The Breeders’ Cup hangover is in full effect. After heavy anticipation for weeks, a horse player can sometimes feel lost once the big event has ended. However, there are several positives to take away from this year’s event. Sure, some horses didn’t fire, and maybe you lost a few more bets than you wanted to, but overall, it was a great two days for racing, and a great two days for Del Mar.
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The biggest takeaway from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup was the success of Del Mar. For months leading up to the event, the horse racing community was worried about that facility hosting the Breeders’ Cup. The belief was that it was too small of a venue and might end up becoming like Keeneland in 2015. Keeneland is one of the greatest tracks in America, but admittedly, it was a little too small to host a Breeders’ Cup. However, Del Mar ended up exceeding the expectations: for the most part, it was actually quite comfortable walking around the facility on both Friday and Saturday. In fact, just minutes before the Classic, we were able to easily walk down from the press box and get a perfect spot on the rail to watch the race. Del Mar did an unbelievable job hosting the event, and to make it even better, business was good!
- The two-day on-track wagering total of $25,181,317 was the event’s highest since 2010 and represented a 21.4% increase over 2016’s two-day total of $20,742,847 – and that was with an additional 15,000+ in attendance last year due to Santa Anita’s higher capacity.
- Common-pool wagering for the two days was $166,077,486, an increase of 5.9% over the 2016 total of $156,861,811. The total handle was the highest since the 2010 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs when there were two additional Breeders’ Cup races.
- Saturday’s full-card on-track handle of $15,981,250 was the highest since 2006, the last year that the Breeders’ Cup was conducted over one day.
- The common-pool handle on Saturday’s 12-race Breeders’ Cup card was $113,803,603, a 6% increase over the $107,210,210 wagered in 2016.
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Speaking of success, how about the race from soon-to-be Horse of the Year Gun Runner? After setting fractions that were faster than those set in the Dirt Mile on Friday, the Steve Asmussen-trained superstar was still able to hold off all challengers to win by 2 1/4 lengths. As Asmussen pointed out to the Racing Dudes after the race, Gun Runner will be his fourth Horse of the Year winner in the last ten years. An impressive feat, but perhaps the best training job of his career.
After having a good-not-great 3-year-old season, Gun Runner absolutely exploded in 2017. He dominated his rivals in the Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park, then ran a strong second in the Dubai World Cup before returning stateside and winning four straight Grade 1s in dominating fashion. Actually, the word dominating doesn’t even begin to describe the brilliance of his races. Looking back at his streak that covering the Stephen Foster, the Whitney, the Woodward, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I would venture to say that he may have been nearly as impressive as Arrogate’s much-discussed four-race streak.
Another horse on a win streak, Forever Unbridled took home the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Friday. The victory rounded out her perfect three-for-three season and locked up the Older Female of the Year award. Her move at the top of the Del Mar turn was something to behold. Once she rocketed up to the throat latch of her rivals with so much ease, you knew that the race was over. The rumor for this improving and outstanding mare is that she has a date with the boys in January’s Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup. It seems like a lofty goal, but her connections have flirted with the idea of taking on males in the past, so it wouldn’t be a complete shock.
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A major storyline for racing heading into 2018 came in the Juvenile, where the Chad Brown-trained Good Magic pulled off a double-digit-odds upset over the heavily-favored Bolt d’Oro. Almost unbelievably, it was Good Magic’s first win. He debuted in a maiden special weight at Saratoga, where he finished a very close second, then followed up that effort with another second-place finish, this time in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park. However, the Juvenile was his first race around two turns, and the son of Curlin absolutely thrived when going longer. With his pedigree and lofty $1M purchase price, the hype will be extra large on him heading into next year.
