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Breeders’ Cup XXXIV: A Look Back

by Brian Nadeau

November 9, 2017

The inaugural Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar behind us, so let’s take a look back at the most impressive and depressing runs over two days that showcased 13 races, with many delivering results that were unfathomable, to say the least.


Juvenile Fillies Turf: How does Rushing Fall pay $8?

She entered off a 4/5 romp in a 14-horse field in the GIII Jessamine at Keeneland. She was trained by Chad Brown, who is as good as there is in any race, but had own this particular one up until now. She met a ridiculously slow field on paper, with just one main rival, Coolmore’s Happily. Yet somehow Rushing Fall not only paid $8, but she wasn’t even favored. I had her at 9/5 on my fair odds line, so it was probably a sign of things to come that she paid a lofty $8 and all I did was watch.

Dirt Mile: So right, so wrong.

In this very space a week ago, I said Bob Baffert would not win the Dirt Mile. That meant playing against the 2-1 favorite Mor Sprit and grade I-winning Cupid. And I can play “I told you so” only because I’ll make fun of myself immediately after, as I didn’t have winner Battle of Midway in my top-4. Yes, I’m aware that seems a bit hard to do, based on my original premise. Juvenile Turf: Moore and O’Brien, what else do you need to know?

While it has only been run 11 times, Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore have won the Juvenile Turf four times (all in the last seven runnings too). In stark contrast, O’Brien has yet to win the Juvenile Fillies Turf in 10 runnings. While the latter could be pure coincidence, the former is not, so it was no surprise, except to this handicapper, that Mendelssohn delivered the goods as the public choice. The die had been cast, to say the least.

Distaff: At least you can’t fool me any more Stellar Wind.

I didn’t pick Stellar Wind, and again, in this very space a week ago I said she wouldn’t win, but geesh, could you maybe humor me (I had her 2nd) and run a freaking inch? To be last-of-8 behind a trio of 1000-1 shots is simply unfathomable. The good news is she’s been sold and is off to a life as a broodmare. That is not a complaint in this corner.


Juvenile Fillies: So, so wrong.

I readily admit that I didn’t think Moonshine Memories would lose. Not only was it a bad group that was slow and lacking real credentials on paper, but she was already a two-time GI winner, had run fast and had a two-turn win. And when Flavien Prat sent her to the lead, I actually liked it because it was under the “I’m on the best horse, come and catch” mantra. Well, we were both really wrong. Moonshine Memories quit off the far turn and tired badly and was 7th, with no real excuse, especially since Alluring Star, who she easily defeated in the GI Chandelier last time, pressed her throughout fast fractions yet still held 2nd.

Turf Sprint: The word you’re looking for is “dreadful.”

The 5/2 ML was laughable on Lady Aurelia, and I felt 6/5 was more likely, though her off odds of 9/10 didn’t really surprise me either. After all, it was a bad race, she was freakish in all of her performances this year, and the only gal to beat her, Marsha, was GI through and through but much more up against it going a sleek 5Fs in America. So, for her to be 10th, with zero excuse, was basically impossible and a big reason why betting the Breeders’ Cup is one of the trickiest propositions of the handicapping year.

Filly & Mare Sprint: See the Dirt Mile.

“So right, so wrong” reared its head again, as I was dead set against Unique Bella, who was no faster than any of her rivals, had never run in a GI race and entered off just one prep this the winter. But, conversely, I would not have bet Bar of Gold—who is one of my favorite gals on the track, mind you—if you showed me the results in Sunday’s newspaper. After all, the winner was 0-for-15 in graded stakes and 0-for-11 on a fast track. If that doesn’t scream “Breeders’ Cup winner,” then I don’t know what does.

Filly & Mare Turf: “You didn’t get enough.”

I went five-deep, was against Lady Eli, and still didn’t have Wuheida, who was a very underlaid 11-1. Congrats if you came up with her, but a gal who was 0-for-4 on the year, and scratched in mid-October at Keeneland with a bruised foot, is a tough sell to me. There’s some sour grapes in there, I admit, but, as I said above, I went five-deep and never considered her.

