2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championship Thoughts

November 3, 2021

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There are certain things the Breeders’ Cup never lacks. This goes all the way back to its inception at the gone by the wayside Hollywood Park. 

From that inaugural running we saw competitive racing, great human and equine stories, spectacular athleticism and of course drama. The first Breeders’ Cup not only saw the disqualification of Frans Valentine and Pat Valenzuela but also one of the best stretch battles ever. We’ll never forget Slew O Gold and his plaguing hoof issues sandwiched between Wild Again on the rail and Gate Dancer and his crazy hood on the outside. Pat Day, Angel Cordero, and Laffit Pincay duking it out on horseback. 

The Breeders’ Cup never stopped producing and has become the benchmark so to speak for worldwide thoroughbred flat racing. Championship racing at its very finest. 

There have been so many great moments. Personal Ensign nailing Winning Colors to remain unbeaten, Beholder outgunning Songbird, and  Sunday Silence saying stop claiming you are better than me to Easy Goer in an epic Classic. 

Championships won and lost by a slither, split second decision, a stroke of good or bad luck, you just never know. The back stories could fill a long book. 

Arazi won in grand style but he never did it again. Da Hoss and the wrong call by Ron Anderson, and Gary Stevens and the Michael Dickinson side bet. Volponi won the Classic which exposed the Breeders’ Cup pick 6 scandal and had he not won, we may never have known about the scandal. There are just so many stories in the history of the Breeders’ Cup.

Let’s move to this year. First, the three year old championship is on the line. If Essential Quality wins the Classic it is his title but, if Medina Spirit beats him he will be two for two over him. I say that should give him the title easily. 

If they both lose and Jackie’s Warrior wins the Sprint and Malibu, interesting. If all three lose and Life Is Good wins the Mile and then maybe the Malibu, I say hmmmm. 

If Hot Rod Charlie wins, Doug O’ Neill told me,

“another start this year is possible, especially if the championship is in play and Hot Rod Charlie is in the conversation”.

Doug O’ Neill

So John Sadler took Umberto Rispoli off Rock Your World after Umberto, a Grade 1 winning and champion rider, won the Santa Anita Derby on him punching his ticket to Louisville. Rock Your World has never been the same and his recent return to the turf was a flop. Tiago Periera, a Dubai World Cup winner got Sadler into the Classic with some nice rides on Tripoli, including in the Pacific win and you’re in Classic, but Sadler sacked him too in favor of Irad Ortiz. When he made the move with Rock Your World people said well hey he went to Joel Rosario, his main man. How many horses has Irad Ortiz ridden for Sadler? 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alex Achard rode In Love to perfection to get him into the Breeders’ Cup Mile for Paulo Lobo. Alex is new to the states and probably the least known of the aforementioned riders but,  Lobo immediately gave Alex the call and told me,

“why would I take him off? He earned it and rode him perfectly”.

Paulo Lobo

Someone in the Echo Zulu camp looks at it the Sadler way. Ricardo Santana despite being Steve Asmussen’s main man, and undefeated on Echo Zulu was sacked. True, Ricardo went winless at Keeneland and is in a slump but Asmussen was not exactly on fire of late himself. Somehow Ron Anderson got Joel Rosario on Echo Zulu, one of the shortest prices and most likely winners on the Breeders’ Cup card. Ricardo will ride some others for Steve but that has to sting, Ouch! We know Ron wants the stakes record for Joel but that’s a throat punch to Santana. Tough game this horse racing!

The Gamine showdown with rags to riches Bella Sofia might just turn into some horse race if this three year old is as good as some think. We know Gamine is a beast. We’ll know soon enough if Bella Sofia is the heir apparent. Just being here and in this conversation is a win for her and her connections.

So the Breeders’ Cup decided Bob Baffert’s horses can run with no official ruling from Kentucky on the Derby yet. I don’t see how they couldn’t let him run but a caveat was placed. Bob’s horses have to undergo testing, extra testing, and watching at Bob’s expense. Again hmmm. Bob wins a lot of graded stakes all over the world. I, as a betting man would think he is used to having his horses tested, and a lot, both pre competition and post competition. So I guess him paying for it is the thing? Don’t they and shouldn’t they test all these horses pre and post competition? What about the trainers, and yes there are some who have more positive tests than Bob? We didn’t hear a single word about that and as far as I know none of them are subject to special rules or testing nor do I believe any were considered for barring from the Breeders’ Cup. Bob has run over 100 horses in the Breeders’ Cup and won plenty of them. His first winner was his first starter Thirty Slews. That was 1991 at Gulfstream Park and I was there. He has never had a violation in any Breeders’ Cup race. Bob has 8 horses scheduled to run in the Breeders’ Cup this year. What will they say if he wins one, or two?

So we have special rules for one trainer. That’s as silly as Churchill Downs announcing that they were checking riders for batteries with wands at the Derby, Oaks, and other random races on those two days. What about the other days though? I guess nobody at Monmouth thought it was worth it since, a few months later they caught a rider using a battery. Apparently we are supposed to believe he was the only one using it without the trainer or anyone else knowing. Once again hmmmm. 

Are the Euros going to come and embarrass us again and take home all the money? That might not be as easy as it has been in some other years. Sure they may win some, we know they come to run, and one in particular looks awfully scary to me. That said, the firm turf at Del Mar, draws, trips, and rides look critical to me this year. Pace, race riding, and of course some luck will impact these races especially the ones with short runs to the first turn. And, we have a grass horse in this year who is flat out faster than any of them anyway. If he gets the trip, bye bye Euros and all the rest.

I’m ready for what promises to be a Breeders’ Cup with some memorable performances, predictable outcomes and head scratchers. I just have to be right about which is which.

Piece of cake!

Gamine wired the G2 Great Lady M at Los Alamitos under John Velazquez on July 5, 2021. She’s undefeated this season. Photo of Gamine courtesy of EclipseSportswire

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Jon Stettin

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