Recapping the 2017 Breeder’s Cup
On November 3rd and 4th, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Del Mar, CA hosted the 2017 Breeder’s Cup, the most exciting weekend in North American thoroughbred horse racing. Composed of 13 Grade 1 stakes races and an incredible $28 million in total purse money, the Breeder’s Cup featured the best horses, trainers, and owners in the world. With Breeder’s Cup weekend now past us, it is time to recap the event and talk about what is next for the sport.
In terms of the future of the sport, this weekend showed that the sport of horse racing is healthy and on the rise here in the States. For one, it was it a sold-out crowd at the track, with fans, owners, and trainers from all over the world traveling the beautiful and picturesque San Diego location. And fan engagement didn’t stop at the track. Thanks to NBCSN coverage of the event, and primetime coverage of the Breeder’s Cup Classic on NBC, over 2 million viewers tuned in Saturday night to watch the Breeder’s Cup live.
Not only was viewership and attendance high at this year’s event, but betting was up at the 2017 Breeder’s Cup compared to previous years. Horse racing is one of the few sports to offer free and legal betting both onsite at every track and online through betting sites across the US. Betting trends this year indicate that things are on the rise for the sport. Total betting pools for this year’s event were in excess of $166 million, an increase of nearly 6% compared to last year, and on-track betting was up a whopping 24.3% compared to last years event. Hopefully, with more national TV coverage of major horse racing events, and with increased information about safe and legal betting on horse racing, betting pools will continue to increase and will provide fans with better opportunities to come home winners.
As excitement for the 2017 Breeder’s Cup wraps up, fans of the sport look to the next major event in North American horse racing. As many fans know, the single race that gets the most attention in the States is the Kentucky Derby. With upsets in both of this year’s juvenile dirt races, the road to the Kentucky Derby looks both exciting and competitive as the newest crop of (almost) 3-year-olds sets up to be one to remember.
The highly touted BOLT D’ORO, an early favorite to win next year’s Kentucky Derby, struggled with a bad trip finishing a disappointing and career-worst 3rd place. Although he still will likely be named the best 2 year old of the year and is still an early favorite for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, other horses look to challenge him as the Kentucky Derby approaches. For example, fellow west coast based horse, SOLOMINI, from the barn of Bob Baffert, finished ahead of BOLT D’ORO for the first time in his career and ran an impressive and career-best 93 Beyer speed figure. However GOOD MAGIC, the Sentient Jet Juvenile winner was the best of the field and looks to be tough competition as he heads home to train and run in the Kentucky Derby prep races back east. But surprising Derby contenders might also come from unlikely places. The European turf horse and winner of the Juvenile Turf Race at the Breeder’s Cup, MENDELSSOHN, could be pointed toward future races on dirt in preparation for the 2018 Kentucky Derby according to trainer Aiden O’Brien. Although a switch from turf to dirt is uncommon in the sport, MENDELSSOHN, a brother to the highly successful dirt horse BEHOLDER, looks to be able to make the switch and could provide fierce competition coming from across the pond.
Perhaps the biggest trend of this Breeder’s Cup was the struggles of the favorites and the successes of the longshots. Both of Bob Baffert’s dirt sprint horses, DREFONG and UNIQUE BELLA, came into the Breeder’s Cup weekend as the clear favorites to win their respective races only to be upset by underdogs. In the boys’ sprint, the title of Breeder’s Cup Sprint Champion instead went to ROY H, who has now won 4 of his last 5 starts and will enter the 2018 season as arguably the best sprint horse in America. The ladies sprint race, like the boys, was full of upsets. BAR OF GOLD crossed the line first and was followed in quick succession by AMI’S MESA and CARINA MIA with UNIQUE BELLA nowhere to be found.
For the 2-year-old fillies, the previously undefeated MOONSHINE MEMORIES was a no-show in the Juvenile Fillies, however, CALEDONIA ROAD showed up big and impressed with her massive victory; making a claim for herself as the best 2-year-old filly. In my opinion, the most impressive filly of the day, however, may have been RUSHING FALL who put on an absolute show in the Filly Turf race and will be tough to beat as the 2018 season gets underway.
In the Distaff, the highlight race of Friday’s card, FOREVER UNBRIDLED, who was coming off a 70+ day layoff, held off the impressive 3-year-olds ABEL TASMAN and PARADISE WOODS. The impressive finish puts FOREVER UNBRIDLED at the top of a competitive Filly and Mare division and we can expect to see great things from her in a division that is now lacking the stars of STELLAR WIND and SONGBIRD. ABEL TASMAN’s impressive performance in the Distaff was likely good enough to ensure her the title of top 3-year-old filly and it is expected that she will continue to run well next year.
One sign of a successful Breeder’s Cup weekend is the absence of any major injuries to horses or jockeys and luckily this year’s event was free from major injuries. Unfortunately one of the crowd favorites, LADY ELI, suffered a minor injury when she got kicked early in her race. Although this sort of injury is not life or career threatening, it was an unfortunately timed injury given the fact that this was set to be her last race before retirement. Fortunately, with a little bit of vet care, LADY ELI will retire to become a mom and should provide the sport with talented future stars. Another horse set to retire happened to put on one of my favorite surprise performances of the weekend. The impressive run by BATTLE OF MIDWAY put him on top in the Dirt Mile. Although BATTLE OF MIDWAY has been inconsistent throughout the year, he put together a great race to end his career and is now headed to retire and stud.
The Breeder’s Cup Classic, the headline race of the weekend, was one race in which a favorite did not fail to show up. Although the race was expected to be a showdown between ARROGATE and GUN RUNNER, GUN RUNNER proved that he was not only better than ARROGATE but better than the entire field. This win by GUN RUNNER, his 4th consecutive, will surely cement him as the top choice for 2017 “Horse of the Year.” Although ARROGATE failed to show up in his last career start, two other horses from Baffert’s barn did run well, indicating that they could be competitive in the 2018 season. COLLECTED, a horse that has likely been underestimated to this point and who will be tough to beat next year ran a solid second to GUN RUNNER and was followed by the promising 3-year-old WEST COAST. Although WEST COAST finished the race with two horses ahead of him, his performance will likely be enough for the title of 3-year-old horse of the year even after missing this year’s Triple Crown and will make him one of the horses to watch in 2018.
Although the biggest weekend in horse racing has come to an end, there is much to look forward to for the sport that runs year round. January 1st, every horse will turn a year older, marking what many consider the official start to the road to the Triple Crown. And, for older horses, the richest race in the world, the Pegasus World Cup, will be held at the end of January. Stay tuned to hear about the biggest upcoming races in the sport and to get the inside scoop on which horses are worth betting on.