Neither did Behrens' jockey, Jorge Chavez.

"I don't know what to say," said Chavez, who won two earlier Breeders' Cup races. "He broke clean, but that was it. He just never picked up his feet."

Although Lemon Drop Kid, owned by part-time Maryland residents Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance, managed a momentarily thrilling charge around the final turn, he flattened out in the stretch and finished sixth.

His jockey, Jose Santos, apologized to trainer Scotty Schulhofer for allowing Lemon Drop Kid to fall so far behind early.

"I should have been a little closer to the pace," said Santos, who guided the 3-year-old colt to victories in the Belmont and Travers. "About the quarter pole I thought he was a winner. He was moving great. But those other horses never backed up."

Baffert's two entrants in the Classic, General Challenge and River Keen, finished 10th and 11th, concluding a disappointing afternoon for the white-haired California trainer. He began the day with a solid chance to win six races. His horses finished second in two: Chilukki in the Juvenile Fillies and Tuzla in the Mile.

"We came in here with a lot of good horses, and we tried to get one more inning out of them," Baffert said. "It was still a great day. All my horses ran hard."

With Baffert shut out, the spotlight fell on Lukas. Although he began the day as the leading Breeders' Cup trainer, he had never won the Classic. And he wasn't supposed to win it with Cat Thief.

A highly regarded Kentucky Derby contender at the beginning of the year, Cat Thief spent much of 1999 as an also-ran. He won only once in 11 tries. During the past two years he won only three of 18 races.

"I've tried everything I know of, every bit of knowledge all year long, trying to get the key to this horse," said Lukas, whose 32-1 shot Cash Run won the Juvenile Fillies. "I finally realized the key is relaxation."

And that, Lukas said, came with experience and maturity. Cat Thief has learned to relax in the paddock and post parade and respond to his jockey's urgings on the track.

"Cat Thief was the perfect gentleman today," said his jockey Pat Day, who leads Breeders' Cup riders with 11 victories. "He was so cool and confident. He settled nicely. He was willing to do what I wanted."

Cat Thief broke sharply from post 6, so sharply that he matched the speedster Old Trieste stride for stride until entering the backstretch. Then Old Trieste sprinted ahead, allowing Day to guide Cat Thief off the rail.

The two horses hooked up again around the far turn, but this time Cat Thief pulled away. As he charged down the homestretch, he turned back a late challenge by Budroyale, the Cinderella horse, before drawing away to win by 1 1/4 lengths. His time of 1 minute 59 2/5 seconds for the 1 1/4 miles ties Cigar for the second-fastest of the 16 Breeders' Cup Classics. Skip Away's 1: 59 in 1997 was the fastest.

Jeffrey Sengara, 30, owner of a lumber company in Washington, claimed Budroyale for $50,000 in February 1998. Since then, the 6-year-old gelding has earned nearly $2 million.

"I call him the Muhammad Ali of horse racing," said his jockey, Garrett Gomez. "I've ridden a lot of horses, but I've never had a fighter like this. I reached down and said, `Come on Bud, let's go,' and he fought and fought and fought. I couldn't ask for a horse to run a better race."

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