The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will be presenting numerous Breeders’ Cup preps during its 36-day summer meet that commences this week, but only five are “Win & You’re In” automatic qualifiers as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series: the Bing Crosby (G1) (TwinSpires.com Sprint), Clement L. Hirsch (G1) (Distaff), Del Mar Handicap (G2) (Turf), Pacific Classic (G1) (Classic), and Pat O’Brien (G2) (Dirt Mile).
In 2017, Del Mar hosted the Breeders’ Cup during its Bing Crosby fall meet, but this year’s fixture will be held at Churchill Downs. What effect will that have on the Del Mar preps being productive stepping stones to the two-day bonanza?
Despite being a first-time host to the Breeders’ Cup last season, few of the nation’s leading Eastern-based horsemen felt it necessary to give some of their contenders experience over the main track or turf course at Del Mar, and to a large extent their views were proven correct.
Gun Runner, Forever Unbridled, Good Magic, Caledonia Road, and World Approval are a few examples of Breeders’ Cup winners that were making their first runs at Del Mar. Europeans were certainly at no disadvantage either with Mendelssohn, Wuheida, and Talismanic taking down prizes for the Coolmore and Godolphin juggernauts.
By far the most Breeders’ Cup success enjoyed by the locals were the Peter Miller-trained sprinters Roy H, who won the Sprint, and Stormy Liberal and Richard’s Boy, who ran one-two in the Turf Sprint. And of those three only Richard’s Boy had scored a prior victory at the San Diego course.
The meet’s signature event, the Pacific Classic (G1), also had a bearing on the Classic as it confirmed the rising reputation of the winner Collected, who would go on to finish a clear second to Gun Runner, and the gradual decline of runner-up Arrogate, whose career ended with another dull performance in the Breeders’ Cup.
Nothing is certain, but races like the Pacific Classic and Bing Crosby figure to be influential preps again, and with the potential involvement of 2017 Distaff runner-up Abel Tasman, the Clement L. Hirsch could bounce back this year. The seven-furlong Pat O’Brien might prove more relevant this year as the Dirt Mile will be held around one turn for the first time since Churchill last hosted the event in 2011.
Due in part to its Grade 2 ranking and $250,000 purse, the Del Mar Handicap is a nominal prep for the Turf, a race dominated for years by either Europeans or East Coast-based horses. On the other hand, the last two winners of the Del Mar Mile (G2) both subsequently placed in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
Despite their winners getting shut out last year, Del Mar’s graded two-year-old races – the Del Mar Futurity (G1), Del Mar Debutante (G1), Best Pal (G3), and Sorrento (G2) – are always serious preps for their corresponding Breeders’ Cup events. At the last Breeders’ Cup held in Kentucky, at Keeneland in 2015, Del Mar grads Nyquist and Songbird maintained their undefeated records winning the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies.
While the Del Mar juvenile turf stakes have not been influential on their corresponding Breeders’ Cup races, the Rancho Bernardo Handicap (G3), Del Mar’s best race for older filly and mare sprinters, has yielded champion Judy the Beauty and Filly & Mare Sprint third-place finisher Taris in recent years. Though prone to short fields, the Rancho Bernardo has the potential of showcasing a relative heavyweight in a division no section of the country tends to dominate.