What we learned from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup
By Dick Powell
Now that the smoke has cleared from the fireworks at Del Mar last weekend, what did we learn?
GUN RUNNER (Candy Ride) is the real deal and a deserving winner of Horse of the Year. Yes, he had no response for ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song) in the Dubai World Cup (G1) but that was run on a drying-out muddy track that was against inside speed. He came out of it and ran four straight sensational races culminating in Saturday’s brilliant win in the Classic (G1).
Steve Asmussen and his team get all the credit for taking a good 3YO from last year and getting him better and better while keeping him in training. Florent Geroux fits him like a glove and gets him to go fast without winding him up. Even when he is on the lead, Gun Runner never runs off and settles down himself. They are an amazing combination.
The European turf horses continue to do well and keep in mind, these are not the best European horses. For instance, ENABLE (Nathaniel), winner of the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe (G1) over males would have been favored in the Turf (G1) and odds-on in the Filly and Mare Turf (G1).
Arc runner up CLOTH OF STARS (Sea the Stars) did not come to Del Mar and will race next year and Arc third-place finisher ULYSSES (Galileo) was the morning line favorite for this year’s Turf before scratching the morning of the race.
Turf winner TALISMANIC (Medaglia d’Oro) was only a Group 2 stakes winner in France at the age of four before shipping here and winning the Turf. HIGHLAND REEL (Galileo) is one of the world’s superstars but did not respond on the final turn and fell short in third.
The Mile (G1) is where American horses shined and their ability to break from the gate and hug the tight turns make them competitive. Johnny Velazquez gave WORLD APPROVAL (Northern Afleet) a perfect ride and got home by a length and a quarter.
LANCASTER BOMBER (War Front) was a game second just like he was in the Woodbine Mile (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) last year. In Europe, all Lancaster Bomber has to show is a maiden win in Ireland and a bunch of placings in group company. RIBCHESTER (Iffraj) had a terrific record coming into the Mile with three Group 1 wins already this year but was stuck in traffic before flying home behind in a blanket finish behind the top two.
Aidan O’Brien ran CHURCHILL (Galileo) in the Classic instead of the Mile or he might have been favored in the Mile off two wins going this distance this year over Group 1 company. It looks like he wanted to give Lancaster Bomber every chance at getting a Grade 1 stakes win and O’Brien has shown an affinity to running top horses on the dirt in the Classic – see GALILEO (Sadler’s Wells) and GIANT’S CAUSEWAY (Storm Cat).
The Filly & Mare Turf (G1) saw LADY ELI (Divine Park) crushed at the start from post nine and WUHEIDA (Dubawi) got a perfect ride from William Buick to beat O’Brien’s multiple Group 1 RHODODENDRUM (Galileo), who almost overcame post 14. The top two finished within a half-length of each other in reverse order in the Prix de l’Opera (G1) at Chantilly before the Breeders’ Cup.
The Turf Sprint (G1) was dominated by not just the Americans but locally-based southern California runners when STORMY LIBERAL (Stormy Atlantic) nosed out stablemate RICHARD’S BOY (Idiot Proof) in the five-furlong cavalry charge. Peter Miller trained both of them and if you are a fan of his, there was a $555 exacta waiting for you on a two-horse box.
Friday’s turf races saw O’Brien’s two starters fail in the Juvenile Filly Turf (G1) but his runners came back with a vengeance in the Juvenile Turf (G1) when Ryan Moore rode MENDELSSOHN (Scat Daddy) hard from the gate and sat a perfect trip on the rail before tipping out and getting up by a length over UNTAMED DOMAIN (Animal Kingdom).
Mendelssohn was second in his last start at 50-to-1 in the Dewhurst Stakes (G1) in England but here he went off as the tepid 48-to-10 favorite. Shows you the difference.