Corniche crosses the finish line with Jockey Mike Smith at the Breeders Cup at Del Mar on Fri Nov 5, 2021 (AP News photo)
By Jessica Kwong
Corniche, trained by embattled trainer Bob Baffert, on Friday won the Breeders’ Cup $2 million Juvenile, becoming a horse to watch for next year’s Kentucky Derby.
On the opening day of the 38th Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in California, jockey Mike Smith led Corniche to a 1 3/4-length victory.
Smith guided Corniche to break from the outside in the pack of 11 horses and did not give up the lead in completing the 1-1/16 miles in 1:42.50.
The jockey said he was mostly concerned with how warm Corniche was before the race.
“The only thing I was worried about was that he got hotter than he ever had. It just made me get calmer,” Smith said. “I don’t think I have ever been so calm in a big race. I just sat really still, he caught a flyer leaving the gate and I just left him alone.”
Corniche, the 7-5 favorite, earned his third victory in three attempts and positioned himself as an early favorite for the 2022 Derby.
Baffert said he knew from the 11th hole that Smith was going to have to push Corinche harder than usual.
“Mike is a great rider. I love him on a horse like that,” said Baffert, who won his 18th Breeders’ Cup and fifth Juvenile.
While all eyes are now on Corniche, it remains to be seen who will prepare him for the Derby. Baffert is banned from the race for two years after his Derby winner this year, Medina Spirit, came back with a positive drug test. Corniche would not be able to earn points to qualify for the Derby if trained by Baffert.
Pappacap, a 15-1 longshot, came in second with jockey Joe Bravo, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Giant Game, also a longshot.
Giant Game’s trainer Dale Romans said he thought they would win the Juvenile, but congratulated Corniche.
“Congratulations to the winner. It was a big race by him,” Romans said. “It’s hard to beat Bob on his home court.”
The Breeders’ Cup continues for its second day on Saturday.