November 18, 2017

Day at the Races: Observations from 2017 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar

Gun Runner with Florent Geroux up wins the Breeders Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar (c) Bob Newell/Horsephotos.com

This year marked my 20th Breeders’ Cup and Del Mar was a great host. It’s a beautiful track/area and horse people from all over the world embraced it, resulting in terrific competition. Traffic was another matter but that’s an issue at many venues.

Here are some observations:

– The $6 million Classic helps identify every Breeders’ Cup and Gun Runner provided a defining moment, wrapping up Horse of the Year honors with a 2 ¼-length victory.

Runner-up in the 2016 Dirt Mile, Gun Runner improved so much at age 4 for trainer Steve Asmussen, recording five convincing wins from six starts this season, and finally got over the hump at the Classic distance after dropping his first three attempts at 1 ¼ miles.

And considering many respected horses were over the top by the Breeders’ Cup, Gun Runner deserves credit for maintaining his form all year. He was being readied for a scheduled Pegasus World Cup (G1) start in January but was re-directed to February’s Razorback (G3) at Oaklawn Park due to the logistics surrounding a Fair Grounds quarantine.

I loved how the son of Candy Ride took it right to the competition from the start. Collected broke running as expected from his outside post but the wire-to-wire Pacific Classic (G1) hero could not beat Gun Runner to the lead. The outside path was favorable and when Collected drew alongside rounding the far turn, Gun Runner’s fans were holding their breath. But the challenge proved short-lived as Gun Runner re-asserted himself leaving the fat turn and the bright chestnut was never threatened over the final quarter-mile as he won going away under the wire.

After registering a career-best 114 BRIS Speed rating winning the Woodward (G1) by 10 lengths in his previous outing, Gun Runner garnered an outstanding 113 Speed figure in the Classic.

Loved the acceleration Good Magic displayed into the stretch and the runaway Juvenile scorer established himself as a very exciting Kentucky Derby hopeful. Sire Curlin has produced Preakness (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1) victors and a total of seven Grade 1-winning millionaires, but Good Magic represents his initial Breeders’ Cup race winner and will try to give the two-time Horse of the Year his first Kentucky Derby winner next spring.

Good Magic opened his career with a pair of close seconds, including the Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park, and the Chad Brown trainee broke his maiden by a 4 ¼-length margin while making his two-turn debut at Del Mar. He’s bred to relish longer distances next spring; Good Magic is out of a mare by the Danzig stallion Hard Spun and his second maternal dam is by Miswaki, broodmare sire of Galileo and Sea the Stars.

Chad Brown captured the Juvenile Turf Fillies with Rushing Fall on Friday and moved into fourth all-time with 10 Breeders’ Cup race winners via Juvenile winner Good Magic. The future Hall of Famer now trails only D. Wayne Lukas (20), Bob Baffert (14) and Aidan O’Brien (12). Lukas didn’t have a Breeders’ Cup starter this year, Baffert was 0-for-11 and O’Brien won the Juvenile Turf with Mendelssohn, a half-brother to Grade 1 winners Beholder and Into Mischief who will be pointed to the 2018 Kentucky Derby according to his Irish conditioner.

Brown was joined by Peter Miller (Roy H and Stormy Liberal) as the only trainers to win multiple Breeders’ Cup races this year.

Kudos to World Approval for coming through in the Mile. The international participation has never been stronger for a Breeders’ Cup and it was no surprise to see overseas raiders win the Turf, Filly & Mare Turf and Juvenile Turf. World Approval delivered one for the home team, rallying sharply to strike the front by midstretch and edging away to a 1 ¼-length decision, and the gray gelding locked up champion turf male honors.

More of a long-distance specialist over the past two seasons, World Approval posted his biggest win prior to this year when capturing the 1 3/8-mile United Nations (G1) in the summer of 2016. Mark Casse and his staff elected to shorten up the distances in 2017 and developed the 5-year-old gelding into a top miler, with World Approval romping in the Fourstardave (G1) and Woodbine Mile (G1) prior to the Breeders’ Cup.

Battle of Midway stamped himself as a serious 2018 Classic prospect winning the Dirt Mile. Unraced at 2, the Jerry Hollendorfer pupil lacked a stakes win when finishing third in the Kentucky Derby at 40-1 odds earlier this year. He continued to show flashes of promise recording victories in the Affirmed (G3) and Shared Belief in Southern California this summer, but Smart Strike colt sandwiched those efforts with a well-beaten sixth in the Haskell (G1).

Second as the favorite when prepping in the September 24 Oklahoma Derby (G3), Battle of Midway took a big step forward and showed a lot of heart outfinishing a classy Sharp Azteca by a half-length, earning a career-best 106 BRIS Speed rating. This race proved to be a springboard for Gun Runner last year and Battle of Midway appears to have plenty of upside.

Favorites took a beating for the second straight Breeders’ Cup and this bears repeating again next year when prognosticators begin to speculate about Breeders’ Cup Saturday being chalky. Only two favorites managed to prevail from 13 races, with Mendelssohn returning a $11.60 mutuel as the lukewarm 9-2 choice in the Juvenile Turf and World Approval yielding $7.40 at 5-2 in the Mile.

Favorites were 1-for-13 at Santa Anita in 2016. That’s a 11.5% win rate from the last two runnings in Southern California.

The vanquished included a number of overwhelming favorites, with Drefong, Lady Aurelia, Lady Eli, Unique Bella, Bolt d’Oro and Highland Reel all leaving the starting gate at odds of 3-2 or less, and most were done by upper stretch. Bolt d’Oro and Highland Reel gave a respectable account of themselves checking in third, but the rest could do no better than sixth.

Recency still matters when it comes the Breeders’ Cup. More horses than ever were trained up to the event this year but only two winners (Gun Runner and Forever Unbridled) made their final prep race pre-Labor Day. All five favorites lacking a start in September or October – Mor Spirit (Dirt Mile), Lady Aurelia (Turf Sprint), Lady Eli (Filly & Mare Turf), Drefong (Sprint) and Arrogate (Classic) – finished off the board in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup.

3 Comments on Day at the Races: Observations from 2017 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar

  1. Your article about Gun Runner doesn’t make sense. He was being scheduled for the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream then you wrote that he is being re-directed to Februarys Razorback at Oaklawn due to a Fairgrounds quarantine. The Pegasus is at GP, why would he even be at FG when the race won’t be there. The Pegasus is a G1 and the Razorback is a G3. Why would he be going into a G3 after winning the G1 BC Classic. That doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Gun Runner based at Fair Grounds (which was placing horses under quarantine due to EHV-1 outbreak in early January) during winter. He wasn’t infected but bypassed Pegasus World Cup bc GP officials required additional testing to ship on grounds

  2. Bolt D’oro ran 327 feet more than the winner still finish a closing 3rd
    Nakatani 7 wide on 1st turn and 8 wide on 3rd=BAD RIDE
    Colt may have lost to a very good colt at the post draw.
    Can’t wait to see which colt wins the Eclipse and hopefully a great rivalry in the spring

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