LAS VEGAS--Eight in Kentucky, four in New York and one in California. Between now and the end of the weekend there will be 13 graded stakes worth $6.2 million that will qualify the winners for next month’s Breeders’ Cup.
But in the end they may not matter.
Excellent on their own merits, the races are full of horses mostly from outside California. The problem is that California horses are getting most of the respect in futures betting for the Breeders’ Cup, which will be held, yes, in California – at Del Mar.
“They have dominated,” said Bruno De Julio, a longtime racing analyst whose operates a workout and past-performance database at Bruno With the Works. “California has shown itself to be pretty strong. On the east coast they just don’t use the speed the way California horses do. They are stronger, bigger, faster horses, and I think horsemanship come into the whole thing, too.”
It seems to be a loud and clear message that bettors are hearing. According to the website Oddschecker, which tracks international wagering, California horses are favored to win six of the seven Breeders’ Cup dirt races. They include:
- Stellar Wind (2-1) – Distaff
- Mor Spirit (9-4) – Dirt Mile
- Drefong (2-1) – Sprint
- Unique Bella (2-1) – Filly & Mare Sprint
- Bolt d’Oro (15-8) – Juvenile
- Moonshine Memories (5-1) – Juvenile Fillies
The only exception is the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which Kentucky-based Gun Runner (7-4) is the favorite. But defending Classic winner Arrogate (7-2), West Coast (13-2) and Collected (7-1), all from California, are right behind.
Is this just a case of California flexing its equine speed? Or could this have something to do with the unique, seaside conditions at Del Mar, which is hosting the Breeders’ Cup for the first time?
“I don’t believe that,” De Julio said. “We have the old adage that good horses can run over glass and win. But then when we get to Del Mar we say they won’t? We can’t have it both ways. Good horses will run over anything. If they’re cheap horses masquerading as good horses, then they won’t. We heard the same thing about Keeneland (two years ago) but guess what. It was a pretty formful Breeders’ Cup. If you can handle the competition you’ll be able to handle anything.”
The horses-for-courses argument, though, will be made often against Arrogate. Winner of the Pegasus and Dubai world cups early this year, he did not look like the same horse this summer at Del Mar, where he lost twice.
“Sometimes you get down here and the air is heavy,” trainer Bob Baffert said in July. “It’s a funny track. Once you fall too far behind you’re never going to close. It can be a really speed-favoring track.”
De Julio pointed out that all horses – good and otherwise – will be disadvantaged by the late handover of Del Mar to the Breeders’ Cup. The property is operated not by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club but by the California state government’s 22nd District Agricultural Association, which has events booked on the main track through Oct. 22. That means horses will have only 11 days to get a feel for it even as it is being groomed and re-groomed for the Breeders’ Cup.
“Horses are not going to be able to go over the track other than light gallops or jogs,” De Julio said. “Del Mar is a lot damper in November than it is any time during the summer. It’s a little cooler. There’s more moisture in the air, and you’re going to have to deal with horses coming in and either liking the track or not.”
As for the six Breeders’ Cup turf races, no California horses are favored partly because Europeans are traditionally dominant in the betting and in the results. Lady Eli (7-2) in the Filly & Mare Turf and Lady Aurelia (11-8) in the Turf Sprint are the only American exceptions, and given their accomplishments and popularity it is hard to imagine either of them being overtaken in betting between now and race day.
If one is to buy into a western bias in four weeks, then getting too amped up over performances on very different tracks this weekend could be a slippery slope for bettors.
Take the $750,000 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. After losing by 5½ lengths to Gun Runner two months ago in the Whitney at Saratoga, Keen Ice (9-5) comes back as the morning-line favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher. The 5-year-old closer still needs a victory Saturday at 5:23 p.m. EDT to assure himself a place in the Breeders’ Cup Classic field. So does 3-year-old Pavel (5-2), last month’s Smarty Jones winner at Parx and himself a California colt that has raced only three times – and never at Del Mar.
Miss Temple City (3-1) and Divisidero (9-2) need to win the $1 million Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland to get into the Breeders’ Cup Mile field. Heart To Heart (7-2) and Mondialiste (4-1) are also among the 13 horses in Saturday’s race at 5:45 p.m. EDT, but they already have enough points to get to Del Mar, where Miss Temple City won last year’s Grade 1 Matriarch for trainer Graham Motion.
Two other $500,000 Grade 1 races Saturday – the Champagne Stakes at 4:13 p.m. EDT at Belmont Park and the Breeders’ Futurity at 5:10 p.m. EDT at Keeneland – are points preps for next year’s Kentucky Derby in addition to qualifying each winner for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
In a sense this weekend’s races are to the Breeders’ Cup like golf’s Houston Open is to the Masters. It is all fine and good to get excited about the winner being able to go to Augusta National the following week. But that does not mean he will be wearing a green jacket.
Notebook: Arrogate is still on top of the world
- Arrogate continues to be the No. 1 horse in the Longines world rankings posted this week in Paris by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. Unlike past years, when performances would be dropped after six months, Arrogate’s Dubai World Cup win in March still counts. Enable’s victory Sunday in France in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe vaulted her to third. The Australian mare Winx is still ranked second. She goes for her 21st consecutive victory at 12:15 a.m. EDT Saturday when she races in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes at Flemington in Melbourne.
- Del Mar announced that its standard Pick-6 format will not be altered for the Breeders’ Cup, meaning a mandatory payout will come Sunday, Nov. 5, if no one goes 6-for-6 either day of the championships Nov. 3 and 4. However, the Pick-6 pools Nov. 3-5 will be kept separately from the ones offered before and after Breeders’ Cup weekend, meaning any carryover from Nov. 2 will not be applied until Nov. 10. Del Mar’s fall meet starts Nov. 1.
- Even before he turns 3, early Kentucky Derby favorite Bolt d’Oro has his breeding future set. Once his racing days are over he will stand at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. Sired by Medaglia d’Oro out of the A.P. Indy mare Globe Trot, Bolt d’Oro is 3-for-3 including Grade 1 wins in the Del Mar Futurity and last Saturday’s FrontRunner Stakes. After opening 40-1 at Wynn Las Vegas, he is now 18-1 to win the Derby.
- One of racing’s good guys – Bob Kulina – is calling it a career after 45 years at Monmouth Park on the Jersey Shore. The track’s general manager since 1991, Kulina, 68, guided the growth of the now $1 million Haskell Invitational into one of the most important summertime races for 3-year-olds. He was also in charge when Monmouth hosted the 2007 Breeders’ Cup, which was a critical success despite a two-day downpour. No successor was named yet at Monmouth, where William Hill is poised to open a sports book if and when the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress allows it.