By Richard Rosenblatt
Vino Rosso stormed past favorite McKinzie in the stretch and rolled to an open-lengths victory in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita Park, capping a two-day, 14-race, $30 million racing extravaganza.
In one of the most wide-open Classics in the 36-year history of the race, it was Vino Rosso and jockey Irad Oritz, Jr., who vindicated the 4-year-old colt’s last outing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in which he finished first but was disqualified to second in favor of Code of Honor.
While Code of Honor was among the favorites in the 1 ¼-mile Classic, the 3-year-old was never a factor, and finished off the board in the 11-horse field.
For Todd Pletcher, one of the nation’s leading trainers over the past decade plus, it was his first Classic victory.
“We felt like he was sitting on a big race,’’ said Pletcher, “ It’s so special to us. One thing that was missing and it feels great.
War of Will, the Preakness (G1) winner, spurted to the front and led the field through and opening half-mile 47.16 seconds. Still in front halfway down the backstretch, War of Will was usurped by Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie, who rocketed past to take command heading into the far turn.
But at the same time, he was setting himself up for the late charge from Vino Rosso. Once straightened for home, Vino Rosso kicked into high gear and surged past the favorite for the victory.
“It’s such a blessing,’’ said owner Mike Repole. “Justice has been served.”
Vino Rosso returned $11.20 for a $2 win bet. Higher Power finished third.
Elate, trying to become the second female to win the Classic 10 years after Zenyatta, finished fourth.
Mongolian Groom, who defeated McKinzie in his previous start in the Awesome Again (G1), was pulled up by jockey Abel Cedillo and vanned off the track with the on-call vet saying the injury was to the horse’s left hind leg.
Obviously, Vino Rosso took to the Santa Anita dirt surface. Pletcher sent him out here in May and the son of Curlin won the Gold Cup (G1).
Returning back East, the colt finished third in the Whitney (G1) behind McKinzie and Yoshida, and then finished first in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. But the stewards at Belmont Park DQ’d him for bumping with Code of Honor in the stretch. The resulted did not sit well with Repole or Pletcher.
Redemption in the Classic surely is sweet.