Team Valor International's homebred PLUCK (More Than Ready) produced a last-to-first charge to win Saturday's $909,000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) going away by one length, in a race marred by a fatal injury to Rough Sailing (Mizzen Mast).
Pluck was handing trainer Todd Pletcher, jockey Garrett Gomez and sire More Than Ready a sweep of the Breeders' Cup events for two-year-olds on the grass. The same trio had successfully combined with More Than Real (More Than Ready) in Friday's Juvenile Fillies Turf (G2).
The beginning was not auspicious for Pluck, who stumbled at the break from the far outside post 12. Pluck thus lagged at the back of the pack, and Gomez angled him over to save ground. He averted a potential disaster when Rough Sailing, racing just to the front of him in a slightly wider path, lost his footing entering the first turn, slipped, and fell down hard, unseating Anna Napravnik.
While Napravnik emerged apparently unscathed, Rough Sailing was not as fortunate. Lame in his right front, he was taken off by ambulance for further examination. X-rays determined that he had suffered a fractured shoulder, and he was euthanized. The promising colt had finished second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (G3) in September.
Meanwhile, Madman Diaries (Bring the Heat) was leading the way through splits of :24 and :47 4/5, chased by Humble and Hungry (Limehouse) and Air Support (Smart Strike). Banned (Kitten's Joy) moved up to challenge Madman Diaries through six furlongs in 1:13, but couldn't get past the front runner, who continued to hang tough down the stretch. Yet the speedy Madman Diaries couldn't quite last the trip in his two-turn, and turf, debut. Soldat (War Front) was finishing well, but Pluck was outkicking them all.
Making blistering progress from the rear, Pluck surged past his rivals to complete the mile in 1:36 4/5 on Churchill Downs' firm turf. The 6-1 fourth choice returned $14.80, $6.60 and $5 while keying the $72 exacta, $1,393.20 trifecta and the $11,088.60 all-American superfecta (13-9-7-10).
"He did everything really good," Gomez said. "I mean, he overcame a lot. He stumbled to his nose leaving the gate. The horse (Rough Sailing) fell in front of him going to the first turn. He had to avoid that.
"I pretty much went to Plan C and just tried to let him gallop along and tried to come up with some kind of run, and hopefully, he could overcome as much as he could overcome. He actually turned in a brilliant performance."
"He stumbled badly at the start and had to maneuver (around) a fallen rider," Pletcher said. "At that point, you're just kind of hoping you can regroup and hit the board. He really exploded down the lane."
Soldat garnered runner-up honors by 1 1/2 lengths, paying $5.20 and $4 as the 4-1 second choice. The 23-1 Willcox Inn (Harlan's Holiday), a stablemate of the stricken Rough Sailing from the Mike Stidham barn, got up for third and yielded $8.80. Madman Diaries held on in a blanket finish for fourth, followed by Banned, Irish shipper and 7-2 favorite Master of Hounds (Kingmambo), English raider Utley (Smart Strike), Humble and Hungry, Air Support, English invader Mantoba (GB) (Noverre) and Deciphering Dreams (Freud). Typhoon Slew (Stormy Atlantic) was scratched.
Pluck's scorecard now stands at 5-3-0-1, and the dark bay has bankrolled $725,440. A distant third in his debut in the mud at Belmont Park June 10, Pluck returned the following month to take a six-furlong turf maiden at the same venue by 1 1/4 lengths. In the August 14 Continental Mile S., also on grass, Pluck finished in a dead heat for second by a neck, but was later disqualified and placed fourth after drifting in and impeding a rival. He made no mistake next time out in the September 18 Summer S. (Can-G3) at Woodbine, driving to a one-length victory and booking his ticket to the Breeders' Cup.
"We knew he had an explosive turn of foot," Pletcher said. "To me, he's been a colt that has been very talented but he's still learning. It was a matter of putting it all together and focusing on running straight. His last start was an improvement, but you could still see that when he made the lead, he waited a little bit. He was doing a lot of things on natural talent but today, he really polished off the race at the end."
Produced from the multiple Group 1-placed stakes winner Secret Heart (SAf) (Fort Wood), the Kentucky-bred Pluck counts as half-siblings a yearling colt by Arch and a weanling filly by Hat Trick (Jpn). Secret Heart herself is a half-sister to the South African champion filly Promisefrommyheart (Elliodor). Both were produced by the multiple Group 1-placed Secret Pact (Bush Telegraph), a full sister to South African Horse of the Year London News. In addition to various South African pattern winners, this family has also yielded 2001 Spinaway S. (G1) winner Cashier's Dream (Service Stripe) and the multiple Grade 3 winner Four Gifts (Even the Score).