This is what the Breeders’ Cup is all about.
The stories of the horses and the opportunity for them to accomplish great things is what gets all of us excited.
In 2015, it was all about American Pharoah and his quest for the Grand Slam while also earning redemption for his loss in the Travers Stakes. Last year, there were two major matchups: Songbird vs. Stellar Wind and California Chrome vs. Arrogate.
Let’s take a look at the five storylines that will shape the complexion of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup:
1. Will Arrogate rebound and cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats?
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Rewind to March of this year. Not only was Arrogate a mortal lock for Horse of the Year, but many of us (including me) believed that he might be the best horse that we’d ever seen. Things certainly have changed. Now, he may not even be the favorite in the the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Arrogate’s legacy hangs in the the balance after a brutally-poor fourth-place effort in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap and a better (but still losing) second-place performance in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic.
You cannot take away how brilliant he was in a four-race Grade 1 stretch that featured wins in the Travers, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Pegasus World Cup, and the Dubai World Cup. However, part of becoming one of the all-time greats is holding your form over most, if not all, of your career. Arrogate has failed to do that, but a win in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic will go a long way towards ensuring that he’s in the conversation once his career is over. Imagine this: a loss in the Classic would mean that Arrogate will retire having never won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
2. Will Stellar Wind finally get her Breeders’ Cup victory?
Stellar Wind has had a tremendous career. She’s won ten of fifteen starts while taking home SIX Grade 1 races. This year, she enters the Breeders’ Cup with three straight Grade 1 wins in the Apple Blossom Handicap, the Beholder Mile, and the Clement Hirsch. However, the Breeders’ Cup has been rather painful for her over the past two years.
In 2015, she shipped to Keeneland as a 3-year-old and took on older horses for the first time in the Distaff. She dropped back to tenth early in the race, then made a bold move on the turn while very wide, but hung throughout the entire stretch to finish second, beaten only a neck by Stopchargingmaria. The loss was crushing, but the 2016 racing season brought hope when she defeated champion Beholder twice during the year in the Clement Hirsch and the Grade 1 Zenyatta. She looked poised to win that year’s Distaff, but a poor break and lackluster effort resulted in a fourth-place finish, the first and only time that she’s ever missed hitting the board. The winner of the 2016 Distaff was none other than Beholder, giving Stellar Wind another heartbreak at the Breeders’ Cup.
3. Is Bolt d’Oro the next big star in racing?
After three big-time wins, it looks like Bolt d’Oro could be the shortest-priced favorite of the entire Breeders’ Cup when he runs in the Juvenile. His one-turn wins at Del Mar in a maiden special weight and the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity were impressive, but his recent two-turn triumph in the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita was even better. He could be the next big star in horse racing, and many of us already have visions of him running on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.
This could be the most hyped juvenile we’ve had since Uncle Mo, who took home the 2010 event at Churchill Downs. American Pharoah was also extremely hyped heading into the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but an injury forced him to miss the race. Speaking of, Bolt d’Oro’s path to this race is nearly identical to Pharoah’s. They both won the Del Mar Futurity and the FrontRunner. The only difference is that Bolt d’Oro won his maiden race at Del Mar, while American Pharoah did not. Hopefully, Bolt d’Oro can continue to progress like American Pharoah did.
4. How will the multiple horses who trained up to the Breeders’ Cup with no prep race fare?
From a handicapping perspective, this is the number-one question on everyone’s mind. Many of horse racing’s top stars will enter their respective events with extended time away from the races. Will the horses that ran in recent prep races have an advantage over those who decided to train up to the race? Also, how will the Del Mar surface play compared to their summer meeting, and will it hurt the chances of horses who have never raced over the surface? Those are the burning questions and puzzles that all handicappers will have to solve at this year’s event.
5. Will Lady Eli go out on top with a win in the Filly and Mare Turf?
This may be America’s favorite race horse, and this will most likely be the final start of her career. The story of Lady Eli seemingly gets better with every race, and now, she ships to Del Mar with a chance at a storybook ending to what has already been a fairlytale career. She will also be looking for a little bit of redemption. Last year, she ran her eyeballs out in the Filly and Mare Turf but was defeated by Queen’s Trust by a nose. The loss was a heartbreaker for everyone, but it would make a win in this year’s event that much sweeter.