Matthew Garretson’s Einstein (BRZ), ridden by Julien Leparoux, outdueled Cowboy Cal by a head to become the first repeat winner of the $557,600 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Grade I) on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Helen Pitts-Blasi, Einstein added Saturday’s Grade I victory over the Matt Winn Turf Course to a triumph in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on Pro-Ride on March 7. Last year, Einstein won the Grade II Clark Handicap on dirt at Churchill Downs and ran second in the Grade I Stephen Foster on dirt to Horse of the Year Curlin.
Thorn Song, with Kent Desormeaux aboard, led the field through fractions of :23.87, :48.40 and 1:12.34 with Cowboy Cal and John Velazquez in closest attendance. Leparoux had Einstein in a ground-saving position another couple of lengths back.
Turning for home, Cowboy Cal collared Thorn Song but Einstein was right on his right flank and the two raced to the wire as a team with Einstein pulling clear in the final yards.
Einstein covered the mile and one-eighth on a “good” Matt Winn Turf Course in 1:49.62.
The victory in the 23rd running of the Woodford Reserve was worth $331,884 and increased Einstein’s earnings to $2,609,904. Einstein a 7-year-old son of 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck, has won 11 of 25 career starts, seven of the triumphs coming on turf.
Einstein, the favorite in the field of nine, returned $5.60, $3.60 and $2.80. Cowboy Cal returned $7 and $3.80 in finishing 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Court Vision, who paid $3.60 to show under Ramon Dominguez.
WOODFORD RESERVE TURF CLASSIC QUOTES
JULIEN LEPAROUX (rider of winner Einstein) – “I think it went pretty good. He’s a fighter, he always tries, but you can tell he was not as comfortable on turf as he is on PolyTrack or probably on firm turf, too. We got a good trip. We got an inside trip and we saved ground. The only time I really had to work was at the three-eighths pole: I had to make my way out, but after that we got a good trip everywhere.
“The second horse [Cowboy Cal] is a nice horse too, he’s won stakes in California, so we beat a nice horse today. But Einstein’s a fighter and he didn’t want to let it go. He likes the dirt: he won a Grade II on it, especially at Churchill he loves the dirt. He really liked the PolyTrack actually. I never rode him on the firm turf, but I’m sure he’ll do really good, too.”
HELEN PITTS-BLASI (Trainer of winner Einstein) – “I was worried about the soft turf. He doesn’t care what he runs on, he’ll always give you his best anyway. Is he as good as some horses on soft turf? No, but he’ll still give you 110 percent. And that got him through today. I was very worried during the race. They swung him wide turning for home, and I thought the horses up the inside would be toughest. But Cowboy Cal was on my inside and got the jump on me, and that’s what I was worried about. Cowboy Cal was better today than he was in California, and at the sixteenth pole I was worried. I’m not saying he wasn’t trying, but Cowboy Cal got the jump on him. But my man dug deep today.
“I’m not going to say he’s the best horse in the country. I’ll let you know on Nov. 6. The Breeders’ Cup Classic is a possibility. He loved that track at Santa Anita, and with the Breeders’ Cup being there, it’s worth a shot. I was very proud of him today. He’s a special animal.”
JOHN VELAZQUEZ (rider of second-place finisher Cowboy Cal) -- “I couldn’t ask for much more. Everything was perfect but winning. That’s about it. He ran great but a better horse beat me today. (On if he saw Einstein closing) “I saw him the whole way. That sucker (Einstein) kept running. I couldn’t believe it."
TODD PLETCHER (trainer of second-place finisher Cowboy Cal) -- “He ran great and we lost a very tough head-bob to an excellent horse. He’s a pretty solid performer on all three surfaces -- turf, dirt and synthetic -- so we’ll just see what races come up. It’s a plus that he’s so versatile.”
RAMON DOMINGUEZ (rider of third-place finisher Court Vision) -- “I was pleased with the way he ran. I got excited at the eighth pole. I thought he was going to continue his momentum and maybe get there but the others horses kept opening up on me and I had to settle for third.”
BILL MOTT (trainer of third-place finisher Court Vision) -- “We were right in it with a shot; he ran well. He made a run and then got a little flat on us the last 70 yards.”
GARRETT GOMEZ (rider of fourth-place finisher Zambezi Sun) – “He was going fine until we hit the far turn. Then he was wanting to get out on me bad. Bobby (trainer Robert Frankel) had put a new bridle on him and everything, but it still didn’t help. I don’t know if these left-handed turns throw him off or what, but we were fine until that turn – right where we wanted to be. Then he started to crank his head all over the place.”
KENT DESORMEAUX (rider of fifth-place finisher Thorn Song) – “He felt like a million. He ran great.”
VICTOR ESPINOZA (rider of sixth-place finisher Proudinsky) – “Everything went right. I got through all the way. I just didn’t have enough horse to finish.”