Favourites falter as Saratoga graveyard claims Tom’s D’Etat and Midnight Bisou

Horse Racing Vexatious
Vexatious (Jose Lezcano, near) holds Midnight Bisou in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga.
Photo: NYRA/Coglianese (Joe Labozzetta)

By Nicholas Godfrey

Saratoga fully lived up to its reputation as the ‘Graveyard of Favorites’ (sic) on Saturday when leading Breeders’ Cup Classic fancy Tom’s D’Etat and champion racemare Midnight Bisou both came unstuck at short odds in G1 company.

For good measure, market leader No Parole also folded tamely after being taken on for the lead later on the same card in the G1 Allen Jerkens Memorial won by Echo Town.

A series of high-profile upsets wasn’t confined to Saratoga, either, as Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. also suffered a 1-5 defeat at Del Mar – but not at the hands of Coolmore’s much-touted $3.65 million colt Cezanne, who was last of four behind Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Thousand Words.

Whitney: Improbable impressive as stumble costs Tom’s D’Etat

Saratoga: Whitney Stakes G1 $750,000 1m1f, dirt, 4yo (10.42pm BST)
Improbable (Bob Baffert/Irad Ortiz)

Chasing a graded-stakes five-timer, even-money favourite Tom’s D’Etat lost all chance after stumbling at the gate and did pretty well in the circumstances to grab third place without ever posing a serious threat.

West-coast visitor Improbable tracked a slow pace before taking charge on the far turn and keeping on well to complete back-to-back G1 wins by two lengths over By My Standards. The four-year-old had won the Hollywood Gold Cup on his previous outing.

Elliot Walden (CEO of WinStar Farm, Improbable’s owners): “He’s just a different horse this year. That’s his second Grade 1 in a row. He got beat by Tom’s D’Etat in his first start at Oaklawn, but he’s set up for a big year and we’re just excited to continue that.”

Joel Rosario (Tom’s D’Etat’s jockey): “He stumbled coming out. It changed my plan because I had to really get riding from there. I couldn’t take my time but I thought the pace was fine. I was not too far from the lead; it looked like I was in a good spot. But stumbling out of the gate, I lost ground right away.”

Vexatious vanquishes odds-on Midnight Bisou

Saratoga: Personal Ensign G1 $500,000 1m1f, dirt, 4yo f/m
Vexatious (Jack Sisterson/Jose Lezcano)

A major surprise as champion racemare Midnight Bisou, five times a G1 winner in the past, loses out to 9-1 shot Vexatious in the stretch battle. 

A disputed outcome stands after a stewards’ inquiry for alleged interference as the pair come close together before the 30-100 favourite goes down by a neck to her strong-staying six-year-old rival, to whom she was giving 4lb.

All roads now lead to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff for Vexatious, a daughter of Giant’s Causeway recording her first G1 success. It was also a first G1 success for Calumet Farm’s private trainer Jack Sisterson, who had never before had any sort of winner at Saratoga – and went on to complete a double in the very next race with allowance winner Everfast.

Jack Sisterson (Vexatious’s trainer): “We always thought she had a big win in her and all credit to the filly. We started off the year in allowance races and allowed her to improve, and she deserves it. Obviously, it’s a ‘Win and You’re In’. We’ll run her again before the Breeders’ Cup and look forward to being home at Keeneland.”

Jeff Bloom (Midnight Bisou’s co-owner): “When the other filly came out and he was still hitting her left-handed, it looked like it stopped our filly’s momentum enough at that point. Then they came out one more time and it wasn’t massive but to me it looked like it was a momentum shift in a crucial point of the race. She ran a huge race. She barely lost the race. She’s just a remarkable race mare. I think what happened in the race definitely caused a shift in momentum.”

Del Mar: Honor A.P. outgunned by Thousand Words

Del Mar; Shared Belief Stakes (Listed) $100,000 1m½f, dirt, 3yo
Thousand Words (Bob Baffert/Abel Cedillo)

Kentucky Derby dreams were dented here for Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P., who could merely stay on at one pace behind 9-1 chance Thousand Words, who made every yard to regain the winning thread.

Winner of the G2 Los Alamitos (former Hollywood) Futurity at two, the winner had seemingly fallen down the pecking order among Bob Baffert’s powerful 3-y-o team with some less exalted efforts. Indeed, betting suggested he was even the stable’s second string here behind $3.65m colt Cezanne, who briefly threatened in the stretch before fading and tamely surrendering his unbeaten record. 

As Cezanne has no Kentucky Derby qualifying points to his name, Churchill Downs looks fanciful indeed. Baffert’s Uncle Chuck, who beat Thousand Words last time, was scratched in favour of next weekend’s Travers Stakes.

Bob Baffert (Thousand Words’ trainer): “Turning for home, I could tell that Honor A. P. wasn’t running like he usually does. Cezanne got really tired, but Thousand Words – I could tell when we got down here that he was a different horse from Los Alamitos. The real Thousand Words showed up today. His whole mind changed. His color has changed. He had soured out on me, but we got him going the right way. I think he earned his way to the Derby.” (speaking to Blood-Horse)

• Visit the Del Mar website and the Saratoga website

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