Handicapping Insights: A review of Breeders' Cup 2017
by DICK POWELL
Did I mention that there was a full moon on Breeders' Cup weekend?
Saturday dawned sunny with any chance of nearby showers of moving in replaced by a bright sun that eventually warmed things up to a perfect day for horse racing. First post was 10:10 a.m. (PDT) and the track began to fill up.
The Juvenile Fillies (G1) kicked things off in race four and it was a harbinger of the chaotic results that were to follow. CALEDONIA ROAD raced extremely wide and continued on to win by 3 1/4 lengths at 17-1. The track bias that favored wide closers looked to be back in full force. Favored MOONSHINE MEMORIES faded badly and the winning time of 1:45.05 was very slow.
The Turf Sprint (G1) looked wide open and once you got past heavily favored LADY AURELIA, it was anyone's race. Here, the home field edge looked like the difference as Peter Miller swept the top two spots with STORMY LIBERAL beating stablemate RICHARD'S BOY by a head at 30 to 1. Lady Aurelia had no punch and was a well-beaten 10th.
The Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) showed how the track was dead set against early speed when UNIQUE BELLA looked tough to beat around the far turn then was out of gas. AMI'S MESA had been pressing the pace wide and took over in the lane at 18-1 only to be run down by 66-1 longshot BAR OF GOLD.
The Filly & Mare Turf (G1) was run out of the chute facing me directly and you could see LADY ELI get slammed bad at the start. It was so bad that she had to be scratched from the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale due to a puncture wound and abrasions. WUHEIDA got a perfect ride from William Buick and held off RHODODENDRUM by a length.
Wuheida just missed in the Prix de l'Opera (G1) at Chantilly on Arc day and shipped to America to race in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland. Charley Appleby scratched her that day due to a corn on her right hind foot and now she showed up here in a backup plan. Even though she paid $24.40, she was the narrow third choice in the wagering as the money was spread out behind Lady Eli.
The TwinSpires Sprint (G1) was next and would the outside closers bias continue? DREFONG went off at 7-5 and I didn't see how he could win from there. Breaking poorly took him right out of the game and Kent Desormeaux had ROY H four wide on the turn before taking over in the stretch to win by a length as the third choice at 9-2. It was the second Breeders' Cup win on the day for Peter Miller.
The Mile (G1) is always as tough a race as there is at the Breeders' Cup and at Del Mar, with its short stretch run, it looked especially tough. WORLD APPROVAL has had a renaissance since turning back to a mile and he followed up with his third straight Grade 1 stakes win at the distance as Johnny Velazquez gave him another perfect ride while staying ahead of the big traffic jam and got home by a 1 1/4 lengths as the 27-10 favorite. LANCASTER BOMBER flew home for second, just like he did last out at Woodbine behind World Approval.
After all the dirt races that had been run, I didn't see any way that 7-10 favorite BOLT D'ORO, with his front-running style, could win on this track. I liked Chad Brown's GOOD MAGIC, who was still a maiden after two starts. There was a rumor that he had a fever before the race and the betting board looked like it was true since the 8-1 morning line went off a 11.5-1 after being as high as 15-1.
Bolt d'Oro broke poorly, as he did in his first two career starts, from post 11 and was basically out of the race. Jose Ortiz had Good Magic in perfect shape stalking the pace and split horses to win going away and setting himself up for next year's classics. SOLOMINI was a game second for Bob Baffert after stalking the pace and hanging around against the bias.
Morning-line favorite ULYSSES was a vet scratch the evening before the Turf (G1) and it threw the race wide open. The betting public made defending champion HIGHLAND REEL the 7-5 favorite and only BEACH PATROL, at 7-2, was in single-digit odds.
OSCAR PERFORMANCE gunned to the front from post 14 and took the lead with Beach Patrol stalking him. Ryan Moore had Highland Reel in what looked like a perfect spot while saving ground and Mikael Barzalona had TALISMANIC in the next group. Beach Patrol was game as could be and took the lead. Highland Reel looked like he had trouble on the far turn and dropped back some but with Moore's urging, he began to come on again but Barzalona split horses with Talismanic to win by a half-length.
It was Barzalona's first ride in the Breeders' Cup and I don't remember him ever riding in America. He has won the Epsom Derby (G1) and Dubai World Cup (G1) and he timed his move on Talismanic perfectly to get up in time even with the short stretch.
The Classic (G1) was run 66 minutes after the Turf and the horses spent a lot of time in the paddock. Some, like WEST COAST, stood with their back to the crowd while favored ARROGATE was walking in circles. I stood close to him in the same situation before the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and he didn't turn a hair. On Saturday, I thought he was getting hot as his neck started to gleam.
When the field came out on the track for the post parade, I thought he was walking short and got online and canceled my win bet on him. Not saying he was injured, but he is just a different horse on this racetrack.
The way the earlier dirt races went, it should have favored Arrogate as GUN RUNNER was going to try to do the impossible and go gate-to-wire on a track that was not allowing that style to win.
(Sidebar: two quick points. Both Friday and Saturday had a breeze down the homestretch against the backstretch. Second, I follow how tracks are maintained. Del Mar uses two water trucks. One has a boom that covers the inside and the second truck has water coming out the back and a movable boom on the left. But, before the Classic, they came by and the second truck had no water coming out of it so only the inside part of the track was watered. When the tractors come by and harrowed it, you could not tell the difference but with so much time between races, that is what I was watching. Draw your own conclusions.)
At the start, Arrogate broke in and lost his footing. With the gap coming up quickly to the inside, Mike Smith had to get him straightened out and whatever chance he had of getting a trip behind the leaders and then go to the outside to challenge them was lost.
Gun Runner, who at one time was favored in the betting, gunned to the top with Florent Geroux and had COLLECTED to his outside. They quickly separated themselves from the rest of the pack with a first quarter run in a (wind-aided) :22.50. It looked like Collected would push him more but every time Martin Garcia tried to draw even, Geroux would deny him.
This would normally be a recipe for a meltdown but Gun Runner kept cruising and Collected held on as best as he could. Arrogate wasn't coming and the only drama was West Coast trying to get second. In reality, the horses that were first, second and third going into the far turn with a half-mile to go stayed that way.
Gun Runner was a 2 1/4-length winner and he stopped the teletimer in 2:01.29. It was his fourth straight dominant Grade stakes win and he did them all on the front end. His last loss was on a muddy track in the Dubai World Cup that was not kind to speed at all. He is the hands-down Horse of the Year.
(Good Magic photo: Cecilia Gustavsson/Horephotos.com)