Jamie Spencer comes close to Hollywood ending in Breeders’ Cup Classic

Veteran jockey’s Toast of New York pipped at the post in $5m race

Martin Garcia (top) rides Bayern to victory past Victor Espinoza on California Chrome (bottom) and Jamie Spencer on Toast of New York. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

Martin Garcia (top) rides Bayern to victory past Victor Espinoza on California Chrome (bottom) and Jamie Spencer on Toast of New York. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

 

Santa Anita is only 20 miles from Hollywood but just a nose prevented Jamie Spencer from securing a perfect movie-style ending to his career in the early hours of yesterday morning as Toast Of New York came agonisingly close to becoming the toast of Los Angeles in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

There may be a general expectation that Spencer’s imminent retirement isn’t a definitive goodbye to one of racing’s most natural talents but the Irishman remains steadfastly set on starting a new role within Qatar Racing’s management team in 2015.

For much of the final stretch of America’s most valuable race, it looked like the sole European hope was going to provide his rider with a triumph to trump any success the 34-year-old former British and Irish champion jockey had previously enjoyed – indeed, maybe one to foster doubts about that retirement.

That it wasn’t to be had as much more to do with the start as the finish. The winner Bayern’s first step out of the stalls was a dramatic lurch left that wiped out the favourite Shared Belief and perhaps, just as importantly, Moreno, his competition for the pace-forcing role.

Given his own way in front, Bayern cut out fractions that allowed him to keep enough in reserve for that final stretch, which saw Toast Of New York and the Kentucky Derby-winner California Chrome just fail to close him down. It was a first Classic win for legendary California trainer Bob Baffert but even that local angle didn’t prevent controversy at Bayern being allowed to keep the race at a stewards’ enquiry. “It cost me the race,” Shared Belief’s rider Mike Smith said bluntly of the incident, while Moreno’s rider, Javier Castellano, added: “We lost our race at the break when (Bayern) shot out and ran into everyone.”

Perhaps because their horse had taken a wide-route throughout, the California Chrome camp was more neutral, although Alan Sherman, son of trainer Art Sherman, said: “I do believe Bayern should have been disqualified. What happened at the start really changed the dynamic of the race.”

Regular criticism

Spencer’s faith in his own belief has been a constant through a turbulent career which 10 years ago saw a fraught season as Ballydoyle number-one jockey dissolve with a nightmarish Breeders’ Cup experience in Texas. It would have been a wonderful moment for the jockey had Toast Of New York poked his nose ahead of Bayern a decade later, but Hollywood doesn’t always provide happy endings.

“This has brought me to tears. I so desperately wanted Jamie Spencer to win on this horse before he goes off into retirement,” said Toast Of New York’s owner Michael Buckley. “But we can carry on dreaming because the Dubai World Cup is only five months away.”

Trainer Jamie Osborne also had mixed emotions. “To be so close is hard. I was sad for Jamie – the fairytale nearly happened. Wouldn’t that have been a wonderful way for him to end? The worst place in this game is to be second but I have to be very proud of the horse. He’s run his heart out.”

A victory for Toast Of New York would have put an unlikely European seal on America’s signature race-meeting, something which had seemed very unlikely for most of the meeting as the French trained Karakontie provided a sole success for the raiders in the Mile.

Karakontie led home a European 1-2-3 from Anodin and the Spencer-ridden Trade Storm but Dermot Weld’s Mustajeeb faded in the closing stages, with Pat Smullen telling local media: “I’ve had my suspicions he needed to come back in trip and that’s [still] my opinion. He didn’t get home. I think we’ll be looking at a sprinting campaign next year.”

Spencer also finished third in the Filly & Mare with Just The Judge, which was best of the raiders, including Willie McCreery’s Fiesolana, behind another pace-forcer in Dayatthespa, while Aidan O’Brien’s Chicquita never landed a blow in the Turf behind Main Sequence.

O’Brien’s The Great War ran an honourable fourth to the runaway winner Texas Red in the Dirt Juvenile.

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