This year’s Breeders’ Cup world championships held at Santa Anita Park was one furlong away from an absolutely successful weekend. The breakdown of Mongolian Groom marred what was mostly a memorable weekend with signature moments throughout the two-day championships.
Some thoughts on the return to Arcadia for the first time since 2016 …
- After a three-year hiatus from the Great Race Place, more than 112,000 race fans took in the festival on two picture-perfect days in Southern California, matching last year’s attendance at expansive Churchill Downs.
- The Mongolian Groom breakdown was simply unfortunate, given the protocols put in place to prevent this type of incident. The fact is that it is still the ugly side of the game that will never be completely eliminated, no matter the preventative controls that are in place. Breeders' Cup management will be second-guessed for not moving it away from Santa Anita when they could, rolling the dice that an incident would not occur. What looked like a roll of Yahtzee heading into the Classic, snake eyes came up. On prime time, no less. Stay tuned.
- Future Stars Friday is a novel concept that two years in still has me sold. It makes for a very intriguing sequence and with the free square (Dennis’ Moment) losing made for a monster $46K Pick-5 payoff.
- Bricks and Mortar likely sewed up Horse of the Year (HOY) honors with his sixth straight win during the 2019 campaign. He would be the first turf horse since 2013 (Wise Dan) to capture the Eclipse award for the best thoroughbred of the year.
- Top sprinter Mitole made his case by defeating a talented field in the Sprint, his only blemish of the year coming in the third in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga, where he was stuck inside on a dead rail. If there was a year for a sprinter to win HOY, this was it with the 3-year-old and handicap divisions devoid of a legitimate contender.
- Midnight Bisou likely still will win the elder female division after coming up short in the Distaff to Blue Prize. She looked to be spinning her wheels in the deep track and was just too far back to catch the winner. Her HOY hopes fizzled on Saturday. Mike Smith didn’t have his best weekend, as the all-time jockey leader in BC wins was skunked.
- My best public selection aside from tabbing Vino Rosso in the Classic, was 14-1 Belvoir Bay in the Turf Sprint, a race Peter Miller has won for three straight years. Cheers if you had him.
- He also was the best feel-good story of the weekend, a horse who was let loose to escape the San Luis Rey fire last year and found two days later. How cool is it that he returned to spring an upset in the Breeders’ Cup in the same year?
- My biggest swing and miss of the weekend: Dunbar Road in the Distaff.
- Closest near miss with a strong opinion: Vasilika, who ran her heart out and was a game second in the Filly and Mare Turf.
- Biggest surprise of the weekend: Storm the Court upsetting the Juvenile, a division with no clear-cut leader heading onto the Derby trail.
- Biggest flop of the weekend: Dennis’ Moment. Also, biggest stumble. Crushed a $1,300 show pool bet that yours truly was a participant.
- Irad Ortiz Jr. showed me the money.
- Aidan O’Brien did not.
- Was nice to see Manny Franco, Ricardo Santana, Jr. and Joe Bravo each win their first Breeders’ Cup race.
- While I didn’t have Spun to Run in the Dirt Mile, always happy to see a Hard Spun win a big race. He was my colt on the incredible 3-year-old Triple Crown trail and he’s turned out to be a pretty decent sire.
- Has a horse faded out of the spotlight any faster than War of Will? Dead on the board and a non-factor in the Classic, finishing ninth after setting the pace. The Preakness winner faded to black after Baltimore.
- I was skeptical of McKinzie’s chances at the distance, but he proved me (and my wallet) wrong, wedging between my Classic exactas and trifectas that included Higher Power and Elate. The old 1-3-4 finish with my top three picks.
- Keeneland will host next year and will have a tough first act to follow after its fantastic debut in 2015, which also happened to be American Pharoah’s swan song.
- Next week we’ll recap our 2019 Kreskin predictions, which wrapped up last Saturday. Spoiler alert: It’s not pretty.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.