Europe's Johannesburg outclasses field
NEW YORK -- Johannesburg proved to be a champion of yet another country Saturday, winning the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile and setting himself up as the early Kentucky Derby favorite.
Johannesburg covered 1 1-16 miles in 1:42 1-5.
Officer, the 3-5 wagering favorite, engaged in a speed duel with Came Home as both colts raced head-to-head much of the race on a day when temperatures hovered in the low 50s and winds whipped to 20 mph at Belmont Park.
Officer finished fifth and Came Home seventh in the field of 12 colts.
"It was not his day," said Victor Espinoza, who rode Officer for trainer Bob Baffert. "If you have the best horse, you're going to be there. He just didn't feel like running today."
Their battle opened up room for Johannesburg to come from behind. The colt paid $16.40, $8.60 and $6 on a day when upsets ruled the World Thoroughbred Championships.
Like Officer and Came Home, Johannesburg was one of five undefeated colts in the Juvenile. He had never run on dirt before and never gone farther than six furlongs.
"He was always a serious horse from day one, just pure natural ability," said trainer Aidan O'Brien, who is based at Ballydoyle stables in Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland.
Siphonic, who finished third, and Publication were the other unbeatens. Jump Start, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, finished 11th and sustained a swollen left front ankle.
Repent returned $25 and $18.40, while Siphonic was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third and paid $7.90 to show.
O'Brien, 32, earned his first Breeders' Cup win, as did Irish jockey Michael Kinane. The victory highlights an already amazing year for O'Brien, whose horses have won the English and Irish derbies and given him 16 Group 1 victories in Europe.
Kinane carried the Irish flag into the winner's circle to celebrate.
"He's been a champion every step of the way through the year," said Kinane, who has been aboard Johannesburg for all seven victories. "We always believed what he was doing on turf was a bonus. He was meant for the dirt."
Winning owner Michael Tabor, an Englishman who got his start in racing by running a chain of betting shops, narrowly lost last year's Classic, when Giant's Causeway was beaten a nose by Tiznow.
Tabor wouldn't commit Johannesburg to running in the Kentucky Derby, saying the English Guineas is also a possibility.
"Let's enjoy the moment," he said, clutching the winner's trophy. "It's just nice to have a very good horse."