LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Jockey Pat Valenzuela made the most of a two-in-one opportunity Saturday that still could be paying dividends six months from now.
Valenzuela agreed to ride both of owner Allen Paulson's horses -- Opening Verse and Arazi -- in Breeders' Cup races at Churchill Downs. Opening Verse upset the Mile field as a 26-1 long shot, and Arazi stamped himself as a potential superstar and the early Kentucky Derby favorite with a breathtaking Juvenile victory.
Paulson wanted a jockey who would promise to ride both horses as a package deal. Valenzuela, he said, was high on his list.
"The way things turned out," said Valenzuela, "it was the opportunity of a lifetime."
The way Arazi ran Saturday, he might just be the horse of a lifetime.
With an awesome display of acceleration around the second turn of the Juvenile, the French colt dashed through the field of the best American 2-year-olds. His 4 3/4 -length victory could have been 10 lengths had Valenzuela asked Arazi to run.
But how did it feel to sit atop such a racehorse as Arazi?
"It was like playing a video game," said Valenzuela, who also rode Sunday Silence to a 1989 Kentucky Derby win. "You know, when you have one of those little cards. I was just driving through everybody. That's all I had to do. It felt like a dream. It really did. The only horse I can compare him to is Secretariat. I thought to myself, 'This can't really be happening.' "
Paulson said yesterday morning that Arazi deserves to be Horse of the Year, even with only one U.S. start.
"If you're looking for the Horse of the Year, I think you found him," Paulson said at a news conference.
Paulson, who co-owns Arazi with Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum of Dubai, also repeated that he intends to bring the colt back to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby May 2.
Paulson, 69, a Savannah, Ga., aerospace executive, also owned half of 1987 Turf winner Theatrical.
Valenzuela's purse earnings for the afternoon were $1,120,000, raising his career Breeders' Cup total to $2,410,000. He previously had won two Breeders' Cup races.
For every good performance Saturday, there were major disappointments.
Making his final career start, champion Housebuster faded to ninth in the Sprint on two good legs and returned to his barn in a horse ambulance. He tore a hunk out of his right foreleg when he stumbled at the start. He also suffered an injury to the suspensory ligament of his left leg, but was fine yesterday morning.
Black Tie Affair took the Classic by 1 1/4 lengths over Twilight Agenda, spoiling the career swan songs of Unbridled (third) and Summer Squall (ninth).