Roy H: A champion is crowned

Has there ever been a more underrated divisional champion than Roy H, who went 5-for-6 on the year (assuming he doesn’t run again) and suffered his only loss when he had a ton of trouble in the GI Bing Crosby yet was still a game 2nd? He was a deserving winner, and if you believed, you got an overlaid $11.80, especially if you were starting to pick up what Bob Baffert was dropping down; that his horses were just not firing, which was in further evidence when Drefong broke a half-step slow then didn’t flash any speed or run a lick while finishing 6th.

Mile: And I’m a professional?

I picked Lancaster Bomber to win the Mile. I picked World Approval to run 2nd. They were the only two I used in the Pk6 and Pk4. Yet, somehow, on a day that I got completely buried, I don’t hit the $97 exacta a billion times and hold up the “It only takes one” sign and head to the bar. As a side note, jot down how key a prep the Woodbine Mile has become, as the winner has become basically a guarantee to hit the exacta in the Breeders’ Cup Mile over the past decade.

Juvenile: A champion is crowned?

As a person with an Eclipse Award vote, I can honestly tell you I have no idea who I’ll pick to win 2-year-old Champion. Yes, Good Magic won the race that mattered, and beat his main rival Bolt d’Oro soundly in the process, but it was his only win from three starts on the year (though, to be fair, he was a good 2nd in the GI Champagne). Bolt d’Oro endured a ridiculously wide trip yet trudged on to be 3rd, and entered off wins in the GI Del Mar Futurity and GI FrontRunner. The former is done for the year while the latter could possibly resurface in the GI Los Alamitos Futurity. If he wins that, I’d be hard-pressed to vote for Good Magic.

Turf: Who?

As a guy who writes the weekly newsletter for the Breeders’ Cup, one that covers in-depth their GI races, I have a very good feel, and better than the majority of American handicappers, on the Europeans. But I was more surprised than anyone that Talismanic, who had not run in a GI this year, won the Turf. To further cloud things, he entered off a meek 3rd as the favorite in the GII Prix Foy, the Arc prep, behind Dschingis Secret, who was a wiseguy play by more than a few in said Arc, yet was a very non-threatening 6th. Yes, I know this was a very weak Turf, especially after Ulysses scratched, but Talismanic was still a tough one to see for me.

Classic: So much more than Horse of the Year.

The headlines all read that Gun Runner clinched Horse of the Year with his win over Collected, and rightfully so, as he’s now a slam-dunk after entering as one of a trio would could win the award. But lost in all this is that his win in the Classic also clinched him a spot in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, while putting that same honor in very perilous doubt for his vanquished rival Arrogate. As I’ve said many times, Gun Runner was this generation’s Medaglia d’Oro; great up to 1 1/8 miles and very good at 1 ¼ miles. Another loss at the distance last Saturday, which would have made him 0-for-4, would have kept him out of racing’s most hallowed grounds. But now, with a win, in one of the biggest races of the year, it’s the cherry on top of a most deserving resume.

Arrogate, on the other hand, completely limped to the line to end his career, and a horse we all thought was one of the greatest of all-time, now ends his career on a huge downer while leaving the nastiest tastes in our mouths having lost his last three, while doing no running at all in two of them. Yes, he was nothing short of immortal winning four grade I’s from August of his 3-year-old year to March of his 4-year-old year, but not a Hall of Fame resume does that make, as he only won a maiden race around that quartet. I’ve heard the Sandy Koufax comparison a lot, and Arrogate was Mr. Koufax during wins in the Travers, Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, but the former retired on top, going 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and 317 strikeouts in his final year. Arrogate was more like 12-15, with a 4.79 ERA and 124 strikeouts in his last start. Or, to put it in layman’s terms, Koufax won the Classic by 7, while Arrogate finished 5th, beaten 6 ¼ lengths as the 2-1 favorite.