A ‘Classic’ showdown at the Breeders’ Cup
By Bob Ehalt
After all of the months, all of the prep races, all of the hours of handicapping, post time for the 34th edition of the Breeders’ Cup is nearly at hand.
On Friday and Saturday there will be 13 Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar with a combined value of $28 million and a world of importance will be attached to all of them.
Especially the very last one of them.
The grand finale to two spectacular days of races at the track where “The Turf meets The Surf” promises to decide Horse of the Year honors in an epic Breeders’ Cup Classic showdown between Gun Runner and Arrogate, with three other Bob Baffert-trained runners tossed into the mix for good measure.
Though Arrogate has beaten Gun Runner in each of their two meetings, the rivals have traveled down different paths since late March when Arrogate, who walloped Gun Runner 15 lengths in the 2016 Travers, defeated runner-up Gun Runner by 2 ¼ lengths in the Dubai World Cup.
Juddmonte Farms’ Arrogate then suffered successive losses in the San Diego Handicap, a Grade 2 stakes, and the G1 Pacific Classic, finishing fourth and second, respectively, in Del Mar’s biggest races for older distance horses.
At the same time, Gun Runner did a rather nice impression of Arrogate by returning from Dubai and reeling off victories in a trio of Grade 1 stakes, the Stephen Foster, Whitney and Woodward, by a combined margin of 22 ½ lengths.
And now roles are reversed from where they were in the days after the Dubai World Cup. Arrogate was a unanimous choice then for the number spot in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll with Gun Runner second. Now Gun Runner is first and Arrogate second in the poll, and in Saturday’s showdown, Gun Runner is the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the $6 million BC Classic while Arrogate is next at 2-1.
“I feel very good about where we’re at right now. What has happened since the World Cup is, you know, surprising to a lot of people,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Gun Runner. “(I’m confident because of) the way that he’s run all year and the way that he has trained. I feel that he’s at a very high level in the way that he’s running, and as fast as he’s running. As far as Del Mar and never running over the racetrack, he has accepted quite a few racetracks. He has traveled well.”
For Arrogate, the mile-and-a-quarter BC Classic will be the final start of an illustrious career that has seen him become North America’s all-time leading earner ($17,302,600) and Baffert is hopeful that the Arrogate of old will re-surface for the colt’s final start.
“You want your horses to go out on a high note,” Baffert said. “Last year, he did what he did and he was not Horse of the Year. In July, he was a lock for the award. Now it’s coming down to the Breeders’ Cup with Gun Runner, Arrogate, Collected and West Coast, and they are all in top form.”
Baffert is seeking a fourth straight victory in the BC Classic and will have a foursome of runners with Arrogate being joined by Pacific Classic winner Collected (6-1), Travers and Pennsylvania Derby winner West Coast (6-1) and Awesome Again victor Mubtaahij (12-1), each of them a Grade 1 winner for Baffert.
The rest of the field includes War Decree (30-1), Win the Space (30-1), War Story (30-1), European invader Churchill (15-1), Travers runner-up Gunnevera (30-1) and Pavel (20-1).
The two-day festival starts Friday at Del Mar with four Breeders’ Cup races topped by the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff for fillies and mares.
The race promises to be one of the most – if not the most – contentious Breeders’ Cup race with five of the eight starters listed at odds between 5-2 and 9-2.
The 2-1 favorite is Stellar Wind, who is 3-for-3 this year, and also 3-for-3 in career at Del Mar.
Elate, winner of the Alabama and Beldame, is 3-1, followed by Forever Unbridled and Abel Tasman at 4-1 and the speedy Paradise Woods at 9-2.
The action on Friday starts at 2:25 p.m. with the first of 10 races at Del Mar. Breeders’ Cup races start with the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf, which is the sixth race of the day and has a post time of 5:35 p.m.
On Saturday, the 12-race card at Del Mar starts at 1:10 p.m., with Breeders’ Cup action beginning in race four with the BC Juvenile Fillies at 3 p.m.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic has a post time of 8:35 p.m. and can be seen on NBC.
The rest of the Breeders’ Cup races will air on NBCSN.
Happy handicapping, folks.