Secret Circle got a little weary late but managed to hold on in Friday's inaugural running of the $454,500 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint, winning by a length over a fast-finishing Shumoos. Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, the Bob Baffert-trained colt remained unbeaten in his third career start.
Secret Circle broke running with jockey Rafael Bejarano from post 6 and chased Trinniberg on the outside through a blazing opening quarter-mile in :20 4/5. The speedsters duked it out through most of the far turn, with Secret Circle edging his way to a narrow advantage after a half-mile in a rapid :44 2/5.
An overwhelming favorite at 2-5 odds, Secret Circle shook loose turning for home and appeared on his way to a convincing victory. But he began to tire from his early exploits and started drifting toward the grandstand inside the final furlong. Shumoos, a filly shipping in from England, suddenly appeared on the scene in midstretch, making a dramatic rally up the inside from the back of the pack, and was quickly gaining on Secret Circle as the wire grew nearer.
Bejarano got Secret Circle straightened up late and saved the win, completing six furlongs in 1:10 2/5 over the good Churchill Downs track.
"After I saw those fractions, I thought, 'Oh boy,' but he was doing it easy," Baffert said. "He's just a very gifted horse, he has unbelievable speed. I feel good about it because he came off the plane and won here.
"I was a little worried about him coming down the lane, he kind of lost focus, but he's just young."
Bejarano also expressed some concern during the latter part of the race.
"He wasn't comfortable on the track," the jockey stated. "That's why he was lugging out a little (in the stretch) you know. I was a little concerned about how fast we were going (early), but I knew I had to be close today.
"He acted like he was much the best in the race, and he proved that."
One of the shortest-priced winners in the 28-year history of the Breeders' Cup, Secret Circle returned paltry payouts of $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10.
Shumoos was four lengths clear of third-placer Holdin Bullets. Next came Seeker, Jake Mo, Sum of the Parts, Trinniberg, Blacky the Bull and Vexor.
A 7 1/4-length maiden winner at Del Mar on July 23, Secret Circle captured the October 10 Jack Goodman Stakes at Santa Anita by 5 1/4 lengths in his previous outing.
Bred by Willmott Stables in Kentucky, Secret Circle was purchased for $165,000 as a two-year-old in training at OBS in March and has now earned $348,990. The son of Eddington is out of the multiple stakes-winning Dixieland Band mare Ragtime Hope.
Bejarano believes the youngster will prove effective at longer distances.
"I think he'll be able to go two turns," Bejarano said. "This horse is getting experience and learning. When you send him, he can go really fast, but he can come from behind too."