By Jay Privman
DEL MAR, Calif. – An epic showdown for Horse of the Year in a Breeders’ Cup Classic field that includes the two top-ranked dirt horses in the world highlights the 34th Breeders’ Cup, a two-day, 13-race extravaganza Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar that drew a total of 187 individual horses as pre-entries, the Breeders’ Cup announced Wednesday.
Pre Entries Here http://www.drf.com/events/breeders-cup-classic
Arrogate and Gun Runner, the top two dirt horses in the world, were one-two in the Dubai World Cup in March, and they will take their rivalry from the desert to the sea in the first Breeders’ Cup ever held here at Del Mar.
The Classic, the richest of the Breeders’ Cup races at $6 million, drew 14 pre-entries, including such highly regarded runners as Collected and West Coast, both of whom also have a legitimate shot at Horse of the Year should either win the Classic.
Also pre-entered in the 1 1/4-mile Classic were Churchill, Cupid, Diversify, Gunnevera, Keen Ice, Mubtaahij, Pavel, War Decree, War Story, and Win the Space. The field should be smaller than 14, as Diversify is not certain to run, and five of the horses – Churchill, Cupid, War Decree, War Story, and Win the Space – were also pre-entered in a second race, with Cupid (Dirt Mile) and War Story (Turf) the most likely to head elsewhere.
Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, has Gun Runner as the 2-1 favorite in his early line.
Arrogate, who won the Classic last year at Santa Anita, is one of nine previous Breeders’ Cup race winners who will try to add another, along with Champagne Room, Drefong, Finest City, Highland Reel, Lady Eli, Oscar Performance, Mongolian Saturday, and Queen’s Trust. Seven of those horses won races last year, and five – Arrogate in the Classic, Drefong in the Sprint, Finest City in the Filly and Mare Sprint, Highland Reel in the Turf, and Queen’s Trust in the Filly and Mare Turf – will be trying to win the same race two years in a row.
If Arrogate is successful, he will join Tiznow as the only horses to have won the Classic twice. Arrogate is trained by Bob Baffert, who pre-entered five horses in the Classic – Arrogate, Collected, Cupid, Mubtaahij, and West Coast – and will be seeking an unprecedented fourth straight victory in the Classic. No trainer has ever started more than three horses in a Classic.
The allure of Del Mar and $26.5 million in race purses proved irresistible to horses representing owners and trainers from across the country and around the globe. Irish-based superstar trainer Aidan O’Brien has the most pre-entered horses, with 14, and East Coast-based Chad Brown – the reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer – has 13.
There are 42 horses based in Europe among the pre-entries, giving this event the potential to have the most European-based starters in a Breeders’ Cup. There were 34 at Santa Anita in 2009, when that track had a synthetic surface that was attractive to Europeans. There were 32 Europeans who raced in 2014, and 31 last year, with those events also at Santa Anita.
In fact, this year’s numbers for pre-entries are almost identical to last year at Santa Anita, when 185 individual horses were pre-entered, 24 of whom were pre-entered in two races, for a total of 209 pre-entries. This year, 23 of the 187 horses were pre-entered in two races for a total of 210 pre-entries.
The pre-entry stage is the first of a two-step process toward entering Breeders’ Cup races. Pre-entries were due Monday, and a horse could be put in as many as two races.
Next Monday is decision day. That morning, horses must be entered in a single race, and then posts for the 13 races are drawn late Monday afternoon at a beachside function.
Horses can be entered in more than one race Monday under certain conditions, though. A horse can be entered Monday in two races if one of the races is on Nov. 3 and the other on Nov. 4, and the horse’s entry would not force a horse in either race onto the also-eligible list. Using Cupid as an example, he could be entered in both the Classic and the Dirt Mile if he doesn’t keep anyone out of the Dirt Mile, a potential scenario considering that seven of the 16 horses pre-entered in the Dirt Mile were put in two races at the pre-entry stage. Practical Joke, pre-entered in the Dirt Mile and Sprint, also could use that option.
A maximum of 14 horses can start in each Breeders’ Cup race, with the exception of the Turf Sprint, which is limited to 12 runners. The Turf Sprint is run at five furlongs at Del Mar. The Dirt Mile field has been upped to 14 from the maximum of 12 in prior years when the race was held at other tracks where, like at Del Mar, it is a two-turn race. And the Filly and Mare Turf has been shortened to 1 1/8 miles. In prior years at one-mile tracks such as Del Mar where the turf course is inside the main track – including Churchill Downs and Keeneland – the Filly and Mare Turf was at 1 3/8 miles.
There are four Breeders’ Cup races – the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Dirt Mile, Juvenile Turf, and Distaff – on Nov. 3, and nine – the Juvenile Fillies, Turf Sprint, Filly and Mare Sprint, Filly and Mare Turf, Sprint, Mile, Juvenile, Turf, and Classic – on Nov. 4. Of those 13 races, seven – the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Dirt Mile, Juvenile Turf, Turf Sprint, Filly and Mare Turf, Mile, and Turf – have more pre-entries than the maximum that can start.
In those cases, the field is made up first by horses who had secured automatic berths through the Win and You’re In program, then horses who had earned points in graded stakes throughout the year. That combination determines half the field (seven runners in 14-horse fields, six in the Turf Sprint). The rest of the field is determined by an international panel of racing secretaries. Once the full field is set, the remaining runners are placed on a list in order of preference of the panel. Those horses can get in only if there are defections from the main body of their race.
On entry day next Monday, as many as two also-eligibles will be allowed in races where more than the maximum are entered. That is likely to come into play in a race like the Juvenile Turf, which had the most pre-entries, 27. Scratch time for all 13 Breeders’ Cup races is 8 a.m. Pacific on Nov. 3. After that, also-eligibles cannot get in.
In addition to Gun Runner, other favorites on Watchmaker’s line for the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup races are Moonshine Memories (3-1) in the Juvenile Fillies, Lady Aurelia (8-5) in the Turf Sprint, Unique Bella (9-5) in the Filly and Mare Sprint, Lady Eli (5-2) in the Filly and Mare Turf, Drefong (3-1) in the Sprint, Ribchester (5-2) in the Mile, Bolt d’Oro (7-5) in the Juvenile, and Ulysses (3-1) in the Turf.
Stellar Wind is the 3-1 favorite of Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free in the $2 million Distaff, which concludes the Nov. 3 card. Free’s other favorites for the Nov. 3 races are Rushing Fall (4-1) in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Accelerate (7-2) in the Dirt Mile, and U S Navy Flag (3-1) in the Juvenile Turf.
The Breeders’ Cup races will be televised live by NBCSN and NBC, with the Classic airing on NBC on Nov. 4 in an one-hour telecast beginning at 5 p.m. Pacific.