Seven winners of Breeders’ Cup races in 2016 are back to defend their titles or are moving into post-juvenile spots at this year’s two-day bonanza at Del Mar on November 3-4.
From least likely to most likely, here’s one opinion on the likelihood of a second Breeders’ Cup title for each of them.
Champagne Room (Distaff)
Upset winner of the Juvenile Fillies at 33-1 last season, she’ll be a similarly large price in the Distaff off just two starts at three. Sidelined with an ankle chip after finishing a distant third to Unique Bella in the Las Virgenes (G2) in February, she returned to action in the $200,000 Remington Park Oaks on September 24 and won comfortably in wire-to-wire fashion at odds of 1-5. Her price there reveals much about the depth of company she was facing, and contending with other speed such as Paradise Woods and It Tiz Well will be the least of her worries against such a stellar field.
Queen’s Trust (Filly & Mare Turf)
Had only a maiden win to her credit when beating Lady Eli at Santa Anita last year, and those two races remain her only career victories. Has placed just once in five starts this year, but can be forgiven the losses in the Nassau (G1) and Prix de l’Opera (G1) as they came on soft ground, and she much prefers the firm footing she’ll likely see at Del Mar. The main knock against her is the race has been reduced in distance this year to 1 1/8 miles, which might prove not enough ground.
Oscar Performance (Turf)
Hero of the Juvenile Turf (G1) last November and the country’s leading three-year-old male on turf this term, he was five lengths third to Beach Patrol in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) last time in his first attempt against older rivals and at 1 1/2 miles. While he can build on that effort, the waters are significantly deeper this time, especially with European invaders Ulysses and Highland Reel (mentioned below) in the mix.
Finest City (Filly & Mare Sprint)
A minor surprise at 8-1 taking last year’s Filly & Mare Sprint, she’s had a relatively lackluster lead-up into this race and will not have run since July 8, when she finished a dull third in the Great Lady M. (G2) at Los Alamitos. Keep in mind, though, that her other two tries sprinting this year were quite strong — a victory in the Santa Monica (G2) and a neck loss in the Humana Distaff (G1) in the slop. Stretching her out twice earned her minor shares in the Santa Margarita (G1) and Beholder Mile (G1), results similar to her three tries around two turns in 2016. She loves the Del Mar surface, and if willing to give her pass for the Great Lady M., she might be a tad overlooked again.
Entered the discussion as one of the best of the last quarter century following his exploits from the Travers (G1) through the Dubai World Cup (G1), but his last two runs over the Del Mar main track have raised concerns that we might not be dealing with exactly the same horse as we saw 9-12 months ago. This Classic (G1) is deeper, too. While last year’s running was a two-horse race on paper involving he and California Chrome, this renewal has Gun Runner, Collected, and West Coast all as potential win threats in addition to himself.
Highland Reel (Turf)
If the ground is firm, as expected, he’ll be mighty dangerous. Brilliant winner from Flintshire and Found at Santa Anita a year ago, he captured the Coronation Cup (G1) and Prince of Wales’s (G1) in fine fashion on favorable footing in the spring, but has otherwise struggled on ground he’s found too testing. Still, his recent third to Cracksman in the Champion (G1) was fairly solid given the state of the turf at Ascot and the fact it was his first race since late July. Overall, it might turn out to have been the perfect prep.
Drefong (TwinSpires Sprint)
Attrition in recent days has whittled down the prospective field to about seven or eight, approximately the same as last year. Most significantly was the declaration of El Deal, who might have given the defending champion a real run for early supremacy. While there’s seemingly more depth here than was the case at Santa Anita, his Forego (G1) was a brilliant piece of work, and both trainer Bob Baffert and independent observers have been highly impressed with his preparations thus far.