Watchmaker: Lingering Breeders’ Cup thoughts

Horse Racing


Here are a few lingering thoughts from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup World Championships:

* Allow me to echo the widespread praise for the job Del Mar did hosting the Breeders’ Cup. Logistically, everything came off without an obvious hitch. Moreover, the setting is simply gorgeous, so much so that I can’t imagine any racing person who was there on that sun-splashed Breeders’ Cup Saturday wanting to be anywhere else in the world.

The only bone I have to pick with the whole deal concerned the Del Mar main track, which had a bias all four racing days I was there. Right here, let’s agree that there are few things in our game more subjective than track biases, and how people read them. That said, Del Mar’s main track was tilted toward speed and the inside on opening day Wednesday, as well as on Thursday. But perhaps in an overreaction to correct the situation, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction on Breeders’ Cup Friday, when the main track had a distinct outside flow to it. And that outside flow became a stronger outside bias Saturday.

* Churchill Downs will host next year’s Breeders’ Cup, but the site of the 2019 Cup has not been announced. Certainly, Santa Anita is always high on the list of possible sites as that track repeatedly does an excellent job staging the event and is, like Del Mar, a beautiful setting. It is, of course, beyond absurd that New York hasn’t had a Breeders’ Cup since the 2005 event at Belmont, a point that must be stressed every time this topic is raised. But one track whose name is floating around as a possible site for an upcoming Breeders’ Cup is Laurel.

Laurel is an interesting prospect, and putting aside for a moment the egregious lapse of a Breeders’ Cup in New York, having the event there would fulfill the original vision of the Cup as a moveable feast. But if a Breeders’ Cup is ever held at Laurel, they had better make sure they get that main track straightened out. Laurel’s main track frequently has a profound dead rail, which was plainly obvious again on Saturday’s card there, which included six stakes races. A strongly biased surface is no place for championship events.

* Last week in this space I opined on how each equine division stands in regard to the Eclipse Awards in the immediate aftermath of the Breeders’ Cup. I noted, among many other things, that Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner is a deserving cinch to be Horse of the Year, and speculated that the other two finalists for Horse of the Year might be World Approval and West Coast, very likely champions in the turf male and 3-year-old male divisions, respectively.

A colleague subsequently suggested to me that Arrogate might be a Horse of the Year finalist. I understand that. While Arrogate lost a lot of luster concluding his career with three straight defeats, two of them very uninspiring efforts, he was brilliant early in the year winning the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, two hugely important races.

But while I can see why and how (considering the mathematics of Eclipse Award voting) Arrogate could be a Horse of the Year finalist, I would strongly disagree with it, and I’m a big Arrogate fan. For me, it’s simple: if a horse isn’t good enough to win his or her Eclipse Award division (and Arrogate isn’t good enough to take the older dirt male division from Gun Runner) then that horse just shouldn’t be good enough to be a Horse of the Year finalist.

* There has been some interesting debate concerning the 2-year-old male division, and Good Magic versus Bolt d’Oro. Yes, Good Magic recorded his first career win when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Yes, Bolt d’Oro had a horrendous trip when third in the Juvenile as the heavy favorite. And yes, Bolt d’Oro, who won the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner before the Breeders’ Cup, has more Grade 1 wins than Good Magic. I’m a fan of Bolt d’Oro, too. But I feel Good Magic should carry this division, and I don’t think it should be close.

In regard to Bolt d’Oro’s bad Juvenile trip, he did lose a ridiculous amount of ground, but mitigating that to at least some degree is the fact that at least he was out in the track where the better footing was. Let’s also not overlook the fact that Good Magic was very good in his narrowly beaten second in the Champagne prior to the Breeders’ Cup when he was fairly close to an early pace that fell apart, and he was really, really good in his emphatic, 4 1/4-length score in the Juvenile, which is by far the most important race in this division. Lastly, Eclipse Awards must be more than a mere matter of the number of Grade 1 races won. While there are occasions when total number of Grade 1 victories might be an incidental factor in Eclipse Award decision making, it should never be a determining factor, if for no other reason than all Grade 1 races are not created equally.

* It’s intriguing that Mendelssohn, game winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, is being considered for the Kentucky Derby. This makes a lot of sense because Mendelssohn, as most folks already know, is a half-brother to multiple champion Beholder (he’s also a half to Into Mischief). The Coolmore gang, the folks behind Mendelssohn, certainly don’t need my advice. But as an Ireland-based prospect for the Kentucky Derby, if Mendelssohn were mine, and I was really and truly serious about trying to win the Kentucky Derby, I would make sure he prepped for the Derby here in the U.S.

* Gun Runner’s win in the Classic was obviously very big stuff. But it was even better than that if you believe like I do that there was a Del Mar track bias, because Gun Runner beat the bias, too. Of the other Breeders’ Cup participants who ran well against the bias, the two who jump way out at me are Sharp Azteca, who was as game as can be finishing second in the Dirt Mile, and Carina Mia, who had been a disappointment this year, but who ran perhaps her best race ever finishing third in the Filly & Mare Sprint.



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