At first glance this Breeders’ Cup had it all. Incredible depth, close races throughout, and the best horses in the entire world showing up on the big stage. What more could we have asked for from the event as the Distaff/Classic double is at least in the conversation as the best double in Breeders’ Cup history. Also, look at the payouts at Santa Anita during the two days…it was AMAZING! The gamblers who scored cashed in big time this year. However, what about those people in racing who are mainly just fans? The ones that come to support, and see their favorite horses. This was not a Breeders’ Cup they’ll likely remember as a positive one.
It started on Friday when fan favorite Songbird ran her heart out in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff to lose by the slimmest of margins to Beholder. Her perfect 11 for 11 streak was busted in heartbreaking fashion. However, Beholder also is somewhat of a fan favorite who was running in her final race so it softened the blow as you had to be happy for her to pick up a win in her final start and return to the winners circle. Saturday would surely have better outcomes in store for right? Wrong!
Saturday’s first fan favorite to run was Lady Eli who is beloved by nearly every person in racing. Her story has been told a thousand times…laminitis…near death…miraculous recovery…returned at Saratoga this summer…Grade 1 winner last time out. If she returns to Santa Anita and wins a Breeders’ Cup race two years after doing so as a 2 year old there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the grandstand. Everyone loves Lady Eli…and it looked like everyone was going to have reason to celebrate as she took the lead late in the stretch in the Filly and Mare Turf. However, as well as she ran she couldn’t hold off Queen’s Trust who caught her at the wire in a photo finish that went to the European invader.
The next big fan favorite running was Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile. This time the margin wasn’t as close as the previous two, but it was still a very close second place finish for the queen of the turf. After traveling wide throughout the race Tepin made a bold closing move on the far outside, but rival Tourist under a sensational ride by Joel Rosario, saved all the ground on the inside and just held off Tepin for the win. In one regard is was good to see that Tepin rebounded from her loss at Keeneland with a very strong race, but it was still a crushing loss for all of her fans.
Things were getting ready to get better right? After all, the biggest fan favorite of them all (especially in California) was getting ready to win the biggest race in North America. California Chrome, in front of all of his “Chromies,” would surely make up for all the heartbreak. He certainly tried his best as he ran the fastest race he’s ever run, but in the end he could not hold off the monster we now know as Arrogate. When turning for home not one person in the grandstand at Santa Anita thought California Chrome was going to lose. Even 100 yards from the wire it looked as though California Chrome has Arrogate’s number and was starting to pull away. Then suddenly in the blink of an eye Arrogate started to make up ground. He simply found another gear and went right by California Chrome as they neared the wire for about a half length win. You could’ve heard a pin drop at Santa Anita…stunned silence from the Chromies. Simple amazement from the rest of us!
When your favorite horses lose it always stings, but when it’s close like it was on Friday and Saturday at the Breeders’ Cup it stings even more. I think back to the 2010 Breeders’ Cup with Zenyatta as a prime example. That race stung more than any other race I’ve ever experienced because she came so close. If she simply hadn’t have made her run it would have been easier to take, but when you a run a “too good to lose” type of race its hard to swallow. I can say without any doubt all four of the major fan favorites ran “too good to lose” races as this year’s Breeders’ Cup, but just couldn’t pull off the win. As sad as some fans may be this week lets remember one thing: all of these horses are looking to run again! Lady Eli, Tepin, and Songbird all will stay in training in 2017, and California Chrome will have one more race in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on January 28th. Who doesn’t love a good redemption story?