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Time, Whine & Storylines at Breeders' Cup 2017

by Jeremy Plonk

November 6, 2017

So what did I learn from the Breeders’ Cup and its 34th edition this past weekend at Del Mar? Here are my most important takeaways.


The biggest impact on BC17 wasn’t seen anywhere, but there’s no doubt in my mind it was felt for months. Out of competition random testing completely overhauled the prep process in terms of how horses were treated and how they were campaigned. We didn’t suddenly see the entire month of October – and a lot of September showcases, too – basically skated around because trainers abruptly found a new way to prepare. Horses could not be administered synthetic means of recovery following races this year and safely be assured they would not be tested out of competition. This meant hay, oats, water and…most importantly…time in the recovery process. 

It’s impossible to know exactly which horses and horsemen that the new testing procedures impacted most, but I would start with the ones who didn’t race for several months and subsequently turned in clunkers. And what about the nearly non-existence of some otherwise powerful BC barns? This is not to say anyone did anything illegal or against the rules prior to this year’s rule changes. But it was a different calendar this year and I can only finger one reason for it. In the year 1 AM (After-Masochistic), things were quite different.


Once again the west coast proved a plenty-useful place for horses of other regions to showcase their skills. The idea that the east wins in the east and the west wins in the west is so “past-decades” in Breeders’ Cup history. This isn’t 2003 and Richard Mandella owning the day at Santa Anita, or Rick Dutrow besting everyone at Belmont. 

Friday’s four Breeders’ Cup winners were based in New York, Kentucky, California and Ireland. On Saturday, Gun Runner beat everything Bob Baffert could throw at him in an away game; New York swept both 2YO races; Californians won 3 of the 4 races for fast horses – the Dirt Mile, Sprint and Turf Sprint – with NY taking the F&M Sprint. The Woodbine Mile with an American horse once again delivered in the Mile, while the Europeans won the F&M Turf and Turf. I’m not sure you could draw up a more sensible and fair set of regional results than this. When we go back to Churchill next year and (hopefully) Laurel after that, I’m certain the Californians will be equally fine on the road as the rest of the world was in their house.


Professional ballplayers ply their trade for a salary, but this game of horse racing still remains a prize-money endeavor. When jockey Joel Rosario was sacked at the last minute and replaced on Forever Unbridled for the Distaff in favor of John Velazquez, we got a stiff reminder of that. True, the California stewards ruled that Rosario was still entitled to mount fees and prize money because of owner Chuck Fipke’s eleventh-hour change of call. But you didn’t exactly see John Velazquez and his team turn down the ride at the entry box in the name of what’s right, either. This is not to place blame on any side, but rather to show that the spin in horse racing that owners, trainers and jockeys constantly deal with is terribly thin ice. 

If you want to know why the rules are twisted and the edges taken, think how quickly you can lose a ride in a $2 million race or how quickly a van can pull up and send the best horse in your barn to your rival’s shedrow. Look no further than the Forever Unbridled-Abel Tasman exacta in the Distaff and put yourself in the shoes of Joel Rosario and Simon Callaghan. This is a hard enough game to win as it is.


Zenyatta lost her career finale in the 2010 Classic in a race that anyone with a heart felt she was destined to win, and therefore failed to retire unbeaten for the ages. Yes, these races are real … and we got another novel (pun intended) reminder this year that storybook endings aren’t scripted at the Breeders’ Cup. For every Personal Ensign or Beholder miracle, there are a handful of opposite outcomes that were equally sought by the public. 

This year, Arrogate never got his groove back; Bolt d’Oro didn’t prove to be a 3-5 shot for next year’s Kentucky Derby trail; Lady Aurelia didn’t unite the world in Turf Sprint harmony; and Lady Eli lost to twice as many horses in her Filly & Mare Turf finale (6) than she had in her entire 13-race career prior (3).


All in all, it was tremendous theater, even better racing, and the ultimate in wagering at this year’s Breeders’ Cup. The joy and pain of picking 4 winners on top – Mendelssohn ($11.60), Caledonia Road ($36.60), World Approval ($7.40) and Talismanic ($30.20) – but failing to land a pick four on either day, just goes to show how much we must appreciate our major financial successes when they do come. 

Here’s hoping you thoroughly enjoyed the best of Thoroughbred racing’s championship weekend.