He came, he ran, he conquered. When the dust settled after the running of the November 2nd Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, no one could deny that the unbeaten Game Winner was the best horse on the day, and indeed, the most accomplished two-year-old seen in North America this year.
A stoutly-bred son of Candy Ride out of an A.P. Indy mare, Game Winner’s pedigree features an abundance of stamina, and that certainly came in handy considering how the race unfolded. With Joel Rosario in the saddle, Game Winner was content to settle in mid-pack early on as the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) winner Complexity carved out solid fractions of :23.24, :46.87, and 1:11.23, but Game Winner was never able to tuck in and save ground at any point, racing five-wide around the first turn and four-wide around the second turn, thus conceding an extraordinary amount of ground to his rivals.
But Game Winner, flaunting the talent that secured him victories in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) and American Pharoah Stakes (gr. I), rallied gamely into contention around the far turn, and when Complexity gave way suddenly, only the pace-tracking Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) winner Knicks Go stood between Game Winner and the winner’s circle. And while Knicks Go fought hard—so hard that he drifted out through the lane and bumped with Game Winner at one point—the Candy Ride colt always looked like the winner and pulled away late to prevail by 2 ¼ lengths.
Game Winner’s final time of 1:43.67 was 0.05 slower than Jaywalk ran while winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) earlier in the day, but focusing on the final time misses how much adversity Game Winner had to overcome with his wide trip. According to data from Trakus, Game Winner ran 42 feet (about 5 ¼ lengths) farther than Knicks Go; with a ground-saving trip, Game Winner’s workmanlike victory might have instead been a resounding romp.
Signalman, runner-up in the Breeders’ Futurity, showed improvement to finish just a length behind Knicks Go in third place, while the maiden winner Mr. Money checked in a distant fourth. Complexity, exhausted from his pace-setting effort, faded to finish tenth of thirteen.
With three Grade 1 wins under his belt this season, Game Winner could well be a unanimous choice to win the Eclipse Award for champion two-year-old male of 2018. And since he’s conditioned by the two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert, it’s hardly a stretch of the imagination to conclude that Game Winner is a legitimate threat to return to Churchill Downs in six months and claim victory in the 2019 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). He’s already earned 30 Derby qualification points, which puts him on top of the current leaderboard, and with his classic-oriented pedigree, he might be even better running 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday in May than he was running 1 1/16 miles on the first Friday in November.
And suffice to say, for Game Winner’s rivals, that’s a scary proposition!