By Ed McNamara
It’s where the world’s best thoroughbreds come together, and it’s not unusual to get 15-1 odds on a standout. Eclipse Awards and megabucks are on the line with tens of millions watching around the globe. It’s Breeders’ Cup weekend, and it’s just around the corner.
Del Mar will host the 38th Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 5-6, with Future Stars Friday featuring five 2-year-old races before Saturday’s nine stakes loaded with familiar names. The pre-entries were announced Wednesday, shortly before horseplayers began studying for their annual final exams. Espresso and aspirin will fuel late-night cram sessions in search of lucrative and memorable scores.
The post-position draw is Monday.
Horse of the Year will be determined at the pretty track where “The Surf Meets the Turf.” If Knicks Go or Essential Quality, both trained by Brad Cox, or Medina Spirit, takes the 1 1/4-mile Classic, it’ll be a lock.
“It’s been a great year for both of them,” added Cox, who swept a record-tying four Cup races last year. “Hopefully, we can add to their resumes on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. They have different running styles, so they won’t get in each other’s way, which is good for me.
“I think Knicks Go is the speed of the speed, and we’re not going to take that away from him. Hopefully, he can lead into the first turn, and I think that gives him the best opportunity to win.
If neither of Cox’s stars nor Medina Spirit wins the $6 million grand finale, a Distaff victory by Letruska might draw enough votes to make her the first female Horse of the Year since Havre de Grace in 2011. She’s a head away from being 7-for-7 in graded stakes this year for Mexican trainer Fausto Gutierrez.
Letruska has held her form since January.
“She’s a special horse,” Gutierrez said. “In all these months, she’s had no problems. I think she’s had an extraordinary year and (did) enough to be a possible Horse of the Year.”
Whoever wins the Juvenile will become the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby (G1), as always, although only Street Sense and Nyquist have hit the Juvenile-Derby double. If you can pick this Juvenile champion, you’ll have done well, because the promising colts Corniche, Jack Christopher and Rattle N Roll top a field filled with lightly raced runners who could upset them.
Multiple contenders will represent the sport’s top trainers, led by Bob Baffert, Chad Brown (14 entries) and Cox, Irishman Aidan O’Brien (12) and Englishman Charlie Appleby. There are 196 entries (including also-eligibles), with a record 56 representing Europe, Japan, South America and South Africa.
Seven winners from last year at Keeneland will try to repeat. France’s Audarya (Filly & Mare Turf), England’s Glass Slippers (Turf Sprint), America’s Gamine (Filly & Mare Sprint) and Ireland’s Tarnawa (Turf) are back in the same race. Golden Pal goes in the Turf Sprint after dominating the Juvenile Turf Sprint. Knicks Go seeks an unprecedented Dirt Mile-Classic double, and Essential Quality took the Juvenile.
A fractured leg will keep Order of Australia from defending his title in the Mile, O’Brien announced Wednesday.
“I think repeating is a great challenge for a champion,” said Dermot Weld, trainer of Tarnawa. “I think it will be a bigger challenge for her this time because of the firmer ground at Del Mar.”
Home advantage and “horses for courses” are powerful handicapping angles, but they didn’t work very well in 2017, the only other time Del Mar has hosted the big weekend. Only three horses based in Southern California won there four years ago, which defied longtime trends at Santa Anita and the now-gone Hollywood Park. Was 2017 a fluke, or was that a “past is prologue” hint? Just one more question for horseplayers to ponder.
|1||Tripoli||15-1||Irad Ortiz,Jr||John Sadler|
|2||Express Train||20-1||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs|
|3||Hot Rod Charlie||4-1||Flavien Prat||Doug O’Neill|
|4||Essential Quality||3-1||Luis Saez||Brad Cox|
|5||Knicks Go||5-2||Joel Rosario||Brad Cox|
|6||Art Collector||8-1||Mike Smith||William Mott|
|7||Stiletto Boy||30-1||Kent Desormeaux||Ed Moger,Jr.|
|8||Medina Spirit||4-1||John Velazquez||Bob Baffert|
|9||Max Player||8-1||Ricardo Santana, Jr.||Steven Asmussen|
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.