BREEDERS’ CUP 2016 DOES NOT DISAPPOINT
Often times a “big” sporting event will not live up to expectations. That is usually not the case with the World Thoroughbred Championships held each year at the Breeders’ Cup. The level of competition and the passion that permeates the event always gives it that “special” feel. And for the record, the 2016 event held form and was magnificent once again. Here are a just a few of the reasons why the 33rd running was one that will mark it’s spot in the history books.
Every now and again you get those great ones that come along. Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, you get the idea. Beholder is a six-year old mare that had ascended the throne in recent years. The queen of California, this Richard Mandella trained daughter of Henny Hughes had been magnificent over her career entering this year’s event at Santa Anita. With two Cup wins already to her credit (2012 Juvenile, 2013 Distaff), the first female winner of the Pacific Classic was primed to punctuate her career with one final run in the Distaff. But wait a minute, hold the chalupa, the unbeaten brilliance named Songbird was standing in the way. Looking to become the new monarch with a mane, this three-year old lightning-fast filly wanted to replace the retirement party with a coronation.
So, now that we have set the stage, here is how it all unfolded in rather historic fashion. As expected Songbird bolted out of the gates and led the field through some solid opening fractions (23.32 quarter, 47.16 half, 1.11.14 three quarters) while the veteran Beholder stalked the pace. Around the far turn and still under a hand ride from Gary Stevens, Beholder made her move and at the top of the stretch drew even with the youngster. Eleven previous times Songbird had faced such challenges and every time she had drawn away in commanding fashion. As the two literally went head to head, a dynamic duel on the Santa Anita dirt took place. With neither giving an inch and each digging deeper in every stride, the audience stared in awe with collective breath held. It’s Beholder, it’s Songbird, it’s Beholder, it’s Songbird were the thoughts as the wire drew ever closer. And then it happened. With one final fighting lunge at the finish, the champion Beholder exuded her class and won the Distaff by a flaring nostril.
“I’ve been in battles before, but never the length of the stretch,” says the hall of famer Stevens. “It was a full quarter of a mile that was just a street fight. My hat’s off to Songbird because she laid it all on the line and it tells you what kind of quality horse she is. But Beholder is a champion and to fight the way she did on her final day of racing was just incredible. She gave it everything that was running through her veins. I have had some good feelings in racing, but this is tops right here. That was worth the price of admission and horseracing at its best.”
BAFFERT HAS ANOTHER FOX IN THE HEN HOUSE
“Big Race Bob” was at it again in the Classic when he won North America’s richest race for the third consecutive year. Always seeming to pull a rabbit from somewhere, if Bob Baffert enters a horse, beware.
Arrogate entered the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic as a bit of a head-scratcher. Yes, this son of Unbridled’s Song had set the stakes and track record in winning the grade 1 Travers at Saratoga on August 27, but he had only five starts to his credit. With the mighty California Chrome in the starting gates as well, many wondered just what the silver-haired hall of famer was up to. After a brilliant 2:00.11 they all found out.
Chrome is the all-time leading money winner among North American Thoroughbreds and ran like it right out of the gate. Storming to the lead, he knew he was good and led the field into the far turn. All the while Arrogate stalked the pace under veteran rider Mike Smith and waited for the right time. Brilliantly moving to the inside around the curve and then swinging outside as they moved into the stretch, Smith confused Chrome rider Victor Espinoza and then hit the gas. As the true champion he is, California Chrome pounded towards the finish and maintained the lead while the younger and less experienced Arrogate bore down on him. Waging war much like the females the day before, it looked as if the older would be the wiser. And then it all changed. Arrogate made some miraculously monster strides in the final 25 yards of the race and gobbled up ground at an unbelievable rate. Striding just past the winner of 15 races and over $13.4 million, Arrogate picked up the fifth win of his life.
“That final 25 yards made me a fan for sure,” says Smith, a hall of fame rider. “He just keeps going and has so much stamina its unbelievable.”
“At the top of the stretch I thought it would be great to run second to a horse like Chrome,” says Baffert of his new-found freak. “Then he just kept going and I said wait a minute, he’s got a chance. We knew coming in he was in good shape, but a lot of things have to go right and California Chrome is such a quality horse. What an amazing turn of foot in the final part of the race. I give a lot of the credit to Mike Smith because before the race I just told him to do what he does, and he did.”
OLD GUYS RULE
As a guy that thinks young and often acts like a child, I must admit, I am getting a little longer in the tooth. Therefor, it gives me great pride to say some old guys ruled at the 2016 Cup.
The Willie Shoemaker award for top rider went to 50 year old Mike Smith. A winner of three (Dirt Mile Tamarkuz, Filly and Mare Sprint Finest City, Classic Arrogate) of the thirteen races, the all-time leader in Breeders’ Cup wins (25) was marvelous.
“It never gets old winning at the Breeders’ Cup,” smiles Smith. “I have to keep adding to my total because some of these young guys are pretty good.”
For good measure, the winner of the most brilliant race perhaps in Cup history was 52 year old Gary Stevens. Aboard champion mare Beholder in the Distaff, Stevens showed everyone why he is still considered one of the best in the game.
On Saturday, in the nine Breeders’ Cup races, only one favorite was able to prevail. That was the ostentatious eight-year old Obviously in the Turf Sprint. Running like a young man down the hill-side turf course, the Irish bred led gate to wire. Turning in an opening quarter mile in a quick :21.41, For those that wondered if the five-time starter in the Breeders’ Cup had anything left, the answer was…Obviously.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
For those of us that love the sport, the 2016 Cup offered up encouraging signs for the future.
First of all, a two-day attendance of 118,674 set a new record. Once considered right behind baseball among popularity in the U.S., the sport may be gaining some steam with sports fans and rightfully so.
Songbird may have lost the Distaff, but she is only three and still full of run. Arrogate might be the next great thing and he is likely to saddle up at four as well. Juvenile Filly winners New Money Honey (Turf) and Champagne Room were brilliant and may both be on the road to the Kentucky Oaks. For the boys, Juvenile winner Classic Empire and runner-up Not This Time also impressed as they look towards the first Saturday in May.