by SCOTT SHAPIRO
Excitement is in the air as the world championships visit the scenic venue “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” for the initial time.
While it is clear for the most part which horses will be running during the first weekend of November in San Diego County, it remains to be seen which Thoroughbreds will be primed for a career-best effort on the largest stage and which horses will fail to live up to expectations.
There are plenty of questions surrounding two of the best days of the year for racing fans, but here are the five biggest ones for me:
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1. Which Arrogate will show up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic?
The son of Unbridled’s Song put forth one of the most impressive runs I have ever witnessed starting with his smashing victory in the 2016 Travers Stakes and concluding with his breathtaking, last-to-first effort in the 2017 Dubai World Cup. However, he has not been the same horse since returning to the races this summer.
Are his best days behind him or does he have one more big one left in the tank before retiring to Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms in Lexington?
Racing Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert has won the last three Classics starting with Bayern’s controversial victory in 2014, Triple Crown champion American Pharoah’s dominating win at Keeneland in 2015, and Arrogate’s thrilling win against eventual two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome last year, so if anyone can have a horse ready for this race it is him. I just am not sure Juddmonte’s colt is good enough at this point to run down the likes of Gun Runner and outkick stablemate West Coast. Time will tell.
2. Will Unique Bella live up to the hype and get to the wire first in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint?
The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee has had her share of issues, but she continues to dazzle in the mornings. She comes off a workwomanlike win in her first start off the layoff in the LA Woman at Santa Anita, but that did not tell us much about her chances in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup.
Her inability to get out of the gate smoothly makes her vulnerable especially at one turn, but there is little doubt she is a special talent and does not meet the strongest group this race has ever seen. Is she worth taking a shot against at a short price or are you better served singling her in horizontal wagers?
3. Can anyone compete with Bolt d’Oro in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile?
The Kentucky bred son of Medaglia d’Oro has been extremely impressive in all 3 of his victories to start his career for trainer Mick Ruis. He proved that two turns was no issue with his monster performance last time out in the Front Runner. He has also shown an affinity for the Del Mar main track.
Can any of his rivals in the Juvenile compete with him or is he the likeliest winner over the two days of racing?
4. Will a three-year-old win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff?
It will be tough to beat last year’s thrilling rendition of the Longines Distaff when the champion mare Beholder barely got the best of Songbird at Santa Anita in a battle of two now retired certain future Hall of Famers. That being said this year’s event is full of talented fillies and mares all with hopes of capturing the lions’ share of the $2-million purse.
There are several three-year-olds entered that will be given significant chances by the betting public. Elate, Abel Tasman, Paradise Woods, It Tiz Well and Champagne Room all are worth consideration, but can they get the best of their more experienced rivals?
5. Will Drefong be the first repeat winner of the TwinSpires Sprint since Midnight Lute in 2007 and 2008?
The son of Gio Ponti has only raced twice in 2017 and he dropped Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith shortly after the start on one of those tries. He bounced back to best a field in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga to illustrate that he is still the one to beat in this year’s Sprint, but will he get the job done in two weeks?
Fellow Southern California based runner Roy H leads a solid group of runners that will look to dethrone the champ in the six-furlong dash.
The time is getting near and I cannot wait to have my questions answered. The Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar. Sounds perfect to me.
Scott Shapiro is Brisnet.com’s California-based handicapper. Get his Daily Selections Full-Card Analysis w/ Best Bets.