Big Day for Europe? That's Unquestionable  

Big Evs and Tom Marquand are greeted by Fred Larson after winning the Juvenile Turf Sprint | Breeders' Cup Eclipse Sportswire


ARCADIA, USA — A clean sweep for Europe in the GI Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. How about that to start the Breeders' Cup? And then for the closing act, a one-two for Aidan O'Brien in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf after the drama of the early-morning scratching of race favourite River Tiber (Ire) (Wootton Bassett {GB}).

For the curtain up, Big Evs (Ire) (Blue Point {Ire}), named to honour a fallen friend, paid the best possible tribute to the late Paul Evans in giving his British owners Paul and Rachael Teasdale an extraordinary introduction to racing on the other side of the world.

“This is absolutely fantastic for Paul. It's a year on Wednesday since he died, so it's very fitting for a great guy with a great horse. It couldn't be any better,” said Paul Teasdale.

“This is what it's all about. We came here knowing that it was going to be a tough race and that we were racing against the best in the world, but we have a little saying that we wanted to be brave and to be among the best, and that's what the guy who this horse is named for would have said. It's a tribute to him with an amazing horse.”

Big Evs, trained by Breeders' Cup debutant Mick Appleby, is the stand-out performer from a strong first crop of runners by European champion freshman sire-elect Blue Point. He had been picked up for 50,000gns as a yearling by breeze-up pinhooker Micky Cleere, but was withdrawn from his intended appearance at the Tattersalls Craven Breeze-up Sale when sold privately.

Teasdale continued, “I bought the horse in March of this year and didn't necessarily plan to call him Big Evs, which was Paul's nickname, but when Mick called me and said he was going to enter him and we needed a name it just seemed the natural thing to do.

“He was a personal friend for 40 years and we went racing together for 25 years. He was diagnosed last year with lung cancer and he died after a short illness.”

Since winning the Listed Windsor Castle S. at Royal Ascot on only his second start, Big Evs has been in the sights of plenty of potential purchasers. As he added the G3 Molecomb S. and G2 Flying Childers S. to his burgeoning resume, the offers kept coming and the price kept rising. So was Teasdale ever tempted to sell his horse with such an emotional connection for him?

“Absolutely not,” he replied without a moment's hesitation. “We're delighted with what he's done. We didn't have to do any soul searching, we just turned them down.”

For Tom Marquand, it was a case of one and done, as he triumphed on his first ever Breeders' Cup ride and heads off now to Australia for the Melbourne Cup Carnival and on to Japan for a winter in which his international profile can only continue to be enhanced.

“That's his run style at home but English gate speed is different to American gate speed and we were just hoping that he would be fast enough to get a good pitch,” said the jockey. “I think he's tough as well because he did break half a length slower than some of them and he needed that top gear, but he trucked along. I'd say he was learning around the bend, he wasn't the smoothest but he got the hang of it. To be perfectly honest for as much confidence that you have that you're going to win, he just felt that there were two gears left all the way.”

In behind Big Evs and closing fast was another Royal Ascot winner, Amo Racing's Valiant Force (Malibu Moon), with champion jockey William Buick aboard, while Frankie Dettori and Starlust (GB) (Zoustar {Aus}) claimed third for Ralph Beckett and Jim and Fitri Hay to give Britain and Ireland the trifecta in the opening contest.

A Ballydoyle one-two is nothing out of the ordinary, even at this exalted level, but the team could well have been left wondering whether they might have had the first three home in the Juvenile Turf but for the withdrawal on the insistence of the veterinary team at Santa Anita that River Tiber be stood down from the race. In his place, Unquestionable (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) was an emphatic winner – O'Brien's sixth in this contest – with Mountain Bear (Ire) (No Nay Never) the valiant runner-up sustaining a non-displaced condylar fracture of his cannon bone in running. 

“We thought that he might be a miler as a three-year-old so we thought that we would get away with a mile around here now,” said O'Brien of Unquestionable. “We hope he might be a French Guineas horse.”

On Mountain Bear's injury, he added, “[The fracture] is not displaced, so that's good. He'll get a cast on it for four weeks and he should be fine. He's back at the barn and settled in now. They were unbelievably quick to pick him up and bring him down so he did no damage.”

O'Brien also said that he felt prior to Friday morning that Unquestionable would have finished behind River Tiber.

“We felt that River Tiber was in a different place to where he's been for his last two runs. His work had been excellent and everything had been very good with him,” he said. 

“We were sorry to see him go out. But the rules are the rules. We thought he was ready to run but the vets didn't agree, and it's their job. Whatever the authorities decide happens, and we accept that. It's just the way it was.”

While this was essentially a victory for an Irish-Qatari partnership, Unquestionable, who runs in the colours of Al Shaqab Racing, is a member of the final crop of Wootton Bassett to be conceived in France. Nobody at Santa Anita had bigger smiles on their faces than Guillaume and Camille Vitse, who bred the colt with their daughters Valentine and Axel at their “boutique” farm in France.

“It's just amazing. It's something we couldn't even think about when we started our operation five years ago,” said Vitse, the former manager of Haras de Colleville who started the family business, Normandie Breeding.

“Being here at the Breeders' Cup is amazing enough but winning is just like a dream. I have had that dream for 35 years now, since I was a kid, so I'm over the moon.”

He added, “There was so much pressure when River Tiber came out and Unquestionable became favourite, and when it goes like that it often doesn't happen, but today everything went fine. It's unbelievable.”

Wootton Bassett adding yet another string to his bow with a juvenile Grade I winner in North America will have delighted the Coolmore team that purchased him three years ago. Having already been represented by Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Audarya (Fr) in 2020, he could yet add to that record with his son King Of Steel being one of the leading fancies in the Breeders' Cup Turf on Saturday. 

But really this was a day for two of the most exciting young stallions on either side of the Atlantic. Blue Point is uncatchable in Europe, and then there's Justify, who is fast becoming an international sire sensation. His first crop are now three, and that vintage includes the GI Belmont Oaks winner Aspen Grove and GI Woody Stephens S. winner Arabian Lion. It is Justify's second crop that has really caught the imagination, however. He has arguably the best juvenile colt and filly in Europe in City Of Troy and Opera Singer, and in the space of 40 minutes on a roasting Friday afternoon, he added two juvenile Breeders' Cup winners, on dirt and turf, to the list in Just F Y I and Hard To Justify. It's a record which is all the more impressive when one considers that Justify didn't even see a racecourse until he was three. His career lasted for four short months but it included a Triple Crown. 

This is the Breeders' Cup, and one breeder in particular who will surely be sending mares back to Justify is Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals of Yeguada Centurion, who produced the Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Hard To Justify from the Quality Road mare Instant Reflex. Pujals has also been represented as breeder this year by the Justify filly Ramatuelle, who was runner-up to Vandeek (GB) in the G1 Prix Morny, and in his own colours the breeder has two of the best three-year-olds in France in the Christopher Head-trained duo of Blue Rose Cen (Ire) (Churchill {Ire}) and Big Rock (Ire) (Rock Of Gibraltar {Ire}). 

They call this meeting the World Championships, and it starts with the breeders. After day one, breeders from Dubai, France, Spain, and of course America have already seen their labours rewarded with success at the big show. There's plenty more excitement to come. 

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