The runner-up and third place finishers will probably be heavily discussed, too. Second-place Solomini, also by Curlin, is trained by Bob Baffert. That alone makes him dangerous, and you can tell that he still has some developing to do. His rate of improvement will be fun to monitor. Of course, third-place finisher Bolt d’Oro lost nothing in his first career defeat. His wide outside trip was too bad to believe, but he was still able to muster up a bit of rally to get third. All things being equal, he might still be the best horse in the crop, but Good Magic has certainly closed the gap.
Speaking of juveniles, how about the brother of Beholder, Mendelssohn, who won the Juvenile Turf? His connections say that he will be pointed towards the Kentucky Derby after that impressive win. These horses will give us plenty to talk about as the focus begins to shift to the first Saturday in May.
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With Mendelssohn in mind, two other highlights of the Breeders’ Cup came on the turf. American-based horses World Approval and Rushing Fall were real standouts. World Approval beat a deep and talented field rather easily to win the Mile, while Rushing Fall proved superior in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
The Mark Casse-trained World Approval turned into an absolute beast when cutting back to a mile in distance. Since the cut back, he easily won the Grade 1 Fourstardave, the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, and of course the Mile. Since he’s in great form, a 2018 campaign with similar goals in mind should be on the horizon.
For Rushing Fall, the sky seems to be the limit. She could be the next great Chad Brown turf horse, as she has a resume similar to that of Lady Eli when she was 2 years old.
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There were many disappointments at this year’s event, perhaps more than usual. Here are a few that really stood out:
- Dirt Mile: Accelerate, Mor Spirit, Cupid
- Distaff: Stellar Wind
- Juvenile Fillies: Moonshine Memories
- Turf Sprint: Lady Aurelia
- Filly and Mare Sprint: Unique Bella
- Filly and Mare Turf: Lady Eli
- Sprint: Drefong
- Classic: Arrogate
One trend that several people noticed was the fact that horses running in their last career races did not fare well, with Lady Eli, Stellar Wind, and Arrogate the three standouts. Stellar Wind was absolutely horrendous in the Distaff, running what was easily the worst race of her career. All week leading up to the event, she just didn’t look like her normal self. Arrogate… well, let’s face it, this horse just doesn’t want to run anymore. There’s nothing left in his tank. He was pathetic in the Classic. Then there was Lady Eli. After clipping heels in the Filly and Mare Turf, she took a couple of bad cuts on her legs. Out of the three big stars who ran poorly, she seemed to have the biggest excuse. No matter what the explanation was, though, none of these horses got their storybook ending.
Not all disappointments came with horses that were knowingly running in their last races. The heavily-hyped and favored Unique Bella might be the most puzzling result of all. Her eighth-place finish in the Filly and Mare Sprint was hard to believe. She did what many feared she might, going too fast early in the race and completely falling apart before ever entering the stretch. Top male sprinter Drefong had no luck as well, as he was unable to get the lead early in the race and never really ran a step.
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The big topic going into this Breeders’ Cup was horses running off of long layoffs. How did this end up? Let’s take a look at how many days each winner had between the most recent start and the Breeders’ Cup:
- Rushing Fall: 23 days
- Battle of Midway: 40 days
- Mendelsshon: 20 days
- Forever Unbridled: 69 days
- Caledonia Road: 27 days
- Stormy Liberal: 147 days
- By the Moon: 70 days
- Wuheida: 34 days
- Roy H: 28 days
- World Approval: 49 days
- Good Magic: 28 days
- Talismanic: 55 days
- Gun Runner: 63 days
Four winners had more than 60 days rest, while nine winners had fewer than 60 days rest. Overall, this is probably a good result for racing, as it looks like putting a prep into your horse before the Breeders’ Cup is better than training up to the race. Only one horse won off of a layoff of more than 70 days, Stormy Liberal in the Turf Sprint.
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It’s on to Churchill Downs now, as the sun has set on the 2017 Breeders’ Cup. Del Mar, you were a lot of fun. The track proved that it can handle a major event like this and will hopefully play host to many more Breeders’ Cups in the future. I leave you with this… until we meet again, Del Mar: